Several years ago I attended a conference for leaders of Christian ministries and non-profit organizations in Denver, Colorado. The event included several “big names” in Christian ministry for keynote addresses, including Ted Haggard, who at the time was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Not long after that conference–two months or so, if I remember correctly–I was sitting in my office in Virginia. I do not remember if I read something in print or online, but I saw that Ted Haggard had allegedly been using crystal meth and meeting a homosexual escort for services for several years. I remember feeling instantly upset. I was angry that Mr. Haggard could have, just weeks earlier, stood before an audience of hundreds of Christian leaders to speak about leadership in Christian ministry and his own activities as the pastor of a very large church in Colorado Springs and the president of NAE, all while being engaged in that kind of sin. In fact, I seem to recall walking quickly down the hall to the office of the colleague who had attended the conference with me, showing him the report, and saying something like, “Can you believe this? He stood there in front of that crowd…” Blah, blah, blah. I’m sure I said something that clearly conveyed my judgmental attitude toward Mr. Haggard. I think I was still stewing about it when I returned to my office.
At some point not very long thereafter, though, I felt strongly convicted. I don’t believe I have ever heard the audible voice of the Lord, but my heart was definitely being pricked by the Holy Spirit at that moment. I remember, in the midst of my “righteous rage,” suddenly asking myself, “Who are you to judge him…as if you have never spoken to your staff or taught your Sunday school class with sin in your own life?”
Ouch! It was one of those less-than-pleasant moments of conviction, realizing that I am not nearly as great as I think I am. I, like so many other Christians, had a tendency to rank sin. Sure, I messed up from time to time. I might lose my temper, or be less than forthright at times, or neglect my prayer and Bible reading, or think impure thoughts on occasion, but I wasn’t using drugs, and I certainly wasn’t meeting a homosexual escort! But just like that the prompting of the Holy Spirit had shattered my comfortable opinion of myself. In no uncertain terms, I sensed the Lord telling me that yes, Ted Haggard was a sinner and he had messed up big time, but the same was true of me. Yes, from a human perspective, Mr. Haggard’s sins were more egregious than mine, but God doesn’t look at things from a human perspective.
James 2:10 makes it quite clear: “…whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (ESV). I had stumbled in more than one point, so what excuse did I have to be judging anyone else? An evangelist friend of mine illustrates this idea quite well by using the example of a window. If I break the window, it really doesn’t matter if I broke it with a pebble or a two-by-four, whether it cracked or shattered; the bottom line is that the window is broken. God’s law is the same. Whether I refuse to correct the cashier who gives me more change that I am owed, swipe a candy bar or rob a bank, it really doesn’t matter, because I have sinned, and I have come short of God’s righteousness (Romans 3:23).
Jesus made it clear to the religious leaders of his day that it is not a good idea to demand judgment for others’ sins when we have our own sin to worry about. With the woman who was caught in adultery the crowd demanded that she be stoned. Jesus sent the crowd scattering when He said that the person without sin should cast the first stone (John 8:6-8). The same principle is found when Jesus said that I ought not focus on removing the speck in another’s eye when there is a log in my own eye (Matthew 7:3-5, Luke 6:41-42).
I am not saying that Ted Haggard’s sin should be disregarded, nor am I suggesting that he should not be held accountable for his actions. Quite frankly, I was dismayed to learn that he left the counseling and accountability group that had been working with him before they felt he should in order to start a new church. But the real point is that I have no right to assume an attitude of righteous indignation and demand justice for Ted Haggard–or anyone else. After all, based on the standard Jesus set, I have no right to cast stones.