Daring to pray for Gayle and Ted Haggard

Ted Gayle HaggardYou knew that when Gayle Haggard wrote the following words, there would be reporters as well as church members who took her at her word.

What I want you to know is that I love my husband, Ted Haggard, with all my heart. I am committed to him until death “do us part.” We started this journey together and with the grace of God, we will finish together. … My test has begun; watch me.

Now we are past the fall of the superstar minister and, of course, past the election that many journalists continue to portray as kind of the cultural fallout. We are left with the story that I believe is more important and more interesting, anyway. That’s the story of a charismatic minister, the gigantic church that he built and the ties that bind this man to his wife, family and calling.

As I said at the crest of the Haggard media wave:

It sounds like the Haggard family will press forward — at least that is what Gayle Haggard’s letter said. I wonder if any journalists will debate whether to write stories about when marriages are saved, and when they are lost, under these circumstances. I wonder what editors would say if a reporter proposed writing that story.

David Montero of the Rocky Mountain News is one of the first reporters — at least that I have seen — to wade into this more personal side of the story in the weeks since that dramatic Sunday when their personal letters were read to the faithful at the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs. This feature story really tries to cover two different stories, as shown in the headline: “New Life women miss leader — Gayle Haggard faces latest challenge.”

It begins with expression of grief and pain in a meeting of a small prayer-and-sharing group typical of Gayle Haggard’s ministry among the women in her husband’s flock.

The small group, called Women Belong, was the last one organized by Gayle Haggard before she had to step down from her leadership position when it was revealed that her husband, Ted Haggard, had been embroiled in a sex scandal with a gay escort over a three-year span beginning in 2003.

Both Ted and Gayle Haggard are currently sequestering themselves from the media spotlight while a team of pastors counsels the former New Life Church leaders through the crisis. The couple is not in Colorado Springs and even close friends say they haven’t heard from Gayle Haggard since a few days after the scandal broke.

… Women Belong had been a particular passion of the 49-year-old Haggard because she worried about new women coming to the massive, 14,000-member New Life Church and feeling lost within it. It was a reflection of Haggard’s own personality — a woman who prefers smaller, intimate settings to large, crowded ones. A woman who is introspective and generally has eschewed the spotlight — preferring to make a difference in lower-profile ways.

One comment before returning to the main point. Do we really know, at this point, that a three-year relationship between Haggard and gay escort Michael Jones has been proven and/or confessed? It’s clear that Haggard didn’t tell the whole truth, but there are also public claims that his accuser has embellished the truth. What do we know at this point and how well can we trust that information?

This is a crucial point for journalists who want to cover the future of Haggard as a Christian leader and the recovery period — if that is possible — that will precede it.

Gayle and Ted Haggard, and their five children, deserve their privacy. But the reality is that any coverage of Haggard’s future will have to focus, in large part, on his marriage. As Gayle Haggard said, “My test has begun; watch me.” This is true in any major story in which a public leader is accused of sexual sins that threaten a marriage. It is especially true — in the Culture Wars era — when a conservative evangelical is accused of sins linked to bisexuality or, it may be proven, homosexuality.

Gayle Haggard is in the midst of what one friend called a “Category 5 storm” and, truth be told, much depends on the secrets that will be confessed by her husband. Is Ted Haggard a gay man who is in denial and deep in a provable, pathetic closet? Some are already saying that. Is he a man who has sustained a true marriage, while struggling with episodes of same-sex feelings for men? There is evidence of that, too.

Christian leaders may ask questions like “Can this marriage be saved?” and “Can Ted Haggard be healed?” Reporters in mainstream newsrooms will need, in this case, to do candid interviews with the Christian counselors who — to put it in blunt, secular language — are trying to gauge where Haggard is on that complex and hard-to-calibrate Kinsey Scale between people whose attractions are exclusively homosexual and those whose attractions are exclusively heterosexual.

Truth is, many people’s sexual behaviors change and evolve during their lives. There are shades of gray that are hard to cover in news reports, especially when you are dealing with people who believe that God can and does heal.

You know that the small prayer groups linked to the ministry of Gayle Haggard are praying for her, for her husband and for their children. What are they praying for? Like it or not, that is a news story, and the Rocky Mountain News took a good first step on covering that issue. Stay tuned.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://altreligion.about.com Jennifer Emick

    I feel just horrible for both of them, really. I hate that Haggard is so embracing of a philosophy that requires him to believe his nature is evil, it is a belief that will continue to visit pain and suffering on his family, and for what purpose?

    Why do people believe God plays such cruel games with people?

