In my world a Christian pariah is often times a pastor or church leader who has been used by God in powerful ways in the past, who somehow or another dropped their guard, walked into sin, and got caught.
Ted Haggard is a good example. He served as the Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While there, God used him to grow the church from 22 people meeting in a basement to over 14,000 people. He served as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was a prolific author, speaker, and was seen as a model for working across denominational lines in movements of prayer. He was also a man struggling with temptation, pride, and some very secret sins.
Haggard was caught in a web of lies. And almost immediately the group of believers that had walked with Haggard throughout his nearly 30 years of ministry abandoned him. He had become a pariah; like many Christian leaders before him. The sting that a congregation feels when their pastor lets them down is very real. It is a normal thing for Christians to have difficulty trusting someone who has lied to them so much in the past. There has to be a time of proving yourself before a congregation or even close friends will trust you again. There will be some who never have you trust again. It’s all a part of the consequences of sin.
To be fair, there were those who loved and ministered to Haggard in the days and years after his public fall. There were some in his close circle who felt that he too quickly moved through the “process of reconciliation.” There were some who thought that Haggard too quickly wanted to be behind the pulpit again. All of these are tough issues to wrestle with. I imagine that each case is going to be different. Many churches teach that a pastor who has fallen the way that Haggard fell should never pastor a church again; that he has disqualified himself from pastoral ministry. John MacArthur wrote a good piece on this here.
That said, I found myself genuinely moved by this article from Michael Cheshire, a pastor from Colorado, and a guest writer for Leadership Journal. Cheshire, like so many of us, wrote Haggard off. His perspective began to change while having lunch with an Atheist friend that he had been trying to reach for Christ. Here is part of the story.
A while back I was having a business lunch at a sports bar in the Denver area with a close atheist friend. He’s a great guy and a very deep thinker. During lunch, he pointed at the large TV screen on the wall. It was set to a channel recapping Ted’s fall. He pointed his finger at the HD and said, “That is the reason I will not become a Christian. Many of the things you say make sense, Mike, but that’s what keeps me away.”
It was well after the story had died down, so I had to study the screen to see what my friend was talking about. I assumed he was referring to Ted’s hypocrisy. “Hey man, not all of us do things like that,” I responded. He laughed and said, “Michael, you just proved my point. See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can’t forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him.” Then he uttered words that left me reeling: “You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will.”
For the rest of Cheshire’s story click here.
And, then I’d love to hear how you think we should respond to so-called “Christian pariahs.”