When Oprah interviewed former evangelical leader Ted Haggard in January 2009, e-mails from viewers poured in. Ted was a preacher and father of five who made headlines when a former male escort alleged that Ted paid him for sex and crystal meth. Ted admitted to sexual immorality and buying drugs, and was prohibited from preaching and exiled from his church and the state of Colorado.
When Ted and his wife, Gayle, appeared on The Oprah Show , Ted told Oprah that he was a "heterosexual with homosexual attachments."
Some Oprah Show viewers said they thought Ted was lying; others said he was in denial. One viewer wrote: "I think Ted was open, honest and delightful. This is one of the problems I see with the Christian faith. They insist on being perfect. Perfection is not possible, and the problem is not that Mr. Haggard lied, but he lived in an environment that insisted on his lying."
While there were religious pressures to keep quiet, Ted says only he is to blame for his problems. "Sometimes in religious environments there's pressure to perform, and I, particularly, had pressure as the pastor of the church … but I think the fault is my own," he says. "I submitted to that and participated in it. But now, of course, I'm thrilled to be able to speak openly and really be me."
Ted and Gayle say their marriage is better now that they've told their story to the public. "Whenever you have honesty, you have the opportunity for greater intimacy, and that's been our process," Gayle says.
Since his Oprah Show appearance, Ted says he's received an outpouring of support. "We've had 2.8 million people come to my website, many of them church leaders inviting us to come and share about how to strengthen your marriage on your worst day," he says. "Of the e-mails we received, 96 percent of them were positive and helpful. … People were so relieved at the honesty."
Of the negative e-mails, Ted says they were largely split between the homosexual and Christian communities. "A portion was from gay people who resented the fact that I was being true to myself in that I stayed with my wife, stayed with my family," he says. "Interestingly enough, some percentage was also Christian people saying, 'You need to just be straight and be what God made you to be.' So there was negative response from both sides wanting me to fit in their box."
The healing process since the scandal broke has been so dramatic that Ted says some of the things he said on The Oprah Show just a few months ago are no longer true. "[My thoughts about men] have diminished a lot," he says. "I don't have near the thoughts now that I had then."
When Ted does have thoughts about men, he doesn't get angry with himself, he says. "I think Jesus came for all of us, and I think all of humanity is messed up. … I don't think [God] was ever against me. I don't think he's against homosexuals or heterosexuals or people that are wherever they are in their process," he says. "I think God is for people and he wants all of us to be improving all the time."
One of the strongest reactions from viewers when the Haggards first appeared was that Gayle was in denial, but she says that's not the case. "I don't know why Ted having these struggles negates the fact that most of the time he's attracted to me," she says. "That shouldn't undo the fact that we've had 30 years of a relationship that's been growing. We value our relationship, we value our family, we value our physical relationship."
Gayle says humans are sexual beings, and people need to accept that sexuality is expressed differently for each person. "We do have some degree of choice as to what we do with the impulses that we feel. But we don't choose our impulses," she says.
Though Ted isn't fully supporting his family yet, the Haggards have moved back to their home in Colorado Springs. "We were very warmly received," he says. "Wherever we are, people are so warm, so friendly, so grateful."
Ted says he and Gayle are interviewing publishers and hoping to write a book about their experience. "There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel now. We're very pleased. Our life is very different than it was when we were [first on The Oprah Show ]," Ted says. "[The interview] was authentically healing for us."