'The Trials of Ted Haggard': Alexandra Pelosi talks about her HBO documentary


Despite the screamingly liberal bona fides that come with being the daughter of the Democratic Speaker of the House, documentarian Alexandra Pelosi has carved out a niche for herself as one of America’s best-known chroniclers of the conservative/evangelical half of this country — in part because she’s the kind of liberal who was taught that it’s nice to listen to everyone. It was while shooting 2007’s Friends of God that she first met Ted Haggard, who was at the time pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, as well as the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals. Sadly, there is no quicker way to get yourself fired from your gig at the pulpit of a megachurch than admitting to doing crystal meth/having sex with a male prostitute, and in 2006, Haggard was exiled — not just from the New Life Church, but from the entire state of Colorado. Pelosi’s latest doc, The Trials of Ted Haggard, premiering tonight at 8 p.m. on HBO, is the story of this very disgraced man’s attempts to keep his family together, to find a job, to live without the church he founded in his basement, and ultimately, to find a way back home.

Pelosi was reticent to do much press for the movie —  "I don’t really need to talk about Ted to anybody because Ted can talk about Ted and I don’t have anything to add to that," she says — but she did us the favor of calling in anyway. Read on for how the doc came into being, her thoughts on the problems that exist on both sides of the gays vs. evangelicals divide (at least w/r/t Haggard), and why she is now, as she puts it "prescribing the Bible"…

To most of her gay friends, says Pelosi, this documentary counts as "giving sympathy to the devil." But she seems to genuinely like Haggard, and explains, "He didn’t give really anti-gay sermons. I’m telling you this because I made a movie about evangelical Christians, and I had to sit through the sermons. The most anti-gay things that I found [Haggard said] were basically jokes. He makes jokes about gays. But he’s not Pat Robertson saying, ‘The gays caused 9/11.’" When Pelosi found out Haggard was living in Scottsdale, Ariz., after his fall from grace, she gave him a ring when she came to town to visit her sister; lo and behold, he answered the phone. "This guy is down and out," she says. "He has no work, his family is falling apart, he’s got nothing. And I called. I think he was just lonely." Pelosi and her husband stopped by for lunch, and ended up staying for nine hours. "And the day he was moving, he had no one there," she says. "The cynical New Yorkers were the only ones there to help him move. I was just filming my husband moving boxes, not because I thought it was going to be a movie someday. Most documentaries shoot like 200 hours. In this case, what you see in the movie is what I filmed. It all happened by accident." And fairly quickly: the footage that makes up the movie was approved by Haggard only about a month ago.

The Trials of Ted Haggard is, according to Pelosi, "really anti-church" — and seriously, church? you’re allowed to kick someone out of a state?? — but she emphasizes that on the flip side, it actually turned out to be very pro-Bible and very pro-Jesus. "I was there for a lot of times when they’d sit down as a family and read the Bible, and it really seemed to give them some hope," she says. In the end, Pelosi became so enamored with the "greatest hits" of scripture that she went out and got herself a Bible, too. "I had to," she laughs. "Ted would be reading these passages… it was like hearing a song on the radio. Like, ‘That was good!’" Most of all, Pelosi saw the benefit the book had in the life of "the real victim in all of this," Haggard’s wife, Gayle. "She’s one of those women who says, ‘The Bible says you have to forgive, so I forgive.’ It’s like, ‘Honey, your husband has been messing around with other men…’ and she’d say, ‘Yeah, but the Bible says forgive.’ Isn’t that inspirational?" Pelosi asks. "Jesus would say everybody deserves forgiveness. Even though you’re gay. Even if they gave anti-gay sermons.’"

By the way, it’s not just the church who Pelosi views as being unnecessarily harsh towards her unlikely friend. "I hate how the gays want Ted to say, ‘I’m gay and I’m out and I’m proud,’" she says. "He’s not. He’s conflicted. I think there’s more than ‘I’m gay,’ ‘I’m straight.’ I’m satisfied with him saying, ‘I’m confused, I have a wife and five kids but I struggle with my sexuality, I have these attractions, these urges.’ I feel like that’s sort of honest. And his wife and his kids are the only things he has left."

[She’s a lightning talker, this lady, and there’s really no sense interrupting. Take us to the comments, Alexandra! Let’s hope everyone stays respectful in them!]

