Ted Haggard, the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals who resigned five years ago following a gay sex scandal, will be featured in Tuesday's ABC premier of “Celebrity Wife Swap.” Haggard told The Christian Post that he hopes the show will “communicate hope” and show the world that his family has “resurrected” from its dark past.
“I don't think there's anybody that I know of that more reflects the resurrection of Christ than I do right now,” Haggard said. “After what we've been through, the way Christ has healed us and restored us and built our family and blessed us, it's a wonderful story of resurrection and encouragement and God's faithfulness and the faithfulness of the Scriptures and the church."
In addition to the NAE, Haggard resigned from his position at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, a megachurch he and his wife, Gayle, founded, after a male prostitute accused Haggard of paying him for sex over a three year period. Haggard was also accused of using illegal drugs during his meetings with the prostitute.
Since the scandal, Haggard has been open to the public about his fall from grace and says he has come out of it a changed and better man. His relationship with his wife of more than 30 years is also now stronger than ever, he has said.
“Celebrity Wife Swap” paired up Haggard for one week with Steffanie Sampson, the fiancee of Academy Award-nominated actor Gary Busey, while Gayle spent the week with Busey.
The two couples make an interesting religious combination. The Haggards are evangelical Christians who currently lead Saint James Church and the Buseys follow New Age philosophies, including reincarnation. Busey and Sampson believe they are married in spirit and are currently in their 32nd lifetime together.
For the first half of the week, the swapped wives had to assume each other’s homes, and lifestyles, but in the second half they took charge of the house rules.
In spite of their very different belief systems, Haggard says Sampson fit in quite well at his home and church in Colorado.
In the first half of the week she assumed Gayle's duties, which included teaching a Bible study Gayle had prepared in advance, reading daily devotions every morning and helping to host a “thank you” barbecue for the 40 small group leaders from Haggard's new congregation.
When it was time for Sampson to take over the house, though, Haggard says she was encouraging and was “absolutely determined not to violate our faith.” He says she came into the show with the attitude that “the Haggards have suffered too much,” that they are constantly reminded of their guilt, and she decided not to bring up their past at all.
She also told Haggard that he was forgiven, and “kept emphasizing that none of us should be defined by our weakest moment.”
"So actually, you would think she was a Spirit-filled Christian because of the way she tried to be encouraging ... but she was coming from a New Age philosophy,” he said. "Very sadly, she gave me many messages that the church should have been giving me over the last five years."
He says some Christians have been supportive of him over the last few years in spite of his moral failure, though many have been critical. He thinks the show will be “insightful for judgmental Christians.”
Before becoming part of “Celebrity Wife Swap,” Haggard turned the show's producers down twice until they were able to reassure him enough and convince him to accept.
"The producers said that this is a great opportunity to communicate where our family is right now, and how our family's doing, and it would not be bizarre the way some of the episodes of some of the old 'Wife Swap' were when they were not using celebrities,” he said.
"We agreed, though, to do it because we wanted to communicate hope,” he later added. “We've raised a handicap child, and he still lives with us, and 80 percent of the families that have a handicap child divorce, and we didn't. And five years ago we went through a crisis that was different from most families, or more dramatic than most families have to deal with, and our family actually grew together and got closer and stronger. And so we saw this as an opportunity to bring people up to date and give them hope."
He said he was originally concerned that there would be an “uproar” in the Christian community from people who had never seen the show and thought it somehow involved sex, though it is really about contrasting families and relationships.
He and his wife ultimately decided to participate in the show, in the face of potential criticism, in order “to encourage the discouraged rather than persuade the judgmental.”
Haggard didn't speak much about his wife's experience with Busey, although he did say that her experience at Busey's Hollywood Hills home was more adventurous than his own.
Now that the taping of the show is over, Haggard says his family and the Busey family remain friends.
"We've all become friends now. Gail and I are flying to California to watch 'Celebrity Wife Swap' with the Buseys on the third. We talk on the phone all the time. Gary and Steffanie are talking on the phone with people in our church that they got to know through this, and it's become a real wonderful group of friends. We love them, and I mean that sincerely,” he said.
Haggard's church has grown to approximately 350 people since it was started in 2010, he said. St. James Church meets at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs.
"I think all of us need to trust God's sovereignty. And God has given the Haggard family an opportunity to minister life on ABC, and I think He set it up perfectly with the producers we had and with the Busey family. We feel very blessed and honored,” Haggard said.
“Celebrity Wife Swap” premieres Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 9 p.m. ET.