As Supreme Court nominee John Roberts will learn, conservatives proposed for high-level public service often face withering personal attacks from liberals trying to discredit them. Sometimes "opposition researchers" unearth embarrassing facts or statements from their past, or make them up.
Early in June, WORLD reported on what happens when the private lives of social conservatives seem to be inconsistent with their public pronouncements. One example was the case of Dr. W. David Hager, now under assault because of ugly allegations by his ex-wife, Linda ("Practicing what they protest," June 4, 2005). Now Dr. Hager is giving his side of the story.
First, some background: He is a prominent physician, a pro-life activist, and an evangelical Christian leader (advisor for Focus on the Family, trustee of Asbury College, co-worker in other ministries). When President Bush appointed him in 2002 to the FDA Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee, pro-abortionists went on the attack, and continued it when Dr. Hager helped to stop the morning-after pill from being made available without a prescription.
His opponents found a weapon: Later in 2002 Dr. Hager and his wife of 32 years were divorced. A Democratic party activist urged her to tell her story to a reporter from a venerable left-wing magazine, The Nation. The resulting story, "Dr. Hager's Family Values" (May 30, 2005), was a lurid, shocking tale of sexual abuse and perversion. The author of the article, Ayelish McGarvey, used the allegations to attack Dr. Hager's pro-life beliefs, presenting his opposition to abortion as just another example of his abuse of women.
WORLD asked Dr. Hager point by point about the allegations. He denied the specific charge that he forcibly sodomized his wife. He admitted that he had a one-time affair that he confessed to his wife and friends. Concerning charges that he pressured and paid his wife to engage in sexual practices from which she wanted to refrain, Dr. Hager said, "You do not have all of the information and I won't reveal it."
He refused to make available more information, saying he wanted to protect his ex-wife who made the accusations: "If I have to take this hit because I'm unwilling to do that, to run her down, and make all of this information available, I'll take the hit."
When WORLD asked Dr. Hager about the fallout from this controversy, he stated, "When Planned Parenthood and NOW were having these national internet petitions against me, I was getting on the average 60 to 80 e-mails a day that were critical of me, with unbelievable language. After this story broke, I have received a total of six negative comments." He added, "My practice is increasing. I am receiving more speaking engagements. It has had no effect whatsoever."
Dr. Hager claimed that reporters from three of the most powerful liberal media organizations-he named them only off-the-record-told him that "we don't put any stock in this publication, and we don't believe those allegations." He added, "It's the Christian media that want the details, the sexual details of it all. I find that really disturbing."
That is disturbing, but this whole situation is disturbing. Sexual sin is a big issue for Christians, but not for many secularists. What would be purely a private matter becomes public when a person gains election or appointment to an important position. Dr. Hager said that his friends and accountability partners support him: "People who know me know who I am and what my values are like. [God also] knows me. He knows my heart. Everything that I have ever done to displease Him has been confessed."
In a he-said, she-said conflict, even the couple's own understanding may be distorted by sin, emotion, mental disorders, and the tragic flaws that tear apart a marriage. God really is the only one who knows the whole story, and His knowledge is what counts.