(RNS) 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 forgiveness.”
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 marriage.
“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.
Gayle said she’s found a kindred spirit of sorts in the lead character of the CBS drama “The Good Wife,” a working mother who lives through a sex and corruption scandal that lands her politician husband in jail.
“I have watched it and I love the show,” Gayle said. “I think the writers are so insightful to her process. In fact, I’ve been amazed at how insightful they’ve been.”
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.”
By ADELLE M. BANKS
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.