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HBO's 'The Trials of Ted Haggard' details the pastor's fall

Tedhaggard Ted Haggard liked and trusted Alexandra Pelosi. The once-powerful evangelical leader had become friendly with the HBO filmmaker when she was making a documentary about evangelicals in 2005, even taking Pelosi and her husband camping at one point and teaching them how to shoot rifles.

So when Pelosi called Haggard after he was ousted from his church following a gay sex scandal, he was delighted to hear from her. She visited frequently, often filming the disgraced pastor with her hand-held camera, footage she said she wouldn't use unless he was comfortable with it.

Haggard was less than thrilled a year later when Pelosi told him she had made a movie about his exile.

"We were enjoying our privacy," he said. "As the months were passing, we were increasingly able to go to Wal-Mart without being watched. So I told Alexandra that we were not going to be comfortable with it and that I was not happy because I thought she had violated her word."

Pelosi initially shelved the movie. But she was unrepentant about making it.

"As a friend, I wanted to tell his side of the story," she said. "I thought the media had done a disservice to Ted. Am I a vulture, am I a buzzard for showing up at his house and exploiting our friendship? I think anyone who invites Alexandra Pelosi from HBO to their house with a video camera should assume it will end up on HBO."

"The Trials of Ted Haggard," which premieres Thursday  on HBO, is the product of both fortuitous coincidence and the kind of guerrilla filmmaking that marks Pelosi's work. Her best-known documentary, "Journeys With George," resulted from personal footage she took as she covered George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign as a producer for NBC. As with Haggard, Bush was taken aback to find his musings stitched together into a film.

It's an approach that may make traditionalists cringe, but the filmmaker, daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), stands behind her technique.

"I would rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission," she said. "Because asking for permission, everyone is going to be on. That's why, even if people don't like Ted in this movie, you have to feel sorry for him, because he was genuine."

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The 45-minute film offers an intimate if fragmentary look at Haggard's attempt to recover from the sex scandal that drove him from his Colorado Springs, Colo., church in 2006. His contrition takes on new resonance with allegations made this week by a former parishioner, who said Haggard performed a sex act in front of him when Haggard was still a pastor.

In a statement, Haggard expressed regret for having "an inappropriate relationship" with the man. HBO is adding a postscript to the documentary noting the latest development.

In an interview last week, Haggard said he has made significant progress in healing his marriage since his spectacular public downfall. After intensive counseling, the father of five children now sees himself as "a heterosexual with issues."

"I have an incredibly satisfying relationship with my wife, and I no longer have the compelling and obsessing thoughts attached to same-sex attraction that I used to," he said.

"I believe sexuality, at least for me, is confusing and complex," he added. "I really wanted to be a virtuous, wonderful man, but I had to fight hard to be a man of integrity."

Although Haggard was initially horrified by the idea of the documentary, he said he now views it as a bracing dose of honesty.

"There are so many human lessons in this," he said, including a very stark one about personal responsibility.

When Pelosi first met Haggard in 2005, she said she had no inkling of the secret harbored by the then-head of the National Assn. of Evangelicals, who had the ear of the president and commanded a huge following. She was floored when, shortly before her film "Friends of God" aired, Haggard admitted to "sexual immorality" involving a male prostitute and was forced to leave New Life Church, the 12,000-member congregation that he founded.

"I felt personally deceived," she said.

But Pelosi said she didn't think about doing a follow-up film, even when she learned during a visit to her sister in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2007 that the onetime evangelical superstar was quietly living around the corner with his family, banished from Colorado.

Pelosi and her husband ended up going over to the Haggards' home for lunch, an encounter that stretched into nine hours of emotional recriminations and apologies.

"We were so desperate to be able to speak openly with somebody," Haggard said.

Pelosi said she left the visit "feeling like there were a lot of different sides to the story. It's not that simple."

She checked in with Haggard every time she was in Scottsdale to visit her family, intrigued by his efforts to cope with his abrupt fall from grace. Eventually, she pulled out her camera and began filming him, without explaining her plans for the footage.