"Gay. What is gay? Ted Haggard doesn’t think he’s gay, because he doesn’t live in Chelsea, he doesn’t have a timeshare on Fire Island, and he doesn’t dance in his Speedo in the Gay Pride parade. To him, that’s what ‘gay’ is. So he’s not lying when he says he’s not gay. It’s an identity thing. When you say, ‘Are you gay?’ you’re not talking about his sex life. You’re talking about identity. And the gay of Chelsea is totally different than the gay of Colorado Springs. There is this culture war going on in America between gays and evangelicals. It’s not just happening in Colorado, it’s happening in California with Prop 8. When Rick Warren was selected to pray at the inauguration, it happened. Gays versus evangelicals. And Ted has fallen right in between. He’s fallen in the crack. He wants to be an evangelical. He wants to go back to church. Before he dies, I think all he wants is a call from the church saying, ‘Can you please come give a sermon? We’d love to have you.’"


addCredit(“Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic”)


Comments (61 total) Add your comment
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  • Jordan

    The true victim in all this is Ted. I really just feel deeply moved for him. “Gay” is not about pride parades, Fire Island, or Chelsea. I can understand why a preacher who has been told by the church/conservative society what “gay” is would think that. And to some extent, those things, for better or worse, represent the extremes of being gay, but being gay really is just wanting to be with men in the same way that straight men want to be with women. That can be a beautiful thing if you are willing to believe that, regardless of what an organization (the church) tells you about a book (the Bible) that is thousands of years old and written by men in different cultures and times than what we live in. People take religion way too seriously, and now Ted probably thinks for him to be with a man he has to do crystal meth and be with prostitutes because there is no way he can live a “normal” life with a male lover, no way God would accept that. I say these things out of experience.

  • Victor

    i missed him on Oprah yesterday..
    Though i am gay and consider myself usually anti-evangelical, i am very intrigued to see this doc and here his side of the story.
    i know he’s a “hypocrite” and all, but it breaks my heart to see a man kicked while he’s down..

  • Kate

    I was home sick yesterday and I saw Ted Haggard on Oprah, you kind of feel bad for him, but he is still so confused and conflicted you wonder why this is the right time for these things, but then that is just it. How many people he must represent who think Jack from Will and Grace or the Queer Eye guys are the definition of being gay and obviously he is not that so he can’t be gay, right? Or, gasp, bisexual. And then everyone telling you it is a sin.

  • Nancee

    I may order HBO for the evening just to see this doc. I saw him on Oprah yesterday and I thought he was very honest, not only about his past hypocisy, but about where he’s been and where he’s at now. Finally a fresh discussion on Christianity, rather than the tired, old “evangelical v. liberal” argument, which is a media argument, not a truth argument.

  • TLS

    I saw parts of Ted on Oprah yesterday and snippets of the documentary. I truly feel for him and his family. I was also raised in a very evangelical Christian family and it is a strange confusing beast at times. I have never agreed with Christians who are anti-gay, because I am pretty sure God doesn’t want us to be anti-anyone. I think this man is confused and has been really hurt (I mean, exiled from his church AND his home state?!?) If the church is supposed to be the reflection of God’s love, I don’t see it in that. Understandably they feel hurt and betrayed, but no one is perfect and when you start thinking someone is perfect and placing them on that pedestal it’s just a matter of time before they are going to fall right off. I hope that he, his family, and the church can find some peace in all of this.

  • Canadian Observer

    I saw him on Oprah and I have no judgment of him as a man. As to what he did I believe we as humans all do things that are wrong and we must accept the consequences of the choices we make.
    That being said, I truly have a real fear of these reformed Christian Churches. In one hand they hold the bible and preach Jesus and God forgives and then on the other hand one condition of his severance was to kick out of the state. They preach all men and women are equal yet say homosexuality is a sin. I am not homosexual and I believe everyone has the right to live their life under their own terms.
    Haggard is a man who made mistakes but he is in my eyes a victim of the hypocrisy that he once now preached.
    And the end of the day Organized religion is not about helping people its a business. Haggard did not perform his duties to the standard in which he was expected and was terminated. His job will now be replaced with another money making machine.

