Q & A with Ted Haggard
In November 2006, evangelical leader Ted Haggard was forced out of the Colorado Springs church he had founded after admitting to “sexual immorality” involving a male prostitute named Mike Jones. For the next 18 months, Haggard and his family lived in Arizona in a form of exile, having consented to leave Colorado as part of his separation agreement with New Life Church.
Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi documented Haggard’s life after leaving the church in “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” a film premiering Thursday on HBO. We spoke to Haggard by phone last week, before a former parishioner came forward to say that the then-pastor had performed a sex act in front of him and sent him explicit text messages in 2006.
In a statement released Monday, Haggard asked for forgiveness for having an “inappropriate relationship” with the man.
Q: What do you hope people will get from watching this film?
A: Oh, there’s so much in this story -- there’s virtue, there’s vice, there’s consequences, there’s personal responsibility.... It’s just a very sad story, and now of course, it’s becoming a hopeful story. But there are so many human lessons in this documentary.
Q: Why did you feel comfortable sharing so much with Alexandra?
A: Well, we were totally alone and we knew [Pelosi’s husband] Michiel and Alexandra and appreciated them very much. She has a dynamic personality and he is very wise and insightful. And they were helping us think. We were alone. We needed people to process with.
Q: And when she first started shooting, did you feel comfortable with idea of making a movie?
A: Not at all. We couldn’t conceive of such a thing because we were so low. We were so stressed at that time and hopeless and in despair. We never dreamed -- at that point, I didn’t believe there would be a resurrection. So I actually just thought it was an ounce of comic relief.
Q: She said you were upset when she first said she had made a movie out of the footage. What did you feel at the time?
A: Well, we were still somewhat scared of the public and we were still under the church contract, so we were concerned about that. And we were enjoying privacy. I was enjoying finally being able to go to a movie without shame. And so as the months were passing, we were increasingly able to go to Wal-Mart without being watched and things like that. 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.
Q: What about the way she handled the material made you eventually feel comfortable with it?
A: Well, it was evenhanded. We as a family are great fans of the First Amendment, and we believe fundamentally in the importance of the role of the freedom of the press. And we have all been chagrined that the stipulations of the church blocked the press. We thought that was dangerous. We thought that over the last 2,000 years of church history, when the press is blocked from church business, bad things happen. And so we were not happy with that. And now, it was my first time to see any footage at all on the scandal, because I had been isolated. To watch the documentary was incredibly embarrassing for me and sad. So 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. Plus, my life is given away. I’ve given my life to service to the church, and unfortunately my life story might still speak to other people; and as I watched the documentary, I thought, I wished I would have seen a documentary like this before I got myself in trouble and it might have constrained me.
Q: Why did you agree to church’s stipulation that you not talk to the press?
A: At that point, I would have agreed to anything, because I believed then that submission was the only right thing I could do. It would not have mattered to me what was in the contract. I would have signed it. Because I was so repentant, so sorry for what I had done. And even though I hadn’t done everything I had been accused of doing, I didn’t think it was worth trying to articulate what I had or had not done. And I didn’t have the emotional or spiritual energy to negotiate anything. I just signed.
Q: Where are you now in wrestling with the issue that led to your departure from the church?
A: I am very pleased with where I am now. 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. So I’m very pleased. I think I’ve met myself more and I’m a healthier person.
Q: So does that mean those impulses have gone away? Or will they always part of you?
A: I don’t know what will always be a part of me, but I know they are no longer compelling, they are no longer compulsive, not even strong. Once in a while, I’ll have a thought. I think it’s just like a person’s thought about whether or not they should -- you know, it’s just an intellectual debate now inside of me from time to time, or an intellectual decision from time to time, rather than a compelling drive or urge. And that’s what I used to wrestle with.
Q: So do you think of yourself as homosexual or bisexual? How do you identify yourself?
A: What my therapist says is that I am a heterosexual with issues, and I think that’s accurate.
Q: Have you been attracted to people of the same sex all your life?
A: Yes, I have. But not to the exclusion of women. I think women are beautiful and I’m attracted to women, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my relationship with my wife. And according to the national statistics, our relationship is more vibrant than average heterosexual monogamous couples. And so it is confusing and complex. I think -- I believe sexuality, at least for me, is confusing and complex. But I am grateful that I am now to a place where I’m able make decisions and walk them through. Where for a long time I would try to make decisions and I’d pray about them and I’d fast and I’d memorize scripture and I really wanted to be a virtuous, wonderful man, but I had to fight hard to be a man of integrity. Where now it’s much easier.
Q: I know this is personal, but did you have any involvement in same-sex relationships before this relationship with Mike Jones became public?
A: Here’s where I am on that. I have thoroughly discussed in detail my sexual history with [my wife] Gayle and with my therapist, and we’ve ended up in a place where I am completely satsified with my relationship with Gayle.
Q: So you’re going to keep that history private.
A: Well, I’ve got kids and grandkids and all of that and I think it’s a boundaries issue about what is appropriate to discuss with whom. And so it’s not like a secret. It’s just that that’s my wife’s business and my therapist’s business. It’s not the fellow sitting at Dunkin’ Donuts reading the newspaper’s business.
Q: A lot of people in the gay community want you to identify as gay and serve as an inspiration to people about coming out of the closet, from their point of view. What do you make of that perspective?
A: I’m sympathetic with that perspective and certainly in this process, I’ve become more kind and understanding and sympathetic to those needs. I think where I am is I can be an advocate with the gay and the heterosexual community on the fact that people need to openly discuss their sexuality and be very honest with it. My shame that kept me from discussing it and being open about it, and then becoming deceptive about it, was what led to such horrific pain. And I am so sorry for the silence that I had that resulted in duplicity. Because I was never deceptive and never told a lie about other areas of my life. I was perfectly transparent and open. And it was just this one area that I stayed quiet about, and that ended up in a great deal hurt. And of course I apologize to the homosexual community for the awful impression I gave, and I’m so sorry for the silence. I actually just thought I could handle it myself and my prayer was that I would handle it without embarrassing my wife and kids and without disappointing the church. I’m so sorry for the pain I caused in the church.
Q: Do you think it is a sin to be gay?
A: Well, I think the Bible reveals many ideals that God has for us, and I think God’s ideal for us is that we express our sexuality in monogamous, heterosexual relationships. But I know that humanity is complex, and so even though that is the ideal, I understand that there is the great deal of diversity. But I think all of us need to keep growing and developing. So I would say to a gay man or a straight man or a bisexual man to continue seeking God, continue reading the Scriptures, continue to stay in fellowship with other believers who are willing to grow in God’s plans for their lives, and let God by his spirit and his word work it out. But I would never preach to somebody else the same conclusions I’ve come to myself. For me, for me, I have a set of standards from the Scripture, and other people have to establish their own sense of standards from the Scriptures, as they read them.
Q: Is there anything in retrospect that you preached on this issue that you now regret?
A: Well, definitely I understand more now, but I was never harsh before, because I was so aware of my guilt. I was never a harsh preacher on it. I’ve read a couple quotes attributed to me that I don’t recognize, and no one that I know recognizes them. I think what would be perceived in the homosexual community as harsh is me saying what the Bible says is true. And I believe that today.
Q: Do you hope to preach again?
A: I don’t see that as a possibility at this point. If I do speak at a church from time to time, I would do it as a Christian businessman giving a testimony.
- Matea Gold