I just read an article by Pastor Michael Cheshire (The Journey Church in Conifer, Colorado. He is the author of How to Knock Over a 7-11 and Other Ministry Training (2012) and Why We Eat Our Own (2013)). The article is entitled, Going to hell with Ted Haggard, see here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/december-online-only/going-to-hell-with-ted-haggard.html
Cheshire speaks movingly about the ongoing evangelical Christian rejection of Mr. Haggard in spite of his public confession and the forgiveness of his wife and family. However, what caught my eye was a reference he made to those suffering from leprosy. After meeting with Haggard and befriending him and his wife, Cheshire was surprised to find that Christians began to reject him because of this association! Here is the relevant passage.
But then the funniest thing started happening to me. Some Christians I hung out with told me they would distance themselves from me if I continued reaching out to Ted. Several people in my church said they would leave. Really? Does he have leprosy? Will he infect me? We are friends. We aren't dating! But in the end, I was told that my voice as a pastor and author would be tarnished if I continued to spend time with him. I found this sickening. Not just because people can be so small, but because I have a firsthand account from Ted and Gayle of how they lost many friends they had known for years. Much of it is pretty coldblooded. Now the "Christian machine" was trying to take away their new friends.
Having visited Shantigramam (Village of Peace), one of the campuses of Karigiri Hospital in Northern Tamil Nadu State, India, and meeting people who had been shunned by their family and friends because of the simple fact that they had contracted the disease of leprosy, and because they had suffered awful disfigurements due to complications of the disease, Cheshire's point hit home. The family and friends of these dear, beautiful people, believed that they had been struck down by some god or evil spirit because of an evil deed done, either in this life or another past life. Acceptance would jeopardize their next life simply by their association with one thus cursed. One may then understand and, in a sense, excuse their reaction...it is part of their world-view...however wrong that world-view may be.
But, what excuse do we evangelical Christians have? We believe that we are all sinners saved by grace through faith by the benevolent, undeserved love of a forgiving, gracious, and merciful Father God. Together with the Apostle John, we declare boldly that if we confess our sins (and also with the Apostle John we agree that we all do sin even after conversion!), God is faithful to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When we read the Gospels we see the ecclesiastical elite of His day rejecting Him because of the kinds of people He hung out with...prostitutes, tax-collectors, sinners (an all encompassing label slapped on those whose lifestyle appeared to be contrary to the Law, whether through ignorance or a deliberate choice), and, yes, those afflicted with leprosy. If we are truly followers of Jesus, are we not to forgive our brothers 70 X 7 when they sin against us? Are we not to love one another even as Jesus has loved us (which includes dying for our sins so that we may be forgiven and accepted by an altogether holy God!)? Are we not to imitate Him? Are we not to "walk just as He walked"?
But, oh, dear Lord Jesus...how I see my own blind heart as I write these words! How often have I not done the same? I don't even know a prostitute in Greenville - which, in one sense, is a good thing, but in another it is a terrible thing. It means I do not seek to bring sinners to the cross of Jesus where the ground on which everyone in this world stands is level...we are all sinners...all...even those of us who have been "saved" or delivered from sin. Forgive me, sweet Jesus, and help me through the power of Your Holy Spirit to walk with you into the lives of those who are rejected by society - and especially those rejected by us Christians - and to love them as you did. To see their spiritual deformities as you see mine, so that my love for them may lead them ever so gently into the Father's waiting arms.