  • http://www.therightreverendrabbijudah.com The Right Reverend Rabbi Judah

    Has anyone asked New Life whether Gayle was forced to resign her functions as facilitator of the women’s groups, and if so, why? She was obviously doing a good job, and I don’t see why she should pay for her husband’s failings. More than she already has, that is.

  • halflight

    I feel just horrible for both of them, really.

    Uh, right. That’s why you take this opportunity to trash their religious and moral beliefs, such as . . .

    I hate that Haggard is so embracing of a philosophy that requires him to believe his nature is evil, it is a belief that will continue to visit pain and suffering on his family, and for what purpose?

    Don’t fret. I’m sure that if you asked Haggard if he hated his nature, he would say no, as that would be heresy. Orthodox Christianity (with a small “o”) teaches that we are created by God and therefore “very good”, though fallen and therefore inclined to sin. The struggle of this life is to conform ourselves to our true nature, revealed in Christ, and we are promised that God will ultimately accomplish this for us, through Christ.

    So, actually, his “philosophy” (also known as Christianity) actually offers him hope, not self-hatred.

    Will the press cover that?


    I suspect we’ll see more people imposing their ideology on the story of Haggard’s life (giving it a meaning he would never agree with), judging his religious beliefs (though, of course, they aren’t “judgmental”, like him), and using his sin to justify their own beliefs (poor sap–if he just knew that sleeping with male prostitutes was O.K., he’d be peachy).

    It’s all so appalling, but predictable.

    Why do people believe God plays such cruel games with people?

    I dunno, Jennifer. Why are some people so formed by the American consumer mentality that they treat religion as if it was the food court at Whole Foods?

  • Dominic Glisinski

    Haggard’s evangelical fundamentalist views on human nature are a tad unique. I refer you to the interview that Mollie linked to as the storm surge was building awhile back. Basically he takes the view of most fundies that the “unsaved” are totally depraved, then, once “saved” there is some irresistable getting better and better until one can say that they are almost sin-free on a day-to-day basis. This is not something I subscribe to. As well, most orthodox Christians tend to distance themselves from a great many other goings-on and perspectives that mega-fundy types like haggard preach as “gospel”. So, if you’re sugesting that conservative “Christianity” as a philosophy is some monolithic juggernaut, I think differently…more like a wagonload of assorted rocks of differing shapes and sizes and colours, all moving in the same direction, but upset the cart and we scatter.

    Why do people believe God plays such cruel games with people?
    good question Jennifer.

    Maybe because we tend to fashion God in our own image, and as humans we tend to play cruel games with our fellow man? Some sort of divine-anthropomorphism?

  • Larry Rasczak

    Confession up front.

    My wife tossed my lazy arse out of the house (and the marriage) in 1998. Having been raised Catholic I didn’t like being divorced and I didn’t like what being a divorced dad meant for my son. I worked very hard and we got re-married in 2002. We now have a three year old daughter. Still I learned that a divorce is a horrible experience and it brings with it deep pain and a sense of real failure.

    Now the disclaimer is out of the way, I don’t think you will see a lot of stories on Gayle Haggard, at least not in the mainstream press, and the ones you do see won’t be very complementary of her efforts to “Stand by her man”.

    Given, something like 1/2 of American marriages end in divorce.

    Given, it is a pretty good chance that whatever reporter would write a Gayle Haggard story has therfore been divorced.

    Given, it is very very likely that the reporter’s divorce, (assuming there was one) would have been for something that looks pretty trivial next to what poor Gayle is going through. This is NOT a certianty, lots of people get divorced because of domestic violence, not a trivial thing at all. Still other people get divorced for reasons far less serious.

    If a reporter to write a story honoring Gayle for working out a situation that was far more difficult than the one that caused the reporter’s divorce… well that might require the reporter to think things that made him or her feel bad about themselves.

    The same can be said for the editors who would read the story.

    It would be a lot easier to just write about some pop-tart rock star breakup instead.

    So I don’t think you will see a lot of mainstream press stories about how Gayle Haggard is heroicly trying to preserve the sanctity of marriage and be an example of Christian marriage.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Larry–you make a very good point. How often has the mainstream media run stories about HOW and WHY people in troubled marriages have saved those marriages and turned them into what God intended–that the two might become one? Much easier and more sensational to glory in a marriage’s break-up with sordid and juicy details to titillate the mob.

  • Harris

    To follow up on Larry’s point:

    Is this story really news?

