Ted Haggard and Ted Bundy: More in Common Than a First NameWritten by Jacob Prasch
Ted Haggard, the disgraced ex-pastor of a 14,000 member Colorado megachurch, has announced in a press conference that, in spite of a promise not to do so, he is planting a new church in his home town of Colorado Springs. On his website, he writes, "St. James Church is for anyone, and I do mean anyone: Democrats, Republicans, Independents and those who go to Tea Party rallies. If you are straight, gay, or bi, I want to walk through the Scriptures with you. If you are black, white, Hispanic (sic), native American, or a confusing combination, you are welcome here. Those working to overcome their sex or drug addictions, St. James is for you"¦. Adulterers, Ex-con. Everyone is welcome."
Few of us who have followed Haggard's fall of shame in the last few years are surprised by this announcement. And there is a very good reason why: Christian or not, evangelical or not, Ted Haggard is the poster child of a classic pathological narcissist.
Narcissism, in its simplest form, is an exaggerated view of self-importance. The term comes from Greek mythology. Narcissus, it is told, was graced with exceptional good looks. One day he saw his reflection in a pool and became so enamored with his own image that he was unable to turn away from his reflection and eventually starved to death. The field of psychology has identified this type of behavior as NPD"”Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Here are a few of the characteristics of NPD taken from an article on Medline Plus:
- Reacts to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation
- Takes advantage of other people to achieve his or her own goals
- Has feelings of self-importance
- Exaggerates achievements and talents
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love
- Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
- Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy
- Pursues mainly selfish goals
A humorous but sad way to define a narcissist is illustrated in the joke, "How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb? One. He holds the bulb while the world revolves around him."
One need not look far to see the narcissistic nature of Haggard’s personality. In his own words, he provides a lengthy commentary of the events following his dismissal from New Life Church. Here are a few of the observations he makes that highlight his pathological narcissism.
1. In the paragraph describing his being "truthful" during his four polygraph tests, the gravity of his lying up to that point is minimized. He exaggerates his truthfulness.
2. In describing the "take it or leave it" Restoration Agreement presented by his Overseers and Restorers, he and his wife Gayle signed it "in submission but without agreement" because it indicated "we were being permanently removed from any form of ministry and required to find a new career." Here, Haggard believes he is too important not to be in ministry, and is unable to see that his character flaws disqualify him biblically from ministry or any form of church leadership. This also indicates a submission of the hand but not of the heart. He is preoccupied with power and success.
3. Other requirements in the "Separation Agreement" included his relocation out of the state of Colorado, no further communication with church members, no engagement in ministry activities, and revocation of his ordination. In an eight point rebuttal, Haggard defends himself and attempts to derail the fairness and logic of the agreement, indicating that his punishment was worse than his crime. Here, there is an obvious reaction to criticism and sanction that betrays a rebellious spirit facilitated by an incorrigible notion of self-importance. He believes he is not deserving of this kind of discipline because he is too important to be treated this way. The clear message is that the Overseers and Restorers don’t know what they’re doing. He has "unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment."
4. At another point in his statement, Haggard describes how "the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart." He goes on to describe what "the Holy Spirit" said: "When you were 28 years old, I called you to Colorado Springs. No one on Earth has the authority to negate that call." A few moments later, "When you were 28 years old, I called you to Colorado Springs. Your sin does not have the authority to negate that call." And again, "When you were 28 years old, I called you to Colorado Springs. And you do not have the authority to negate that call." The rest, of course, is history. Haggard ends up leaving Phoenix, moving back to Colorado Springs, and doing the very thing he was instructed by his Overseers and Restorers not to do: begin a new church.
