Thursday, January 29, 2009

HBO: "The Trials of Ted Haggard"


On Thursday, Jan. 29, HBO aired its own (that is HBO Documentary Films) long short “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” directed by Alexandra Pelosi (45 minutes). HBO's website for the film is here.

As the film starts, Haggard, pastor of the evangelical and non-denominational New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, is roasting marshmellows with his family and celebrating the idea of freedom, in 2005. He had been listed as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in the United States.

But on November 5, 2006, Haggard admits his transgressions, of having been with a gay male escort, and having procured or tried to procure crystal meth, which he says he discarded and never used. (The fact pattern is a bit complicated; go to an MSNBC interview with the escort Nov. 3, 2006, here, for the details.) Soon the church board fires him, and offers him severance pay on some stringent conditions: that he and his family leave the state of Colorado (apparently for “security”), that he never work in the ministry again, and that he attend and complete “spiritual restoration” (which sounds like a euphemism for reparative therapy). This sounds like a vindictive separation, with forced blackballing. I have been familiar with a couple of pastor separations in my life (which I will not identify), but none were quite like this.

For much of the rest of the film he moves his family around in Arizona (he has a four month stay in a home of a friend at first), mainly among extended stay motels. He has, at age 51, his first job interview, with the University of Phoenix as an interviewer. He doesn’t get the job, and he says he hopes they don’t check up on him with search engines (that’s the “online reputation” problem).

He winds up selling health insurance door-to-door, commission only. Even that job would sound precarious if the Obama administration and Pelosi Congress successfully put through a universal health insurance program (much better for the country, I think), but it is possible, in the current fragmented system, to come up with “creative” products that could be sold in target markets. (There are specialized policies, like cancer policies, that life companies sell – I know this from previous employment.)

At the end of the film, the documentary (which provides comments with full screen titles) tells us that the original church allowed him back into Colorado, where he could live in his original home, which had been mortgaged. He and his family had almost gone broke. The film says that he is now selling life insurance.

I’ll add that I was approached to become a life insurance agent in 2005, and was approached even in 2001 (even before my layoff from I.T.) and again in 2003 to get involved with getting people to convert from whole life to term. Since I was homosexual all my life and never married and never had children, my private reaction was the opposite of Mr. Haggard’s: who am I to go into a family’s home and tell them how they should manage their finances, when I haven’t experienced supporting children? I didn’t try to take either such job.

Haggard has a website and it’s interesting that he uses the site to promote his ability to sell life insurance. (I wouldn’t want to do that, but a lot of employers expect their agents or principals to use their personal Internet presence for business purposes, a finding in a recent Pew Internet Group study

I’ve ventured afar, and let’s get back to Mr. Haggard. He has appeared on Oprah and on Larry King Live. He says that Mike Jones (the escort) actually rescued him. Jones appears in the film, and his masculine physicality is apparent visually; it’s apparent to me why Haggard would have felt attracted. (One can ponder the "existential" ramifications; I've explained how they apply to me on other blogs.) Jones has written a book "I Had to Say Something: The Art of Ted Haggard's Fall" (Seven Stories Press, 2007) (with Sam Gallegos, from Seven Rivers Press). At least one other person has come forward with accusations of inappropriate behavior, and the general tone in the gay community (including Mr. Jones) has been to say that Haggard did the community great harm. However Haggard says that he was never focused on homosexuality in his preaching, even as he struggled with his own sexuality.

Haggard says that he is a “heterosexual with some issues” and that homosexual behavior is wrong for him given his belief system. In the film, he makes a lot of proving that he can provide for his family, including the possibility of their survivorship, and of course that fits into the job of selling life insurance (and I don’t relate to that personally, because of having made different life “choices”). He (as on his website) also mentions debt reduction, a timely skill right now. (I did work as a debt collector myself in Minnesota in 2003; debt counseling is a bit separate.)

Haggard says that he had some homosexual thoughts or interest for a brief time in middle or high school, but that the thoughts remained latent until a “blast crisis” at about age 50. (My own thought experience started then – with a lot of teasing and harassment from kids commonly experienced by less “competitive” boys – and then went through two cycles of “coming out” as described in my book.) His wife Gayle (he has five children) appeared on Larry King Live (along with the oldest, 25-year-old son Marcus, who works in overseas development; and they discussed their keeping their marriage together, which probably saved his life.

Some people may recall Jimmy Swaggart's confession and "Apology Sermon" from Baton Rouge LA in Feb. 1988, link here.

Note: HBO apparently no longer has the arrangement with New Line/ Picturehouse for theatrical releases. It would be nice to see that relationship resurrected. Some of these documentaries do make their way into Landmark and other "art" theaters.

Update: June 6, 2010

Ted Haggard apparently is starting a new independent church open to everyone, including gays. The ABC News story (June 2, 2010) is "Ted Haggard to Start New Church in Colo. Springs: 'My resurrection day': Ted Haggard to start new church in Colorado Springs", AP story by Dan Elliott, link here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great review. Havent seen the HBO documentary yet, but caught Haggard on Oprah, Nightline, Larry King. This man is so out of touch with reality. I re-read some of Jones' book (which I highly recommend), especially the descriptions of how Haggard would come in for a session, rarin' to go, then when he left he was like a different person (guilt maybe?).

I'm equally surprised at the fundamentalists who still believe Haggard, as I am surprised at the people who criticize Jones for outing this hypocrite -- with new alegations from New Life members it's safe to say that Jones has saved lives.

Thanks again for your views on this story.