who would you have lunch with?

There is a story floating around cyberspace this week about forgiveness, Ted Haggard, and Christian community. A pastor reaches out to disgraced evangelical leader, Ted Haggard, through the simple act of inviting him for lunch. It's a touching story.

You can read it here: Michael Cheshire, "Going to Hell with Ted Haggard"

Here’s my initial response (which I posted in a comment over at Jesus Creed):

I appreciate the engagement and love reflected in this story.

One phrase, however, has troubled me: “Of course, I understand that if a person doesn’t repent there is not a whole lot you can offer.”

Really? I understand and value accountability within Christian community, as well has having a certain moral standard for leadership. But I see a resignation in this phrase that dismisses the complex journey of sin and repentance as the Holy Spirit convicts. Can one still meet Ted Haggard for lunch if he hadn’t repented? I’d hope so.

I’m glad Michael Cheshire pushes us evangelicals with this story. I just think he could have pushed us further.

And here a few more thoughts for consideration:

We can and should graciously love those on the outside (“Love your neighbor” - Mt. 22:39)

We can and should graciously love those on the inside of Christian community, as this story illustrates. (i.e. “Love one another” - 1 Jn. 4).

Where Christians struggle, however, is how to graciously love those who were on the inside, but now find themselves on the outside.

I don’t think there is simple solution, for as I’ve already mentioned, sin and repentance is a complex journey. And in the context of Christian community, especially those we empower in leadership, complex can be an understatement to describe how to process situations such as Ted Haggard’s.

But that’s not what troubles me with Cheshire’s story. I think ministry leadership is conditional, sure. But leadership role and friendship are different. And I don’t think friendship is necessarily conditional. Sometimes friendship is the most and best we can offer to someone not seeing the err of their ways, whatever the situation. Abandonment isn’t biblical accountability.

So my question I’m pondering is this: what type of people are we friends with? Insiders? Outsiders? Or everybody?

Or more simply, who would you have lunch with?


Cortland Coffey said...

Hey David,
I am actually a close friend of Michael's and on his staff at The Journey. I can see where your coming from with your initial reaction but wanted to clear up what I believe Michael to be saying.

The sentence you pulled out was in reference to peoples reaction to Ted being back in ministry. Especially the religious elite around us were the ones that distanced themselves from Ted and us because he was unfit for ministry and in their eyes "Shaming the church" by continuing to do church.

The Comment does not apply to friendship with the unrepentant, after all this all started from a friendship Michael had with an unbeliever. I know that Michael regularly pushes people to reach out to the lost (unrepentant) people they know through love and friendship.

In fact I myself when I showed up at his church was confused about sin and had not come to terms with much of my own. While Michael didn't put me in the pulpit right away he loved me and built a relationship with me as I found my way out.

We may not be able to do much with the unrepentant as a pastor, but as a friend we can always reach out in love.
-Cortland Coffey

David Warkentin said...

Hi Cortland, good to hear from you!

And thanks for the elaboration and clarification. I should stress again, I found this story hopeful and inspiring in telling of grace in Christian community. Michael's vulnerability is commendable, especially in the face of criticism he has endured.

I guess I just wonder what the outcome would be if it didn't have such a happy ending? What if Ted Haggard remained unrepentant and remained in ministry. I infer that Michael would no doubt still reach out to him in friendship, but the cost would be much greater I bet. Obviously this didn't occur, so the story is told as is.

My post is expanding the thought, not attacking Michael's example or faith. I would have been supportive if Michael elaborated on these types of situations as well. That one line leaves the impression that friendship with unrepentant individuals (e.g. pastors) is not "a whole lot to offer." I think it is (and likely Michael would agree).

And so that one line, even with your clarification, still has me thinking: within ministry leadership or not, how do we relate to the unrepentant - those who were once 'insiders' but can no longer be called such?

I sincerely hope Michael, yourself, and your ministry don't see my comments as a personal attack. Far from it. Michael's grace and initiative is exemplary. I take issue with the broader topic in evangelicalism of how to relate to the unrepentant and I think friendship has a lot to offer. I realize is outside the scope of the story itself, but for me it lies in the background and is too often left unaddressed.

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