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Dr. Hager's Family Values | The Nation

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Dr. Hager's Family Values

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I first heard of Davis's experience in 2004 through a friend of hers. After a few telephone conversations, she agreed to have me fly down to see her in her modest parsonage in Georgia, to tell me her story on the record. With her mod reading glasses, stylish bob and clever outfits, Davis, 55, is a handsome woman with a sharp wit. She spoke with me over two days in January.

Click here to download the cover of the May 30, 2005 issue of The Nation featuring Dr. Hager.

About the Author

Ayelish McGarvey
Ayelish McGarvey is a writing fellow at The American Prospect.

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Linda Davis (née Carruth) first met David Hager on the campus of Asbury College in 1967. "On the very first date he sat me down and told me he was going to marry me," Davis remembers. "I was so overwhelmed by this aggressive approach of 'I see you and I want you' that I was completely seduced by it."

Davis, a former beauty queen, was a disengaged student eager to get married and start a family. A Hager-Carruth marriage promised prestige and wealth for the couple; her father was a famous Methodist evangelist, and his father was then president of Asbury. "On the surface, it just looked so good," she remembers. The couple married in 1970, while Hager completed medical school at the University of Kentucky.

"I don't think I was married even a full year before I realized that I had made a horrible mistake," Davis says. By her account, Hager was demanding and controlling, and the couple shared little emotional intimacy. "But," she says, "the people around me said, 'Well, you've made your bed, and now you have to lie in it.'" So Davis commenced with family making and bore three sons: Philip, in 1973; Neal, in 1977; and Jonathan, in 1979.

Sometime between the births of Neal and Jonathan, Hager embarked on an affair with a Bible-study classmate who was a friend of Davis's. A close friend of Davis's remembers her calling long distance when she found out: "She was angry and distraught, like any woman with two children would be. But she was committed to working it out."

Sex was always a source of conflict in the marriage. Though it wasn't emotionally satisfying for her, Davis says she soon learned that sex could "buy" peace with Hager after a long day of arguing, or insure his forgiveness after she spent too much money. "Sex was coinage; it was a commodity," she said. Sometimes Hager would blithely shift from vaginal to anal sex. Davis protested. "He would say, 'Oh, I didn't mean to have anal sex with you; I can't feel the difference,'" Davis recalls incredulously. "And I would say, 'Well then, you're in the wrong business.'"

By the 1980s, according to Davis, Hager was pressuring her to let him videotape and photograph them having sex. She consented, and eventually she even let Hager pay her for sex that she wouldn't have otherwise engaged in--for example, $2,000 for oral sex, "though that didn't happen very often because I hated doing it so much. So though it was more painful, I would let him sodomize me, and he would leave a check on the dresser," Davis admitted to me with some embarrassment. This exchange took place almost weekly for several years.

Money was an explosive issue in their household. Hager kept an iron grip on the family purse strings. Initially the couple's single checking account was in Hager's name only, which meant that Davis had to appeal to her husband for cash, she says. Eventually he relented and opened a dual account. Davis recalls that Hager would return home every evening and make a beeline for his office to balance the checkbook, often angrily summoning her to account for the money she'd spent that day. Brenda Bartella Peterson, Davis's friend of twenty-five years and her neighbor at the time, witnessed Hager berate his wife in their kitchen after one such episode. For her part, Davis set out to subvert Hager's financial dominance with profligate spending on credit cards opened in her own name. "I was not willing to face reality about money," she admits. "I thought, 'Well, money can't buy happiness, but it buys the kind of misery you can learn to live with.'"

These financial atmospherics undoubtedly figured into Linda's willingness to accept payment for sex. But eventually her conscience caught up with her. "Finally...I said, 'You know, David, this is like being a prostitute. I just can't do this anymore; I don't think it's healthy for our relationship,'" she recalls.

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