You know that we who teach will be judged more strictly

So, Ted Haggard, eh? Some of you might remember him from his clash with Dawkins (video link) in The Root of all Evil?. He came across as a fairly typically fundie nutter, and ended up throwing Dawkins off his land; to be fair, Dawkins did start out by comparing a service at Haggard’s mega-church to a Nuremberg rally. However, it turns out that Haggard’s positions were slightly more nuanced than the TV programme might have lead you to believe: he was concerned for the welfare of immigrants in a way which brought him into conflict with the Republican regime, for example.

Readers who’ve been around in Cambridge for a while might remember the fuss when Roy Clements came out (or, it appears, was pre-emptively outed by his wife and some Christian friends). Clements was senior pastor at Eden Baptist Church, the other big student church in Cambridge. He was also an internationally renowned author and preacher, famous for his clarity and insight.

In the UK, evangelical Christianity can best be compared to a fandom, right down to the interestingly-dressed people at conventions and the perennial arguments about the canon. Like any fandom, evangelical Christianity has its leading lights. As a newcomer to evangelicalism at university, it wasn’t uncommon for me to offhandedly tell other Christians about someone I’d heard preach and be told that I was lucky, as that man was a Big Name Preacher: the sort of person you might see at a Christian conference, but which it would take a University Christian Union with CICCU’s undoubted clout to get hold of. Clements was a Big Name Preacher (John Stott and Don Carson are other examples of people who are famous-to-Christians, who I heard as an undergraduate). Eden Baptist is no mega-church, and evangelicals in this country thankfully do not have the political influence they do in the USA, but both Clements and Haggard were published authors and influential pastors of large and important churches.

When the story broke, Clements dropped out of view fairly quickly. This was partly his decision, I think, but also partly down to some frantic retconning by Christian publishers and bookshops, who, according to Clements, suddenly found that his teaching actually hadn’t been so great after all (the vicar at my old church continued to quote Clements in his sermons, for which one must respect his integrity).

But then, a few years later, Clements was back with a website and a theology attempting to combine conventional evangelicalism with the idea that God thinks committed gay relationships are OK after all. Contrast this with Haggard’s decision to take one for the team in his final letter to his former church. There’s nothing wrong with your theology, says Haggard, it is absolutely all my fault, and I must change.

Should we respect Haggard’s integrity in staying the doctrinal course, or is there no merit in continuing to believe something so wildly wrong, or in being part of a movement so dedicated to doing harm? As for Clements, one could say he’s done a little retconning of his own. The Bible says less about homosexuality than the evangelical obsession with it would lead you to believe, but, arguments about the importance of the issue aside, if you read it the evangelical way, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion than the traditional one. To attempt to maintain an evangelical approach to scripture while denying this conclusion seems untenable, to this ex-evangelical at least. Better to give up these contorted attempts to salvage inerrancy (or even, perhaps, theism 😉 and just carry on doing what we know to be right anyway.

And with that, I’ll end on a song. Via Helmintholog, I give you a rollicking gospel number: Meth and man ass.

10 thoughts on “You know that we who teach will be judged more strictly

      1. That could be quite funny. Pretend I have no idea of the history but just that I’ve been reading some ‘fantastic stuff’ by this former Eden pastor.

  1. Subject: taking it like a man
    I was impressed by Haggard “taking it like a man”, as we used to say in the bad old days of patriarchy. The precedent I thought of was Jimmy Swaggart, who was likewise caught in (a relatively innocent) sexual sin. Swaggart was instructed to step down from ministry for a short time (two years?) but refused to do it. He went independent instead of accepting the discipline of the denomination; apparently he thinks he’s indispensable to God’s kingdom.

    Haggard looks properly chastened by comparison to Swaggart. But I can’t give him much credit. If he was just preaching the Gospel and got caught out, OK, I would probably have some sympathy for him. But he wasn’t just preaching the Gospel; he was actively campaigning against gay marriage. While enjoying his same-sex kicks on the side.

    It would be prudent for Haggard to reevaluate his convictions, in light of his personal experience of a same sex relationship. (If one can call this a relationship.) But apparently that option is unthinkable for him.

    He’ll continue to be a tormented man until he dares to think the unthinkable.

    1. Well, it’s not something that we all know, but there tends to be a consensus about gay rights these days, at least in the West.

      I was sort of thinking of Dawkins’ point that even Christians (and I think he has in mind “Bible believing” Christians) do not in fact get their morality from the Bible. This will come as no surprise to you, I imagine, but I think in the TGD and various interviews, he’s trying to head off the allegation that one needs a religion to be moral.

      1. Hmm. I think that I agree that one doesn’t need a religion to be moral. What I do not know is how one “knows” what morality looks like without some external standard. How does one decide upon that standard? Is it a decision (whether pertaining to religion or not) or an imposition?

        1. I think some of it is innate or so agreed upon across cultures that it may as well be. Research shows up some of those things. Some of it is clearly cultural: witness the change in attitudes towards homosexuality over the years. Finally, people who think about this stuff can use whatever principles they’ve arrived at to derive other principles, or to check that their moral intuitions match those principles. Decision or imposition? I’ve started from the latter and moved to the former in my examples. I don’t understand enough about how minds work to get underneath my most basic assumptions, I just find that I have them.

          I’m not sure it makes sense to ask whether homosexual relationships, say, are really moral now or really weren’t before. If I’m a person who thinks they are, I’d better advocate that position, because in the absence of moral reality, my views compete with those of others and there’s nothing stopping the world going against me but my own efforts (and those of people who agree with me). This is the so-called True Knowledge position I’ve mentioned before, and the artificial island still seems like a good metaphor: we’re not anchored to the bedrock here.

          That’s not to say I’ll join up with the caricatured arts students and say that no morality or culture is any better than any other, because cultures which think that are doomed. But in the end, “better” means “here are my criteria for goodness, here is why they are better met here than there”, and I must then attempt to persuade others to agree.

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