Ted Haggard Opens Up About His Past in New Documentary

In documentary, pariah pastor Haggard reveals sexual past, says still struggles.

Jan. 8, 2009 — -- Ted Haggard, the former evangelical megachurch leader who fell from grace in a 2006 sex and drugs scandal, is making efforts to redeem himself in an HBO documentary in which he reveals new details about sexual abuse he claims he suffered as a child.

Haggard, the former president of the National Evangelical Association, who two years ago admitted to a relationship with a male prostitute, will meet with television critics in Los Angeles Friday to promote "The Trials of Ted Haggard."

The film was directed by documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and will air Jan. 29.

Before the scandal broke, Haggard was a powerhouse and star in the evangelical world, rising quickly from the humble founding of Colorado's New Life Church in his basement in the 1980s. By 2006, the church was 12,000 members strong and Haggard, as president of the evangelical association, was exchanging weekly phone calls with President Bush.

In the new film, Haggard says he is angry with the New Life Church, but also begs forgiveness and blames his struggle with sexuality with being molested by his father as a 7-year-old.

"I had same-sex play in the second grade and then that all blew up when I was 50," Haggard says in a pre-released clip from the film. "I didn't know if I was heterosexual, homosexual, gay or straight. What are you?"

Though he had once damned homosexuality in the pulpit, Haggard tells Pelosi, "I have struggled and continue to struggle from time to time with same-sex attraction."

Pelosi documents Haggard's day-to-day life in Arizona and Texas, where he lived with his wife and five children after getting fired from the church he founded.

The film explores Haggard's attempts at personal redemption, with an early review saying he "careens from self-pity to self-loathing to self-aggrandizement in the documentary."

Brady Boyd, Haggard's successor at the New Life Church, told ABCNews.com that the film depicts a time when the outcast pastor was at a low point in his life and he is now "healing."

But Mike Jones, the male prostitute who ushered in Haggard's demise, said the film is Haggard's "last gasp trying to get back in the spotlight."

'I'm a Big Loser'

Haggard, 52, confessed in November 2006 to "sexual immorality" and buying methamphetamines from Jones, after Jones told a radio station he had known Haggard for two years as a client named, "Art from Kansas City."

At the time, Haggard said he was struggling with a "dark, repulsive side" and was "a deceiver and a liar."

Later, he tells Pelosi, he was afraid to tell the truth because he was "responsible" as president of the 30-million-strong evangelical association and pastor to 12,000.

Banished from the church leadership, Haggard recounts his struggle to find work as an insurance agent and keep his family together, telling Pelosi, "I'm a big loser," according to a review in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Today, Haggard has moved back to a $700,000 home in Colorado Springs one mile from the New Life Church, and he continues to sell insurance, according to local press reports. Calls to Haggard were not returned, but his daughter-in-law confirmed the family would attend Friday's news conference.

The documentary and accompanying media event are not Haggard's only foray back into the public eye. In November, he took the pulpit as a guest at the 350-member Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill. There, he apologized for making his family suffer, acknowledged suicidal thoughts and chastised church leaders for missing an opportunity to use his scandal to "communicate the Gospel worldwide," according to local press reports.

Ted Haggard Left Adrift After Scandal

Though the evangelical church is no stranger to scandal, many leaders of the movement who were once close to Haggard, like James Dobson of Focus on the Family, have distanced themselves. And Leith Anderson, the evangelical association's current president, told ABCNews.com that his organization had not had any contact with Haggard since his resignation.

"It was Ted, unfortunately, who walked away from the restoration process he agreed to before it was completed," said H.B. London, vice president of church and clergy for Focus on the Family. "Those of us who joined together to help him in that process were disappointed by that decision, but we certainly wish him and his family well and keep them in our prayers."

"Personally, I think the church and its leaders went to great lengths to accommodate the Haggard family and to treat them with respect and great concern."

The film opens after Haggard has received "generous" severance pay to leave Colorado and seek a full "spiritual restoration," according to church officials.

