Ted Haggard's hard road to redemption
Thursday January 29, 2009
In a post earlier this week on world-class narcissist Ted Haggard's desperation bid to stay in the limelight (wonder if he and Blago bumped into each other in the green room?), I mentioned that if he was really interested in atonement, he would take a lesson from how the disgraced UK cabinet minister John Profumo redeemed himself: by quietly working in the London slums to help the poor, away from the cameras and the public eye. My Bnet colleague Patton Dodd, who was Haggard's writer and editor for eight years, and who therefore knows the man well, sounds a similar note in a Slate essay today, in which Patton discusses why a pastor has to walk a higher road to redemption. Excerpt:One place to look is outside religious ministry and inside British politics, to the famous Profumo Affair. When popular politician John Profumo was caught with a prostitute in 1963, he resigned and withdrew completely from public life. For the rest of his days--he lived until 2006--he did the work of atonement, cleaning toilets, washing dishes, and working with alcoholics in London's East End. Profumo never published a memoir or even granted so much as an interview, even though he once acknowledged "deeply distressing inaccuracies" in reports of his affair. Before his fall, Haggard always claimed he'd do the same. From time to time over the years, from his pulpit, Haggard would say that if anything ever incapacitated his ability to minister, he hoped he'd just continue to come as a member and volunteer at the church--clean floors, scrub bathrooms. Unfortunately, given allegations of inappropriate behavior between Haggard and a church member, he couldn't be allowed within his church at all. But there were plenty of other options. Every town has an East End.Very astute point. Every town has an East End. Beautiful line. And a true one.
The problem for people like Ted Haggard--the problem that John Profumo intuited--is that he was in a position of public trust. Once fully lost, that trust can never be fully restored. Robert Downey Jr. can become an A-list actor, ruin himself with drugs, sober up, and become an A-list actor all over again. A businessman, a scholar, or a parent can do something similar. Why can't Haggard? Because his very public career was based on the antithesis of his failures. Downey wants only to be a damn fine actor, and he can be that no matter the content of his character. Haggard wanted to be a minister, a position that makes claims on his behavior--claims that Haggard professed to be equal to. Haggard didn't have to be a big supporter of President Bush, or outspoken against homosexuality, or any of the things that charged his public life. But he did have to have character that was consistent with the values that he so loudly espoused. His life did have to be consistent with what he preached, because preaching is based on public trust within the preacher's community of followers. Integrity is the deal-maker, hypocrisy the deal-breaker.