TLC Documentary on the Resurrection of Former Evangelical Leader

A new documentary on Ted Haggard shows his renewal after scandal.

January 7, 2011, 2:41 PM

Jan. 12, 2011 — -- A new, one-hour documentary, "Ted Haggard: Scandalous," tells the story of the evangelical pastor who admitted to an affair with a male prostitute in 2006.

"Ted Haggard: Scandalous," which airs Jan. 16 on TLC, follows Haggard, his wife, Gayle, and their five children as they launch a new church in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Haggard had been a pastor of mega New Life Church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals. The family left Colorado Springs in 2006, after allegations that Haggard had paid a male prostitute for sex for three years and purchased crystal methamphetamine from him.

Initiated by executive producers Ellen Rakieten, formerly an executive producer for "Oprah," and Tom Forman, creator of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the documentary quickly recaps the scandal that forced Haggard to resign from New Life and drove him and his family out of town. It ends with the first Sunday service in his new church, St. James, held in the Haggards' barn.

"When one of the most controversial figures in religion says he is starting a church in his house, a news lightbulb goes off that someone should be documenting that," Forman, a former news producer, told "Ted is not the same guy he was when he preached to thousands of people or headed a conservative Christian group. The experience of the last few years have reshaped him."

Haggard said he and his family went through a painful healing ordeal but together decided to pastor a church again. Initially shunned by many Christians, Haggard said he felt called upon to start a church that would welcome everyone.

"I believe everybody is a sinner, and everybody needs redemption," Haggard told "And in the church nobody has the right to judge another, because we're all judged by God equally. The church is the ultimate place of encouragement and acceptance and strength."

After the scandal broke, Haggard signed a contract with the New Life Church that ordered him to leave the church and the state of Colorado "in perpetuity." Haggard and his wife underwent counseling and moved to Arizona with their dependent children. New Life changed the contract terms in January 2008, and the family returned to Colorado Springs six months later.

HBO made a 45 minute documentary in January 2009 about Haggard's years in Arizona, but unike ed Haggard: Scandalous," it focused on his downfall, not his rebirth.

"The HBO documentary documented my time of despair in the Arizona desert. This documents my resurrection," said Haggard.

The TLC film shows the family nervously preparing for the first service at St. James, uncertain if anyone would show up besides the camera crews. But 160 people made it to the barn.

"I don't know if you heard about it, but I had a tough time three years ago," Haggard told the congregation, who laughed at the understatement. "When we went through what we went through, it was people loving us in a tangible way that got us through."

'God Grew Closer in 'Midst of My Shame

Despite his sex and drug scandal, Haggard said he hoped to find Christ's love in the community of St. James, which now has about 300 members and meets at a local middle school.

"God was 100 percent faithful to me, and he grew closer to me in the midst of my shame," said Haggard. "The church did not."

Haggard said he had not spoken to his former church or the National Association of Evangelicals about St. James.

"They wish us well, and they want us to do well," Haggard said. "They believe in forgiveness and redemption, and they just want things to work out."

"He and I look at the world a little differently, but I sit and admire where he is right now," said Forman. "He's trying to do something positive. Some people will hate it because they'll always hate him.

"Initially, his family was not 100 percent supportive of him starting another church," Forman continued. "There was initial tension in the Haggard family [as to whether] this was a good idea. They were thinking, 'It's Dad's calling, but we've been in the news a lot so maybe you should stay quiet.' And they're very honest with him."

To answer the mystery as to why Haggard and his family gave the filmmakers such unfettered access to their lives, Forman and Rakieten said it certainly wasn't for money -- Haggard and his family received only a small stipend of a "few thousand dollars at most" to participate in the film.

"Whatever number you think, it's much smaller than that," said Rakieten, "They had zero financial incentive to do this."

What's more, Haggard and his family never required that they be shown only in a positive light, and played no part in the editing of the film.

"He didn't hire a PR firm to go do a pro-Ted infomercial," said Forman.

The former powerhouse superstar of the evangelical world who once drew drew a church salary of more than $200,000 a year, said he receives no income from St. James but gets reimbursed for some ministry expenses through its weekly offering. Haggard said his family now lives off fees from speaking engagements, the equity from the house they sold when they left Colorado Springs and his wife's book, "Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour."

Haggard said he hopes his story gives hope to others. "We have some very positive resurrection stories in our culture," he said. "Now we need some good resurrection stories in the church."

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