November 4, 2006

Ted Haggard, Grace and Hypocrisy

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 3:17 pm

For those of you looking for some schadenfreude here regarding Ted Haggard’s fall, I’m afraid to disappoint. This is not an opportunity for progressives to take perverse pleasure in another’s tragedy. We are all condemned by our membership in the human race to scandal. We are all sinners. This describes not our actions, but our condition, and applies to liberals as much as to conservatives.

Having said that, there is a great deal of silliness over at NRO’s The Corner regarding liberal reaction to Haggard’s revelations. From Jonah Goldberg:

liberals and some libertarians have a very hard time articulating what’s bad about these sorts of stories beyond hypocrisy. Very few liberals denounced Bill Bennett’s actual gambling or Rush Limbaugh’s drug use. How could they? The arguments usually sound like hypocrisy is the tip of the iceberg of so-and-so’s transgressions, when actually that’s all critics can actually condemn. The underlying behavior — in Haggard’s case drug use and gay romps — is not something liberals generally condemn on the merits.

Hypocrisy isn’t all that liberals condemn, but isn’t it enough? Hypocrisy isn’t some minor trespass, but is an act that Jesus reserves for some of his harshest criticism:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.

But Goldberg interprets liberals’ unwillingness to publicly judge another’s personal sin as a liberal rejection of morality altogether:

The liberals aren’t defending a standard, they are defending the lack of standards.

Which of course couldn’t be further from the truth, at least in my case. It is certainly true that my understanding of God’s moral standards differs from Goldberg’s, since I don’t believe that gay sex in the context of a committed, monogamous relationship is a sin, and I presume Goldberg does. But I do believe in standards. I believe drug abuse, adultery and compulsive gambling separate us from God and each other, and are therefore sinful, which makes Haggard, Bennett and Limbaugh sinners. But we knew that already by virtue of their membership in the human race. Join the club.

I am not advocating a lack of moral standards, but a moral standard that includes a prohibition against judging others:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

It’s this element of judging others that turns a sinner into a hypocrite, which many conservatives don’t seem to understand. More silliness at The Corner, this time from a reader email posted by Goldberg:

Every bona fide Christian knows and believes he is a hypocrite because, in moral and ethical behavior, he constantly falls short in his heart and in his deeds. Pointing out Haggard’s hypocrisy is therefore to point out that, yes, the grass is green. It is an irreducible plank of Christian theology that all persons are sinners, all persons are flawed, all persons require redemption, and all persons are subject to immutable moral laws. Rejection of these ideas, and not some person’s failure to live up to them, is why the Left goes bananas when a pastor stumbles.

Every bona fide Christian knows and believes that he or she is a sinner, but not all sinners are hypocrites. A hypocrite condemns the sin in others instead of condemning the sin in themselves, creating a pretense they have no sin.

This conservative blind spot regarding the sin of hypocrisy seems to have infected all of the bloggers at The Corner. How else to explain David Frum’s statement:

Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue – or at least as a mitigation of his offense?

It’s really not clear to me how one sin – hypocrisy borne out of judgmentalism – piled on top of any other sins Haggard has committed somehow mitigates them. Unless, of course, passing judgment on others without looking at your own fallibility first isn’t considered a sin.

Conversely, we progressives seem to particularly abhor hypocrisy because we abhor the judging of others that leads to hypocrisy. So Ted Haggard, like Bill Bennett, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly before him, is susceptible to this charge of hypocrisy in a way that more moderate voices aren’t.

But let me leave off where I began – hypocrite or not, Ted Haggard is a brother in the faith we share in Christ, and deserves our grace and compassion first and foremost, as do we all.


  1. During the Clinton scandal, how often was it blogged that that Clinton also deserved grace and compassion first and foremost?

    There are those that will honestly and humbly admit the answer to that is very little. Good for you. It’s easy to think that the two scenarios are very different, because of the man involved – but that would assume that we as men have the right to judge such things. A very slippery slope, and not one backed up by chapter and verse.

    To me there is much good in the Pastor Ted story. Let the compassion that goes out to him from many spread outwards. Let’s take a fresh look at all of the judgements we have, and let them go.

    Comment by Keith — November 4, 2006 @ 7:08 pm

  2. I have to say that when I checked my feed and saw the title of this post I expected something totally different. It’s nice to see someone quickly offer forgiveness to an “opponent”. It’s something that doesn’t happen often. We disagree on some things, but I agree that he deserves forgiveness.

    We often forget the disdain Jesus had for the Pharisees…either that or we think we could never be so pompous. We’re in denial of the fact that we’re already there. If we could just state our morals and say, “This is what the Bible says, this is what I believe it means, and I’m trying to meet that expectation,” instead of setting up “us vs. them” situations, we’d all be much better off.

    Comment by Elmo — November 4, 2006 @ 9:53 pm

  3. […] My problem is that everybody’s got something buried somewhere in their past, sometimes in their present. You can’t accuse someone of being substandard without condemning yourself, because you probably did something wrong, too. We’re all Pharisees. We stand on a soap-box and thank God that we don’t have the particular group of sins we think are beyond redemption, while ignoring the sins we have, and not accepting the fact that no sin (save the yet-to-be-understood blasphemy of the Holy Spirit) is beyond redemption. Even Bob and I agree on this one. We’re whitewashed tombs, vipers, empty shells. And we will continue to be until we realize that Law, whether it be of Moses or of the SBC, brings death, not life. We can’t save ourselves by following the rules. That’s been made plenty clear to us, but when we hear it, we just set up new rules! […]

    Pingback by p.o.s. 51 » Blog Archive » They Were Sad, You See — November 4, 2006 @ 11:31 pm

  4. A great blog!! What a great job!!! Grace it’s what we all need.

    God Bless you my friend

    Comment by Shawn M. Wilson — November 8, 2006 @ 6:41 pm

  5. Thanks Shawn. Grace and peace to you.

    Comment by Bob — November 11, 2006 @ 10:11 pm

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