It has been more than three years since charismatic pastor Ted Haggard left his megachurch in disgrace, mired in a scandal involving drug use and a male prostitute. But the woman who stood by him says now that the experience has brought them closer together than ever.
“Our relationship is better than it’s ever been. Going over this mountain together has given me the marriage that I’ve always longed for,” Gayle Haggard told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Wednesday in New York.
Gayle Haggard had come to discuss her new book, “Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour.” Although the dilemma was painful, the answer, she writes, was simple: She loved her husband.
Rise and fall
In 2006, the Haggards were an evangelical version of the American Dream. They had met as students at Oral Roberts University, fallen in love and gotten married. As they were starting their family of five children, they also started a church that first met in their Colorado Springs home.
With Gayle directing the women’s ministries and Ted driving the growth of the congregation, the New Life Church grew to a 14,000-member congregation, and Ted became the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. His counsel was sought by President George W. Bush.
And then, in November of that year, it all came crashing down. A homosexual prostitute, Mike Jones, angry at Haggard’s opposition to same-sex marriage, alleged that Haggard had been a client for several years and had also purchased methamphetamines from him.
Gayle told Vieira that when she first heard the accusations, she was in “total disbelief. I felt as though my marriage was at a healthy place. Everything in my life felt healthy at that time. I felt as though our family was doing well. Ted was clinging to me and felt closer to me than ever before. Our church felt healthy. That was probably the happiest time in my life up until that point.”
The next day, the couple went to their attorney’s office to discuss the allegations. Although Haggard would hide the truth from the public for as long as he could, he came clean to his wife.
“The attorney told me to go in the office with Ted and he closed the door,” Gayle said. “I just felt life draining from my body because things didn’t feel right all of a sudden. I sat down with Ted and he looked at me and he said, ‘Gayle, I have to tell you, some of the allegations are true.’ ”
Gayle was dumbstruck.
“That was such a shock and such a heartbreak, I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t put the words together. They didn’t fit with the man I knew,” she said. “I think eventually I uttered the words, ‘Who are you?’ Because it was so far removed from the man that I knew.”
‘Choosing to love’
The Haggards drove home and told their children. They also met with the church elders who would eventually strip him of his job and order him to leave Colorado altogether.
That night, Gayle allowed Ted into her bed, and when he reached out, she found herself struggling to decide whether to allow him to touch her. She writes about that moment in her book:
“My heart broke in that instant. I knew the importance of physical touch … And I knew the damage rejection could cause. Broken people need to be touched, and by reaching out, Ted was pleading for my help. I wanted to help him; I didn’t want to reject him — but what was I supposed to do with the anger, revulsion and pain that were warring in my heart? I had coached other women through this. Now it was my turn …. And so that night I began my journey of choosing … Choosing to love.”
Vieira asked Gayle what led her to make that choice at a time when she had to be hurting so horribly.
“I knew I was going to have to make the choice early on as to what I was going to do,” Gayle said. “I chose early on that I really do love this man, and I’m willing to fight with him for our marriage and for our family — actually for everything that I cared about.”
The couple had no savings. They received a year’s severance pay, but their income dried up during the three years they were forced to live in Arizona while Ted went to therapy to deal with his sexual demons.
No more compulsions?
Both Ted and Gayle say that their love life was always strong. Ted has said that he learned during therapy that he had been abused by an adult male when he was a child and he was acting out that experience as an adult.
In an appearance on “Oprah,” Ted said, “The biggest thing that’s helped me is therapy. Since that time, I have not had one compulsive thought or behavior.”
To Vieira, Gayle added, “In Ted’s case, he had had some experiences as a child that kept replaying themselves in his mind. Once he went to therapy he was able to identify that and was given the tools to deal with it. Because of that, he no longer has those compulsions. That’s not true for everybody. That’s his story.”
Ted had told Gayle of one experience with another man he’d had early in their marriage. She accepted his plea for forgiveness and thought it wouldn’t happen again.
“At that point, I was ignorant of the gravity. I felt as though we all struggle in different areas of our life, and certainly in our sexuality, so I was willing to forgive him. That was painful at that time,” she told Vieira. “He had gone to a counselor … I felt as though the problem was pretty much solved.”
But it wasn’t solved. “Through the years, what I’ve discovered is that it would reemerge in Ted’s life from time to time, but he didn’t tell me about it,” Gayle said. “When I would ask him, he would say it was no longer a problem, since it was something he was ashamed of and trying to hide.”
The human condition
Finally, Jones dropped his bombshell allegations and the game was up. They moved the family to Arizona and found themselves disgraced and reviled. Their struggles were documented in last year’s HBO documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard.”
And now, Gayle is telling her own intimate story in her book.
Jones said he revealed Ted’s activities to expose the pastor’s hypocrisy. Vieira asked Gayle if it was true that her husband had been a hypocrite.
“The term means to say one thing and do another,” Gayle said. “However, I have discovered that is the human condition. All of us have ideals that we strive for in our lives. So I think that all of us are to one degree or another a hypocrite. Ted just had to play his out on a very public stage.”