Pelosi said she herself didn't know. Making a documentary about Haggard's turmoil seemed out of the question. He had agreed not to speak to the press as part of two legal contracts he had signed with the church, separation agreements that also barred him from Colorado or returning to his church.

"At the time, I was filming because it was so surreal to watch this man go from here to here," she said, holding her hands wide apart.

Haggard said he viewed her filming simply as "an ounce of comic relief" during a bleak time.

The scenes Pelosi captured were far from lighthearted: The onetime national figure leaving a job interview, hoping the prospective employer wouldn't Google him. Knocking on doors, trying to sell health insurance. Sitting alone in the desert, reading Scripture.

Early last year, Pelosi said she realized that material amounted to something. She put it together in an edit bay at HBO, called Haggard and told him she had made a film. The former pastor reacted angrily, and Pelosi quickly told him she would drop it.

Jesuscamp But when she learned from news reports last June that the church had allowed Haggard to move back to Colorado Springs, she tried again. Haggard and his wife, Gayle, flew to New York to watch the film, expecting to say no.

Haggard said he found the documentary "incredibly embarrassing" but was surprisingly comfortable with it airing.

"There is nothing in the documentary that is pleasant for me personally, but philosophically I believe it's important for stories like this to be told," he said. "As I watched, I thought, 'I wished I would have seen a documentary like this before I got myself in trouble.' "

Haggard's wife and their children, ages 15 through 27, also signed off on it. But before it could air, Haggard had to get released from a final contract with the church that prevented him from speaking to the media. In December, New Life pastor Brady Boyd met with the Haggards and agreed to dissolve the agreement. But he is not pleased about the film.

"I told Ted I think it's premature to tell the story," Boyd said. "We still believe in redemption and restoration, and there's obviously been hurt. His family has been hurt, and our church family has been hurt. There's no way this has been healed in just two years. It's too big a wound."

Boyd, who said the church wasn't asked for its input in the film, said he's distressed that the congregation is portrayed as casting Haggard out. He said that the former pastor agreed to leave Colorado in the spirit of a "fresh start."

"I think the whole truth hasn't been told," he said.

Pelosi said she made numerous attempts to contact members of the church's board and never got a response.

For his part, Haggard said he's sorry if the film causes any of his former parishioners pain.

"I created the complex situation that they were in, and they all did the best they could," he said. "I love the people of New Life Church, and I am devoted to them to this day."

matea.gold@latimes.com

(Photos courtesy HBO, Magnolia Pictures)

 
Comments () | Archives (21)

I attended New Life church in Co Springs for two years with my son and then husband. We loved Pastor Ted and his family then and I can only speak for me when I say I do to this day. He was a wonderful preacher who unknowingly helped me through personal turmoil in my own marriage of 15 years. EVERYONE makes mistakes. Sin is sin, no one sin is greater than another and God forgives all. Thats what the bible says and I will always believe it. I pray for Pastor Ted and his family every day and will every day to come. If I could personally talk to him now, I would tell him .. We are all fallible, and thankfully God has made allowances for that.

Haggard would get all kinds of kudos from our left wing cultural elites if he just embraced his homosexuality and admitted that it was just "who he is." He was born that way, so he should quit lying to himself pretending he is not. But for this Christian I respect the man for fighting his strong urges, and sticking to the vows he made to his wife and five children. I respect him because he does not appear bitter or angry. It is a shame that in such situations of high profile failure too many Christians would judge him, as if they don't have their own silent struggles with sin. He is obviously a man of integrity who has decided not to be angry at God and throw away his faith, as so many have, simply because sin seems to stalk him. It stalks us all, to one degree or another, and that is why there is a gospel, good news of salvation for sinners, not perfect people.

I could feel sympathy for this man if he didn't cling so desperately to the fear-mongering, hate-filled teachings of the christian right.

I love it! He is a heterosexual man with "issues"... they can have him! The gays don't want him!

