Trial by Fury: Scandal Sentenced Ted Haggard to a New Life

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 25, 2009

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. Two years ago Ted Haggard vanished into the gap that separates righteous, evangelical America from righteous, liberal America. By chance this cultural divide was defined to a large extent by attitudes about gay sex even before a male prostitute announced he had been sleeping with the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and had sold him some methamphetamine.

Now Haggard, 52, is back in the public eye, his lanky frame leaning forward on an easy chair in a penthouse suite of the Universal City Hilton as he flogs "The Trials of Ted Haggard," a documentary by Alexandra Pelosi that debuts on HBO Thursday. The striking woman on the couch to his right is his wife, Gayle, still with the pastor despite everything -- the scandal, their exile to the desert, and the continuing mystery of her husband's sexuality -- because she found in the teachings of Jesus the grace to forgive, vs. the "downward spiral" of judgment and hate.

Haggard came to the same place by an alternate route.

"My spiritual life was wonderfully empowering for me in the midst of the struggle. But it wasn't the solution," he says.

"I needed a therapist."

Decades in the ministry failed to prepare him for this.

"I thought, 'I don't need to go to a therapist!' I mean I didn't even understand therapy. 'Jesus is the solution to everything!' " he says. "And I personally believe now that this process has occurred so that I would get the therapy I needed. I believe my therapy is the answer to 30 years of prayer about this subject. And so I am very grateful for the decision of the overseers and the restorers and I'm so thrilled about the way my life is now. I'm the man now that -- no, no, no, that's not true. I am becoming the man now that everybody thought I was then."

The "overseers" ran the 14,000 member New Life Church that Haggard founded in 1984 in Colorado Springs, Colo., the city and state the Haggards were required to leave as a condition of a $100,000-plus severance package hammered out with the church in the global glare of scandal. He went to Arizona for secular counseling because the supervising clerics required -- who'd have seen this coming, after the shunning? -- that he get therapy.

The family will be on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Wednesday to talk about it.

They wandered in the wilderness for more than a year. For the first four months the family lived in a spacious suburban manse lent by a friend. When the Haggards and their U-Haul moved on, as they always did, it was to steadily less capacious quarters. The final scene of the documentary finds the pastor hiking into the sagebrush behind a cramped short-term rental, searching for the peace and quiet to read the Bible that he still clutches. But a secular book also lent him strength.

"Up until the book 'The Speed of Trust,' I so deeply wanted to be a man that thoroughly reflected Scripture, I just buried the struggle in my heart," Haggard says, referring to the self-help book on building relationships. "And it was 'The Speed of Trust' that set me free in that." He says he finished reading it the Monday after a public confession of his wrongdoings was read aloud in the arena nave of New Life just after the scandal broke in November 2006. He turned to Gayle and said: "I'm going to tell you everything that's been going on inside of me. Because I've been going through hell."

Two years later, everyone seems comfortable with everyone else, including the two of their five kids taking part in the publicity tour for a film about Dad's sex life.

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