    The Haggard story is not merely about megachurch pastor caught with prostitute, but about Haggard’s position in society and the positions he took. It was about Haggard’s public life. Her story, touching as it is, seems to be of a different sort, the stuff in the Lifestyle section, right next to the advice column.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Larry—you make a very good point. How often has the mainstream media run stories about HOW and WHY people in troubled marriages have saved those marriages and turned them into what God intended—that the two might become one? Much easier and more sensational to glory in a marriage’s break-up with sordid and juicy details to titillate the mob.


    This is why I suggested that one of the most provocative stories anyone could do right now is to study the impact of megachurch ministries on clergy marriages and what couples have to do in order to truly recover from such a crash.

    I wasn’t joking. Reporters could cover that story.

  • http://www.radiogay.ca Tim Chisholm

    As a comfortably open gay man living in Canada, the Haggard story would not have been such a huge media circus had Ted not went out of his way to spewed so much antigay rhetoric in his preaching. His ongoing and relentless hatred negatively impacted the lives of many innocent good folks. Ted Haggard is a glowing example of Shakespear’s “Me thinks thy lady doth protest too much.” If he had focussed his energy on biblical teachings of helping the poor, the underpriveleged and the sick, he would have fared much better. In a BBC documnetary with Richard Dawkin (the Athiest) Ted talks about being tired of that sort of thing and he think most Christians are as well; they would much rather be entertained.
    This man is nothing more than a self loathing, manipulative, deceitful, two faced, deeply closeted, lier, who may not be fully homosexual, but at the very least following the Kinsey scale, has tendancies which he acted on (monthly apparently) behind his family’s and congregation collective backs. I have had personal experience with more than a few of his type.
    And….should he resurface in a few years after being miraculously healed (by James Dobson, another con and his ilk) and set on the straight and narrow again (and he probably will) there are a many other open homosexuals who won’t buy into it, while a majority of heterosexuals will; hook, line and sinker. Why…because it seems that far too many straight folks believe whatever they’re told by these “snake oil salesman”. They want to believe something so much, they’re willing to overlook the obvious.
    My concern for Gayle is Ted having unprotected sex with his wife, while have some sort of relations with the male prostitute. Crystal Meth makes users do really stupid and risky things while they’re enjoying their wild monkey sex, usually very unsafe things. As any one who is familiar with meth heads and prostitutes, you don’t use it for “only a massage”. Not to mention Gayle being played for a fool for the past three years, without even being aware of it.
    Oh…to be a fly on the wall in that household.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    When Bill Clinton had his peccadilloes in public and they were disseminated, the press papered us with how Hillary was coping, will she stay, and ultimately she should be beatified as a saint for “standing by her man.” But I doubt that will be the case in this instance. Bill Clinton was a “liberal champion” and his “downfall,” while media-created, also sought to portray redeeming values of that couple. Rev. Ted and Gayle Haggard are simply on the “wrong side of the political tracks” for the media to care what the aftermath is. The Haggard story served its purpose. This was all about politics, not about religion. The fact that Christianity was a part of the story is just the cherry on the top in the eyes of the MSM.

  • halflight


    Basically [Haggard] takes the view of most fundies that the “unsaved” are totally depraved,

    That’s not anything typically “fundy”–it’s classic Calvinism, and just about any conservative Presbyterian or Reformed Church holds to that belief. It’s derived from the Canons of Dort (1618-1619), the Reformed response to the teachings of Jacob Arminius. The canons are popularly reduced to the acronym TULIP. The “T” stands for “total depravity”. It’s an easily misunderstood doctrine; but it certainly does not endorse self-hatred. In fact, self-hatred would be a symptom of total depravity–even a healthy sense of remorse can be distorted by sin into something self-destructive.

    then, once “saved” there is some irresistable getting better and better until one can say that they are almost sin-free on a day-to-day basis.

    That’s holiness teaching; again, there is nothing that makes this distinctively “fundy”. “Salvation” is followed by “sanctification”, an increasing holiness in day-to-day life. It comes from the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, and was actually popular among early liberal theologians. If fit in with the Victorian faith in “progress”.

    As for labeling someone as “fundamentalist”, I think the tongue-in-cheek response of Alvin Plantinga (professor of philosophy at Notre Dame) is a helpful clarification:

    But isn’t all this just endorsing a wholly outmoded and discredited fundamentalism, that condition than which, according to many academics, none lesser can be conceived? I fully realize that dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term “fundamentalist”. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like “son of a bitch”, more exactly “sonovabitch”, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) “sumbitch”. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. . . . Still there is a bit more to the meaning of “fundamentalist” (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like “stupid sumbitch” (or maybe “fascist sumbitch” than “sumbitch” simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity. . . in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase “considerably to the right, theologically speaking, than me and my enlightened friends.” The full meaning of the term, therefore. . . can be given by something like “stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine”.

