July 16, 2009
45 Minutes
Alexandra Pelosi [Journeys With George; Friends Of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi]

After being exiled from his home and the church he built, the former minister tries to redeem himself and rebuild a life for his family.

Something happened while I was watching this short documentary that I never expected to happen: I started feeling sorry for Mr. Haggard. Of all the social issues that are dividing our country, the one that I have the most trouble with, above all else, is the group of people trying to stop gay people from having the same rights as straight people. Adoption, marriage, and leading a church. Racism, abortion, creationish, etc, all take a back seat in my mind to two adults in love. How do you legislate that?

Before seeing this, Haggard was a hypocrite who spoke out against gay equality while having an ongoing relationship with a male escort. This documentary shows us some of his early sermons on the topic and in retrospect it’s easy to snicker at him as he explains the great danger of homosexuality. A particularly awkward speech he gave ten years ago mentions that a buddy and he were knocking on doors while going about the lord’s good work, or whatever, and they suddenly found themselves in the parking lot of a gay bar. Someone called out to them “are you two together?”, then we see the audience at the sermon bust out laughing like it was the craziest thing they’ve ever heard. Can you imagine? Two men being a couple? Madness?

But here’s the thing: Haggard seems like a charismatic, slightly dorky, leader of people. If he encourages you to do things, I bet that you do them. He is still strongly religious, still reads the bible, and is still almost superhumanly honest. Some of the questions Pelosi asks (and she is great at this in all her films) are so on point, that the subject can’t help but answer with the first thing on his mind. He doesn’t sugarcoat what he did or his “struggle” or when the news came out that he was “completely cured of his homosexuality” that Haggard himself never said it, but one of his former co-pastors did. He knows he isn’t “cured” and he may not believe that being gay is “curable”. He continually talks about the sins he’s committed, his wife seems pretty cool and supportive, his kids are exactly like every other kid, though probably more understanding as the family is banished from the State of Colorado and forced to live in loaner houses, a residence hotel, and then a tiny apartment.

And here’s the part I can’t get my head around. He had sex with a man, he admitted to buying crystal meth. And for those transgressions, he was fired from his job, required to enter treatment, banned from ministering again, and here’s the kicker, forced out of the entire state of Colorado. On who’s authority can a church with 14,000 members tell a man and his family they must leave the state and the church which he founded and led for decades? I’m sure there are bylaws and such that spell out what happens, but wouldn’t a man who has, according to their beliefs, fallen, need his home church and familiar surroundings now more than ever? Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do?

As an atheist, I’m finished shaking my head while listening to people talk about why theirs is the one true religion. I’ve moved past his or anyone else’s religion. But here’s what I saw: A man who could again be a very compelling leader, a man interested in the downtrodden, who could be an asset to any organization (even a church) that might want him.

At the beginning of the documentary we see scenes from Pelosi’s previous project where Haggard is hugging young men and speaking in front of all male arena crowds and riding his scooter around the huge empire that he’s had a large part in building. We can snicker at the male hugging, but there is no doubt that all the people who speak to him after his sermons or speeches think that he’s the greatest. They can scarcely control their enthusiasm.

Did the punishment fit the crime in this case? As someone who wishes everyone could just bang who they wanted, obviously I don’t understand how big a crime it is to enjoy the company of the same gender. But the way he was treated, after admitting to touching a man, seems just about as unchristian as you can get. They gave him a severance package, they forced him into exile in Arizona, the White House distanced themselves from him, the other evangelical leaders suddenly decided that he never really was that powerful, and he became a story that his former supporters wished they could simply forget.

The greatest post-script possibility of this documentary would be the news that Ted Haggard has started a ministry for all sexual orientations. He could keep the meth out, but let in the gay and the bi and the poly and whatever else consenting adults should be allowed to do. Shouldn’t those children of god have access to the same scripture and fellowship as his initial flock? If you believe this kind of thing, and I don’t, Haggard could conceivably save souls for Jesus. He still has the skill set. Let him lead.

Back to the filmmaking for a second. Pelosi is great at asking the pushy, yet not-rude question. I’ve always felt like her subjects consider her some kind of west coast, liberal Jew, who simply doesn’t know how social graces are followed and they are therefore extra forgiving when she acts in such a forward manner. This film is short, and Pelosi and another person handle all the filming. There are shots in cars and shots on walks in the desert and old clips and explanatory title cards. He really opened up to her and it made him, and his family, a much more sympathetic subject.

7.0 IMDB

The Trials of Ted Haggard @ Amazon


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Written by Michael W. Cummins