Watching the Mighty Fall

Jason Russell, Greg Mortenson, Ted Haggard

By Kersley Fitzgerald

In March 2012, the American organization Invisible Children launched a grassroots media campaign to bring to light the atrocities of Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a militant movement in Uganda. It had been known for years that the LRA kidnapped children in Africa and forced them to be sex slaves or child soldiers. Invisible Children and its founders, including Jason Russell, had been gathering evidence and were ready to go public with a series of movies and a teen-based social media blitzkrieg.

It worked. Millions of teenagers got involved. And hundreds of haters attacked. They claimed Russell's passion was megalomania, his motives a desire to start a Christian cult, and said he was in it solely for the money—failing to recognize that Invisible Children's carefully kept financial records were suddenly unavailable because all the attention caused the website to crash, not because the organization was trying to hide anything.

Battered by turns with the success, the critics, the urgency of finding Kony, the sudden scandal, and lack of sleep, Russell had a complete and public mental breakdown. Overnight, he and Invisible Children lost credibility.

In 1993, after becoming separated from a group climbing K2 and being rescued by the people of a small Pakistani village, Greg Mortenson decided to show his appreciation by raising funds for the village and for schools all over Pakistan. To explain and earn money for the effort, he wrote an account of the ordeal—Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson became convinced that the key to changing the violent culture in Pakistan and Afghanistan was to educate girls. He did this through Central Asia Institute (CAI).

In 2011, 60 Minutes aired an episode challenging the veracity of Mortenson's books and the integrity of both his and CAI's bookkeeping. Accusations flew back and forth. It came out that while Mortenson was a horrible accountant and a creative storyteller, no malice was intended. But Wikipedia shows Mortenson has received no honors since the allegations.

Ted Haggard was the pastor of the mega-church New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He was also the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals. Haggard joined Focus on the Family as one of the voices of evangelicalism in politics, specifically speaking against homosexuality.

In 2006/2007 it was revealed that Haggard frequented the services of a male prostitute. He was removed from his position at the church. The new pastor is less politically inclined, and has stayed out of politics for the most part.

So, here're some questions for you:

What's your take on the LRA and child soldiers in Uganda?

How do you feel about the effort to educate girls under the thumb of the Taliban?

What do you know about New Life Church?

Because here's the thing. No viral video of Jason Russell having a public and naked breakdown is going to change the fact that girls in Uganda are being used as sex toys for military commanders, and boys are being used for cannon fodder. Nothing 60 Minutes can say will make Mortenson's conviction that girls need to be educated any less valid. And despite the long leadership of Haggard and his horrible fall from grace, New Life Church is still a local body of believers, worshiping God and serving its community.

I thought of another one: David was still a man after God's own heart, even after he killed Uzziah and stole Bathsheba.

From inside the person, integrity is important. The Bible says our actions should be above reproach. From God's point of view, everyone is redeemable if they admit they messed up and agree to follow Jesus.

From the outside, though, it's a delicate line. God uses people as leaders and teachers, and we are to show them respect. But Jesus is head of the church, and only Jesus is faultless. That being said, it is still possible that at one point or another, a fallen man pointed the world in the right direction. And just because the man fell, it doesn't mean the direction was wrong. All it means is that we can't be lazy and just follow the brightest star of the moment. We have to figure out for ourselves what issue is worth considering and what our role should be. And pray for the leaders—those who are still pointing, and those who are out of the picture whether due to the situation or their own character.

For the kids in Uganda, we may need to continue the work of Kony2012 that drew the attention of the UN and the US government to finding Kony, or we may need to help one of the many orphanages that keep kids safe so they can't be kidnapped. For girls and women in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we may need to get involved in CAI and helping them figure out their finances, or possibly volunteer with CURE International and work at an Afghan hospital. And don't count New Life out quite yet. Whatever their past, they are still one of the most generous churches in Colorado Springs.

Of course the great Jesus Juke in the room is that we need to pray for our leaders. All of them. Pastor, president, ministry leader—those who look like they have it all together and those who make your skin crawl. And when they fall, we need to pray for ourselves—that we will have the discernment to determine if they are still worth following.

Because that's the weird thing about God. He doesn't always take fallen leaders out of the game. Sometimes He does—and rightfully so. But sometimes He works to heal them in place. When that happens, we need to respect that and not shoot the wounded.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert....Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley – ‘Ozymandias'

Image Credit: Bill GLover; "Ozymandius"; Creative Commons

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Published 5-3-13