Ted Haggard's Wife: Marriage Stronger After Scandal Gayle Haggard was living the life of her dreams. She was married to the senior pastor of a thriving megachurch, a mother of five, and a faith leader in her own right. But it all came crashing down when she — along with the rest of the nation — learned her husband was involved in a years-long sexual relationship with another man. Host Michel Martin speaks with Gayle Haggard, author of the book Why I Stayed, about her marriage, her husband's fall from grace and his sexuality.
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Ted Haggard's Wife: Marriage Stronger After Scandal

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Ted Haggard's Wife: Marriage Stronger After Scandal

Ted Haggard's Wife: Marriage Stronger After Scandal

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I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, a little trash talk about this weekend's Super Bowl. Well, more like love talk. Two of our guests tell us why their team needs to win.

But first, our weekly Faith Matters conversation where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality.

Today, a woman who was living the life of her dreams, married to the senior pastor of a thriving church with thousands of members, a mother of five, a faith leader in her own right until it all came crashing down.

(Soundbite of radio interview)

Unidentified Man: A gay man makes a stunning accusation against the leader of one of Colorado's most popular mega churches, Ted Haggard. He's one of the best known Evangelical pastors in the country. A gay man in Denver claims he's had a three-year sexual business relationship with Haggard.

Mr. MIKE JONES: He had a relationship with me. We had gay sex.

MARTIN: Gayle Haggard is the wife of Ted Haggard. Four years ago, Mike Jones, a former male prostitute as you heard, claimed on a radio interview that he had sold Ted Haggard drugs and that they had a three-year sexual relationship. Although Haggard said much of that story was not true, Haggard acknowledged that some of it was. Haggard was forced out of his church, forced in fact to leave the state where he had built his church and his home. And his wife, Gayle, faced a choice - stay or go.

She's written about her decision in a new book called, appropriately enough, "Why I Stayed," and she's with us now. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

Ms. GAYLE HAGGARD (Author, "Why I Stayed") Thank you, Michel. It's good to be with you.

MARTIN: You know, that title was interesting to me because the implication is that you're answering a question. The implication being that, of course, people would think that you should have left him, would have left him under these circumstances. Is that in fact true? Do feel like you're answering the question that some people have?

Ms. HAGGARD: I do and the reason I named the book that was because so many people asked me that question - why did you stay? And so, I thought, well, here is my answer right here in my book.

MARTIN: Are you surprised by that?

Ms. HAGGARD: Surprised that people have asked me the question?

MARTIN: You think they assume that you should have left him?

Ms. HAGGARD: No, because I know that so many people would think that when you're up against some kind of difficulty like this in your marriage, especially when there's been unfaithfulness and particularly a sexual relationship issue, that you shouldn't put up with that. And I think that's a common response. But when I was faced with the allegations and when my husband confessed to me that some of them were true, I really stepped back and I thought about, who am I going to be in this story? What do I really believe and what do I really value? What's worth fighting for for me?

And I felt as though my marriage, as I had known it, was definitely being challenged but it was worth the fight. I felt my husband was worth fighting for. I felt like this is my husband, this is my marriage. And I also wanted to fight for the dignity of my children, what I believed about God and in my faith and also for the church that we had devoted 22 years of our lives too.

MARTIN: Did you ever consider leaving him?

Ms. HAGGARD: I did not. Of course I knew that could be a response. But as I settled that I really did love him and I really believe that he loved me and that we had a very real marriage, a very good marriage in spite of his personal private struggle, and that I wanted to see our marriage come through this and be the better for it.

MARTIN: What role do you think your faith played and plays in your decision to stick it out with Ted Haggard?

Ms. HAGGARD: Well, my faith is what gave me the information I needed on how to walk through this. Jesus teaches us to forgive and to love when we were betrayed or hurt in relationships. And so I really depended on His instruction from the Scripture on forgiving my husband and learning how to let love cover a multitude of sins. That wasn't something that just, you know, happened in a matter of moments. That was something I decided to do and then I had to learn how to do and I had to walk it out and I tell about that journey in my book.

MARTIN: There are those who will be very sympathetic toward you and all of it you have been through - you as an individual, your family together. But they will say that your faith is, in part, the reason you had to suffer to the degree that you did. They associate particularly the community of Christians to which you and your husband belong - the Evangelical community broadly defined. And it's worth mentioning your husband was the president, at one point, of The National Association of Evangelicals. They associated with a kind of judgement intolerance and unwillingness to accept human beings and all their complexity.

Ms. HAGGARD: Sure. And I understand that and I understand it more now having walked through what we walked through. I have described our church prior to the scandal as having been as compassionate and merciful as we knew how to be. And that came many times from the teachings of my husband and what we try to represent in the church. But what we did not know was what it felt like to be the person who so desperately needed to be loved and forgiven and supported and so desperately needed compassion. And after we experienced that, it really changed how we see people. And it really - I think it was a very good process for us to go through to deepen our faith and to help us understand our human condition better.

MARTIN: First of all, I think we need to back up and explain exactly what happened as we discussed. Your husband acknowledged that there had been inappropriate behavior, not all that had been described and he is very insistent upon that. And you also described how in the book he actually took several polygraph tests to prove that his version of events was as he described it.

Ms. HAGGARD: That is true.

MARTIN: But he does admit that he had an inappropriate involvement with a man and that he bought drugs and things of that. So he did some inappropriate things. But as a consequence of an agreement that you and your husband signed with the church, you had to move, why?

