To Err is Human, To Forgive Divine

June 8, 2010


In case you were wondering, that old saying in the title comes from Alexander Pope, English poet and scholar.  I tried to read some of the poem the line comes from, with a distinct lack of success.  The amount of poetry I read is rather limited.  Mostly, because there are only about 3 poets I like and Pope isn’t one of them.  And, when I say lack of success, I mean I thought my head would explode after 2 stanzas.  But, Alexander Pope’s lyrical abilities aren’t what I want to discuss.  Today, it’s forgiveness that’s on my mind.  Several reasons, not the least of which is that I’m struggling with forgiving someone who’s wronged me.  Another big reason is that Ted Haggard has announced that he’s starting a new church and to say that it’s stirring up some controversy is putting it mildly.  In case you’ve forgotten, Haggard was the pastor at the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs.  In 2006, it came to light that Haggard, who’d been preaching against homosexuality for a pretty good while, got caught in a scandal involving a gay male prostitute and a meth habit.  Talk about a fall from grace. 

Haggard experienced what other pastors have when they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  Because of their position, their sin was somehow greater than everyone else’s.  We tend to hold our religious leaders to a higher level of accountability than is expected of ourselves or anyone else.  In fact, sometimes that level is unattainable.  Doesn’t stop us from expecting it, though.  Why is that?  Why do we believe a pastor or bishop or monsignor or any other church officeholder isn’t supposed to sin?  They sure haven’t shown that capacity in the past.   Truth be told, sometimes religious leaders are the chief sinners in any group.  Think back to Jim Bakker’s fall, or the Catholic’s dirty little secret.  Church leaders screwing up so bad it’s not funny.  Ironic maybe, but not funny.  In his song “Conversation with the Devil”, Ray Wylie Hubbard (as the Devil) sang:

“Over there’s where we put the preachers, I never liked those clowns
They’re always blaming me for everything wrong under the sun
It aint harder to what’s right, it’s just maybe not as much fun
Then the walk around thinking they’re better than me and you
Then they get caught in a motel room doing what they said not to do”

The point of that is that church leaders are just as human, just as broken, as you and I.  All holding them to a higher standard will do is give them further to fall when they inevitably do. 

Unfortunately for Haggard, he’s still experiencing the fallout from his actions.  As I said earlier, he and his wife are starting a new church and opinions are mixed.  Some folks think it’s great, others say it’s too soon for Ted to be thinking about leading another congregation.  Still others doubt he should ever be the head of another church.  All I can say is that I’m not throwing any rocks his way.  In my experience, they usually come back at you sooner or later. 

My personal forgiveness issue is entirely different from what we’ve been talking about.  By that, I mean it’s not sex-related.  I can’t say what it is about without revealing more than I want too.  Also, if I do that, I’ll be trying to get you on my side and I’m trying to get away from that.  I will say that the person in question has done several things to hurt me, complete with justifications of why what they did was right.  Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to step away from them.  External factors dictate I maintain contact.  And, because it’s in my nature to trust people (sometimes even after they’ve given me ample reason not to), I will be leaving myself open to be hurt again.  And, I’m not sure how to deal with this.  It’s a rather thorny dilemma, one I don’t see an answer to.  Any advice would be appreciated.

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