08 November 2006

Hypocrisy: the unforgivable sin?

To be honest, I had not heard of the Rev. Ted Haggard until his name made it into the news a few days ago. The one-time pastor of New Life Church and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals has resigned both positions, admitting to having committed sexual indiscretions. By now this is an old story and very nearly a cliché: the publicly visible evangelical leader who is brought down amidst charges of hypocrisy, an occasion for schadenfreude amongst those who dislike the man's message and now apparently have further reason to ignore it.

Three years ago in this space I asked: "Have you ever noticed that when charges of hypocrisy are levelled against someone, it is almost always in the interest of loosening standards rather than tightening them?" Indeed I quite like what Francis J. Beckwith has to say in The Case of Ted Haggard, an article worth reading in full:

For Jesus, hypocrisy is clearly wrong, but it is a wrong intimately tied to a type of moral and spiritual triumphalism, just the sort that one finds in the writings of those who gleefully celebrate the moral failings of Pastor Haggard. Those who think of the detecting and condemnation of hypocrisy as sport, which is the dominant understanding of the liberal-secular chattering class, are not serious about the wrongness of hypocrisy. For such seriousness requires a tragic understanding of the human condition, that one is just as susceptible to sin's temptation as any other, and that it is only by God's grace and the support of the church that we can find forgiveness, redemption, and the strength to carry our cross. But the liberal-secular chattering class does not believe any of this. So, their detection and condemnation of hypocrisy is disingenuous at best and mean-spirited at worst.

A sinner has fallen, and for that we should mourn. It is certainly not a cause for smugness or superiority in those so eager to condemn. Contrary to popular opinion, hypocrisy is not the unforgivable sin. Nor is sexual sin. With repentance of both comes forgiveness in Jesus Christ, which should be our prayer for Haggard.

Later: I had not seen these videos when I wrote the above entry. Admittedly, these make it difficult not to conclude that Haggard is guilty of wilful deception more than mere hypocrisy. Still, my prayer is for his repentance and restoration.

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