Jan. 28, 2009— -- Ted Haggard was one of the most powerful evangelicals in the country. He was close to the Bush White House and cozy with the reporters who covered his meteoric rise from pastor of the 12,000-member New Life Church to head of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals.
But in 2006, he fell from grace when male prostitute Mike Jones accused of him of paying for sex and crystal meth.
The scandal shocked the evangelical community, which had become accustomed to Haggard's sermons warning of the sins of homosexuality. Another of his frequent themes: "Don't have secrets in your life."
Now, after a two-year media blackout, Haggard, 52, is putting himself back in the spotlight.
During an interview with ABC News, Haggard said it's fair to describe him as a hypocrite and a liar.
"The reason I would teach that is that was reflective of my struggle," he said.
After the scandal, Haggard became suicidal, "absolutely convinced that the world would be a better place without me."
"I'd never lied about anything except my struggle with sexuality. But that is a huge flashpoint," he said. "That's not like a struggle with stealing CDs from K-Mart. And I'd just never experienced it before. I didn't know. I was naive. And so the pain I went through. I became convinced -- actually, I told my wife, Gayle, to divorce me."
Now, after two years of intensive psychotherapy, Haggard said he has finally figured out his own sexuality. He calls himself heterosexual, "with issues." He said he no longer struggles with his sexuality. On occasion he still imagines being with men, but he says these thoughts are "not compelling."
"I don't fit into a neat little box," he said.
He says if he were gay, it would be a sin.
"With my belief system, I believe that I need to be faithful to my wife. I need to be honorable to her. And I can be now. It's not a struggle at all now," he said. "I love my intimate relationship with my wife. I'm not gay."
Although he doesn't wish to categorize himself as gay, Haggard acknowledged that his religion forced him to suppress a fundamental part of who he is.
"People can judge me," he said. "I think it's fair that they judge me and that they think that I'm not being real with myself."
Haggard: Not OK to Be Gay
Haggard regrets having railed against homosexuality in his sermons, and now hopes to make amends with the gay community.
"I do apologize. All the pain, all the rejection, all the hurt I caused to those men and women, gay and lesbian," he said. "I am deeply sorry for the attitude I had. But I think I was partially so vehement because of my own war."
He's quick to say that being gay still isn't OK, but that the church needs to be more realistic and "serve people in need" rather than dictating to them, or punishing them.
"Just as the church made a horrible mistake several centuries ago, insisting that the Earth was flat when, in fact, the Earth was round, I think the church may make a major mistake in our generation saying that sexuality should be this and nothing else when, in fact, there's a lot more diversity," he said.
A documentary about Haggard, "The Trials of Ted Haggard," will air tomorrow night on HBO. The film follows Haggard in the year after the scandal, after a severance deal with the church required Haggard and his family to leave their Colorado home. They shuttled between borrowed houses and cheap hotel rooms in Arizona as the former pastor looked for work.
He canvassed neighborhoods, advertising his availability with handouts, but he didn't receive one call.
The documentary created a backlash when it provoked a new accuser, Grant Haas, to come forward, angry that the film appeared to be sympathetic. Haas had confided in Haggard, telling him about his own struggles with homosexuality, but Haas said Haggard violated his trust.
In an interview with KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs, Colo., the 25-year-old former New Life church member said then-pastor Ted Haggard got into bed and masturbated in front of him in a hotel room during 2006, and that he also sent Haas thousands of explicit text messages.
As Haggard performed the sex act, Haas said, "I was shocked, I couldn't move. Like, I just, I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move. I was like, is this really happening?"
When asked about the incident Haggard admitted that he had an "abusive" relationship with Haas and confirmed that Haas' allegations were true.
"We never had any sexual contact, but I violated that relationship and it was an inappropriate relationship," Haggard said. "It's very sad. It's embarrassing. That was very embarrassing. I mean, I am -- I am a failure."
Secret Recorded Conversations
Haas secretly recorded a phone conversation in which Haggard tried to talk him out of going public. On the tape Haggard tells Haas, "I'd talk to people and see if I could get you some money -- but I can't do it under the gun of a lawsuit."
Haas supplied KRDO with documents demonstrating that the New Life Church was to pay Haas $179,000. But he says he hasn't received money for counseling or medical treatment, promises that he says were broken by the church.
New Life Church admitted to settling with a man in 2007, but they have not acknowledged that Haas is part of that settlement.
Now Haggard says he had wanted Haas to "get treatment" but also to "be quiet, especially then."
Despite it all, Haggard's wife and their five children, including the eldest, Christy, have stuck by him. Many in the Church, however, did not. Haggard appeared hurt when describing the broken relationships that stemmed from his exile.
"I thought we were a family. Now, I violated the rules, no question about it. I am responsible," Haggard said. "I just never dreamed that the family would throw me out. And my biological family didn't."
Gayle Haggard says she knew her husband struggled with same-sex attractions but she had no idea how bad it was.
The day Gayle Haggard found out her husband was having sex with men she said she "felt like the rug got pulled out from under me."
"I was so shocked," she said. "I looked at him and I said, 'Who are you?'"
She said her husband has now chosen what he wants to do. "He could have chosen otherwise. I mean, this would have been the time when he could have said, 'This is who I am, this is what I want to do.' But he said, 'No. I love you, I love our family.'"
Although she says people have accused her of being naive, or co-dependent, she said, "I think we have to have the freedom to be able to make choices about our lives. And just as my husband has made choices, I've made choices."
Last June, the Haggards were finally allowed to move back to Colorado after his severance deal with the New Life Church expired at the end of 2007.
Ted, Gayle and Christy Haggard are all now working together, selling family insurance from their home.
Christy Haggard said the family dynamic is different now. "Prior to the scandal, keeping face was important. I always held my parents on a pedestal. They seemed too good to relate to if you want to look at it like that. I always was very in touch with my humanity," she said. "I always felt like a flawed human being. I questioned my salvation all the time. And now seeing a man that genuinely loves God and yet is genuinely human gives me hope. Gives me hope that I can be like that."
Now that Haggard is no longer a leading Christian conservative he is free to speak freely about the movement.
"I think the religious right is increasingly impotent right now in America," he said. "And it's going to have to return to the gospel in order to regain its strength."
Haggard said he has no plans to start another church. But after weathering the storm, he insisted his faith, and his marriage, are both stronger than ever.
"When I was accused, rightfully so, that was a wonderful day in one respect," he said. "It was a shameful day and a hurtful day in other respects, but it was a wonderful day because I could talk and I could process and I could be open. I'm glad it happened. I never fell away from God. I fell forward in this process. My falling was a falling forward."
See the HBO documentary film, "The Trials of Ted Haggard" Thursday, Jan. 29 at 8 p.m.