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Out of the dark

"Out of the dark" Continued...

Issue: "GOP downfall," Nov. 18, 2006

L. Roy Taylor, chairman of the NAE board and stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America, told WORLD that several board members harbored concerns over how aggressively Haggard pushed the issue of "creation care." On the other hand, others worried the organization had become too closely identified with the Republican Party. Haggard occasionally participated in conference calls with the White House.

Upon accepting Haggard's resignation, the board reinstated former NAE president Leith Anderson on an interim basis with intent to select a permanent replacement next month. Depending on prospective candidates, the board might consider hiring a full-time president as opposed to the spokesmen of recent years.

Either way, Taylor said the association will recover from this scandal and continue to benefit from the momentum Haggard helped create: "He did not come across as an angry fundamentalist. He came across as a more gracious evangelical. That certainly increased our influence."

New Life Church also hopes to accentuate the positives of Haggard's legacy. Interim pastor Ross Parsley used the metaphor of family in speaking to the church about how it should weather the current storm-together.

Steve Holt, pastor of the 3,000-member Mountain Springs Church in Colorado Springs, told WORLD he wept for 10 minutes upon hearing the news. A close friend of Haggard, Holt compared his shock to being punched in the face at a surprise birthday party. "There were a lot of tears in our church," he said. "During worship, I could hear sobs." Pastor Eric Cartier of the 5,000-member Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel reported similar solidarity: "This is the most that I've ever felt connected as the body of Christ with all the churches in Springs. It's been neat to see Christians respond that way."

Pastors from most neighboring evangelical churches have exhorted their congregations to support and pray for the people of New Life. Matt Heard, pastor of the 3,000-member Woodmen Valley Chapel, fought back tears as he pleaded with his congregation not to distance itself from the pain across town. "Let's journey together," he preached on Nov. 5. "New Life's problems are ours. New Life's challenges are ours. New Life's blessings are ours."

Dan Koeshall of Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church took a different tack. The homosexual pastor, who was once fired from church leadership for being gay, invited Haggard to join his congregation and embrace a new identity. Koeshall's sentiments reflect those of many homosexuals eager to portray Haggard's story as the ugly result of bottling up same-sex attraction. Other gays have pounced on the chance to characterize all evangelical opponents to gay marriage as closeted homosexuals riddled with self-loathing.

Such stereotyping and distrust of ministers is not reserved for gays. Some Christians do not attend church due to the pain of past betrayals by pastors.

Paul A. Cedar, chairman of the Mission America Coalition and former president of the Evangelical Free Church, hopes Haggard's moral failure will awaken pastors to their vulnerability. "There are so many churches and so many pastors, especially in the megachurch movement, with little or no accountability," he said. "I think it's time for us to check once again that everyone of us that is involved not only in pastoral ministry but any kind of Christian ministry, that we have some clear lines of accountability-that we're not just in orbit and only accountable to ourselves."

Cedar appreciates New Life's established process for swift and decisive church discipline and told WORLD other large churches would do well to emulate it. But meting out consequences for disastrous sin is vastly inferior to early detection and prevention. During his tenure as a denominational president, Cedar established an open and anonymous phone line for pastors and their spouses to confess struggles and receive counsel.

Beyond that, he recommends cultivating transparency and vulnerability within a small group of friends. "With ecclesiastical accountability, pastors are often afraid to share their deep needs, because if they share it with their bishop or their presbytery, they put themselves at risk for losing their jobs," he said.

Haggard lost far more than a job.

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