Ms. HAGGARD: Well, I have to tell you that was shocking to me too. And that was equally devastating for me. Because not only was my marriage being threatened but everything that we had devoted our lives to was being threatened at that point. And I felt as though that was not representative of the teachings of Jesus. And it certainly - it wasn't the people of the church that were making that those decisions about separating us from the church. Certain leadership made this decisions and I understand that they felt it was best for everyone.

I found it to be a very corporate approach and disrespectful of the relationships that were involved. I felt we would have all healed better if we had pulled together and faced each other and got the problem out in the open and talked about it together.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Gayle Haggard. She is the author of a new book called "Why I Stayed." It's her account of the scandal, if you will, involving her husband, Ted Haggard, who is forced to leave his ministry at New Life Church after he acknowledged inappropriate conduct with a man. And she's talking about that experience from her vantage point and her journey since then.

In the book you focus on his unfaithfulness to you and your marriage. You don't really focus on who he was doing that with. But do you think that the reaction of the church elders would have been the same if he had acknowledged that he'd been inappropriate with a woman? Do you think that part of what was at work here was this revulsion about same-sex relationships?

Ms. HAGGARD: Well, I do think that was part of it. And, you know, I don't know how people would have responded had it been a woman. I think I would have probably responded out of different emotions than I did. But I do know that there was a revulsion in the responses of many of the people. And so that probably contributed to the decision that we had to move away.

MARTIN: How do you feel about that now - what do you think about that now?

Ms. HAGGARD: Well, I felt at the time that it was a wrong choice. I felt that it wasn't representative of what the church is created to do and that's to represent Jesus who is forgiving and understanding of our human condition. And I felt there's an opportunity for the church to be what it is be at its finest and to show that forgiveness. But others made the decision that we needed to be separated. And I think that that did not contribute to the healing of the church body as a whole.

MARTIN: Your book arrives in an interesting time where a number of high-profile individuals have had their marriages brought into the public conversation because of infidelity - in some cases, with a woman. And one case in particular, the former governor of New Jersey with a man. In most of those cases, the marriages ended. And I'm wondering, you know, what do you think about that?

Ms. HAGGARD: Well, I think each situation is individual. And having been the recipient of all kinds of judgment that was based on misinformation, Im very careful not to do that to someone else. I also dont think that the choices that I made are one size fits all. I felt as though it was right for our marriage, and partly because of the choices my husband was making, because he was choosing to stay in the marriage.

And so, I wouldnt put judgment on anyone in their situation. I would just try to cheer them on and say, as much as youre able, for the sake of your own heart, try to forgive and try to love, but your results may not be the same.

MARTIN: Why do you feel forgiveness is so important?

Ms. HAGGARD: Well, I just think that none of us wants to live under the scrutiny and pain of people holding our sense against us. And all of us feel, all of us have sense. Actually, thats a huge part of our Christian message and we need to not forget that that as human beings, we all have this human condition where we are going to fail ourselves and our loved ones. And because of that, we need to be more compassionate, more understanding of each other.

MARTIN: What do you understand the sin to be in the case of your husband? And I ask because youve done a number of interviews at this point, both immediately after the gag order was lifted. One of the other things you talk about on the book is one of reasons people dont hear from you for so long is that you signed an agreement with the church, an agreement which was legally unenforceable, by the way, but which you signed anyway.

You agreed not to talk about all the things that had happened to you. Then you decided, you know what, enough of that, we want to talk about our side of it. Youve done a number of interviews where theres been a persistent interest in you and your husbands sex life. And, you know, what is his sexual orientation? How does he understand his sexual orientation? And Im curious why you think that is, and what is it that you have to say about that now?

Ms. HAGGARD: Well, you know, talking about our sex life, this is not something that I ever thought I would be doing. But because there have been so many misconceptions, I felt as though I needed to address it. What Ive learned in our process, at least I have gained more knowledge into our human sexuality. And it really is complex. And I think we make a huge mistake when we try to put people in categories.

And in my husbands case, his situation with the same sex temptations that he was experiencing, they were troublesome to him because they didnt fit what he felt was him. He felt as though he was heterosexual. But he had had trauma as a second grader, where an adult man had had a sexual relationship with him. And he had tried to bury that memory.

And when it would come up in his mind, it just became very troublesome and he tried to deal with it on his own. And I think in keeping it a secret, it led him to temptation and he succumbed to these temptations. But he still didnt feel like this was not really who I am or who I want to be.

MARTIN: Do you think though that his and I do not wish to come across or to be, in fact, hectoring you on this point - but I guess the question I am left with is was the sin lying to you and to his community? Was the sin having same-sex attraction? Was the sin being emotionally outside of the marriage? What was the sin?

Ms. HAGGARD: Having temptations or same sex attraction wouldnt have been the sin. Acting out on it was, and he was unfaithful to his marriage vows to me and he did lie to me. So, on many levels, there is more failure in our marriage. And so, we had to deal with that. I had to come to the place where I could understand why. And thats huge.

MARTIN: Who do you hope will receive your message?

Ms. HAGGARD: I hope everyone will receive my message. First of all, I wrote the book for two reasons, actually. I wrote it because I felt as though there was so much misinformation, I wanted to correct that. And secondly, because I think its an amazing story of faith and family and forgiveness and love, and overcoming what seemed like an insurmountable problem. And thats where I think we are today.

I feel as though our marriage is stronger than its ever been. I feel our faith has deepened. I feel our children are stronger and healthier. And I am actually to the place now where I am thankful that we walked through this because were the better for it.

MARTIN: Gayle Haggard, her new memoir is called, Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made In My Darkest Hour. She was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studio. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. HAGGARD: Thank you very much, Michel.

MARTIN: To read an excerpt and hear Gayle Haggard reading from her book, Why I Stayed, please go to our Web site, the TELL ME MORE page of npr.org.

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