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It’s Not TV; it’s Ted TV

haggardwpc.jpgA blog might not be the best medium for an essay like this. But I want to offer some more considered thoughts on Ted Haggard and his HBO documentary; I hope this performs some kind of service in a story that I hope will end–in its public iteration–very soon. This was written as a stand-alone essay, so please forgive its summary statements up top. Also, it was written before the latest allegations involving Haggard and another man–allegations that make these reflections sadly more salient: 


Ted Haggard enjoyed frequent television appearances during the years when, as the outspoken president of the National Association of Evangelicals, his star rose high enough for Barbara Walters, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Brian Williams, et al to come calling on a regular basis. In November 2006, he disappeared quickly when he was caught in a sex and drugs scandal with a male prostitute in Denver. But this week, Haggard is gracing television screens once again. Oprah Winfrey and Larry King are profiling Haggard and his family, and HBO subscribers will watch “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” a documentary by Alexandra Pelosi that follows the ex-minister through the dreary months after his star crashed. 
In his two decades as pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, one of Haggard’s most legendary sermons was titled “There’s No Such Thing As a Secret.” Truth will out, preached Haggard, so you may as well confess your darkest impulses and actions. I was Haggard’s writer and editor for eight years, and I don’t know anyone who was not shocked that there was such a thing as a secret for him. Haggard’s double life was a searing revelation to his family, his church, and his closest friends.

Another legendary Haggard sermon was called “How Much Is Your Sin Going to Cost Me?” It was his sly, wry way of reminding us that there are social consequences for our actions. When we lie, cheat, and steal, we incur debts of time, emotion, and material treasure that our family and friends have to pay. Have integrity, he’d say, so that no one has to clean up after your mistakes. 

In Pelosi’s film, we get some idea of what Haggard’s sin cost him: a career in Christian ministry, the respect of evangelical legions, and the ability to live exactly as he pleased.


He complains the church banned him from talking to the media and banished him from Colorado–“The church has said go to hell,” he tells Pelosi–which is not quite right. Church members mourned the loss of their beloved pastor and forgave him; many sent him personal messages to that end; many hoped for an eventual reconciliation. But the overseers of New Life Church–four pastors from other churches–asked Haggard to sign a contract agreeing to keep quiet and leave Colorado in exchange for a generous parachute: a year’s severance for Haggard and his wife, a vehicle, counseling expenses, and moving expenses. Haggard took the deal. 

Many at New Life Church grieved over the decision to ask the Haggards to leave the state. But the overseers forced his hand for a very good reason: the church community needed a chance to pay the debts of Haggard’s mistakes. We needed to deal with the consequences of his actions. He had been our spiritual authority for years, and his duplicity twisted and tangled the church. We needed a season of strict separation from the man who had been a dominant force in our lives. 

The other night, I watched Pelosi’s documentary with several friends who experienced Haggard’s downfall together. Afterward, we reflected on one of the benevolent outcomes of the tragedy: it forced us to deal in reality. Haggard had crafted an illusion of a perfect life. He rarely showed personal weakness, and he preached that faith in God and a can-do attitude were a guarantee of a life of happiness. In an earlier Pelosi documentary, “Friends of God,” he had bragged to the camera that evangelicalism was life on steroids–even our sex lives were better because of Jesus. “All the surveys say that evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group,” he said, and then had two young men from his church tell Pelosi how often they had sex with their wives–“Every day”–and how often their wives reached climax–“Every time.” 

Something always does–and always did–smell off about the “Jesus makes life perfect” version of Christian witness. It’s not consistent with the Bible’s record of pain and suffering, much less what we know of ourselves. But hey, it sure seemed to be working for Haggard. His smile was constant, his energy endless. His life was an argument for the power of positive Christian thinking.    

Haggard’s downfall was a clarion call to personal honesty. It challenged us to do the gritty work of growing in self-knowledge. John Calvin, echoing St. Augustine, wrote that there is “no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self.” Self-knowledge is, or should be, a natural outcome of a proper Christian life, because confession is a core discipline. The Christian is invited to admit the full truth of his or her life–as our scripture has it, to “walk in the light.” Christianity should be a path of self-disclosure. There is no such thing as a secret. 

I was hoping–against hope–that “The Trials of Ted Haggard” would document his walking into the light. It doesn’t. It captures his attempt to re-enter the limelight. It’s agonizing to watch Haggard gather the pieces of his life, shuffle from temporary home to temporary home, and learn how to make an honest buck. It’s terrible to watch him suffer. But what’s most painful is the question the documentary doesn’t ask: Why? Why, just a few months after Haggard and his family suffered an unspeakable tragedy in public view, would he invite the cameras back? Why would he want his story documented and sold in this way? 

Anyone who cares about Haggard, as I do, must see this comeback as a continuation of his tragedy. I wish Haggard well. Thus, I wish him a life of peace and quiet, a life balanced with equal parts solitude and intimate company. I wish him the courage of self-revelation. Haggard has recently told reporters that the issue of his sexual orientation is “complex.” No doubt it is–and it should be worked out through a process of careful discernment, a mixture of introspection and good counsel. It’s not possible to work out such complexities with a camera in your face, an audience in your near future.  

