Under similar circumstances,
many women would have kicked their husbands to the couch. Or the curb.
But for Gayle Haggard, the
gay sex-and-drug scandal that toppled her husband’s ministry was simply “the
mountain we had to go over.”
And now, on the other side
of that mountain, she’s preaching a message that many might find hard to
understand, much less practice: forgiveness.
In Why I Stayed: The Choices
I Made in my Darkest Hour, Haggard, 52, describes in candid detail the bumpy
road she walked alongside her husband, former evangelical icon Ted Haggard,
after the 2006 scandal left them literally wandering in the desert, both
physically and emotionally.
“The reason I chose to stay with Ted was because I knew that
there was more to the story than just the scandal in our lives,” she said
Tuesday (Jan. 26) as the book was released, “that my husband was truly a great
man on many levels and I wasn’t willing to deny all the good that we’d built in
our marriage, in our family and in our church.”
She said her husband, who
resigned the pulpit of New Life Church, the Colorado Springs megachurch they
started more than 20 years earlier in their basement, didn’t ask her to change
any of the candid details she included.
Reading the manuscript
brought her husband to tears, she said, as he saw the scandal through her eyes
for the first time. “He said that I was kind of a combination of Margaret
Thatcher and Mother Teresa.”
Gayle’s initial reaction to
reports of her husband’s dalliances with a gay escort was denial, though she
writes that early in her marriage her husband, now 53, confessed his “struggles”
with sexual attraction to men.
“Our sexual relationship had
always been strong and satisfying, and I didn’t believe for one instant that
Ted had been regularly visiting a gay escort,” she writes.
When Ted finally did admit
his transgressions to her, she was devastated and “could hardly breathe,” she
recalled. She second-guessed her decision to naively encourage Ted to get
stress-reducing massages, never knowing they led to sex with a male escort.
In the scandal’s wake, she
had to abandon her church post directing women’s ministries and Ted resigned as
president of the National Association of Evangelicals. She was most bothered by
the pity that came her way. “I hated that,” she said.
Despite the jumble of
emotional reactions — anger, revulsion despair, anguish — Gayle said she “set
my trajectory on forgiveness” and never banished her husband to the couch.
She also never looked back.
“I really felt, as I could
see how desperate my husband was and how despondent he was, that I needed to
draw near to him,” she explained, conceding that every woman wouldn’t make the
same choice. “It seemed as though everyone was pulling away from him and he was
suffering enough, and I wanted to draw near to him and love him and show him
Ted tells her that her
forgiveness “provided a way for him to heal,” and the crisis led to a more
intense emotional intimacy that the couple hadn’t yet experienced in their
“The scandal was the
mountain we had to go over to the place that we’re at now,” she said.
Gayle writes that she agrees
with her husband’s self-description as “a heterosexual with issues,” but admits
that “I hope my heart is never put to the test” by her husband falling “into
his sin again.”
While Gayle said she is “happier
now than I’ve ever been,” she is less charitable about the church leaders and
the “restoration committee” that decided it would be best if the couple parted
ways with New Life and found a new life out of state.
The couple was exiled to
Phoenix, where they moved from borrowed house to borrowed house, her husband
unable to land a steady job. “Those were very dark days for us,” she said.
It was not, she said, a very
biblical way to aid a fallen fellow believer.
“When you have a repentant
brother, which Ted was from the onset, I think that the church needs to embrace
those people and encourage them through their process of healing,” she said.
After pleading with New Life
leaders to revoke the separation agreements, the Haggards returned to Colorado
in the summer of 2008.
Just before Thanksgiving
last year, the couple held two prayer meetings at their home but weren’t “prepared
to handle” the idea of forming a new congregation.
“We just didn’t feel that we
were ready to do that, although we desperately wanted to connect with people in
the body of Christ,” she said. “We just put it on pause. We’re not sure at this
point what the future holds.”
For now, the family is
intact and the couple has found a group of supportive churches that have
invited them to speak. Content to look ahead and not back, she said she sees
brighter days ahead.
“Just the other day I looked
at my husband and said, ‘Life is good,” she said. “And I realized that that was
the first time I’d said that in three years.”
Excerpts from Why I Stayed
- “I believed Ted had been
honest with me, and our physical relationship certainly didn’t indicate that
homosexuality was even a possibility. Our sexual relationship had always been
strong and satisfying, and I didn’t believe for one instant that Ted had been
regularly visiting a gay escort.”
- “And so that night I began
my journey of choosing … choosing to love. I chose to press through my
feelings of anger. I pressed through my feelings of revulsion and took the hand
I had held so many times, the hand that brought me such comfort in the past.
And in that moment, I realized how much I still loved my husband.”
- “Ted confessed that as the
external pressures had increased in recent years, he had sought a way to
escape. He went for massages — and in my naivete, I had encouraged him to go. I
had no idea that some of these massages culminated in sexual activity.”
- “From the Denver masseur,
Ted had also learned about certain drugs that purportedly would enhance his
sexual experience. He gave in to this temptation and returned on several
occasions to purchase drugs.”
- “The thing I resented most
was feeling like an object of pity. I don’t like pity; it embarrasses me. … I
had to deal with hearing people say, ‘Oh, that poor woman,’ and I hated that.”
- “In Ted’s case, I honestly
believe the Lord himself provided the most effective discipline. Ted suffered
privately for months, and then he was publicly exposed, embarrassed, mocked,
and humiliated. Because he confessed and repented almost immediately, the
church’s response should have been forgiveness and restoration of fellowship.
Instead, Ted was held up as an example for exile.”