What if Ted picked up some sexually transmitted disease and infected me? Gayle Haggard wondered as she brushed her teeth one morning in November 2006. Hours before, a male escort had alleged that her husband, Ted Haggard, had paid him for sex and methamphetamine. Ted subsequently resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and as lead pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. CT online editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey spoke with Gayle about her book Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour (Tyndale).
What happened after your husband told you what happened?
Initially, of course I was devastated. I didn't see it coming. When this allegation came, it was shocking to me and devastating because I realized that everything that we held dear and invested our lives in was crumbling. There were a lot of tears, as you might imagine. That first night, as I lay in bed and thought through what was happening to us, I just asked myself, "Who are you? Who are you going to be in this?" What I settled was that I do believe that God is, I believe in my husband, I believe in family, and the strength of family, and I believe in friendship.
You said that you had a good sex life. Did you have any idea that your husband had same-sex attractions?
He had told me early on that a struggle in thoughts would come up from time to time. He talked to someone about it and tried to process it, but he didn't get the help that he needed. I just thought this was a temptation. I didn't understand the power of it in his life. I thought he had dealt with it, so when it came up again, it shocked me. Our marriage was strong. I know Oprah and others took the approach that he needed to accept that this was his identity. Honestly, our identities are made up by what we believe and how we choose to live our lives. This was not the identity that he wanted or embraced for himself. He described it as incongruent to everything he believed and had built into his life.
You mentioned that there are still rumors floating around about what your husband did or didn't do. Would you like to clear that up?
Scripture does say in Ephesians 5 that we shouldn't talk about what the disobedient do in secret. This is something that my husband and I discussed thoroughly and openly with each other and with our counselor. I don't feel it needs to be discussed beyond that.
You wrote about your concern that Ted may have picked up sexually transmitted diseases and infected you. How were you able to forgive him after processing that?
It was all part of it. I had to deal with the fact that Ted had had this struggle going on and had succumbed to it. There were all kinds of implications with that. Did he pick something up and pass it on to me? Of course, that was terrible to deal with. It was painful that he put me in that vulnerable position. Forgiving him for that was part of the whole process. I had to get an understanding of what had gotten him to that place. Once I understood, then it was easier for me to forgive him for all the implications that were a part of this.
You spend a significant portion of the book explaining the way the overseers treated your family, asking you to break ties with New Life and move out of the state. How did you view the Christian community differently after what happened?
I was disappointed because I so believe in the church. I was disappointed that people started believing the worst about Ted and that we were cut off from our church, which wasn't representative of our church at all as a body. We had a family, a relational church, but others made that decision and separated us from the church. That was devastating to me. I felt that I was being ripped and ravaged not only in my relationship with my husband, but just a few days later was told that I no longer belonged at the church, so I felt that I was also being ripped and ravaged by the church, or by certain leaders. That was as devastating to me as what was going on in my marriage. I was so invested in both in our marriage and in our church. That did shake me, and it was a dark time for me as I tried to process through. But God, who is the gentle restorer, walked me through it. I haven't lost my passion for the church, but I want the church to be the church and to stop denying the power of the gospel in the lives of people.
What have you learned about church discipline and restoration?
I believe what Scripture says, that when a brother sins, those who are spiritual should gently restore him. And I think restore means restore to health, so that a person can fulfill their gifts and callings in God. I would liken it to the story of the Prodigal Son; even though he thought he deserved second-class status, the father didn't respond that way. The father threw a robe around him and restored him as his son.
What do you want individuals and churches to take away from this?
I really want our story to offer hope to people who find themselves in a crisis of any kind. The teachings of Jesus really will guide us through. I also want to challenge the church that what we exist to do is to bring forgiveness and healing to the lives of people, not increase their burden with judgment and scrutiny.
What would you tell women who find out their husbands are having an affair or something similar?
I would encourage them to set their trajectory toward forgiveness. It's a process that they have to walk through to deal with the truth, to face it head on, and to let God walk them through the healing of their hearts. I can't say that everybody's story will turn out like mine, because Ted chose to fight for our marriage. He chose to repent and to cling to his faith and God, and to walk through all of this with me. Not every husband does that. I would tell every woman, as much as she is able, to forgive and to love.
Some women leave their husband to try to protect their children. Do you think that is an appropriate approach?
To honor the husband, even if he has let them down, it's important for the children that the mother show them how to find a way to honor their father. Her love for him brings security for the children. Love the father doesn't necessarily mean that the marriage is going to be saved. He may not respond in kind. He may walk away and she can't do anything about that.
You wrote that you wanted to know every detail from Ted. Should women know the details of their husband's infidelity?
I think that it depends on the person. I was the kind of person where I really wanted to know the truth. I wanted to know my husband; I wanted to know what had happened. Not all women are like that, and some counselors say it's better for them not to know. I needed to know, and this is how I did it, and this is what happened as a result of it. I talk about by knowing; at least I was dealing with the truth and not with my imagination.
Ted suggested that you divorce him. Did you consider divorce?
No. I knew my husband, and I knew what I believed. I felt we could fight through this. I believe in the power of confession. This brought my husband to the place where he had to face his sin and confess it. Once he did, it undid the power of secrecy. Secrecy is what empowers sin. We were able to heal together. I was encouraged by the fact that my husband was able to openly confess what his struggle had been.
In a nutshell, why did you stay?
I stayed because I believe in the teachings of Jesus, that if we choose forgiveness and love, our relationships can heal. I stayed because my husband is worth it. I wasn't going to let the struggle that had been going on with him disqualify or undo the 30 years of life we had built together, the wonderful marriage we have, the family and church that we had built. I wasn't going to let this thing deny all of what we have spent our lives invested in. If I had walked away, it would've been a denial of all that.
You had been leading a women's ministry in a church context. Do you see your role differently now?
I see people more compassionately. I didn't know what it was like to be the person who so desperately needed compassion. I live to share God's grace with people who really need it.
The message I want to convey is that people are not alone when they go through their darkest hour. They can trust God, and he will not abandon them in the midst of their pain. With him, they'll never be alone. His love does cover a multitude of sins.
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