Former pastor ousted in gay sex scandal says he has learned that hate, judgment don’t work
Speaking out two years after being embroiled in a gay sex scandal, former evangelical pastor Ted Haggard said Friday, Jan. 9 his sexual identity is complex and can’t be put into "stereotypical boxes," but that his relationship with his wife is stronger than ever.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Haggard did not rule out a return to public life or the pulpit. He spoke before he appeared before TV critics in Los Angeles to promote "The Trials of Ted Haggard," an HBO documentary on Haggard’s exile after his confession to "sexual immorality" and fall as a top evangelical leader.
"I am guilty. I am responsible," Haggard, 52, said Friday in a phone interview. "I got off track, and I am deeply sorry and I repent … I’m moving along in a positive direction."
Haggard resigned as president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals and was fired from the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., in November 2006 amid allegations that he paid a male prostitute for sex and used methamphetamines.
In a written apology at the time, Haggard confessed to a long battle against feelings contrary to his beliefs and admitted buying the drugs but said he never used them.
During a guest sermon last November at a friend’s church in Illinois, Haggard said a co-worker of his father molested him when he was 7, an experience that "started to produce fruit" later. Clarifying that Friday, Haggard said: "I’m certainly not saying that because of that, I did this. I did what I did by my choice, and I’m responsible for it."
Haggard said he isn’t qualified to judge what factors into one’s sexuality, but still believes it’s "God’s perfect plan" for marriage to be between a man and woman.
"I think sexuality is confusing and complex," Haggard said. "I am totally completely satisfied with the relationship with my wife now, but I went through a wandering in the wilderness time, and I just thank God I’m on the other side of that."
Asked whether he could define his sexual identity, Haggard said: "The stereotypical boxes don’t work for me. My story’s got some gray areas in it. And, of course, I’m sad about that but it’s the reality."
Later Friday, in a Q&A session with reporters at a Television Critics Association meeting in Universal City, Calif., Haggard said he should have been more open with his family and his congregation earlier, calling his actions "hypocrisy."
Asked to expand on his attitude toward homosexuality, Haggard said, "I believe all human beings fall short of the standards they believe in."
He added, "I would say the biggest change is I now know more about hatred than I ever dreamed, and I know it doesn’t help. And I know more about judgment and I know it doesn’t help. Since my experience, I know more about the power of love and forgiveness. I know a lot more about the necessity of people not judging one another."
At the time the film was shot in 2007, Haggard described still occasionally struggling with same-sex attraction. Asked Friday whether those attractions remain, Haggard did not say definitively but said he was "not anywhere near" where he was at that time.
In the documentary premiering Jan. 29, Haggard is shown shuffling from motel to motel, driving a moving truck, enrolling in a college psychology course, struggling as a door-to-door salesman and pondering his fate while laying in a motel bed in a white undershirt.
"At this stage in my life, I’m a loser — a first-class loser," he says.
Now back living in Colorado Springs, Haggard said Friday he hopes to build his business selling insurance and debt-reduction software and is considering marketing himself through a speakers bureau to share his story — "if the terms were right. I have to earn a living."
"If what I have is helpful to other people, then I want to make that available to them," he said. "If it’s not, then I’m perfectly happy building my business."
Haggard also plans to launch a nonprofit group to help the poor and needy, his Web site says. As for a return to pastoring a church, Haggard said: "I have learned enough to know a lot can happen to anybody. And when Jesus is our Lord, we can’t plan our path."
The nature of Haggard’s return — and his harsh words in the film for his former church — is drawing criticism. Haggard is also is to tape an "Oprah Winfrey Show" appearance next week for an episode scheduled to air this month, a spokesman for the show confirmed Friday.
"If you’re going to come out and begin a new life, why would you choose an HBO documentary, then meet with the liberal Hollywood press?" said H.B. London, a former counselor to Haggard and an executive at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. "The fact that he’s attacking the church or New Life Church, when they did so much to help him and his family, is below the belt."
Haggard lashes out at "the church" in the documentary, which was produced by Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He said "the church has said go to hell" and "the church chose not to forgive me."
Over a 14-month period ending Dec. 31, 2007, New Life Church paid the Haggard family $309,020 in salary and benefits, according to a church document obtained by The Associated Press.
The payout included $152,360 in salary for Ted Haggard, $62,177 in salary for his wife, Gayle, $26,426 for counseling, $11,168 for legal fees and $26,000 to help care for the couple’s special-needs son, who is in his early 20s.
Haggard on Friday said his family is grateful for the severance, but he was angry for being forced to leave Colorado Springs as one condition. He also challenged the church’s statement that he halted a process meant to restore him, saying he still receives counseling.
The church has since released Haggard from all restrictions, including a prohibition on speaking publicly, and both Haggard and church leadership say relations are positive.
Haggard’s successor at New Life, Brady Boyd, wrote in a blog post Friday that "the motives behind every decision" involving the Haggards were pure, and the church was generous in its severance and support. He would not respond to Haggard’s specific complaints.
In the AP interview, Haggard credited his therapists, whom he described as Christian believers who used secular therapy methods.
"I just thought a spiritual solution would be the solution to everything that’s internal," Haggard said. "That turned out not to be the case."
Of Mike Jones, his accuser, Haggard said: "I know he’s gone through a lot. When he said he had to say something, I believe it. And I think that was God encouraging him to do that."
Jones said Friday he considers Haggard a salesman seeking attention for his business.
"I know he’s apologized to his church and family, blah, blah," Jones said. "But the people he hurt is the gay community, and he’s never apologized to the gay community. He owes that."
Haggard has said his childhood experiences, including same-sex "sex play" with friends when he was in the seventh grade, started to manifest themselves when he turned 50, a few months before the scandal. That conflicts with Jones’ statement that Haggard paid him for sex for three years. Haggard on Friday declined to discuss the discrepancy.
Associated Press Television Writer Lynn Elber in Universal City, Calif., contributed to this report.