Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The Risk of Forgiveness (Thoughts on Gayle Haggard's book, Why I Stayed) by Rose McCormick Brandon
Gayle Haggard and her husband, Ted, started a church in the basement of their home. Twenty years later, the church met in a massive auditorium that held 14,000. Ted Haggard was charming, hard-working and caring. But he had a secret. Same-sex desires haunted him. At age seven, an employee of his father’s molested Ted. Not in a violent way, but in a way that interfered with his innocence. A sin was committed against Ted. And that sin led to sins in his adult life that ultimately destroyed his ministry at the mega-church and almost destroyed his marriage.
As a married man in love with his wife, Ted struggled with same-sex attraction. Eventually, he gave in to these temptations. Ted’s childhood secret had led him into a secret life. This other life went undetected until the day a masseuse went public with allegations against Ted. Gayle, the mother of their five children and the women’s ministry pastor in her husband’s church, laughed when she first heard the accusations. It couldn’t be. Not Ted, her college sweetheart, the man she’d devoted her life to.
Forced into the public eye, Ted’s denials fell apart. In tears, he admitted his sin, to Gayle, to his children and to his staff. It would be an understatement to say that Gayle’s world fell apart. Reporters camped outside their home. Friends forsook them. They had to leave their church, their home and, for a while, their state.
Ted advised Gayle to divorce him. “I’m too toxic for you and the kids,” he said.
Gayle stayed. “I stayed with Ted because commitment means something to me. I’ve committed my life to God which means that I’ve chosen his ways and I follow his example of love and forgiveness. I’m committed to our marriage, to stay in this journey till death do us part. I am committed to our children and I want to restore honor and dignity to their lives.”
When I first started reading Gayle’s story, Why I Stayed, I couldn’t imagine why any woman would stay with a deceiver like Ted Haggard. But . . . when I learned about the seven year-old who was molested, I thought - God sees clear-through people. He knows us thoroughly. He doesn’t see us as adults who should know better, He sees the wounded child in us.
Of course, I don’t condone Ted’s sin. But I can’t help thinking of the woman caught in adultery – how humiliated she must have been – men circling her, getting ready to stone her. Then Jesus came along. (John 8)
“What do you say her punishment should be?” asked the stoners.
Jesus took his sweet time answering. The woman waited in fear. The men gathered more stones.
Finally, Jesus said, “I say that the person among you who has never committed a sin should be the first one to cast a stone at her.”
Rocks tumbled to the ground as first the older men and then the younger remembered their sins.
Only Jesus and the woman remained.
“All my accusers have left,” she whispered.
Jesus looked at her and said, “It’s time for you go home too - but no more adultery.”
And that’s how it is for Ted Haggard. He’s back home. No more betraying his God, or his wife. (She hopes. We hope. And God hopes.) Not surprisingly, the media ridiculed Gayle for “standing by her man.”
People who live in darkness are often blinded by grace.
Gayle writes, “Ted gave me the gift of repentance, and he chose, as I did, to heal our marriage. I know that not all men choose to do that.” She encourages people, as much as they are able, to forgive and love those who have sinned against them. This is Christ’s path.
I am mindful that not everyone will accept forgiveness. Some will forsake their God, their spouses and their families. For these situations, there can still be healing for the wounded one but not healing for the relationship, not in the present at least. Reconciliation takes two.
Gayle’s story taught me that I must be slow, very slow, to give up on people, eager to forgive and always hopeful for a better life for those who stray from God. I’ve strayed myself. And I must never forget that. When I do forget it, I’m no better than the self-righteous stoners.
“Make allowances for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:13-14)
Forgiveness is a risky business. The end product isn’t always neat. And the process can be painful. But Jesus has promised to support us from the beginning to the end of the forgiveness journey.
Prayer: Lord, I have to reach deep into my soul to find the courage to forgive . . . . . (fill in the blank). With your help, I want to start the journey toward total forgiveness, with you as my Helper and Guide.
Rose McCormick Brandon writes frequently for faith publications. Her recent book, Promises of Home, is a collection of British Home Child stories. She's also the author of One Good Word Makes all the Difference, He Loves Me Not, He Loves Me and Vanished. Her faith blog is Listening to my Hair Grow and her stories of Home Children are at Promises of Home. Visit her website at Writing From the Heart.
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