On November 2, 2006, Gayle Haggard’s life changed forever when her husband, Ted Haggard, founder of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was publicly exposed in a scandal. In the days and months ahead, everything in Gayle’s life was at stake—her beliefs, her marriage, and her relationship with the church community she had been a part of for more than 20 years. In Why I Stayed, Gayle walks us through the choices she made in her darkest hour and shares her renewed passion for the central message of the Bible—the liberating message of forgiveness and love. Why I Stayed reminds us of what less-than-perfect people desperately need—a community of family and faith that offers healing love and a path to restoration.
- A good but deeply flawed book
I am not the kind of person who usually bothers to write book reviews but after reading Why I stayed I felt that I wanted to give some feedback. In truth, being Irish, I had never heard of Ted Haggart but I suppose that he must have been virtually a household name in north America. Thus, I just bought the book as it seemed like a story that I would benefit from.
I am glad to write that, as a man and small time church leader, I certainly did benefit from Gayle Haggart's work. Gayle's heart break at her husband's sin, the whirlwind of pain inflicted upon the family plus the endless hurt experienced by so many within the Church makes for powerful reading. Clearly, to all of us in church leadership (whether big names or little guys like myself) the message is clear; let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. It was also of benefit to read that there were warning signs before Ted's mess up- the ministry was taking over his life to the detriment of his family. That Ted was clearly over extended and over worked. That Ted seemed to think that he was indispensible to the ministry (and church). That his wife was less important to Ted than his ministry colleagues. Again, for all in ministry- take heed!
It was also greatly edifying to be reminded that no matter how terribly far one falls, one never falls from grace but into grace. Such is the power of Christ's blood, failure and sin is never final.
However, despite the genuinely blessed aspects of Why I stayed I cannot help but feel that these are overshadowed by some serious demerits. On the one hand Ted's sin, while fully recognised in places, tends to be down played as the book progresses. Indeed Ted, at times, is virtually presented as a martyr for Christ as he negotiates the consequences of his own sin. One wonders how the loads of full time workers at New life Church who lost their jobs when news of Ted's scandal broke felt- men and women who faithfully served and didn't get the good severance package that Ted got. Towards the end of the book Gayle writes- "His struggle had been a private one and the only person he betrayed was me'. Anticipating the obvious question 'what about the Church?' Gayle responds- "Did he betray the Church? The only thing Ted was guilty of regarding the Church was falling off the pedestal that some people had placed him on. He never lied to the Church....If people felt betrayed to discover that Ted didn't belong on that pedestal, I have to wonder why they lifted him to such an exulted position in the first place?" These are strange words to write concerning someone who sinned sexually and then both publically and privately denied it. Clearly it would appear from Gayle's words that if people were hurt by Ted's sin it was their own fault rather than her husband's. One wonders how this no big deal attitude squares with the Haggard's justification for all their celebrity status interviews which were presented as opportunities to apologise to all the people who were hurt by Ted's sin?
Secondly, I found it disturbing how Gayle continually rails against her (former) church's leadership. Page after page Mrs Haggart blasts her overseers in their attempts to minister to them, sparing no pains to beat them up time and time again. Even if, in a great show of magnanimous grace, Gayle forgives them at the end of the book one cannot help but feel that she is a very bitter woman. This surely is not godliness to bring these matters into the public domain and it is not setting God's people a good example of Biblical submission to their church leaders- even if they are weak little guys like me. In truth the book really should have been entitled Why I hate my former church's leadership. I cannot recommend this book or at least if anybody does want to read it they should certainly make an effort to listen to New Life Church's side of the story as well.
One concluding thought; I understand that Ted Haggart has gone back to Colorado Springs (where his previous church was located and a town with endless churches) to plant another Church. This seems a bit crazy to me at multiple levels but I conclude with a bit of time honoured wisdom from CH Spurgeon. Speaking of church leaders he writes-
The highest moral character must be sedulously maintained. Many are disqualified for office in the church who are well enough as simple members. I hold very stern opinions with regard to Christian men who have fallen into gross sin; I rejoice that they may have been truly converted, and may be with mingled hope and caution received into the church; but I question, gravely question whether a man who has grossly sinned should be very readily restored to the pulpit.... Alas! the beard of reputation once shorn is hard to grow again. Open immorality, in most cases, however deep the repentance, is a fatal sign that ministerial graces were never in the man’s character.