Untied Methodist (John 11:44)

A working preacher in Washington, D.C., wrestles with Scripture, the (sigh) United Methodist Church and his soul.

Name:
Location: Washington, D.C., United States

Currently the pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, a wonderful and blessed reconciling congregation. Formerly a United Methodist communicator and editor. Formerly a campus minister. Formerly pastor in Philadelphia for 24 years. Graduate of Albright College and Boston University of Theology. Husband of Jane Malone and father of David, Nancy and Naomi. Resident of Capitol Hill, a wonderful place to live! Articles published in Zion's Herald, a must-read magazine for Methodists, a variety of United Methodist publications, the Christian Century, newspapers.

6/27/2005

Evangelicalism Today -- A sad time for an honorable tradition

Ted Haggard (pictured right), pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Col., talks on the phone to President Bush or his staff every Monday. Haggard is president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

Throughout the years, while not always agreeing with its stances, I have respected the NAE. As a senior in college 37 years ago my senior thesis for the political science department was a comparison of the positions of the NAE and the National Council of Churches on issues such as war, economic justice, civil liberties, and the separation of church and state. I found the NAE to be a thoughtful organization -- one, it seemed to me, that was truly trying to take Scripture seriously.

The NAE has had some remarkable leadership during the 50-some years of its existence. It was formed --in large part-- as the result of a vision born and fostered by Park Street Church in Boston. Park Street Church --where I worshipped from time to time when I was a seminary student-- has a close relationship with Gordon-Conwell Seminary, a center of solid evangelical scholarship. Dr. Harold J. Ockenga, pastor of Park Street and president of Gordon-Conwell, was an early leader of the NAE. Ockenga was an evangelical --some called him a neo-evangelical-- who believed that evangelicals need to take scholarship and social justice seriously.

Other evangelical leaders influential within the NAE have included people like Carl Henry, Richard Halverson, Max Stackhouse, Billy Graham, and Ron Sider. These were thoughtful church leaders with theological depth.

None of these evangelical church leaders, not even Billy Graham, talked to the president every Monday. Ted Haggard does.

Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer visited Haggard's church, interviewed him and his members, and wrote an excellent report about his experience for the May issue of Harper's. The article, entitled "Soldiers of Christ: Inside America's most powerful megachurch" is not encouraging. Haggard does not appear to represent the kind of thoughtful evangelicalism that I have historically identified with the NAE.

Unless Sharlet is exaggerating --I don't think he is-- Haggard is obsessed with demonic forces, spiritual warfare, and capitalism.

Here are a few quotes from Sharlet's article about Haggard's obsession with demonic forces:

"He was always on the lookout for spies. At the time, Colorado Springs was a small city split between the Air Force and the New Age, and the latter, Pastor Ted believed, worked for the devil. Pastor Ted soon began upsetting the devil's plans. He staked out gay bars, inviting men to come to his church; his whole congregation pitched itself into invisible battles with demonic forces, sometimes in front of public buildings. ... He called the evil forces that dominated Colorado Springs and every other metropolitan area in the country 'Control.'"

"He sent teams to pray in front of the homes of supposed witches; in one month, ten out of fifteen of his targets put their houses on the market."

Reporting on a conversation with a New Life member named Linda Burton, Sharlet writes: "She reached across the table and touched my hand. 'I have to tell you, the spiritual battle is very real.' We are surrounded by demons, she explained, reciting the lessons she had learned in her small-group studies at New Life. The demons are cold, they need bodies, they long to come inside. People let them in in two different ways. One is to be sinned against. 'Molested,' suggested Linda. The other is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You could walk by sin --a murder, a homosexual act-- and a demon will leap onto your bones. Cities, therefore, are especially dangerous."

Here is a quote about Haggard's obsession with spiritual --and material-- warfare:

"... he believes spiritual war requires a virile, worldly counterpart. 'I teach a strong ideology of the use of power,' he says, 'of military might, as a public service.' He is for preemptive war, because he believes the Bible's exhortations against sin set for us a preemptive paradigm, and he is for ferocious war, because 'the Bible's bloody. There's a lot about blood.'"

And, here are some quotes about Haggard and his devotion to capitalism:

"... Pastor Ted says he learned that everything, including spirituality, can be understood as a commodity. And unregulated trade, he concluded, was the key to achieving worldly freedom."

[Haggard says:] "I want the church to help me live life well, not exhaust me with endless 'worthwhile' projects." [Sharlet explains:] "By 'worthwhile projects' Ted means building funds and soup kitchens alike. It's not that he opposes these; it's just that he is sick of hearing about them and believes that other Christians are, too. He knows that for Christianity to prosper in the free market, it needs more than 'moral values' --it needs customer value."

"They're pro-free markets, they're pro-private property," he [Haggard] said. "That's what evangelical stands for."

The Slacktivist blog has taken this last quote and used it to create a litany, which begins:

"They're pro-free markets, they're pro-private property. ... That's what evangelical stands for." -- Pastor Ted Haggard

"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." - Acts 2:44-45

"They're pro-free markets, they're pro-private property. ... That's what evangelical stands for." -- Pastor Ted Haggard

"Thou shalt not turn away from him that is in want, but thou shalt share all things with thy brother, and shalt not say that they are thine own." -- The Didache

"They're pro-free markets, they're pro-private property. ... That's what evangelical stands for." -- Pastor Ted Haggard

"Therefore all things are common; and let not the rich claim more than the rest. To say therefore 'I have more than I need, why not enjoy?' is neither human nor proper." -- St. Clement of Alexandria

(Read the rest of the litany here.)

I know many evangelicals would not consider me one. I am aware that I would not pass many of the litmus tests. Yet, I like to think of myself as warmly evangelical. It is a shame to see the NAE come to this. It is a shame to see America's evangelicals using their political clout to get time weekly on the phone with the president for Ted Haggard.

One more quote, this time not from Sharlet's article but from a New York Times article written by Laurie Goodstein. Largely due to the work of Rich Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the NAE -- a solid evangelical in the tradition of Ockenga and Sider-- the NAE issued a statement this past March calling for action to stop global warning.

Cizik issued an effective sound bite: "I don't think God is going to ask us how he created the earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created."

According to reporter Goodstein, Haggard's contribution to the discussion was, well, a bit more personal. "The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group of 51 church denominations, said he had become passionate about global warming because of his experience scuba diving," she wrote in her article.

Okay. Now if we could just get Haggard interested in rock climbing in Iraq maybe we could end the war.

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