Fallen evangelical leader, Ted Haggard, tells his story

Haggards tell Vancouver church about ‘God’s grace in our lives’
Christian News Northwest, Subscriptions

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Two and a half years ago, with his sins now known to the world, a deeply embarrassed and shamed Ted Haggard at times felt suicidal. In a stunning downfall, he had lost his reputation, his job and financial security, his spiritual and political influence, his friends, and feared even losing his wife. What he never lost was his Savior.  “When we go through the darkest times in life, all your friends may abandon you, but Jesus will never leave you … Jesus is fanatically in love with people who just can’t get their act together,” said Haggard.

The same message comes today from his wife, Gayle, who acknowledges that her husband’s gay sex scandal was “the most painful thing I could have possibly gone through,” but that God has walked closely with them through a “very dark” time. “I feel God’s grace in our lives in a way I did not ever know I would,” she said.

The result — the Haggards say their marriage today is stronger than ever and they have fresh hope.

“I really love this man,” she said as she sat next to her husband on the platform during a special breakfast presentation Friday, June 19 at Vancouver’s Living Hope Church. “He’s so much more than the sin that so easily beset him.” Haggard, in turn, calls his wife “the hero of this story,” because she chose to stay with him even though the burden of the scandal “placed all my sins on her.”

When things were at their worst, he even urged her to divorce him because he thought he had become so “toxic” that divorce was best for her and their family. She refused to leave him and is now writing a book about why she didn’t.

John Bishop, pastor of Living Hope, invited the Haggards to appear at the breakfast, as well as at the church’s worship services that weekend. Bishop felt it was important to hear from the Haggards because he and many others in the Christian community had many questions about how a nationall known spiritual leader could fall so stunningly. Because of the scandal, Haggard resigned in November 2006 as pastor of 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., which he had founded. His severance agreement with the church required him to leave Colorado for two years. He also stepped down from his politically powerful role as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 45,000 churches with 30 million members. The resignations came after Haggard acknowledged soliciting a male prostitute for homosexual sex and methamphetamine. Initially Haggard denied even knowing the prostitute, but as a media investigation proceeded he admitted that some allegations, such as his purchase of methamphetamine, were true. He later added “sexual immorality” to his list of confessions. “I didn’t do everything I was accused of, but I sure did enough,” Haggard told the Vancouver audience.

Since the scandal broke, Haggard has undergone intensive restoration counseling.

Insisting he is heterosexual and that he “never embraced” the gay lifestyle, Haggard said his times of immorality had roots in sexual abuse from an adult when he was 7 years old. “It was buried under the blood of Jesus, but still in my brain,” and thus became his personal torment for decades, said Haggard. “I thought it was a demon, that it was spiritual. But it was in fact psychological.” Haggard said he should never have allowed years of ministry and leadership to pass without seeking help. “It used to be that only ‘crazy people’ went to counselors,” he said. “No, I think the pastor of every rapidly growing church should go to a counselor … What I should have done is resigned all my positions and gone to a good counselor.” The scandal finally forced him to do just that.

“I got 30 years of prayer answered with a relatively simple process in a counselor’s office,” he said. What he is still grappling with, he admitted, is the way much of the religious community responded to the scandal: “I only needed a few hours with that counselor … (but) I many need a lifetime of counseling to recover from the church.” At the same time, however, Haggard was quick to praise Tommy Barnett, famed pastor of First Assembly of God Church in Phoenix, Ariz., for his role in the restoration process. Haggard said Barnett welcomed him and his wife “when nobody knew what to do with us.” According to Haggard, Barnett himself wasn’t sure what to do, but simply told him, “Keep reading your Bible and do what the Holy Spirit tells you to do, and you’ll be fine.” Haggard said his situation is a vivid reminder to all Christians — especially those in prominence — that they are always sorely in need of a Savior, and of God’s grace. In reality, he said, “nobody deserves to be on the platform.”

“In every church … every family … all the time, things are going woefully wrong. Any goodness that we tap into is purely a gift.” Haggard reiterated that his personal failings never separated him from God’s love. “I never fell from grace; I fell into grace because of this scandal,” he said. Bishop said an honest

expression of that need for grace is necessary if the Body of Christ is going to reach the world with the Gospel. “The only way there will be authentic revival is authentic brokenness,” Bishop told those at the breakfast.

Bishop said that addition to having the Haggards speak at his church, Living Hope treated the Haggards and their entire family to their first-ever stay on the Oregon coast as an expression of love and appreciation.

Christian News Northwest, Subscriptions

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