6 things they got wrong and 1 Thing Ted and Gayle Haggart got right at NYWC

If you are familiar with Ted Haggart, I dont need to tell you who he is or why his presence at all at a Church related conference was a bit of a controversy from the start. If you are not, then you probably have no idea at all who he is, but a quick google search should take care of that. Based on my conversations maybe 25% of people fit the first category, and maybe 75% had to google him to know who he was. 

I had a chance to listen to Ted and Gayle Haggart at NYWC (national youth workers convention). It wasn’t really a keynote presentation like many of the prior sessions had been, it was instead an oprah style interview conducted by Tic Long, and that change alone made it kind of weird to process for me. However on top of that Ted made what can generously be described as “comments that distracted us from the larger point he was trying to make”. The net effect of the different format, the off-color distraction, and the weight of confused expectations from everyone in the room was that much of what he was trying to communicate got lost.

Now that is not normally a big deal, we get the DVDs and rewatch them every year. And that has let us come back to the speakers later and share them with others who didn’t make the trip. In the past we have found some really good talks were the ones we “didn’t get” maybe the first time live, but rather learned to appreciate on a second listen. So we had the feeling that given a second listen we might get a better understanding on the message. However this year, that was not an option for Ted and Gayle’s talk. The controversial nature of his offhand comments (and the twitter storm that ensued) got the DVD sales canceled, and the stream from the web yanked (although if you are skilled with the google, you may be able to still find it online at the official NYWC site). For those who weren’t there, that means you have little chance to hear and formulate your own opinions, instead you are left to take other peoples words and interpretations as your only source of info.

So what did they say?

Well on the first pass there was a lot of unusual, shocking claims made, and those were the things that jumped out.

  1. Salvation has been boiled down to a magic sentence or prayer.
  2. People who are born again are significantly more sanctified than others.
  3. His mistake was to trust his men’s small group rather than a legally bound to silence counselor 
  4. His behavior was due to having sex at 7 years old, and that he had not processed that trauma
  5. He is currently cured of his impulses because of EMDR
  6. And the whole controversial statements that he made, regarding planes

Now if that doesn’t make for a full talks worth of controversial points I don’t know what does. There is no reason to expect people to take away more than that.  During the actual talk live, the sense that they had “lost the crowd” was palpable. You could hear the murmurs. You could see the tweets. You could see the crowd heading towards the exit. And for good reason there is plenty there to distract or offend just about everyone. It was really hard to listen to and recall any of the other points in the talk outside of those. And if you follow the twitterverse/blogosphere most of what has been written is dedicated solely to number 6 I would say.

However, none of that was the actual point.

(Cynically I would say the point was for him to do image rehab, but I digress). The message they thought they were bringing was one that actually has some resonance. That is something like this:

We have become addicted to judgement, and have stopped loving justice and stopped freely providing forgiveness.

She talked at length about why she stayed with him. About the sort fo good things she knew were still there, and that she never believed went away. She talked about what sort of trials she had seen him go through. She was in my estimation a very good speaker. She lamented the fact that we “dont have any stories of restoration”. They both used the phrase we a lot, and it always struck me that sometimes they meant “we as a church” but other times they really should have been saying “we, meaning me when I started and taught at my church” (like “we have never focused on the parts after being reborn”)

He made some poor arguments to back this up, like “Bill Clinton has been restored and could be re-elected again today”. (The part he missed there was that his reputation wasn’t built on the same thing he had a failure in, so that parallel didn’t really hold water for me). However, it seems that the evidence to support this notion is there. 


When I look at Ted’s story it is easy to see why he has not been restored by his own church. There are sins and there are SINS. At least in most constructs you can see in the news today. 

There is a school of thought that not all sin is created equal. That is a real poison that has crept into many churches in America. There is a “we and them” phrasing in many groups of believers and THEY have problems with SIN, where “we” have only “sin”.  

Shaun king made a similar and more pointed observation in this post about the disconnect between the way the church deals harshly with certain sins and turns a blind eye to ones like gluttony, sloth and greed. He singles out the Georgia SBC in his post, and certainly the Haggarts are targeting a specific strain of evangelical doctrine and not SBC by name. But I dont think any group has claim to being totally and fully forgiving and loving.

And I know some of you will be saying, “but my church does forgive, my church does love, my church does do mission and focus on the greatest commandment”. And I will say that is probably true, and you might not be “creating the problem”.

But consider this:

This is not only about the church, I will take it a step farther. 

We have allowed our love of judgement to poison not only our churches, but we have let that seep out into the justice system in America

and think about this,

Compared to how we treat domestic violence, robbery and assault, property crimes, and even organized fraud..

  • Do we deal fairly and justly with registered sex offenders?
  • Do we deal fairly and justly with people involved in drug offenses?
  • Do we deal fairly and justly with people involved in the sex trade?
  • Are “three strikes” laws what we are called to support? 

I would sugest that the same love of judgement and punishment that Ted Haggart created, cultivated and ultimately had turn on him, is the exact same animating force that creates the laws and sentencing guidelines that I called out above. 

I think it does and I think if you are in one the churches that wasn’t “creating the problem” and you didn’t want to speak out on doctrine taught at other churches, you might want to at least keep our legal system from being infused with the same values that the US/THEM & sin/SIN thinking produces.