    It is therefore hard to take seriously the charge that the views I’m suggesting are fundamentalist; more exactly, its hard to take it seriously as a charge.

    The alleged charge means only that these views are rather more conservative than those of the objector, together with the expression of a certain distaste for the views or those who hold them.

    I do think a story on how Haggard’s theology, his linking of Calvinism and holiness teaching, may have contributed to his downfall would be interesting. Describing his views as “fundamentalist”, however, is a way of saying nothing at all.

    So, if you’re sugesting that conservative “Christianity” as a philosophy is some monolithic juggernaut, I think differently.

    Of course, we disagree about many things. But I don’t think there would be much disagreement about the statement that I made, and the conclusion that Christianity (of any stripe) offers something more than self-hatred as a response to sin.

  • Dominic Glisinski

    That’s not anything typically “fundy”—it’s classic Calvinism,…That’s holiness teaching; again, there is nothing that makes this distinctively “fundy”.
    quote by halflight
    Most evangelicals subscribe to both these tenets in some form or another, fundies are just more adamant and blatant. I cannot recall stating that Christianity leads to “self-hatred”…hence I’m puzzled at your closing sentence.

    What I was hoping to point out is that Ted Haggard’s take on the Christian life, as evidenced in the articles I’ve read, and the interview I listened to, is a rather weird and modern aberration which, while able to comfortably exist in the West at such a time as this, it has never manifested itself anywhere else in time and space previous to the last 50 years…and has very little to do with the previous 1900 years of Church life and practice. There are sick people in every denomination, the reporters regularly point that out; so don’t think I’m slinging mud from some imaginary high ground. I would venture a guess that the majority of secular reporters would not be able to differentiate between shades of Christianity, and so we see sites like this taking them to task in some way. However I don’t think the little catechism lesson on the 5 points you offered up for my benefit is needed for the readers here…
    I have many things to learn; “classic Calvinism” is something I unfortunately was made to learn…by God’s grace I shall forget it someday.

  • Carlos

    The media should focus on the Haggard story as yet another tragic example of the cruelty of anti-gay theology on real people, real lives. Apparently Haggard married to suppress his true self, his innate sexual orientation. He learned what millions already know, you can’t deny it. Unfortunately, his wife and children are casualties of his embrace of a cruel theology that discriminates against gays. The Haggard story is yet another illustration of the error of conservative, homophobic religious beliefs.

  • Jennifer Emick

    Why are some people so formed by the American consumer mentality that they treat religion as if it was the food court at Whole Foods?

    I don’t agree, so I couldn’t begin to answer. To hazard a guess, I think this is more a case of bitterness on the part of some that theology is a matter of individual choice rather than authoritarian directive from what some have determioned is God’s one true will.

  • Dominic Glisinski

    Carlos, Carlos…get a grip.
    Your narrow sectarian view is well represented in the secular media/blog world. What truly fair-minded readers seek is balance, breadth of opinion. You made at least four dogmatic statements in your post, just the opposite of what I would expect of reporters…we need not another sermon from the pro-gay secular religionists.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Here is the key for me. I agree that what you are saying drives much of the MSM coverage.

    But, based on the facts we know right now, how do YOU KNOW what is true nature is? Now, if you accept the gay escort’s testimony as fact — which has not been proven yet (did he take a second lie detector test?) — you seem to have bisexuality at the least. And I agree the meth evidence is damning.

    But how do you know that his true nature is not, oh, Kinsey 3 or 4? In the middle of the scale?

    And what do you make of Kinsey anyway and the fact that people’s sexual behaviors often slide up and down that scale?

  • Michael

    Actually, Kinsey suggested that the older someone got, the less “sliding” took place and that it was mostly in adolsecence and young adulthood where there was significant fluidity in experiences.

    For someone in their early 40s, it’s less likely that they are sliding around the Kinsey scale and that their sexual behavior is fluid. Instead, they are likely fairly fixed at this point in their lives.

    Is he bisexual? It’s possible. I guess it depends on what HE says he is, not necessarily who he is having sex with and how often. Same for whether he is gay or straight. It’s not really a reporter’s place to put a label on him.

    If one believes they shoudn’t label someone as Fundamenalist unless they use that label themselves, one should probably follow the same belief when labeling someone’s sexuality.

    It does appear that Haggard was participating in homosexual activities. How he is oriented, no one really knows. If, in fact, he has been “struggling” with it for quite some time, it does raise serious questions about the success of reversion therapy or praying your way into changing your orientation.