Not long ago, Ted Haggard was arguably the most powerful evangelical Christian pastor in the United States. His megachurch, the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, boasted a membership a 14,000. Haggard was also president of the 30 million-member Nation Association of Evangelicals. This influence won him the ear of President Bush, with whom he spoke on the phone every Monday.
In late 2006, Ted Haggard’s world came crashing down. Mike Jones, a male prostitute, alleged that Haggard paid him for sex and drugs. Haggard confessed to some of the allegations, and was forced to resign from the church that he founded. More than that, his church exiled him from the entire state of Colorado. How very Christian.
For the next two years, Haggard was periodically homeless and unemployed. He and his family moved in and out of hotels, and stayed with strangers who were willing to taken them into their homes. To support his family, he applied to be an online representative for Phoenix University, hung up thousands of door-hangers, and worked as a traveling insurance salesman. He also went back to college for the first time in 30 years to study psychology.
Quite the fall from grace.
Perhaps you feel it serves him right. The fallout from his gay sex scandal is a fitting, indeed karmic, punishment for opposing gay marriage.* But last night, when I learned of his pitiable post scandal life, I actually shed a tear for Ted Haggard—something I never thought I’d do. I even wrote him this email:
I am an atheist, a bisexual, and a liberal. So needless to say, I wasn’t always a fan of yours, Mr. Haggard.
Before your sex scandal, I saw you as an ideological enemy, a cheerleader for the Religious Right. After the scandal, I saw you as a hypocrite. But today, for the first time, I saw you as a human being—frail and fallible like everyone else.
With the recent allegations against Bishop Eddie Long, you are back in the news. I watched a couple of your interviews earlier today where you urged people to withhold judgment about and extend compassion to Bishop Long—in short, afford him the humanity that was denied to you. To my surprise, I totally agreed with your comments, and it made me wonder whether I had misjudged you.
I just finished Alexandra Pelosi‘s documentary The Trials of Ted Haggard. I thought it was a very sympathetic portrait of you. I don’t pretend to know you or your trials after watching this hour-long film, but I did often find myself relating to your situation. I was raised Mormon and spent years wrestling with my bisexuality. I ultimately came to terms with my sexuality and left the LDS Church. It seems that you have chosen another path in remaining religious and in maintaining that homosexuality is a sin. I disagree with your decision, but I understand it. I hope it brings you happiness while also allowing you to live authentically.
I cannot apologize on behalf of all those who treated you and your family unfairly. But for what it’s worth, you have my apology. In your most difficult time, I laughed at you, when I should have cried with you. I ask for your forgiveness.
If you want to learn more about Ted Haggard’s life after the scandal, I’d highly recommend The Trials of Ted Haggard (trailer here). It aired on HBO nearly two years ago, but I downloaded it as a torrent. Shame on me, I know.
In June, Haggard started a new, more inclusive church. About the church, he writes:
St. James Church is for anyone, and I do mean anyone: Democrats, Republicans, Independents and those who go to Tea Party rallies. If you are straight, gay, or bi, I want to walk through the Scriptures with you. If you are black, white, Hispanic, Native America … you are welcome here. Those working to overcome their sex or drug addictions, St. James is for you.
At its first meeting, 160 people attended—a far cry from the thousands that attended his former church. I’m sure, though, that he finds his current pastoral work preferable to being an insurance salesman.
Haggard claims to be happily married to his wife, Gayle, who stood by him throughout the scandal. But he admitted in a CBS interview that his sexuality is “complicated.” When asked whether he’s been “cured” of homosexuality, Haggard responded, “No, because I don’t think I was sick.”
This interview reveals Haggard to be a person full of contradictions. But that’s precisely why I’ve learned to like Haggard. His story is indicative of the human condition. We are all a little messed up, and that makes us beautiful in a Picassoesque sort of way.
*Ted Haggard was never a particularly anti-gay evangelical pastor, despite having that reputation. It’s true that he supported the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2005, but even then he was fine with civil unions. And since the scandal, Haggard has largely abandoned his opposition to gay marriage.