By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
CAPITOL HEIGHTS, Md.—Harold Dugger, a Maryland pastor, believes that Jesus didn’t die on the cross.
He says that Jesus “died” in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He “died” to His own will and fully surrendered his life to His Father’s will.
“All of us go through Gethsemane,” said Dugger, senior pastor of First Church of Capitol Heights, Md., “but not everyone makes it to Calvary. If you never make it to Calvary, then you can never make it to the resurrection.”
A young man while in seminary, Dugger learned about Gethsemane—and Calvary—when he left the school during his third year to pursue a seedy lifestyle.
Though he came from a strong Christian family—both of his parents served in the ministry—and he had a genuine salvation experience when he was 12, the seminary he attended was close to the “Red Light District” where it was commonplace to see prostitutes and drug dealers hanging out on the street.
There, Dugger befriended a local shop owner who one day asked him to go on a ride with him. It turns out the man was a pimp.
“I was infatuated with what he did,” Dugger recalled.
It wasn’t long before Dugger withdrew from seminary and signed up full time for life on the streets, where he saw men killed, drugs dealt, and community leaders visiting the houses of prostitution.
Even in the darkness, Dugger clung to his salvation encounter with God, which he never doubted was real. And he continued going to church and even spoke from the pulpit on several occasions.
“But who I was in my distorted view of God kept coming up empty,” he said, explaining that he had the women, the money, the nice things in life. He was entertaining suicide as an option when he heard God say to him, “You have everything but Me.”
A visiting preacher helped him “refocus [his] spiritual alignment” using the powerful words found in Jude 1:4-25, beginning with, “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling…”
To this day, Dugger still remembers the preacher explaining how familiar roads cause people to ignore the signs.
“Because we think we know the road so well, we stop paying attention to the road signs,” Dugger related, noting that all too soon folks find themselves off the road and into the embankment, in need of a tow.
“In the spiritual environment on a road we think we know so well, we stop fasting, praying and reading our Bible,” he said, adding that the adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” came true in his life.
“I ended up on a spiritual embankment, and no one in my church came to my rescue. No one asked me how I was doing. I was so damaged, and no one knew.”
After five years “on the streets,” the now long-time minister—32 years and counting—finally learned that while he had accepted Jesus as his Savior, his flesh had not. Upon this revelation, he began the hard work of “dying” to his fleshly desires and surrendering to the Lord’s desires.
“As I listened to His voice, I stayed there and let God heal me in the wilderness experience. I heard God say, ‘There are things I don’t take away from you. There has to be a dying in the process. You have to put some things to death,’” Dugger said, describing his new found awareness of Jesus’ Gethsemane experience.
“I knew that God wasn’t the problem. I just needed to know what the problem was,” he said.
Over the years, his firsthand experience with the slippery slope of sin has propelled the pastor to reach out to others, especially men, to help them repair their lives.
He is inspired by Isaiah 58:12, which says, “Those from among you shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach …”
The scripture became the basis for a men’s ministry that Dugger co-founded with Nathaniel Thomas, senior pastor of Forestville New Redeemer Church; Anthony Minter, senior pastor at First Rock Church in Washington, D.C.; and Lawrence Barbour, pastor at Expectation Bible Church in Suitland, Md. Barbour previously started a men’s fellowship called “Manning the Gap.”
The “Repairers of the Breach” ministry, which officially began in Jan. 2010 through the Prince George’s Association in Lanham, Md., is a series of conferences that focus on God in the lives of men and teen boys.
The goal of each conference is to equip men to know, serve, and glorify God in their relationship with Him, their families, their church and their communities. (See related story, “‘Repairers of the Breach’ unites, challenges men in PG County.”)
These conferences have “challenged me as a man and as a man of God,” Dugger shared, noting that if his relationship with God is not properly aligned, then it adversely affects everything else.
He is excited to see the effort paying off, with as many as 80 men coming to each event.
“It’s beginning to bring men together and allows a window outside of one’s church to see other men of God,” he said. “You don’t feel alone when engaging in the disciplines of God.”