I was asked this fall to participate in an NPR dialogue about the resignation of former National Association of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard. Two things struck me about the dialogue.
First, compassion. The tone of the conversation was not glee at the fall of a hypocrite, but rather sadness and empathy at the suffering of a fellow human being—before and after his resignation. I’m sure there has been some glee, both among secular people who saw Haggard as their political enemy and among religious people of a certain type who find it easy and legitimate to disregard the words of 1 Corinthians 13, the “Golden Rule,” and the Sermon on the Mount. I have been especially moved, both on the NPR program and elsewhere, by the compassion expressed by many in the gay community and by many evangelicals, both of whom may have found reasons to respond otherwise.
Second, hope. A number of people on the program expressed hope that this trauma in the evangelical community will increase understanding about the issue of homosexuality, that it will bring to light the complexity and depth of pain experienced by people for whom heterosexual drives are not inborn and exclusive. Perhaps this painful story will help more preachers (like myself) to back away from the easy answers and binary thinking that are so easy to dispense and to reject the simplistic moralism Jesus diagnosed in the Pharisees who, he said, loaded up burdens on the backs of others that they themselves couldn’t bear.
I’ve met Haggard on a few occasions and he impressed me as a compassionate and hopeful person himself. I join millions of people—Christian and non-Christian, straight and gay—who pray for God’s presence, strength, and guidance for him, his family, and his church, and for colleagues at the National Association of Evangelicals, too, as they grapple with the complex realities of the human condition which we all share.