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Q & A with Gayle Haggard, wife of the Founder and Former Pastor of the New Life Church, Ted Haggard

by Jennifer Dempsey

In November 2009 evangelical preacher Ted Haggard resigned his leadership position with the New Life Church in Colorado Springs as well as his position as president of the National Association of Evangelicals after allegations of solicitation of a male prostitute and use of crystal meth were made public.

His wife Gayle has just released a book, “Why I Stayed,” concerning the events of the past three years and why she chose to remain with her husband.

Writer Jennifer Dempsey, who conducted this interview says, “When I spotted Ted Haggard at a grocery store in Westcliffe last November I thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that’s the right wing mega-preacher from Colorado Springs who had the drug and gay-escort scandal? What a hypocrite.’ Then I spoke to him. Then I read his wife’s book. Today my notion of Ted Haggard and his wife Gayle are completely different.”

Q: On page 93, Ted’s writes “There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life.” Does Ted consider homosexuality repulsive? Do you?

A: First of all, Ted does not consider himself homosexual. His statement regarding a part of his life that he believed was repulsive and dark was in reference to issues in his life he did not like. Others have assumed he was referencing homosexuality because of the now discredited accusations that were against him at the time. But as far as homosexuality is concerned, we both believe it is a human condition that is contrary to God’s original design for our lives. The Bible, however, explains that all of us fall short of God’s design, yet God understands and has compassion on our human condition. That is the point of His grace on us, and that is the point of the gospel.

Q: The friendships you lost in the church fellowship were devastating. Have many of those friendships been repaired?

A: Sadly, many of them have not. After Ted’s scandal, we were informed by certain church leaders that we were not to communicate with anyone at our church and told to permanently leave the state and start a new life outside the church. Most of our closest friends were members and/or staff members of our church. By the time this mandate was lifted, so much misinformation had been spread that trust was severely broken. Now that I have written ‘Why I Stayed’ and we have returned to our family home in Colorado Springs, former friends and others at the church have begun to understand our story from our point of view. Now we are beginning to reconnect with some of these people and these relationships are being repaired.

Q: You define love as “preferring another person above myself.” Did you ever wonder if you were wrong in that belief?

A: I do believe the kind of love Jesus models for us involves preferring another person above ourselves. He teaches, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 New International Version) This statement does not undo the love we should also have for ourselves as Jesus also teaches that the second greatest commandment is to, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39 NIV) I did choose to accept the pain, shame, and loss in choosing to forgive and love my husband – but ultimately, I gained a stronger marriage and an intact family. I did believe that my choices would lead to what was best for all of us. I lost a lot, but I gained so much more.

Q: HBO documentarian Alexandra Pelosi said Ted wasn’t “the caricature of the religious right” or “a hater.” Another woman at HBO said “When it comes to Christianity, you’re the real deal. You make me want to read the Bible.” Letters you receive say “I thought I was going to hate you, but now I can say your life inspires me.” How do those statements make you feel?

A: These statements validate the ongoing sincerity of my husband’s and my faith in the midst of our human struggles.

Colorado Central: After your family was exiled and friendships from the church severed, you lost your optimism, at one stage saying “people now seemed cruel…mean and suspicious.” (p251) Yet you managed to move through that phase. What role did psychology play in helping you do this?

A: I guess I had lived a “Pollyanna” life prior to our crisis. I felt loved and respected by a multitude of friends. What I learned in the months following our crisis was that all people are just people. All of us fail ourselves and each other from time to time. I no longer expect that kind of love and respect or even kindness from people, but I am grateful when I find it. The Bible teaches that Jesus entrusted himself to no man, because he knew what was in men’s hearts. Even so, he loved us all enough to give his life for us. Psychology helped me understand the human condition a little better and that makes me more compassionate and appreciative of God’s grace.

Q: On page 309, Ted said he believed God was “calling us to a broader audience that might include people who’ve been kicked out of their churches.” On page 310, you say “we realized that God had quietly weaned us from New Life Church.” Can you elaborate?

A: I would never have chosen to leave the life I experienced at New Life Church, nor would I have seen or understood the shortcomings in my own thinking and church practice. I had to be ripped away from the life I once cherished to appreciate both the value and the shortcomings of the institutional church. Afterward, I began to see the world very differently. I now knew what it feels like to be the “leper,” “the outcast,” the one who feels “she no longer belongs”. Surprisingly this has opened new doors in my life to the multitudes of people who love God and the Scriptures, but feel disenfranchised from the modern church as it has developed. I still love the church, but I see it more realistically. Because I am part of the Church universal, I want to be part of its more effective work of representing the forgiveness and grace of God in the Earth.

Q: On page 338, you say you are “writing to challenge the ideas of the church culture.” Have you had any feedback from the church community? How have those involved in the so-called ‘restoration’ process responded to your book?

A: I have received overwhelming response from many in the church community at large. Ted and I are traveling and speaking in churches all around the country where pastors have invited us to share our story about forgiveness and redemption, faith and family. I have yet to hear any response from the (New Life) church leaders and those involved in our so-called “restoration” process in response to my book. I would welcome the dialogue however.

Q: On page 337 Ted wrote: “Our response to someone else’s sin reveals whether or not we understand the central message of the New Testament.” How has your journey deepened your understanding of the New Testament?

A: What I have gained is a deeper appreciation of the gospel as it relates to our human condition. In the gospel we learn that our Christianity is not about our personal righteousness, but about a righteousness that is from God and is attained by faith. God has given to the church the power to forgive and to love and that is the perfect expression of his righteousness in us. I can say with the Apostle Paul, I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16 NIV)

Q: On page 334 you write “I found myself torn from all the things that had formed my identity” except family, husband and God. You also say you consider this “the best season of my life.”

A: This is the best season of my life. My marriage is stronger and Ted and I are closer and more open and intimate that we have ever been. Our family is intact. Our children have learned the valuable lesson that when you fall down, you get back up. My faith has grown deeper and more precious to me as I have experienced the comfort and grace of God when many let me down. I love the quote from Winston Churchill which says, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” As I experience the joy of my family around me, I am glad I didn’t give up.

Jennifer Dempsey is an eccentric Aquarian, part-time nude model, rides a six-foot unicyle and only has one boyfriend at the moment.