LOS ANGELES (RNS)—Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi never imagined her 2007 documentary about evangelical America would give her a front-row seat to the downfall of one of its biggest stars, megachurch pastor Ted Haggard.
She also couldn’t have predicted just how closely her life would become intertwined with Haggard’s.
The two met in 2006 as Pelosi—a cradle Catholic and daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—was working on her sophomore documentary, Friends of God, in which Haggard served as her “tour guide” through American evangelical life.
Months later, Haggard resigned his pulpit at New Life Church in Colorado Springs and as head of the National Association of Evangelicals when a male escort went public with lurid allegations of gay sex and drug use.
Her new documentary, The Trials of Ted Haggard, airs on HBO Jan. 29 and tracks Haggard’s attempts to rebuild his life, come to terms with his downfall and restore the frayed bonds of his family.
The documentary is as much about the church as it is about the Haggard family, Pelosi said.
“The story is about a church that preaches forgiveness,” she said. “He, as a pastor, preached forgiveness and redemption. But he was not forgiven, and he was not redeemed. They cast him out, and they exiled him.
“It was very biblical in a way. Not that I even read the Bible, so I wouldn’t know. But the people who go to church get told every Sunday, ‘We forgive.’ He was not forgiven. That, to me, is what is interesting about it.”
New Life Church de-clined comment beyond a blog post from Pastor Brady Boyd, stating that Haggard’s family received more that $300,000 in severance payments and is working toward reconciliation with Haggard.
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The film follows Haggard, his wife, Gayle; adult daughter, Christy; and adult son, Marcus, as they leave Colorado Springs in search of a new life in Arizona and Texas. The film avoids the Haggards’ two younger sons and special-needs son, who receives financial support from New Life.
Due to his notoriety and his lack of training in anything other than the ministry, Haggard has a difficult time finding employment. “I essentially have a high school education in the market,” he told reporters.
Throughout the film, Haggard wrestles with his faith and his attempts to reconcile his same-sex attractions with his understanding of Scripture. He discloses childhood sexual abuse and recalls his struggles as a youth as he battled his attraction to other boys.
In the film, Haggard shows moments of hope in his faith, as well as times of deep despair. It’s in those dark times when his relationship with Pelosi and her husband, Michael Vos, became much more personal.
“They were so helpful to us,” Haggard explained. “Michael called one day when I was in the back yard, sobbing, by myself crying. And he was alarmed because he thought we were being taken care of. Alexandra’s sister lived not far from where we were in Phoenix, so when they would come down and visit, they would come and help. They helped us move.
“One time I was just dying in despair of loneliness, and Michael went and sold health insurance with me for two or three days.”
Pelosi’s first encounter with Haggard came when she attempted to understand and translate evangelical life.
“It’s so everything that I’m not. It’s foreign to me,” Pelosi said. “The whole Christian evangelical world is so foreign to me. Ted was my tour guide through it. He introduced me to this whole world. I’m from San Francisco, and I live in New York (and) where we come from, it’s ‘Gay? So what?’”
The new documentary has the same no-holds barred ethos as Friends of God as Haggard delves into his sexuality, his grief, his loss of purpose and his hope for the future.
However, people looking for a clear explanation of his sexuality or a neat resolution to the scandal will be disappointed.
“This is the problem with Ted,” Pelosi said. “The gay community is not going to embrace him because he’s not going to say, ‘I’m gay.’ The Christian community is not going to embrace him because he is saying: ‘I have gay issues. I have issues with my sexuality.’ So, he’s fallen through the crack in between this cultural divide in America. He can’t answer the questions. Go try for a few hours. He can’t answer them.”
Haggard, who recently moved his family back to Colorado Springs, was until recently barred by contracts with New Life from speaking to the media. He explained his decision to bare his soul to millions through Pelosi’s camera.
“Well, we had to answer the questions,” he said. “For the sake of our kids going to school. For the sake of me trying to build a business. And just a message, our life message. So, we moved back home to finish the story. If we would have stayed away, the story would have just ended with that. And we moved back home to finish the story.”