Sunday, December 12, 2010

A surprising conversation with Ted Haggard

Tic interviewing Gayle and Ted Haggard at NYWC
It's not often you get called a "weirdo" by someone in the general public let alone an infamous high profile figure such as Ted Haggard! (For those who don't remember, Ted Haggard was a mega church pastor and head of the National Association of Evangelical Churches - about 30 million people - before his indiscretions were revealed on national TV) This blog explores this interesting conversation along with his recent controversial speaking engagement at the National Youth Workers Conference in Nashville. This is an example of why I passionately desire seeing the Gift of Discernment working in our lives daily and throughout every member of the Body of Christ. 

Lilly Lewin a Creative Worship Space Curator.
Youth Specialties NYWC was held in Nashville a few weeks ago, with thousands of youth workers and pastors from all over the country. I even met a couple of pastors I knew from Newbold College in England! I was so excited to be asked by Lilly Lewin, author of Sacred Space: A hands-on guide to creating multi-sensory worship experiences, to help her create the Sanctuary Space and host a workshop on Imaginative Prayer! How fun it was to be part of this quiet and holy space surrounded by all the craziness of a convention! The room hosted different worship and prayer events such as TaizĂ©, but my favorite was Nap Time. As people lay down on pillows, Micah would 'pray over them' by walking around playing his guitar and worshipping while they napped. Different I know...  Experiential worship experiences can be so creative!

The background…

Youth Specialties always seems to have one speaker who is controversial and this year Ted Haggard was it… When I heard he was speaking I wanted to hear him purely because I wanted to practice my gift of discernment. I had seen Ted before on TV, on the internet and also in the Jesus Camp movie. Even with limited exposure I had sensed a check in my spirit years ago before his fall from grace and now wanted to see or discern if he had changed and how, and whether my original discernment was still valid. Because people can change. I believe in transformation. I really wanted to see a story of redemption.

The Journey of Discipleship is all about discernment….

(Click the 'Read More' link below to see my intriguing conversation with Ted Haggard.)

I wasn't there to judge, just discern with the Holy Spirit's help whether this man was ready to be put back into spiritual leadership. (He is currently starting a new church in Colorado called St James). I believe that people can heal from sexual and other issues in their lives. We are ALL on a healing journey in one way or another. And we all sin. Even ministers. We do stupid inappropriate things and get tempted and sometimes do things we regret. But with humility we can accept the forgiveness of God, put on his robe of righteousness and walk the journey with a head held high. Discernment is not about judging in fear but seeing the Holy Spirit working in other people and seeing their fruits. It is about choosing the right people to have in spiritual authority over you.

Discernment is a prompting of the Holy Spirit, it can be a recognition of the Holy Spirit in someone else or a place (or the absence of the Holy Spirit). Discernment is the acknowledgment of someone's character or fruit. It is not a snap judgment it is an observation that usually needs time to be tested.

Gayle and Ted Haggard by Gavin Richardson
Ted's main interview at YS was a disaster. His conversation was filled with bitterness and judgment of the people he was saying shouldn't judge him. He had some confusing statements regarding therapy and accountability and some questionable theology. He may have been healed from his "sexual disorder" but he was evidently NOT healed emotionally or psychologically.

People were leaving throughout the time but left in mass exodus when he made a comment about an airplane flying overhead . Close to: "I hope that plane isn't headed for us. It's probably some angry Muslim. Hey, I would be angry too if I had to get up at 5 a.m. to pray.” The mood in the room suddenly changed. It was like a coldness or a sense of fear or shame suddenly took over the stadium. Gayle his wife was a very attentive mediator of his comments but unfortunately also made a crack about the Muslims the next time a plane flew over.   

The fact that they made racist jokes about Muslims or didn't apologize for what happened four years ago is not the issue. The real issue is whether he is ready to go back into ministry. Just because he has a HBO documentary 'The Trials of Ted Haggard' and has done repentance interviews on Oprah, Larry King, Good Morning America, and the CBS Morning Show in 2009 and they are now legally allowed to go into ministry doesn't mean he is READY to. Gayle has a book "Why I Stayed" that is now a New York Times best seller, they are being sort after for interviews on TV and now in a way because they are infamous celebrities they have an even bigger audience. Still this does not mean they should be in spiritual leadership.

Is the media potential too profitable, too tempting? Are they just trying to sell more copies of the book? Does Ted have an identity other than 'church leader'? Does he still need to be in control? All questions I had in my mind.     

Our conversation…

I was rather shocked by their interview and was not the only one that thought it didn't make sense. But I wanted to spend more time in his presence seeing what he was like as a person. I attended along with thirty other people a question and answer lunch time session. People in the room were much like me, wanting to gain more insight and understanding and just generally clear up a few things. People asked different questions. I did not feel a spirit of judgment in the place towards the Haggards, in fact one of openness and patience. One nice young guy asked a question that set Ted off in an angry rage. Ted pointed and yelled and called him stupid. Gayle was the mediator again by saying 'you both have good points'. Hmmm. I take Spiritual Abuse very seriously!

I had the last question. Here is a brief description of how the conversation went... Ted had been making excuses and blaming his church for not letting him heal emotionally even though he was healed sexually. He also talked about other high profile pastors that had covered up their indiscretions legally. "You didn't know about those guys did you." (This is the whole need for discernment - how can we discern if a leader is not walking with God and living a life contrary to what they are teaching.)

So I asked. "I praise God that you are healed in some areas but I can see you need more healing in other areas and I hope you find that. As we are all youth pastors in this room, I see the incredible need to teach  the Gift of Discernment in our churches because we don't want someone to follow a celebrity pastor OR even us OR a church - we want them to have their own relationship with God so the Holy Spirit will speak to them and guide them. I think teaching the Gift of Discernment is a big part of teaching discipleship."

Ted got pretty worked up and stated 'I couldn't DISAGREE with you more….. You are one of those WEIRDOS who go around to different churches and say emotionally, 'Oh I don't like the feel of this', 'Oh I don't like the look of him'….

He continued on in the face of his mockery….

I then shared that, "I believe it is key to discipleship, that we teach people how to hear God's voice so they don't just follow anyone or believe everything they see or hear but use the Gift of Discernment so people DON'T  get led astray. In discernment we use the Holy Spirit and the Bible as the foundation, not our feelings."

He just grinned at everybody and said thanks for coming.

Someone came and gave me a hug in support after it was all over...

Being called a weirdo by Ted Haggard!?!?!? I took it as a compliment!

 If Ted was fully healed, he wouldn’t need to justify himself or prove himself, he would be acknowledged by the Body of Christ and blessed. Unfortunately I’m not sure if he will heal from these issues but miracles can happen and are proven by their fruit. Keep discerning everyone – it is the most important gift we have.

On Dr Phil this week was another admission by celebrity Christians - Marcus and Joni Lamb - the founders of Daystar Television. After allegedly being threatened with extortion he went public and admitted his past infidelity (which is spiritual abuse). We cannot judge we can only discern by their fruits, with what they say, how they act and with the Spirits prompting, if they are now healed or healing, redeemed and transformed and worthy of being in spiritual leadership over us. But it should raise integrity questions like: are they sorry this happened or are they sorry they got caught, is their increased fame because of the affair used to sell their latest book about the issue and should they now be in a leadership role over people's spiritual lives when spiritual abuse has occurred.

Every time I read Ezekiel 34 I get a terrifyingly clear view of what God thinks of spiritual leaders who abuse their sheep!

Warning: It says in Matthew 24:24 "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." (AKJV)

The gift of discernment is so important in the world right now - I see so much deception within the evangelical church and in some of the healing movements in the US. We must be grounded in the truth of scripture and be able to hear the voice of the Spirit! They are both equally necessary. The Spirit and the Truth. We must start practicing NOW. And to practice we need to get out of our little religious bubbles and pay attention to what is happening around us!

The Prayer Room at Youth Specialties
……..…Just another fascinating conversation on my journey of discipleship and my quest to strengthen my gift of discernment.

If you would like to join me on this discipleship adventure please contact me for great books that will help you on your journey.

(I have left many things out I could have put in this blog…one is my personal analysis of why Gayle stayed in what I see as a potentially abusive relationship. But I am not trained as a psychologist yet so will hold back on that. If you have any questions please feel free to email me at


Shelly said...

I enjoyed reading your blog, Nicki. I agree it is important for all of us to use our spiritual discernment. As it can cost us our life if we don't, just like the young prophet in 1 Kings 13. I believe Pastors need to encourage it more than they do, for their flock to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. May God continue to bless your feet with the Gospel of Peace. Blessings Shel

Anonymous said...

From Keith Fredrick Allen

Seems like discernment is related to humility, intimacy and grace. A friend told us recently that the Lord had suggested that it was a God thing to pray for His humility to be imparted to us every day. To grow in humility is to grow in liberty as well as discernment. Thanks for the article.

Anonymous said...

From Greg Rohrbough
Nicki, you are Weird in all the RIGHT ways!!!