Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Religion and Culture | Should Christians shun so-called sinners?

Published:Sunday | April 8, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
Before and after pictures of Pastor Eddie Long, who died in 2017
Pastor Ted Haggard

Eddie Long, Pastor Haggard, Billy James Hargis, George Alan Rekers, and Lonnie Frisbee are just a few evangelical ministers who were forced to step down after their homosexual encounters were exposed. What makes these cases interesting is the virulent anti-gay, homophobic themes of their homilies.

The downfall of Pastor Ted Haggard, though, eclipsed just about every homosexual scandal that has plagued the evangelical church in the last two decades.

A once influential figure, Haggard was removed as pastor and chief executive of the New Life Church, the home to 14,000 members. Haggard also served as president the National Association of Evangelicals.

Throughout his career, he obsessively denounced the gay lifestyle. His strident opposition to same-sex marriage was also well known. Pastor Haggard's closeted lifestyle was made public after a male prostitute whom he solicited for drugs and sexual favours went to the media. This libidinous tryst proved his downfall.

Another accuser, Grant Hass, stated that in 2006, he began receiving suggestive messages from Haggard that led to a sexual encounter in a hotel room. The pastor, he said, offered him pills and he proceeded to indulge in sordid acts too explicit for publication.

The minister, he said, appeared remorseful the following morning, and asked for forgiveness, as he prayed in tongues. The case was settled by Haggard's church. Hass also noted that Haggard often rationalised that a man of God should still have 'fun'.

In a series of interviews, Haggard admitted to his errant behaviour and his internal struggles with homosexual impulses, although he remains married and a father of five children.

Condemned as nothing more than a poseur, Haggard was ostracised, ridiculed, and became a poster boy for all that is wrong with today's evangelical church. He was relentlessly maligned by those with whom he had once worked. Terms of the agreement with New Life Church dictated that he reside in a different state. In effect, he was banished. For several years, Haggard, forlorn and abandoned, worked as a car insurance salesman in Phoenix.

After his forced exile, Haggard is back as founder and pastor of St James Church in Colorado Springs.

He now shares pastoral duties with his wife, who remained unwaveringly supportive throughout the ordeal.

Haggard has since shed his once uncompromising, imperious stance against homosexuality, advocating a far more measured and tolerant approach.




Is Haggard deserving of forgiveness? Admittedly, it is naive to immediately trust a person who has erred. Trust must be earned. No one is entitled to violate the boundaries that we have established for our psychological, emotional, and physical safety. Still, as fallible individuals, we are called upon to empathise, to be understanding of the inner conflicts that we wrestle with, and not be judgemental. This is the path to Truth and Light.

Denunciations, finger-pointing, gossip, and verbal castigations can be indicative of religious hubris, arrogance, and self-righteousness. Sometimes, we harshly criticise others to obfuscate our own shortcomings - our own transgressions.

The virulent anti-gay rhetoric preached by these fallen pastors was their subconscious approach to stifling, hiding their own homosexual fantasies. The same psychological theory of projection is applicable to those who shun errant pastors. Why shun a sinner if we are all sinners?

The response to Haggard's foibles in Christian circles is debatable. Is ostracism in line with Christian teachings?

Pastor Haggard's case is a test for every Christian that holds forgiveness as a virtue and the foundation of Christian lore. That thousands of parishioners and pastors turned their back on him beg the questions: Is shunning an approved response to a sinner? Is forgiveness the most important precept in the Christian Bible? Do Christians trample upon every virtue when they shun their own, especially those who have shown remorse and compunction?




Christians who approve of shunning, cite 1 Timothy 2:16 - "Avoid [shun] godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly."

Here, we are admonished to avoid all forms of godliness that could ruin our character. And while we are advised not to commune with the sinful on an intimate, personal level, there is nowhere in sacred scripture that approves banishment. Rather, we are exhorted to shun [doing] evil as evident in Proverbs 3:7 and 14:16.

In fact, it is in Proverbs 3:3-7 that urges us to embrace mercy and truth as we shun evil acts.

Indeed, how can we show mercy and counsel transgressors if they are banished? This is a question that supporter of shunning must answer.

And they are also asked to contemplate on the following: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault [sin], you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness." (Galatians 6:1).

The Christian saviour taught by example. Never did he shun; never did he condemn sinners to exile. The very cornerstone of Christian Thought is rooted in Jesus' pronouncement: "It is not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners." (Mark 2:7)

And for those that cry out "hypocrites and liars" to sinners; and to those willing to crucify others, be reminded of the Messiah's word: "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that in thine own eye?" (Matthew 7:3-5).

The Bible clearly warns against haughtiness and conceit: "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven." (6:37).

- Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby. Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author of the audiobook: Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity