Tag Archive: Ted Haggard

If God is so Powerful, Why Can’t He Stop Christians From Committing Heinous Crimes?

Evangelicals believe that their God is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He is the sovereign of the universe, and nothing happens apart from his purpose, decree, and plan. God sets up kingdoms and takes them down; thus Donald Trump is the president of the United States because God wanted him to be. It’s God, not humans, who ultimately elects people to office. He is the divine ballot box stuffer. This same God is the giver and taker of life. No one dies before the time God has appointed for his or her death. Wherever man roams, the Christian God is found. According to Evangelicals, humans cannot escape God. He is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

If these things are true, I’d love for a Christian to explain to me why it is that God can’t stop his followers from committing heinous crimes? Appealing to free will or sin won’t work. Why? God is in control of everything. If he is in control of everything, then that includes sin. If he is the sovereign over the universe, and nothing happens apart from his purpose, decree, and plan, what does that say about the notion of free will?  If humans truly have free will and can choose as they please, this means that God is not in control; that God’s plans can be frustrated by human volition. (Let the theological wrangling and justifications begin.) Well Bruce, you have to understand ____________. Actually, I don’t. All I am doing here is taking what Christians say at face value. If God is whom Evangelicals say he is, and has the power they say he does, this means that God is culpable for what happens day after day on this dying planet of ours.

Let me ask again, why can’t God stop his followers from committing heinous crimes? If, as Evangelicals assert, God, the Holy Spirit, lives in all believers and is their teacher and guide, why do Christians commit vile, horrendous crimes? Take Matthew Phelps, who stabbed his Christian wife over a hundred times. Explain how a Bible college-trained preacher could commit such a crime. Explain how it is that the news daily reports stories about Evangelical “men of God” committing adultery, stealing church funds, raping teenagers, and sexually molesting children. Why doesn’t Jehovah stop these God-called, Spirit-filled, Bible-reading, praying servants of his from committing these crimes (and others that aren’t reported). Is it that God can’t; that he is powerless to do so? Is it that humans do what humans do, and there is nothing God can do to keep them from doing so? It seems to me, based on an ever-increasing mountain of evidence, that if there is a God who created everything, he is an idle bystander, unwilling or unable to lift a finger to keep his followers from sodomizing boys, sexually assaulting little girls, and preying on adult women.

There was a time when Evangelicals could argue that criminals such as David Hyles or Bob Gray (Jacksonville, Florida) were outliers; that pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and bus workers who commit crimes are as rare as a dodo bird sighting. Thanks to the internet and the willingness of victims to publicly share their stories, we now know the Evangelicals have just as big of a crime problem as the Catholic church does. And even before the internet, there was gossip about this or that preacher being arrested or run out of his church. Solomon was right when said there is nothing new under the sun.

Evangelical church leaders love to rail against the world and its “sins,” yet these same behaviors are found among the fraternity. Does anyone really believe that Ted Haggard and Jack Hyles are the exceptions to the rule; that yes, preachers can and do commit crimes, but such behavior is rarely found in Evangelical houses of God? I remember a day when Evangelicals thundered against the sins of the world — fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and divorce. Look at our strong, lifelong marriages, pastors would say. Look at our moral purity. We owe it all to JESUS!  Now we know better. Evangelical pastors and their congregants sin just as much as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. We know that pastors are not the pillars of virtue they claim to be: that they have sex with women to whom they are not married, and surf porn sites just like their counterparts in the world. (Please read Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

It seems, then, that Evangelicals aren’t any different from the rest of us; that all their talk about being new creations in Christ Jesus is just that, talk. Now, this doesn’t mean that Christianity is worthless. People find purpose, meaning, and community through religion. That said, I do wonder if pastors stood before their congregations and said, God is not who and what we claim he is and we are just as fucked up as the rest of the world, what would happen? If the notion of a personal, caring God is destroyed, what’s left for Christians besides Grandma Mary’s cherry pie? If there is no difference morally between the saved and the lost, where does that leave Christianity?

Of course — thanks to cognitive dissonance — my words will be loudly and roundly rejected. There is machinery to maintain and gears to grease. There are offerings to collect and souls to save. Evangelicals dare not let reality get in the way of perpetuating the myth — that Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Quote of the Day: How Evangelicals Justify Past Sexual Sin — Jesus Forgives, So Should We

josh duggar

Often this narrative [sin and redemption] is particularly prevalent among evangelicals who have been accused of sexual misconduct. After evangelical television personality Josh Duggar confessed to molesting his sisters as a teenage boy, he and his family used the salvation playbook. Michael Seewald, whose son is married to one of Duggar’s sisters, spoke out against the media condemnation of Duggar, who was never charged with a crime: “The ultimate answer … is what Josh found and millions like him. He found forgiveness and cleansing from Jesus Christ. There are many of you that are reading these words right now having had thoughts and deeds no better than what Josh had and did.”

Disgraced megachurch founder Ted Haggard resigned his post in 2006, after admitting to drug abuse and a sex scandal with a male sex worker. He returned to public church life with similar rhetoric: “I am a sinner and [my wife] is a saint. … I feel we have moved past the scandal. We have forgiveness. It is a second chance.”

In other words, there’s a tendency among evangelicals to see sexual (or other) sins that have happened long ago (or even not that long ago), either prior to conversion itself or prior to a “re-conversion” or renewal of faith, as, well, natural. Of course people commit sinful acts, because sin is part of the human condition, and of course people are victims of sin without God’s grace to help free them of it.

There are a few problems with how this manifests in practice. It can absolve “saved” individuals of too much responsibility for past misdeeds, since they’re considered the deeds of a past, different self. It encourages a culture of silence among evangelicals about their struggles, since salvation is “supposed” to mean that temptation goes away, and any “backsliding” is the result of insufficient faith. Finally, this theological approach also means that “sins” tend to be conflated, especially sexual sins: consensual premarital sex and sexual abuse are often seen on the same spectrum, both the result of a temptation too great to bear.

Without God, the implication goes, people have almost no agency. In Moore’s case, the fact that his alleged sins happened so long ago — and that the intervening years have seen him become more and more committed to the idea of a theocratic Christian state— only intensify some evangelicals’ sense that Moore’s actions then (even if true) don’t necessarily have a bearing on who he is now. It’s also worth noting that in the aftermath of Trump’s campaign, evangelicals have done an extraordinary about-face when it comes to their view on the importance of politicians’ personal morality.

Many, many Christian scholars and thinkers have been intensely critical of this “get out of jail free” approach to sin and grace, as I noted earlier this month. Among the most prominent in the past century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident who was executed in a concentration camp for his activism. Bonhoeffer distinguished between “cheap grace” — easy forgiveness that allowed individual perpetrators and oppressive societies to get away, unchallenged, with their actions — and “costly grace,” or forgiveness that also asks hard questions, and demands social change.

It’s worth noting, however, that several prominent evangelicals — including the president of Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, Russell Moore (no relation) — have spoken out criticizing Moore’s evangelical supporters. “Christians, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism,” Russell Moore tweeted.

Despite this, “cheap grace” has become seemingly common in some evangelical communities, especially when there are practical political or pragmatic reasons (i.e., a Republican in power) to overlook a sin and preserve the social status quo.

— Tara Isabella Burton, VOX, For Evangelicals, Sin is Redeemable — But can That Allow Sex offenders to Dodge their Actions? November 29, 2017