As one friend said after we watched the documentary, this is Haggard’s Facebook. It’s not a confessional; it’s a media platform. To paraphrase HBO’s motto, it’s not reality TV; it’s just TV. 
Comments read comments(28)
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Rachel P

posted January 28, 2009 at 5:11 am

I agree, this is painful to watch, and I’m torn between: a) thinking it’s necessary and even profitable to see one of our religious “heroes” be knocked off his pedestal and serve as an ongoing reminder of all of our potential to sin; and b) fearing that being pulled back into the media spin on this saga feeds my voyeuristic tendencies and tempts me to justify my own secretive thoughts and actions as contrasted with Haggard’s. Thanks for offering a middle way that helps us distinguish fact from fiction and move on…

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Natalie C.

posted January 28, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Thank you for posting this Patton, I think you’re speaking for so many of us who are at New Life. You’ve really captured it. I can’t stop thinking about the 2 exact sermons you mentioned as they relate to Ted and what we’re still going through.

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Tom R

posted January 28, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Patton captures and gives succinct expression to the quagmire of conflicting emotions ranging from betrayal to solidifying our loyalties. Thank you for your historical and contextual assessments of Ted’s journey. Your recall of the sermons we were all were impacted by as members of NLC reminds us of the sobering charge to prospective overseers in the Bible, “Now the overseer must be above reproach” (I Tim. 3:2). What appears obvious to us as parishioners, is lost, I’m afraid, on Ted because of the effectiveness of the demonic assignment of deception. Until the biblical definition of a true change of heart are seen in Ted’s actions and heard in his words, I’m afraid he will continue to see himself as a victim, and therefore, stall the healing process he and his family so desperately require. Parlaying this ignominy into making a living as a public speaker will only prolong his restoration and peace of mind.

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posted January 28, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Patton, as usual does a great job of capturing what issues are at hand, and why any of it matters. I join my friend in wishing a speedy end to the public story of Ted Haggard, and hoping that the quiet one; of he and his family recovering and living out their days ends up being the one that matters.

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posted January 28, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Let’s stop saying he was banned from going public. He was BRIBED – with 300,000, a new truck, and who knows what else. Ever see that Dateline series where they set up and arrest the people who meet up with underage decoys they met in internet chat rooms?? Every time they bust one of them, they invariably announce that it was THE FIRST TIME they’ve ever done anything like that. I think we have only seen the tip of this iceberg. And the lies go on and on. Come clean, Ted. YOU aren’t the victim here. I feel like I need to go take a shower after I see him on TV

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posted January 29, 2009 at 1:41 am

Patton, thank you for sharing your insight. Without discounting the significance and consequences of Ted’s actions, it remains an incredibly complex situation with many, many people personally involved. That being said, your last two paragraphs accurately echo my concerns. I’m hopeful the end result of all this will be a constructive one. My immediate feeling is that the story/situation is sitting on a potentially perilous precipitous.

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Dennis Hartin

posted January 29, 2009 at 11:07 am

When I was in seminary, my preaching professor said one thing I always remember: “When you’re preaching, always preach to yourself.” Had TH heard and taken that advice, I suspect his sermons and his life would have been different.

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posted January 29, 2009 at 11:29 am

“The inconsistency of what I say I should be
Compared to what I am in actuality
Leaves me in conclusion that I know the way
Though I am unable to always obey
Nothing in this world has satisfied
My soul’s hunger for a deeper life
The weight of my misdeeds were crushing, blinding me
I still live with pain inside but now I can see”
~~Grammatrain, “Pain”
The bigger they are…the harder the fall. Such a shame to see. Many of you ask, “Why bring the cameras into a broken life? Why film yourself hurting, back-biting?” Myself, I ask, why would anyone *want* to film it? Why is Ted so desperate for attention and public approval? NLC did the right thing; and Ted can grouse to anyone he pleases; if a pastor cannot “walk the walk” he should not “preach the talk”. I’m so sad to hear the twist Ted put on his former church. Such a shame; how the Devil dances in broken lives that should be given to Christ. Rom.7:24-25
Thank you, Patton, for such a fine, balanced piece; and sharing it with us. Your prowess with the electronic word is amazing.
Padawan Tano: Master Yoda once said, “Old sands cast long shadows.” What does he mean by that?
Jedi Knight Skywalker: He means your past can haunt your future if you allow it to. But you forget, it was Master Skywalkter who said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

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posted January 29, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Haggard is probably a 2 on the Kinsey Scale: he is largely heterosexual, but with strong homosexual desires. This is fairly common. The problem is that when we repress certain desires and present a false image of ourselves as free of those desires we really screw ourselves up. In religion there is far too much repression, too much guilt and too much falsity because people try to appear to others as pure and perfect.
What we all need to do is be open and honest about our desires and find healthy ways to transcend them. I don’t think Haggard is really doing this and I don’t see the evangelical preachers as really helping people do this – they tend to use guilt and repression.

