In a new documentary set to air on HBO next month, a disgraced evangelical pastor comes clean. “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” directed by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra, was filmed with Haggard’s cooperation — and how.
You may recall that two years ago, Haggard stepped down from his post as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and was sacked as senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs after a former male prostitute alleged that the cleric paid him for sex and used illicit substances.
I have yet to see the documentary, but published reports say that Haggard speaks onscreen, speaks about his new life. The father of five remains in his marriage for the same of his children and apparently has been living with shame. While he doesn’t speak of his sexual improprieties in detail, he does admit to “sexual immorality” and says, “I really did sin.” Haggard tells of his longtime struggle with his same-sex desires, insisting that he never claimed to be heterosexual.
“The reason I kept my personal struggle a secret is because I feared that my friends would reject me, abandon me and kick me out, and the church would exile and excommunicate me. And that happened and more,” he says in the film.
He also reveals that while he purchased methamphetamine, he never used it.
Haggard’s wife Gayle speaks in the documentary as well, and offers what perhaps is the reason behind the couple’s participation in the production: “I know to restore the honor to our children is to help restore honor to their father.”
That may be a long, hard road. Right-wing Christian leadership isn’t treating Haggard with honor, and most GLBT people probably will say that a man who worked so hard against honorable treatment for us is not worthy of anything resembling honor. Many believe he’s getting his just deserts.
After the scandal broke, the Haggard family fled Colorado for Arizona, where the former preacher confesses thta he is having a tough time making ends meet as an insurance salesperson. “At this stage in my life, I am a loser,” Haggard says.
I suspect Haggard is a loser only if he does not come to grips with his reality and learn to embrace it. If he can emerge from this crisis a better human being, then he will deserve to be honored. He doesn’t have to abandon his family to do it: Many gay and bisexual people end up in marriages with heterosexual partners. (Exhibit A: Me.) Sometimes those marriages work; often they do not. But the real losers are the misguided ones who work to diminish others. The Religious Wrong is filled hypocrites who divide people and spead a message that does not include anything Jesus would champion — things like forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance without judgment.
Haggard could choose to re-up as a fundamentalist Christian soldier — or he could take another road, one that leads to justice for all of God’s children and could help him right the wrongs he committed. That second path leads to honor. At this point in his now-difficult life, the choice is his.
You know what? I hope he makes the honorable choice — and I wish him and his family well.
“The Trials of Ted Haggard” is scheduled to run Jan. 29 on HBO.