There are two important points to take away from this most recent evangelical moral disaster. The first is that this was certainly hypocrisy, but it was not the hypocrisy of someone on the “hard right” of evangelicalism, but rather hypocrisy from the “squishy middle.” Ted Haggard had been telegraphing his serious departure from scriptural authority over sexual matters long before he was busted. But if you tell CT that you are not going to obey the Bible, that just counts as another “interpretive paradigm.” If you buy some meth, you are running out ahead of all our current interpretive paradigms. But give it time. They’ll catch up.
The second sign of trouble (evident long before the recent revelations) was the prevalent evangelical marketing of narcissism and celebrity as though it were a reasonable approximation of humility and ministerial service. What’s wrong with this picture? I remember, many years ago, long before the Jimmy Swaggart meltdown, talking to my wife about his record albums in a Christian bookstore. Album after album showed a close-up photo of his face, and nothing was more apparent than that something was seriously disordered about the whole operation. But that disorder was something that the evangelical market was more than willing to support and praise with their dollars. After it happens, the response among Christians was “how could this happen?” Are you serious? The real question should have been “how could it not?” Contemporary evangelicalism is nothing more than institutionalized narcissicism, and if the tree is rotten, it will continue to produce this kind of fruit.
The thing to take away from all this is not how we must deal with the scandal proper. There are others who must do that. The thing we all need to do is stop putting up with the “acceptable” parts of these scandals. Okay, we don’t put up with gay escorts and drug dealers. But when are we going to stop putting up with mealy-mouthed obscurings of scriptural teaching on sexual matters, and when are we going to stop putting up with the smoke, vanity and conceit of the evangelical marketing machine? Not very soon is my guess.