Egregious hypocrites such as Ted Haggard deserve to be exposed but when Alexandra Pelosi says: "I would rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission," one must conclude that she is indeed an exploitative vulture. I think I can understand why they're friends...

I'm an agnostic so after watching the film I was surprised at how much empathy I had for the guy. I wonder if Jesus would have exiled the guy? What would Jesus say about the degree of sexual repression that exists in all of these dogmatic religious sects? Would Jesus deal with the human suffering that arises from sex or would he just condemn sex? How come it seems like these questions should belong in the iron age? Not being gay and not truly understanding the persecution of this issue, I think it is time we all grew up and allowed people the right to pursue their happiness as they see fit.

I was indeed touched by Ted Haggard he has lived most of his life as a man with " no peace" . God works with people and it can take years as God helps the human personality to learn what love really is. Ted seems to have his Cross to bear as we all do but with love and faith he and his family can make it. That is all God ever wanted from us to "wittness" for God and there is no better example than Ted Haggard . He has his faults we all have our faults Ted just showed millions of people how to keep God and be yourself even those people that think they walk into church perfect did I hope see the light!!! Must we be perfect to be Gods people no not at all . Finally ,God is about forgiving but I for one don't think Ted needs to be forgiven, for being a human ! May God Bless You All, Michael Christian

As a former NLC member I am shocked when their new pastor Brady Boyd says "There's no way this has been healed in just two years. It's too big a wound." Obviously Brady Boyd's god cannot heal "Big Wounds"...his god can only heal little wounds...or maybe only the wounds Brady can handle.

With God all things are possible...you should check it out Brady Boyd it is in a book called the Bible and I would be happy to get you a copy since you obviously have never read it.

I don't see what seperates Ted Haggard before he fell and Brady Boyd today, at least Pastor Ted Haggard learned his lesson. No wonder New Life Church continues to shrink in attendence.

MR & MRS HAGGARD I WOULD LIKE TO SAY WHAT STRONGE PEOPLE GOD HAS MADE IN YOU TWO.
PLEASE KEEP YOUR HEADS UP ON THIS ONE BECAUSE THIS MAY TAKE AWHILE TO BLOW OVER.
BUT NO MATTER WHAT KNOW THAT GOD STILL LOVES YOU ALL, AS YOU CAN SEE GOD IS STILL PROVIDING FOR YOUR FAMILY.
YES MAN WILL DECEIT YOU BUT GOD IS FAITHFUL WITH LOVE COMPASSION AND MERCY JUST KEEP ON KEEPING ON WITH GOD.
AND MR HAGGARD GOD KNOWS YOUR STRUGGLES, PAUL SAID THOSE THING THAT I SHOULD NOT DO THOSE I DO, AND THOSE THING THAT I SHOULD DO THOSE I DON'T DO.
THIS SHOULD LET YOU KNOW THAT THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS STILL STRUGGLE WITH THESE SAME ISSUES.
AND THE CHURCH SHOULD BE ASHAME OF THEMSELVES FOR MISTREATING YOU AND YOUR FAMILY LIKE THAT, THIS IS JUST ONE OF THE REASONS PEOPLE DON'T TRUST THE CHURCHES NOW IF THEY DO THIS TO ONE OF ITS OWN JUST IMAGINE WHAT THEY WILL DO TO A NEW COMER.
SO ASK GOD TO KEEP YOU AND YOUR FAMILY STRONG AND I WILL BE PRAYING FOR YOU.
AND I BELIEVE GOD IS STILL GOING TO USE YOU TED OR YOUR FAMILY THIS WAS SOMETHING FOR YOU ALL.
GOD HAS THE LAST SAY IN THIS MATTER
MUCH LOVE TO YOU AND YOU FAMILY

I must tell you that true christians are not "hate mongers" as the gentlement below states. Unfortunately, I am not finding any of those. I was so grieved when I saw what was done to Pastor Haggard. None of us are perfect and I don't think we should hold pastors, Christians or anyone else to standards that we cannot hold up to. I am just heartbroken about how his church has treated him. That is not the God I know. Jesus was merciful to all. The only people he ever got mad at were "church" people like those that shunned him.

