Pride Often Trips up Powerful Figures
By Todd Hartman
Rocky Mountain News
November 4, 2006
The Rev. Ted Haggard finds himself walking in the familiar footsteps of powerful people who put themselves in high-risk situations that threaten career and family life.
The extent of Haggard's relationship with former male escort Mike Jones, 49, is still in dispute - Haggard denies the man's claims that they had a three-year sexual affair. But the senior pastor of New Life Church has admitted he received a massage from Jones and bought drugs, which he said he never used.
Those are potentially devastating actions for the head of a 14,000-member evangelical empire and a national leader of the conservative Christian movement, a man who has warned against gay marriage and has championed a family-oriented, Christ-centered lifestyle.
Experts on popular culture, religion and corporate leadership said that any number of forces could be at play, including - most powerfully - simple human nature.
Time and again it has trumped the zealous preaching of religious figures (Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart), the ambitions of politicians (Bill Clinton) and the careers of top executives (see most recently Enron).
"This isn't new. This wasn't invented by (former congressman) Mark Foley or Haggard or any of these guys," said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.
"Let's go back to the Pilgrims. If you read William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation and compare it to the court records, those records are filled with intoxication, fornication, adultery - all the stuff human beings tend to do a lot of."
A certain arrogance often comes with positions of power, said Diane Winston, a scholar at the University of Southern California and an expert in American evangelicalism and media coverage of religion.
"You get to a certain point and you just don't believe that the standards that apply to other people apply to you," she said.
"Some religious leaders do feel a certain sense of entitlement and exemption. They have a close relationship with God, so maybe they can see things from a certain perspective," Winston said. "But they also are exempt because of this relationship with God."
Some powerful people engage in a kind of "magical thinking" that keeps them from believing they could be discovered, she said. "There's a certain déjá vu as these guys keep getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar."
A starting point for such actions lies with an "exaggerated sense of pride," said Mathew Hayward, an assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado's Leeds School of Business and author of the soon-to- be-published book, "Ego Check: How Executive Hubris is Ruining Companies and Careers."
That excessive pride can lead to greed, which becomes a problem when a person begins acting on it, and engaging in risky conduct, he said.
Then, "You start engaging in egregious conduct, and you underestimate the likelihood that you'll get caught," Hayward said. "So, as people have more success as they become more powerful, as they get away with egregious conduct, then they become more confident that they're going to continue to do so."
Powerful people also fall into trouble through a lack of confidantes, people who they can talk to and who can tell them when they're "stepping over the line." Similarly, as people become more powerful, Hayward said, "there's often a reluctance to take heed of feedback."
Finally, people in positions of influence don't take the "time and care to think through the consequences of their actions," he said. "So it's not just a question of believing that you can get away with egregious conduct, it's also a question of failing to fully think through the ramifications of what you're doing."
In Haggard's words
The Rev. Ted Haggard has spoken often about morality, fidelity, drugs and sex. Here are some excerpts from his books:
• "If someone visits a prostitute, an adult bookstore, a bar or a meeting promoting anti-Christian attitudes, that person gives the devil a foothold in his or her personal life."
- From Primary Purpose: Making it Hard for People to Go to Hell From Your City. Published in 1995, the book discusses how to turn a community into a Christian enclave.
• "Self-control is overcoming your impulses so that you can get yourself to do what God wants you to do. . . . if your old sin nature leads towards drug abuse, you need never abuse drugs again."
- From Foolish No More! Seizing a Life Beyond Belief. Published in 2005, the book is a guide to Christian living according to the works of the Apostle Paul.
• To see an excerpt from the documentary Jesus Camp, concerning a Christian camp for children: www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6rSjrBhUIA
• To see a speech on happy marriages on Beliefnet: www.beliefnet.com/story/203/story_20319_1.html##
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