I was in seminary when Ted Haggard, mega-church pastor and evangelical figure leading the charge against the ‘homosexual agenda’, was accused of ongoing visits with a male prostitute. It was drama that we were particularly interested in at seminary, like a broker office during a shift in the stock market. And we carried a smugness about it. We never actually said, “I told you so,” or “I knew this would happen,” but I’m pretty sure we felt it.
It wasn’t so much Haggard’s stance on the issue that rubbed us the wrong way, but more of the way that he went about it. Nearly all of us, in fact, had grown tired of the Evangelical agenda to save America back to the Christian Nation they all wrongly thought it used to be.
In that year our professors were encouraged to have devotion and prayer before class, and so this became the natural topic in my New Testament class. I don’t remember the Scripture shared or even the exact words from my professor — all I remember is the indictment against us. Yes, taking joy in the downfall of Ted Haggard was not the way of Jesus.
This week, Mark Driscoll resigned from his church, inducing cries of the same jubilation and self-satisfaction from his critics. Driscoll was already in hot water as an author, accused of plagiarism. But when enough elders in his Mars Hill network of churches spoke out against a culture of fear and intimidation, characterizing “Pastor Mark” as a dictator or cult leader, the momentum could not be stopped.
But there are two reasons why I have learned to withhold my joy in Driscoll’s harm. First, I can see in myself, to any certain degree, the things that I dislike in him. Bad theology? Well, I’ve had that; and some people that I care about hold some of those same beliefs that Driscoll has. Pride? Yeah that’s me. Anger? Uh-huh. Last time I checked, the “get the plank out of your own eye first” talk in the Bible didn’t have a footnote explaining that it was actually permissible in some circumstances.
And the second is simple, but extremely powerful. As different as Driscoll and his people are from me, they’re still my family and I will not disown him or them; nor will I take joy in their pain.
When people tell tales of how the church harmed them, it grieves me and sometimes makes me mad. The world has the Church under a microscope, ready to pounce on every mistake and failure; but that includes how I respond to my sisters and brothers who lose their way.