Hazardous words from Haggard..reflections from National Youth Workers Convention

This is certainly an unintended post, but I feel the need to share some thoughts in response to the reactions flooding the internet from the aftermath of Ted Haggard’s comments today at the National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville, TN

Let me begin by stating that I fully support, respect, and appreciate Youth Specialties (as an organization) and their decision to have Ted and Gayle speak at the conventions this year.

Additionally, I have followed the Haggard story over the past few years, and truly believe it to be one of the more inspirational stories of restoration we have.  I applaud his courage in coming clean, making amends, and attempting to put his life back to together.  I am especially amazed and touched by the strength of his wife Gayle for staying with Ted through this difficult journey. Her story of love and grace is remarkable and needs to be heard

They have an important message to share to Christianity, and unfortunately in my opinion that message was lost by Ted’s insensitive and thoughtless comments.  If you are unaware of what happened, I would recommend that you find a recording of the message from today.  For sake of brevity and clarity, he made anti-Muslim jokes and comments, especially in regards to angry Muslims flying planes into buildings.  This unfortunately occurred during his talk when 2 fighter jets were heard soaring directly overhead of our stadium as part of the Tennessee Titans kick-off celebration a few miles down the road.

The comments were not planned and I hope were not malicious, but certainly depicted a lack of genuine sensitivity and maturity towards the Muslim people.  If you were in the stadium, it was clear that everyone took noticed and were a bit taken aback.  For some, they might have the ability to shrug sayings like that off as “careless” or “harmless”, but I was deeply offended.  I have tried all day to take similar approaches to many in attendance, but fail to be able to do so.

In light of the already tense relationship between America and the Middle East, and Christianity and Islam, such comments cannot simply be overlooked.  I have this same view and approach whether a friend or student would make such a statement or whether from a nationally recognized Christian leader speaking from a national platform.  You may disagree with me, but I cannot see how comments about “blowing up buildings” (in any context) and planes being flown by “angry” Muslims has any place.

I realize that part of my views stem from the fact that I live in New York and references to 9/11 (which were made) bring back strong emotions.  In New York we are also dealing with the Ground Zero mosque controversy and so hatred, prejudice, and divisiveness plague the media daily.

In a message about grace, forgiveness, and second chances, his comments certainly appear to fly in the face of his intentions.  He preaches (and I hope truly believes) in solidarity with the outcasts of society, using lingo such as “we” as opposed to an “us vs them” mentality that he confessed was part of his worldview until he felt the effects of being on the outside.  I wonder if his grace extends beyond the walls of the culturally “immoral” and those who also have fallen from grace and implies to “the other”, wherever they can be found.

I hope the chains of hostility and seclusion also include the foreigner, those of different religions and ethnicities, and those we may not fully understand.  I am reminded the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

In Ted Haggard’s situation, his “enemies” could certainly be those in the Church who have ostracized him, but they may also be those people outside of his religion he does not understand, agree with, or fear.

I believe in Ted Haggar’s story and really am pulling for him, but I just do not think flippant comments like what I, and over 3,000 people heard today can be ignored.

Some in attendance thought the cord should have been plugged immediately by Youth Specialities, and they have written such.  I believe that Tic Long, who was hosting the conversation did a noteworthy job of maintaining composure and grace.  He was put in an unfortunate and impossible possible.  Hindsight is always 20-20 and I honestly do not know what I would have done if in his position.

I am glad the interview continued because the message of the Haggard’s needed to be heard, but as I stated early, I hope it was able to get through despite the dense fog of his culturally insensitive remarks.

As Christians, we do not want to be accused of, or known, by our insensitivity but rather by our love. Am I wrong in this assumption?

Comments made today were not made in love, but rather from fear and ignorance. Luke 6:45 states, ” For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  I have said very hurtful things in private and public, revealing my own lack of judgment and compassion, and shame and regret carry with me for those moments.

To be fair, we all make mistakes and I will absolutely be the first to offer grace, since I realize how much in need of grace I am.

I hope that Ted realizes the magnitude and gravity of the words he said, both to Christians in the audience and to any Muslims who, in all likelihood will hear about what was said in Nashville.

Because I care deeply for Youth Specialties and for the Haggards, my hope is for an apology.  I personally feel it would be the right and smart thing to do.

