Ted Haggard, a preacher who stepped down in 2006 from his position as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., following a sex and drug scandal, recently spoke out about Isaac Hunter’s suicide, an event that took the evangelical world by storm last week.
Focusing specifically on the scandals and charges of wrongdoing that have surrounded many famed preachers — himself included — Haggard said that evangelical Christians sometimes fail to properly apply the gospel when dealing with faith leaders who fall from grace.
Hunter, the former pastor of Summit Church in Orlando, Fla., had been facing personal issues since stepping down from his position late last year. His death, following the suicide of Pastor Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, earlier this year, has brought additional attention to mental health in evangelical circles.
“The news about Pastor Isaac Hunter breaks my heart. Great speaker, lover of God, and my guess is he loved the church. But he, like all of us, fell short,” Haggard wrote. “In the midst of divorce with accusations swirling, he resigned from the church he founded. He gave it his best shot, and his heart was broken.”
He continued, “This makes me sick to my stomach. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sick that he fell short, that’s a given for everyone except Christ Himself, I’m sick that our message did not do what we all hoped – it did not fix the problem.”
Haggard said that, in the past, evangelical leaders who have been immersed in scandal were often seen as not true believers, however he said this simply isn’t the case. In fact, he argued that most people who are in ministry “are sincere followers of Christ.”
While many Christians assume that a conversion to the faith heals all past problems, Haggard said this wasn’t the case in his own experience. While he said that becoming a believer made him “a new creation spiritually,” Haggard noted that there was some “simple care” that would have helped him avoid the scandal and pain he caused his family.
“I was so ashamed in 2006 when my scandal broke. The therapeutic team that dug in on me insisted that I did not have a spiritual problem or a problem with cognitive ability, and that I tested in normal ranges on all of my mental health tests (MMPI, etc.).” he wrote. “Instead, I had a physiological problem rooted in a childhood trauma, and as a result, needed trauma resolution therapy. I had been traumatized when I was 7 years old, but when Bill Bright led me to the Lord when I was 16, I learned that I had become a new creature, a new person, and that I did not need to be concerned about anything in my past, that it was all covered by the blood.”
But Haggard said that his past was still impacting his life.
In the end, the former megapastor claimed that his Christian training was delivered by people who didn’t respect the mental health and neural science professions. This translated, he wrote, into a counterproductive situation, as he was taught to view all issues as being entirely spiritual in nature.
“If I prayed and fasted, I was more tempted. If I just worked in ministry, I experienced relief and was not tempted,” Haggard continued. “I thought it was spiritual warfare. It was not. My struggle was easily explained by a competent therapeutic team.”
Haggard said that he believes wholeheartedly in the Bible, but that Christianity has “abandoned the application of the gospel” and that, as a result, too much time is spent on image management and damage control.
“Every one of us have had sin horribly intrude in our lives after being saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, and God is faithfully healing us or has healed us,” he continued. “Why don’t we tell that? He has never left us or forsaken us when we’ve said and done the wrong thing. Why don’t we tell that?”
Read Haggard’s entire blog post here.