The series premiere of ABC’s “Celebrity Wife Swap” on Tuesday night was full of religious complications, as it paired up the families of evangelical Christian Ted Haggard and New Age spiritualist Gary Busey. However, that didn’t stop Haggard from opening up about how his past mistakes have impacted him and his family.
“Jesus ministered in Jerusalem, was crucified in Jerusalem, but if he would have resurrected in Athens or Rome, it wouldn’t have worked. He had to resurrect in Jerusalem,” Haggard told actor Gary Busey and his fiancee, Steffanie Sampson, at the end of the show.
“Ted Haggard ministered in Colorado Springs, I was crucified, because of my own faults, in Colorado Springs, I have to resurrect in Colorado Springs.”
Haggard, who was previously the head of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, was forced to resign from both positions after a gay prostitute came forward and alleged that Haggard had paid him for sex and illegal drugs for three years.
Haggard and his family lived in Arizona for several years following his downfall, but he says that God revealed to him that even his own sin doesn’t have the power to negate his calling to Colorado Springs.
“You gotta resurrect with the people you crumbled in front of so they see that resurrection power is for today,” he said. “There’s no reason for people to die in shame.”
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“Celebrity Wife Swap” sent Haggard’s wife, Gayle, to spend the week with Busey in his Hollywood Hills home while Sampson spent the week with Ted and his children in Colorado Springs. For the first half of the week, the wives had to follow normal house rules, but for the second half they instituted rules of their own.
But because they belong to such different belief systems, the adjustments weren’t easy at first. Sampson was raised Jewish, and describes Busey as being “very Christian,” although they both believe in reincarnation.
They say they are in their 32nd life together as a couple, and believe they were the parents of Constantine, the emperor of Rome, in a former life. They also believe they are “married in spirit” and made their opinions against organized religion apparent during the show.
After Gayle met Busey, she quickly found out that he was spontaneous and had little interest in asking about her life. Of all the questions he could have asked her – about her faith, or about the scandal that changed her life forever – the only thing he initially wanted to know was what sports she played when she was young.
He also introduced her to “Indian Bob,” a Lakota Sioux Indian from Standing Rock reservation, who met with Busey and Gayle to perform a spiritual ceremony with them and called Gayle a “lost soul.”
Busey says his soul has evolved, and when asked if he attends a church, he responded by saying, “I am a church. The difference between organized religion and spirituality is it’s built for people to be afraid of hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there, and I’m in the second group.”
When it was her turn to take over the house rules, Gayle tried to teach Busey the importance of having a routine and listening to others.
“[Ted’s scandal] really was the test of everything that I believe, so I really had to decide how I was going to respond to all of this,” she told Busey during dinner once she finally got him to listen to her.
“I remember the very first night, once we had cried everything we could cry out of our souls, I laid there in bed and asked myself the question, ‘Gayle Haggard, who are you going to be in this story?’ I answered with, ‘I’m going to fight for everything I believe in. I’m going to fight for my marriage, for the dignity of my children, and for my faith.’ So I’m grateful that I had to go through this, that I chose to go through this, and was able to learn so much in the process.”
During her time at the Haggard home, Sampson had to present a Bible study to the women of Haggard’s new congregation at St. James Church. At first it appeared the women were not amused by Sampson taking over Gayle’s role as teacher, but after she mispronounced the word “disciples” they erupted in laughter and seemed to become light-hearted about her presence there.
After reading part of Gayle’s book, Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour, Sampson also spoke with Haggard about his views on homosexuality.
She thought the book implied that homosexuals were Satan, but Haggard said that wasn’t the case. He said he is against gay marriage and rewriting the traditional definition of marriage, but he is in favor of allowing civil partnerships and welcomes everyone into his church.
“I feel like Ted cannot speak freely about certain things because he really has to be like the ‘public-faced Ted’ and say what he thinks the public wants to hear,” Sampson said following their conversation.
She also encouraged Haggard to spend more time with his adult daughter, Christy, who felt Haggard was too busy with the church and didn’t pursue spending time with her.
“I want you to seek me out on my terms just because you’re my dad. I can’t expect that from any other guy, but since you’re my dad…it places more value on me when you seek me out,” Christy told him during some one-on-one time that had been mandated by Sampson.
When the two couples all met together at the end of the show, Haggard began to really express his feelings about the scandal and how his return to Colorado Springs came about.
“We’ve not allowed the haters to dominate our life. People wrote me, ‘You’re scum. We hate you. Disappear.’ When I read some of the emails and text messages sent to me it was… upsetting.”
He had to ask himself if God felt the same way about him, he said, and the answer he came up with was, “No… I’m his son.”
After moving away from the area for a few years, Haggard said he felt God calling him to return to Colorado Springs, and that even his sin should not prevent him from fulfilling his calling where God has wanted him to be.
The fan response to Haggard’s appearance on “Celebrity Wife Swap” varied greatly after the show aired.
“Ted Haggard makes Gary Busey look normal, sane, and family friendly,” one Twitter user identified as “urbanphish” posted.
“#CelebrityWifeSwap was a hit! Thanks for taking the risk. Proud of you, Pastor,” posted another user by the name of “Trish Knight.”
Haggard recently told The Christian Post that he hoped that the show would “communicate hope” and show that his family has grown together in the time following his moral failure.
“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,” he said.