There are numerous problems with Haggard’s self-interpreted "call" (or shall we say, "re-call"). First of all, it came only to him, which makes it highly suspicious. It didn’t come from an overseer in Colorado Springs, it didn’t come from a Phoenix prophet, it didn’t come from a man of unquestionable character and righteousness, and it didn’t come from an examination of Scripture. It came to a man who those in authority over him had rebuked. Haggard goes on to justify his move back to Colorado Springs. Through the efforts of his Phoenix pastor, the Overseers and Restorers, as well as the new pastor of New Life Church "met with Gayle and me and released us from the New Life Church contract." This release from the contract was interpreted by Haggard as a license to resume ministry and, eventually, to start a new church. This license to resume ministry, in Haggard’s eyes, confirms his preoccupation with self-importance to the point that his feelings of importance and his addiction to achieving personal goals supersedes some basic concepts of what Scripture defines as a right heart.
If Ted Haggard were truly a man of God and truly exhibited a broken and contrite heart, here is what his penitent actions might look like.
- He would consider himself unqualified for Christian ministry and spend the rest of his life working out of the limelight, realizing that a thorn in his flesh is an addiction to be esteemed highly by others, to be the center of attention, to draw attention to himself, and to consider himself more important than others. Press conferences would not be a part of his schedule.
- He would consider himself unworthy of participating in any form of ministry except as an unrecognized servant for someone else’s worthwhile ministry. He would not consider himself qualified to be the leader of anyone, but rather a servant of many. Working in the mail room would be a good start.
- He would remain in the background, no matter what occupation he might find himself in, and never seek recognition for his achievements. Maybe someday, at the end of his life, he might write a book titled, "Narcissism, and How It Ruled Me."
- He would join a local church and be nothing more than a member. He would refuse all requests to be an elder or deacon, to teach Sunday school, or to fill the pulpit because he would see himself unworthy of any of these. Once a month, he would volunteer to fold bulletins.
- He would return to school and find a new career, as his overseers requested. It would be a reasonable first step to getting his life back in order and providing for his family like other ordinary working men. Journalism might provide a happy outlet.
- He would adopt an unequivocal servant’s heart and quote daily as his life verse, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35).
To be fair, all of us have a certain degree of narcissism. Psychologists affirm that we are all born narcissistic, but they also assert that as adults we are to grow out of our narcissism and learn that the world does not revolve around us, and that the only means to true happiness and fulfillment is to invest in the lives of others; sort of a secular way of saying, "Love one another as yourself." And, to be fair again, all Christians struggle with narcissism in one way or another; it is a remnant of the old nature firmly embedded in our flesh. It is why we as Christians are admonished to "put off the old man" and "put on the new." One cannot truly love biblically without putting ourselves aside.
Unfortunately, Ted Haggard and his enabling wife Gayle have never learned these principles of Scripture. Nor have the 160 persons who attended his first church service. Narcissists are enamored by other successful narcissists.
So what do Ted Haggard and Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers in American history, have in common? FBI profilers have identified the one underlying personality trait that characterizes all serial killers: they are pathological narcissists.
Ted Haggard may not be guilty of murdering young women, but he is guilty of killing. He is guilty of killing the spirit of 14,000 people who believed he had a unique connection with Christ and could lead them to Him. He is guilty of killing the hope of many sincere Christians who believed that maybe, just maybe, a man of integrity and selflessness was leading them in a direction of righteousness and away from an ugly world filled with deviant behavior. He is guilty of killing the reputation and tainting the image of Christian leadership in secular America. And, he is guilty of killing any chance that Christians who sincerely desire to know Christ better will see that Jesus Christ was first of all "a servant of all." (Mk. 9:35) Without seeing Jesus as first of all a servant, why would anyone aspire to be one? Unfortunately, it is the killing fields that have been restored, not the man.
A new church? No, it is the same old problem, just a different venue.
A new ministry? No, it is the same old narcissism, just directed toward "anyone."
A new Ted Haggard? No, it is the same old Ted, addicted to attention and deceived by self-importance.
But Gayle? She is different. She has written a book, and now she, too, is famous.
If there is anything Ted Haggard can do to restore himself, it is really rather simple. "Ted, give up your aspirations to satisfy your addiction to self-importance, and get a real job like the rest of us." Although, to be honest, I don’t think that is going to happen.
The Love Revelation
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