I am a "right-wing evangelical" and I do not hate. I just try to love God and others which Jesus said hang all the law and prophets.

I am going to pray that God will bless Pastor Haggard in a mighty way. The Bible says we are supposed to pick up a brother when he falls, not kick him when he is down.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, his church helped me with cleanup. They prayed with me and encouraged me. Pastor Haggard was the pastor at that time. No one will ever convince me that he is anything but precious.

I agree with you Mrs. Turner, I mean who the hell gets to pick which sin is greater and the people of that chuch should be ashamed of themselves. What God asks of us is to humble ourselves before him and to know that we are not perfect and are not without sin. We ask God to forgive us but until we forgive ourselves do we ever receive forgivness and I can imagane that it has been difficult for Mr. Haggard to forgive himself, and people wonder why the church is falling. We go to church to learn Gods word we go to church as sinners and ask for support, love, and compasion I wonder if anyone in that church is without sin because they are sure acting like it. I am sure that if we dig deep into each person, there would be things that would shock us. May each Christian that reads this understand that not only should you live a life that is pleasing to God but that you must no matter how deep the wound forgive. May your sins never be found out because I am 100% sure God will not excile you from him, yet if you go to New Life you may be exciled.

"HE WHO IS WITHOUT SIN LEST HE CAST THE FIRST STONE"-Start thowing New Life because you all must be so perfect.

Does God forgive? Absolutely! That is not the issue. The issue is that someone in a position of leadership who is found to have been leading a double life and lying to people who placed their trust in him and his life...forfeits that leadership and most often...a chance to return. That is life. That isn't cruel. That isn't brutal. That is life. It is merely a consequence for a dumb action. It is the way in the military, elected office and most marriages. Hats off to his wife and family for their forgiving spirit. The good Reverend hopefully appreciates them. What should he do? Find an honorable career and way to make a living and move on with life...and consider that part of his life past. To redeem oneself by remaining on the fringes of his "duped flock" will do nothing but prevent closure for them and their hurtful experience with Ted. Move on.

When watching the program on HBO, I felt so sad not only because the church turned there back on you but you where thrown to wolves. How cruel people can be. I do want to say you did lie and it hurt many people, but who has not done something to hurt someone in there life? I know its you and God no one else is completely with you inside you and God does love you. I really commend your wife for staying with you what a hard decision. This will all work out for a bigger and better purpose that none of us know about. Im just sorry we as christians could be so unforgiving excatly the opposite of Jesus. I hope you can read this! I will pray for you and your inner most self. Please take care and God Bless

To Ted Haggard and Family, I just wanted to say I am sorry for the way your church and community have treated you. I dont care what your sins were, no one deserved such redicule. I watched the HBO special and I have read many many websites and comments. Iam disappointed that some would carry this so far. I dont know why we hold people in the eyes of the public to higher standards, we shouldnt, we all make mistakes and decissions that may not have been in the best interest of everyone involved, we all have things we struggle with, so that makes us no different from you. I am just truely sorry for how you and your family have been treated throughout the years over this. My husband and I watched the HBO Documentary on Valentines Day and I cried, it was just sad the way people of the Church treated you, and all we could think about was why would the church do this to anyone! Again, I just wanted to say how very sorry I am that you and your family were treated so shamefully by the church and the christians in the church. May God continue to bless you and your family.

I just watched the HBO Special last night. I was deeply troubled by the fact that the New Life Church (the one that Ted Haggard formed himself) would turn their backs on him. Is it possible for a church to throw someone out of a state? How is this possible? No one on this earth is perfect and we all have hurdles to overcome in life.....This isn't even about whether Ted Haggard is gay or straight.......it's about a community of people who call themselves "Christians" who turn their backs on one of their own in a time of major crisis. Read your bible people! Is this what Jesus would have done? For those who have called him a hypocrite.....look in the mirror! Shame on you New Life Church!

