You 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.