  • Canadian Observer

    If his church truly believes in forgiveness and helping people they should be helping him and his family. But lord knows how many more families in the world need help. Haggard can surely get a job anywhere but I am sure it will not give him the lifestyle he was once accustomed to when he was preaching that was supported by his flock.
    If you take the money out of the church then you will have many men like Haggard who still holds a bible and believes that he is human and if there truly is a god who forgives, he will be forgiven. His church should not condone his actions but why would worshipers continue to contribute to a church who exiles a man and his family when this is a sin in itself in the bible.

  • Liz

    Ted a victim?? Please! He is no better and no worse than you or me. We are all on common ground at the foot of the cross, and only by the blood of Christ is Ted (or am I) under condemnation according to Romans 8:1. How about you? Do you have the assurance that only Jesus can give??

  • liz

    Mistake in the first post: Only by the blood of Christ is Ted (or am I) NO LONGER under condemnation according to Romans 8:1.

  • To Canadian Observer

    Two points: I’ve never agreed with Christians who are anti-gay, either. Christ had it right (have you read the Bible?) but people get it wrong all the time. Sex outside of marriage is a sin, too, as is lying, coveting (hello, America’s celebrity obsession is probably covetous, don’tcha think?!), and many other things that we don’t think are a big deal. We as a society, and mostly the moneyed, political Christians, focus on the wrong things and confuse the issue. They are the Pharisees. The media only focuses on the salacious or outrageous (basically, whatever gets ratings, talk about an organization that’s all about money). Two, it’s not organized religion, it’s the people running the show. Haggard’s church was biblically WRONG in sending him away from his church and his state, and that sends a wrong message about how these things should be handled.

  • mishi

    JORDAN SAYS: “The true victim in all this is Ted. I really just feel deeply moved for him.”
    Sorry, Haggard doesn’t deserve pity. He wasn’t just a lying hypocrite. When he used his pulpit to denounce homosexuality, he was causing actual harm to the lives and psyches of gays, and he used his power to help defeat progay legislation. He supports the harmful fraud of “reparative therapy.” And – as far as I know – he’s apologized to his flock and his family, but not the LGBT people he scorned. So he isn’t as much of a neofascist looney as Robertson? Big deal. Can you imagine being the gay kids whose parents dragged them to Haggard’s church? Feel moved for THEM.
    Pelosi has a lot of nerve telling gay folks how we should feel, or to talk about a war of “gays versus evangelicals,” as if gays are on on the offensive. We’ve been attacked by Christian churches for 2000 years. No gay people are striving to take rights away from evangelicals. We’re under attack, while Pelosi tut-tuts and make buck

  • crispy

    Oh, puh-leeze! That guy is gayer than a picnic basket.

  • Melanie

    “in part because she’s the kind of liberal who was taught that it’s nice to listen to everyone” – clearly something she must have learned from her father ‘cuz it sure didn’t come from her mom!

  • Jordan

    TO LIZ: Quite frankly, gimme a break! No one has assurance in this world, because no one really knows what happens after we die. We can hear all kinds of opinions and views and stories, and that’s just what they are, SOMEONE’S opinions and views and stories. I didn’t see Jesus die and resurrect, or even live for that matter, so I have no reason to believe it is absolute truth no matter who wrote it down. It could have happened, and I admit that, but to say you are “sure” is the same type of thing that is causing all kinds of strife in this world because people are so “sure”, like “If you aren’t ‘sure’ like me, be damned!” It’s pathetic, and this type of thinking is holding us back as a species.
    TO MISHI: After reading your comments, I will take back what I said about him being the true victim. I still feel moved for him though. What I meant is he is more a victim of the line of thinking I describe above, but you are correct to say he has just taught this crap to others.

  • Candy

    Only the truth will set you free. Ted Haggard is learning that the hard way. As for gay sex being a sin, so is heterosexual sex outside of marriage. I have two young grandsons who are paying the price for their mothers’ and fathers’ “sins”. Rather than get married and have a stable relationship and home to bring their children to, they had indiscriminate sex, got pregnant, delivered babies, and went their merry way like so many other young people today. No one wants to “own up” to the consequences of their behaviors. God’s perfect plan, when we live according to his “laws,” is only to help us lead a happier, healthier life and be a good influence on the other people we come in contact with. He gives us rules to live by because he loves us, not to “keep us from having fun” as most of us think. Just because we want to do something or have the urge doesn’t make it okay. We would all be happier and healthier if we all lived by God’s rules as written in his book, the Bible.

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