Haggard and Hunter sounds like a duo you might hear in a place with PBR signs and peanut shells on the floor. In reality, these Christian leaders’ intimate secrets and radical ideas have recently been at the forefront of media attention. As a result, the very nature of American sub-cultural Christianity has been revealed, and the world has witnessed a confused religious mess that hides two of the most essential aspects of our faith: grace and mercy.
Ted Haggard: One of Time magazine’s 25 most influential Christians for 2005; head of the National Association of Evangelicals; personal friend and advisor to President Bush.
Ted Haggard: Caught in a high-profile sex-for-hire scandal with a male prostitute and meth user.
His initial response was that he never had a gay relationship with anyone. Later, in a letter to his congregation, Haggard stated that, “The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry.”
As the drama unfolded, “I didn’t do it, nor would I ever think about doing it …” evolved into, “Well, some of it’s true, but not all of it …”
Grace is a wonderful, difficult concept. Admitting the need for grace is admitting personal imperfection. Grace, in itself, is an untended shrub hidden in the back corner of our gardens. When we walk through, we proudly show our fruits—our megachurches, political victories, personal achievements and best-selling books. “We did this” is our cry, hoping that no one will see that grace-plant growing in the thicket. For grace to grow, there must be sin in the soil. Grace is not our work, and we are not proud of its presence.
In the midst of men of achievement, Jesus was fixed on a weeping prostitute—“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loves much” (Luke 7:47, KJV). This woman was shamelessly willing to bare her appreciation of grace in the midst of the most popular and prominent. They were disgusted. At another time, Christ would call these culturally great men “whitewashed tombs … beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are all full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matt. 23:37, TNIV).
Here is the American Christian. We appear to have a well-ordered life. Let no one see the evidence of our sin, as sin reflects personal weakness, and personal weakness is shameful.
We are all whitewashed tombs. The Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18 (“God, I thank You that I am not like other men …”) was a boast that he needed grace less than the unjust, the adulterers and the tax collectors. Today, we pray the same prayer … Thank God I am not like the sexually immoral, the addicts, the abortionists. Thank God we’re not sinners like them!
Joel Hunter: Successful pastor/author; newest leader of the Christian Coalition.
Joel Hunter: Resigned from the head post of the Christian Coalition.
Hunter (who was recently interviewed in the 850 newsletter) explained his decision this way in a press release: "There ought to be more than just gay marriage and pro-life issues because the Bible is concerned with all of life … We need to do everything we can to relieve poverty, to heal the sick and to protect the earth."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told the AP that their traditional focus on gay marriage and abortion just did not mix with Hunter’s ideas, and that this threatened the political credibility of the Christian Coalition. "When people try to pretend there is consensus where there is no consensus, they lose their credibility with their constituency, and eventually, they lose their credibility with Washington," Land said.
Here is the American Christian. Maintaining a strong political face has replaced the Biblical mandates to show mercy.
Don’t charge the poor interest (Exodus 22:25). Don’t harden your heart toward the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7). Open your hand wide to the poor and needy in your land (Deuteronomy 15:11). House those who are homeless; share your bread with the hungry; clothe the naked; don’t hide yourself from your brother (Isaiah 58:7). Whatever you did for the least of these, you did it for Me (Matthew 25).
Mercy has become a pesky, noxious vine that irritates the skin, a scandalous idea that persistently pokes its way through the soil of our culture, no matter how often we ruthlessly cut it back in the name of coalitions and agendas. Christ said this to the rich young ruler:
“‘Sell your processions and give them to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matt. 19:22, TNIV).
We are men of great possession. We have put much effort into developing political power and savvy. We fear to allow mercy to grow and intrude upon our works—its roots could upset the foundations of everything we’ve accomplished!
Kierkegaard said this—“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly … ‘My God,’ you will say. ‘If I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I get on in the world?’”
How would we survive as Christians in the world, if everyone knew the depth of our sin intimately, if they realized that we are just sinners in need of grace?
How would we survive if we gave all we had—careers, money, political agendas and pursuit of the “American dream”—in the name of mercy? What if we set everything aside, not in effort to impress God, but instead because our God has so impressed us?
If we really revealed grace, and truly lived out mercy, our lives would be ruined.
Let this be the prayer of a new reformation:
Jesus, ruin my life.