By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
I recently wrote a piece—my first God & Country column for U.S. News's new digital weekly—titled the "Ted Haggard You Dont Know." It laid out Alexandra Pelosi's case, made in her new documentary The Trials of Ted Haggard, for showing a little Christian charity toward the disgraced evangelical leader. She and Haggard take his old church, New Life, to task for treating the admitted sinner so shabbily. Here are the relevant graphs:
For all the archival footage it digs up of him denouncing homosexuality and sermonizing about the dangers of dealing in lies and deception, Pelosi presents Haggard—a man now loathed by evangelicals and nonevangelicals alike—as a sympathetic character in need of a little Christian charity. "No one wants him," Pelosi told me. "The gays won't embrace him unless he says he's gay, and the Christians won't embrace him because he says he has problems with his sexuality."
Indeed, his severance package from New Life Church required Haggard to leave Colorado Springs and bars him from working in ministry. Not exactly a blueprint for Christian compassion. In blaming the church for making his life a living hell, Pelosi clearly takes Haggard's side. Shooting Haggard on meditative walks through the Arizona desert, Bible in hand, Pelosi presents him as the kind of forsaken sinner who would be at home in the New Testament. For her, the Christ figure is Haggard's wife, Gayle, the person most wronged by Haggard's sins but who is able to muster the will to forgive, even as his former parishioners back at New Life continue to vent anger. "Gayle, to me, is the living embodiment of the Gospel," Pelosi says. "She is the best advertisement for the Bible on Earth."
Pelosi films Haggard, unqualified for work outside the ministry, papering suburban neighborhoods with fliers for life insurance to make a living. "The reason I kept my personal struggle a secret is because I feared that my friends would reject me and abandon me and kick me out and that the church would exile me and excommunicate me," Haggard says into the camera before getting out of a car to leaflet another neighborhood. "And that happened and more."
I wrote this last week, before the new revelation about Haggard performing a sex act before a 23-year-old New Life parishioner and sending him lewd text messages, which apparently drove the young man to substance abuse and to contemplate suicide. As I wrote yesterday, this new disclosure will make it harder for audiences to accept Pelosi's sympathetic portrait for two reasons: it shows that there's a lot that Haggard has not publicly owned up to and that he abused his power as a pastor by preying on a young parishioner.
I think the big religious/ethical question is whether Haggard, according to the evangelical Christian tradition, is any less deserving of love and forgiveness because of this latest news. It's a tough question. Fodder, I'd think, for many a sermon. Let me know if you hear any.