I think Ted Haggard should a new church where he is out in the open about his "sins". He would truly understand people's plights and not look down on them like the religious elitist holier than thou types who have never had a real struggle. I am a moderate christian who would never go to a right winged evangelical church. However, I would be very interested in seeing Ted Haggard speak on his insights about his life. I would definitely buy an autobiography! In the movie, he was inspirational despite of his flaws (I do not think being gay is a flaw by the way) because of his eternal faith, optimism, and dedication to his family.

I just watched the documentary on Ted Haggard and I must say that I was appalled at how Mr. Haggard was treated by the members of his church. Yes, he messed up - but isn't that what we, as Christians do - we mess up - we fall down - and we get back up again - and again - and again. We are trying to be like Christ, but we all know that we will never achieve the perfection that He had. I would like to be a fly on the wall in the lives of the rest of those church leaders - and find out what their dirty little secrets are........and I am sure that there are some! One thing that Ted said really stood out for me - he said he had wanted to come clean for a while, but he was afraid that
1. his friends would turn against him
2. he would be kicked out of his church
3. he would be exiled
..........and look what happened.
My heart goes out to Ted and his family. They are proving to be better Christians than a lot of us can boast. I will keep you all in my prayers.
God Bess

Stay Strong! Speek to God everyday and he will answer your prayers. He will help you through this struggle. I will pray for you and your family. I saw that you have some kind of fun raiser. To raise money for you and your family whie your going through this struggle. I know getting a job is tough, i'd be happy to help out!!!!

I watched this documentary several weeks ago and at the time wished I had a way to reach out to Ted and his family. I wanted to say to him, God Bless you and your family, what an amazing example of what God meant with respect to forgiveness, love and support. And I know that God has forgiven him as well. This documentary showed Mr. Haggard in a very different light, one that made me reconsider him and his role in this world.
We as humans strive to live a life based on our Holy Fathers teaching, but being human, we fail many times. I can’t say I embrace everything that he had to say, particularly is ongoing denial of his sexuality, though I understand his need to be ‘straight’, the truth is, he is not. But his wife, family and true friends, forgave and love him, but not his church. The one place that he should have been able to turn to in a time of storms, his church turned its back on him.
Keep your faith Ted and if you read these different responses, know that they’re other Christians and people of faith, who forgive you as well.

I just wanted to say that I left a church where the pastor is a Charismatic prophetic man who has charisma and attracts many to his church. Many people who were in Senior Leadership found out this man is using the money in the church for his personal life and expelling the finances as fast as they come in leaving them in the red every month. He is also suspected by his own wife and her family of adultery and is being taken to court for sexually coming unto his own neice when he was supposed to be counseling her, but she keeps silent to her friends at church. He allows a group of elderly people to accuse and slander the younger women in the church by calling them witches and slandering them to other people. His own father has a title of Dr. and used to lead a a big counseling center for a well known Christian Broadcasting Organization. He was asked to leave after awhile. His mother goes around the church labeling young attractive women as witches and jezebels. With churches like this all I can see is evil. They draw you in with prophesy and make you believe that you have to get a word. Many of those people don't even know the word of God so they can see what they are doing are things that God says not to do. Many of my friends and my family have been traumatized by this man and what is allowed by him and his parents. Everyday I ask why is he allowed to hurt so many people and deceive them just so he can have a lot of money. I know one thing I have learned is not to put any dependency on a man just because he says he is a prophet. We should read the Bible for ourselves and allow God to show us what he says about expressing his love through our words and actions and not accusing and slandering one another. We should show grace to those who are suffering from their weaknesses but we don't have to allow them to control our lives. I pray for everyone and always show love to especially those who allow themselves to be used to hurt people, because they are showing that they are not free from their own bondages that keep them ensnared in their own prison.

 
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