*In fact, I am just now returning from the evening session where Tic Long publicly apologized to the audience for not reacting quickly.  Though I believe the situation was in no way his fault, it was refreshing for him to explain his thoughts and ask for forgiveness for perhaps a momentary lapse of discernment.

I still do hold that the guilty party, the one Ted Haggard, should issue a similar contrite confession for his own sake and since he remains a public figure and spokesperson for Christianity.  However, an apology forced is no genuine apology offered, and therefore my true hope is that Ted understand how his words (however intended) can be heard by others and lead to very negative consequences and images that we as Christians are trying hard to piece back together.

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9 thoughts on “Hazardous words from Haggard..reflections from National Youth Workers Convention

  1. Sadly, I gave up on the YS convention a few years ago. I love what the organization has done for youth ministry but I question what happens at the convention so many times.

  2. Wasn’t there, but I am sorry that those comments were made. We have an openly muslim student coming to our youth group every week – and reading the Bible, praying, singing praise songs, etc. She loves youth group. We all hold hands with her and pray with her. And no one ever comments that she is veiled. It’s just part of who she is. If she chooses to give up the faith of her family and instead give her life to Christ, that is her choice in her time. But the only way she would ever even consider it is because we are open to welcoming her the way she is now. In so many churches today, she would find hate, but in our church she is welcomed.

    • Kelly
      thank you for sharing. I am so glad to hear you have lovingly embraced a Muslim student. You included her from the beginning, without imposing any belief systems on her and she has found a home and experienced the love of Christ.

  3. Dan,
    I was there and it was hard for me to move on after his comments. I believe they derailed the real conversation, one that I would have liked have had with all 3000 youth workers in attendance. Unfortunately, we find ourselves talking about Islam instead of forgiveness found in Christian community. It is a shame.

  4. I was there this past weekend, and share your feelings about Ted’s sad and tasteless comments. I also feel that Tic’s words that evening could not have been more honest and well-spoken.

    I felt so badly for Tic, and for YS, who continues to invite speakers from many perspectives. Sadly, what could have been a moment for restoration turned into an embarrassing, awkward mess.

    I do hope Ted does the right thing and offers some public apology, though based on his lack of general tact or remorse, I am doubtful.

  5. Thank you for this post. What a messy, sin-filled world we live in. I appreciate your bringing grace to the equation.

    I hope you’ll continue to lift up the Haggard’s. I don’t pretend to know them, having just met them the first time, but I still haven’t given up on them. I trust God has a purpose for all of this that is greater than what we’ve seen to date.

    Do you think there is anything else we can do? I know we’re open to suggestions.

    • Adam
      Thanks for your comments and thoughts. I too was saddened by what happened, but believe that Y.S handled the situation with utmost class and maturity. I was able to meet Ted and, as I mentioned in my post, really like him and believe in his message and ministry. In fact, it is my opinion that his message needs to be heard throughout Christianity. It is bold, courageous and grace-filled. This whole issues may simply blow over in the days to come and, for their sake, I hope so. But I still stand on my views that his comments were out of place and potentially very dangerous to his image and message. I believe it to be in his best interested to be proactive, realize the gravity of his words, and apologize.
      If anyone at Y.S could bring that to his attention, that could help depending on how open he was, but beyond that I think Y.S has done everything correctly, including extending the original invitation to the Haggards.

  6. I agree YS did handle the situation as best they could. one of my frustrations is that after the comment you could look around the room and see youth workers draining out of the hall… that is sad that we are not able to sit for 15 min and listen even if it was offensive and wrong (which it was). we after all ask teenagers to sit an listen to the message of Jesus that some struggle with.
    I commend YS for attempting to get a conversation going about forgiveness at that level it is unfortunate that Mr. Haggard was the wrong person to ignite that conversation. His wife on the other hand I give great respect for her dignity and her ability so stay with a man that seems to have deep issues.

    Jasper, you are missing out YS this year was great despite this incident.

    Tic you taught us more in your apology then the planed talk ever could have thank you!

    • Chris
      I too was shocked and appalled by so many leaving in the middle of the conversation. We stayed to the end, and in spite of the comments made, tried to listen to what his actual message was. I actually find myself agreeing with a large part of it and even went back Sunday morning to listen to his seminar and meet him. I also agree that he wife was amazing. Interesting enough, during his seminar he told us that when YS approached him he suggest that they have only Gayle speak.
      He seemed to go into the whole convention with hesitation and reservations. I do applaud his courage, just not his thoughtlessness.

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