Both Ted and Gayle Haggard's salaries of more than $200,000 were paid during 13 months and they were given a vehicle, housing allowance and counseling, as well as support for their special-needs son to attend a treatment center. The family also was provided with "the best counseling in the world" as they struggled with personal and marital issues, according to Boyd.

But in the Pelosi film, Haggard criticizes New Life's handling of his firing.

"The church has said, 'Go to hell,'" he says. "The church chose not to forgive me."

Church Bounces Back From Hard Times

The New Life Church was nearly devastated by the scandal, according to Boyd.

The 12,000-strong congregation was reduced to about 8,000, he told ABCNews.com.

"With his weekly calls to the White House, Ted Haggard had tremendous influence in the evangelical world," said Boyd.

"When this type of scandal hits, you can imagine the repercussions and the magnitude of the earthquake in the church world and around the country," he said.

But the membership has now bounced back to about 10,000.

Boyd said the tone of the film does not reflect the Haggards' relationship to the church today.

"Any time a high profile leader is removed, there's no easy way to do it, no matter how good the intentions," he said. "There is still a lot of pain and hurt, but a lot of the mistakes that were made in the process have been resolved."

Boyd has met with the Haggards since they returned to Colorado after the film was made. Haggard does not attend the church and has no leadership position, according to Boyd.

"But he would consider himself an evangelical," Boyd said. "He has no desire to be a pastor again, but he feels he has a message of redemption for a lot of people struggling with sexual issues."

Prostitute Finds Little Redemption

Mike Jones, who "outed" Haggard and wrote a book, "I Had to Say Something," spent two hours with Pelosi for the movie in June 2007, talking about the fallout after the scandal.

"She told me she likes Ted Haggard a lot," Jones said. "I don't know how much she used of me, but if she puts nothing in she does me a disservice."

"She filmed me at book signings and presentations and got the crowd reactions," he told ABCNews.com. "One of the biggest things that came out in front of the groups is, 'What right did you have to make this public? You should have kept your mouth shut.'"

He told ABCNews.com he was motivated to go public when an amendment to ban gay marriage was on the November 2006 ballot in Colorado.

Jones said he has found little personal redemption in the aftermath of the scandal. The 51-year-old, who said he no longer works as a prostitute, said that the interest in his book was "terrible" and that it never made money. He has since had difficulty finding work.

"My life has been like a cancer eating away at me," he said. "I have been at the epicenter of the scandal."

Today, he does personal training and house-sitting and is contemplating a move from his home state of Colorado for a "fresh start." He said even the gay community offered little support.

"I know when he starts speaking on Friday, he's going to come after me," said Jones. "The documentary will pull at the heart strings, 'Hey, feel sorry for me.' The ironic thing is that Ted Haggard and I are going through the same thing."

Though Jones is not religious, he finds solace in some who viewed his actions as courageous.

"I had a married couple come up and say, 'Because of your bravery our son was able to talk to us about homosexuality,'" he said. "A lot of people's lives were changed. The hypocrisy was exposed. But I am not sure I would do the same thing today."

Ted Haggard Looks for Forgiveness

But Boyd stressed that even though Scripture still takes a strong stance against homosexuality, Haggard can still be restored as a Christian.

"If he is living an open and honest life and having counseling and there is a season of repentance to those in the church who were hurt -- absolutely it is possible," he said. "But it's hard to say what that restoration would look like, and things will never be the same. But if it were not in the Gospel, it wouldn't be true."

Though Haggard struggles mightily throughout the film, he works to keep his marriage intact.

"Even though I'm a sinner, even though I'm weak, God's best plan for human beings is for men and women to unite together," he says in the film. "And children's best opportunity to grow up in a healthy way is to grow up in the home with their biological parents."

In the year since the film was made, Boyd said the Haggards' marriage appears to be surviving the scandal.

"From what I know, they are much further along," he said. "They're together and their kids live with them and they are not combative. They care for one another and are hopeful."

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events