It’s Ted vs. Gayle as Haggards discuss their ‘toxic’ marriage on Divorce Court

No, it’s not an April Fool’s prank. Ted Haggard and his faithful wife, Gayle, finally get their day in court. The former top evangelist, whose “brush with both homosexuality and narcotics” led to a fall from grace — not to mention some undoubtedly uncomfortable pillow talk with his blindsided wife — earned an undisclosed sum last month when the Haggards taped two sessions of the popular syndicated TV show Divorce Court.

Starting Wednesday, the nation gets to peer inside the couple’s marital crisis while the stern presiding judge wags her finger and raises the sassy questions Larry King and Oprah dared not pose.

Ted Haggard, upper right, and his wife Gayle appear in the Divorce Court rings. (Screenshot/Divorce Court)

Ted Haggard, upper right, and his wife Gayle appear in the Divorce Court rings. (Screenshot/Divorce Court)

“Ted was one of America’s most influential Christian leaders until his secret life unfolded in the media headlines,” the Divorce Court show summary intones, “with accusations of a drug fueled, 3-year affair with a male prostitute.”

Join us as we follow Judge Toler’s conversation with the Haggards.

2:30 p.m. – Judge Lynn Toler — who was an actual judge in Ohio — sits in her chambers with the Haggards. Anyone hoping to see the disgraced pastor taking an oath in a courtroom — hand on a Bible — will be disappointed.

It appears the Divorce Court schedule is as flexible as Ted Haggard’s sexuality — the first of two Haggard episodes was scheduled to air April 1, but the day arrives and KDVR-TV in Denver is showing Part II of the interview.

Quick recap: The Haggards decided not to get divorced. Ted asked for a divorce from Gayle because he had become “toxic,” but she refused.

Haggard blames male escort Mike Jones for telling him about methamphetamine. He says he’s faced temptations in every decade of his life. At the judge’s prompting, he admits he hasn’t acted on his homosexual desires “for the most part,” and says he tried to overcome the urges through prayer. The judge is skeptical he was able to banish these urges so quickly after being exposed.

2:35 p.m – Ted wasn’t born gay — he was traumatized in seventh grade with “some homosexual play” and has successfully prayed it away.

Gayle discusses her process — how does she love Ted? How does she forgive him? She admits to jumping to “a lot of conclusions” and accused Haggard of living a double life. The judge calls her on this — “He did lead a double life.” Gayle says it took time to “get to the place where I could really hear him” after her husband had “been through an internal, private hell.” Initially, she blamed Ted for the crisis. The judge is having none of Gayle’s attempt to blame the victim, herself: “He lied, he bore false witness.”

2:40 p.m. – We’re back after a commercial. Ted says after he disgraced his wife he “went way overboard,” even going so far as to make the bed and pick up his socks. If that’s what it takes to apologize for a meth-fueled affair with a male escort …

Ted and Gayle’s daughter, Christy Haggard, appears on a splotchy video link. Her father was “so apologetic and humbled,” which encouraged her to bond with her father. The judge asks if Ted had been holier-than-thou before the scandal. No, no, Christy says, she put her father on a pedestal. She says Ted is less judgmental and allows her to be “less harsh” on herself.

Christy admits her father could “relapse” and go back to having sex with massage therapists but says she wouldn’t love him any less if it happened.

2:45 p.m. – Cut to another commercial after some flying graphics. Benefiber provides closed-captioning for the show, which is good news for irregular viewers who are hard of hearing.

2:50 p.m. – Judge Toler asks if there’s anything Ted could do that would be “divorceable” — what if he falters again and Gayle finds Ted “with another guy, would that put divorce back on the table?” The judge doesn’t ask how Gayle would react if she found Ted with another guy on a table. Gayle says she can’t guarantee she could go through it again.

Ted says he kept his illicit affairs a secret because he was afraid “she would divorce me.” He also “guarantees you the woman can cuss.”

Here’s some news — Ted says he would preach again if he got the opportunity. It’s because people feel better about him when they finally meet him, whereas before he didn’t live up to their lofty expectations.

“Divorce shouldn’t be a given when you face your darkest day,” Gayle says. She had to look at Ted and see “so much that was painful” but “at the end of the day” wants to grow old with him.

2:52 p.m. – Another commercial! Is it possible to rebuild trust once a spouse has cheated? The judge wants to hear from you for a future show.

2:55 p.m. – The judge wants to “bullet point” the “take-aways”:

Forgiveness is a process. Part of the process involves effort, you can’t just say “forgive me,” it’s a continuous job, even if it takes years. Never stop thinking, understand your bottom-line goal.

Gayle adds a take-away: Value the relationship, be aware of what you want to rescue.

What’s next? Ted says they want to tell their story — and sell insurance. People are nicer to him after the crisis. He’s “so incredibly grateful” that everyone’s so nice. It’s been a wonderful process, Gayle says, leading to the kind of intimacy she’s always wanted.

The judge addresses her own husband directly — she wants this kind of intimacy in the Toler marriage but warns him “don’t go in this direction.” In other words, if a meth-crazed, illicit homosexual affair is what it takes to reach the Haggards’ new-found intimacy, she wants none of it.

And with a quick segue to a Frank Azar commercial, Divorce Court is out.

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Ernest Luning

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