Spring 2009, Vol. 12, No. 1

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Table of Contents

From the Editor:
Our Excellent ARIS Adventure

The Madoff Disgrace

Keeping the Faith-Based

Dolan Does Gotham

No Friends on the Right

A Buddhist Bishop in the UP

Breaking Up Is Hard to Adjudicate

Praise God and Pass the Diapers

Haggard Agonistes


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Haggard Agonistes   
Brendan Kelly

In January, disgraced former megachurch pastor Ted Haggard sprang back into the national consciousness as the subject of “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” a documentary film by Alexandra Pelosi. The film, which debuted on HBO January 29, examines Haggard’s life since 2006, when he was removed from his Colorado Springs pastorate after revelations that he had paid for sex with a male prostitute.

Pelosi is something of a celebrity herself. The daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she earned six Emmy nominations for her first documentary, “Journeys with George,” which chronicled George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. “Friends of God,” her 2006 documentary on the evangelical movement, featured Haggard. During the filming, Pelosi and her husband established a friendly relationship with him and his family—a friendship on view in “Trials.”

Under his severance agreement with 12,000-member New Life Church, which he started in his basement a quarter-century ago, Haggard agreed to leave Colorado, and Pelosi’s camera follows him and his family as they move among borrowed houses and rented motel rooms in Arizona. As he searches for employment, he repeatedly laments his financial situation. He is forced to depend on sympathetic friends, and at one point is shown circulating an email asking for money. He tries to sell insurance. The contrast with his past glory, depicted with clips from “Friends of God,” could not be starker.

“Trials” is largely narrated via Pelosi’s questions and Haggard’s answers, with commentary from Haggard’s wife Gayle interspersed throughout. Pelosi uses on-screen text to fill in background and gaps in the story, and to make some thinly veiled judgments on the treatment of Haggard by New Life’s current leaders—who, she suggests, preach forgiveness but have shown Haggard none. The film ends with a note that he has, after 18 months in exile, been permitted by New Life to return with his family to their home in Colorado Springs.

Joining HBO’s promotion campaign, Haggard went on a whirlwind media tour in January.  It was his first turn in the public eye since early 2007, when he underwent a three-week “rehabilitation” for drug addiction and homosexuality and was pronounced “completely heterosexual” by Rev. Tim Ralph, one of the rehabilitators.

On January 9, he told AP’s Eric Gorski that he had gone “through a wandering in the wilderness time, and I just thank God I’m on the other side of that.” The same day, in a Q&A with reporters at a Television Critics Association meeting in Universal City, California, he described his previous actions as “hypocrisy.”

In his close encounters with the media, Haggard made it clear that while he was now on the heterosexual straight and narrow, he wasn’t entirely “cured.”

“[S]exuality,” he told Newsweek January 19, “is complex and confusing. I no longer struggle with homosexual compulsions. I still have thoughts from time to time, but they’re not powerful thoughts. I still have temptations from time to time, but they’re not powerful temptations. They’re not compelling.”

On January 24, Haggard told Joe Garofoli of the San Franciso Chronicle that he had only agreed to do the documentary in order to clear up misconceptions about his situation: “I just want to answer questions now. That will create some spotlight type things. If that develops, I’ll try to be responsible with it, honest with it. If that doesn’t develop, I’m trying to build an insurance business. And I’m OK with that. I didn’t ask HBO to do this.”

The same day, a new scandal ratcheted up the attention. Graham Haas, a former volunteer at New Life, told KRDO in Colorado Springs that Haggard had masturbated in front of him and sent him illicit text messages. He informed New Life Church shortly after the scandal broke, and the two parties reached a settlement in 2007 that included a confidentiality agreement.

Brady Boyd, who had succeeded Haggard as New Life’s pastor, told the AP’s Gorski that there was an “overwhelming pool of evidence” that indicated an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time…it wasn’t a one-time act.”

Three days later, Haggard told Gorski that the relationship with Haas had not been physical—in the sense that the two had not touched. Boyd called the settlement “compassionate assistance—certainly not hush money.”

Appearing on Oprah January 28, Haggard said, “I apologized to Grant, my family and the church two years ago. I now ask him again for his forgiveness as well as the people of the church.”

The next day, he described the encounter to Larry King as “an indicator of the compulsive behavior that was going on in my life during that time period.” But his old parishioners were checking in: “I have loads of New Lifers writing to me now. And they saw me on ‘Oprah’ or have seen some of the shows where I’m saying I’m sorry. And they’re writing about how healing it is to hear my voice and hear me say I am sorry for what happened.”

The documentary aired January 29, and while it was well received, Haggard himself got mixed notices.

“The film doesn’t merely document Mr. Haggard’s fall from grace, it also tracks the pathology of his attempt at a comeback,” sniffed Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times January 29. “It’s a cautionary tale for disgraced public figures; for viewers it’s a master class in the art of self-serving remorse and hubris dressed up as humility.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara was more sympathetic: “‘The Trials of Ted Haggard’ is a strange, disturbing, imperfect but in the end heartbreaking little film that may wind up being the most powerful indictment of homophobia since ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ It’s not so much a documentary as it is a series of encounters with a man struggling to hold on to two mutually destructive identities: an evangelical who is not exclusively heterosexual. That he cannot let go of the latter and will not let go of the former makes him a tragic embodiment of the still-raging war between sexuality and religion.”

Rob Owens of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette was torn:

 “HBO’s ‘The Trials of Ted Haggard’ offers an extraordinarily humane depiction of the former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, who fell from their good graces after a scandal involving gay sex and drugs. Haggard comes off as pitiful, a self-described ‘first-class loser’ who appears to be suicidal at one point.”

“But it’s a difficult portrayal to buy completely after allegations late last week that Haggard had a relationship with a twentysomething male church volunteer, who talked to a Colorado Springs TV station about his supposed relationship with Haggard because he feared the HBO doc would present Haggard as a victim. It’s also difficult to believe the Haggard in the film after the former preacher told Newsweek that he never had an adult same-sex encounter with anyone other than male prostitute Mike Jones, whose revelations kicked off the Haggard scandal in 2006.”

Reacting to the Haas story, Pelosi saw it as another example of New Life’s post-Haggard fall from grace: “This is what happens when you don’t handle things properly at the time. If the church had been 100 percent full disclosure at the time, maybe this wouldn’t be a problem now.” Inserted into the credits of the DVD of the film is the message: “Coinciding with the release of this film, additional allegations were reported regarding Ted Haggard’s inappropriate behavior during his time at New Life Church.” Since the flurry of attention last winter, Haggard has gotten some megachurch gigs, telling his story of sin and redemption to audiences of hundreds and thousands. He’s got the website,

You can follow him on Twitter.

How much of a second act it amounts to remains to be seen.


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