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posted January 29, 2009 at 6:53 pm

as a lesbian,i still think the good reverend has alot of secrets to come to terms with. he’s not fooling the God he serves, anyway. didn’t the bible say “Man looketh on the outside, but God looketh upon the inward parts”? he’s not fooling us, and he sure as heck ain’t foolin’ God.

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posted January 29, 2009 at 10:11 pm

I think he believes what he is telling us. He wants so badly to be in control and not be considered homosexual, in any way, as well as his wife. I watched Oprah and half of Larry Kings interview, and it made me feel so sad for them I had to turn it off. This is 2009 and if you can read you should know what the Medical Societies say about Homosexuality, and the fact that the Evangelical Churches, and fundamentalist Churches, actually even some of the Mainline Protestant Churches, and certainly the Roman Catholic Churches keep their doctrines that hurt a huge segment of society is a disgrace to the world. God made us just the way we’re supposed to be, Jesus continues to save and love us just the way we are.

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Reverend Claudia Barber

posted January 30, 2009 at 6:06 am

I feel sorry for Mr. Haggard. And for his family. I will keep both in my prayers. Mr. Haggard that he can come to terms with and accept his sexual orientation and his family that they can cope, forgive and move on.

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posted January 30, 2009 at 11:08 am

Unfortunately, I think the “public iteration” of this story will not go away as you (and I) hope, Patton. Not only do I believe your perception of the HBO documentary is an accurate one (a first step to re-emerge in the limelight), but he all-but-said as much at the end of the Larry King interview when discussing his desire to do public speaking so as to let his/Gayle’s story bring healing to others. I’m all for sharing their story to help others (it’s how GOD turns our bad into good), but to profit off of doing so really taints the motivations; not a good thing when you’re dealing with a person who’s broken the public trust.
It was also terribly convenient that Pelosi completely left out the other side of this whole scenario (except for brief clips from overseeing Pastors used to create a context positive to Ted’s view), especially the nearly $450,000 parachute (along with extras you cited) the church gave him. But then if that was included, the audience would be forced to ask, “So why then are they hurting for money – especially in their first year into this thing.”
All that to say: have sympathy and compassion, but people, don’t make judgmental assumptions about the other side that the documentary (such as it is) would like you to insinuate.

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Larry Parker

posted January 30, 2009 at 2:32 pm

In considering your sense of betrayal and your lingering sense even before the accusations against Rev. Haggard that his version of Christianity was somehow too good to be true, I couldn’t help but think of your epic essay denouncing “The Secret” here on Beliefnet.
Do you think Rev. Haggard believed in “The Secret” (the multimedia package, not his own sexual secrets) and that that may have contributed to his downfall? And did his fall contribute to your own research about law of attraction philosophies, Christian and otherwise?

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posted January 30, 2009 at 3:05 pm

I am curious about this statement:
You said: “In an earlier Pelosi documentary, ‘Friends of God,’ he had bragged to the camera that evangelism was life on steroids.”
Is “evangelism” the word or “evangelicalism”? I find this curious.
I loved your take on the matter.

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Patton Dodd

posted January 30, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Jessica, great edit. Thank you–it’s fixed now.
Much to discuss here, and I appreciate everyone’s reflections. I’m trying to move on, at least for a long while. But I did want to answer Larry’s insightful question. I don’t think Ted believed in “The Secret,” but that law-of-attraction thinking definitely influenced his theology, as it has a lot of preachers. He wasn’t exactly a health-and-wealth gospel peddler–not even close, really–but he did seem to have this idea that (1) you could change your life simply through right-thinking and right-believing and (2) that your lot in life was simply your own fault and could be adjusted by making a core decision within yourself to be different. Change your mind, change your world.
And yeah, Larry, my experience of that evangelical Christian version of the law of attraction, and seeing how markedly unhelpful it was in times of real personal crisis, were what led me to research and write about it more.

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posted January 31, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Well said and responsibly written. As I’ve said elsewhere, the Church has much to learn from Ted’s failtures and leadership will only be better served if it takes heed. After all, the world IS watching!

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Your Name

posted February 1, 2009 at 6:23 am

In this age of “anything goes” and the dismantling of Apostolic orientation for the life of a Christian, Haggard’s story is all the more tragic because it leads people to believe that you can do as you wish as long as no one gets “physically” harmed.

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stan dailey

posted February 1, 2009 at 10:46 am

this is new? jim and tammy, jimmy swaggert, pick a priest or a pope(foxes book of martyrs) etc. I think i’ll go next door and see if my neighbors foot has healed and maybe make him lunch. god bless, stan the sinner saved by grace.dcg7k6

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Your Name

posted February 1, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Rev Haggard actions , behaviors shows why Christ died for our sins because he knew man has a fallen nature and it is only through the beleif in Jesus that we a sinner can be saved and transformed through his love. I do think if Rev.Haggard violated young men in his parish he should not return but to find a different avenue to preach about his weakness and how other who with the same weaknesses can find hope through Christ.

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Your Name

posted February 2, 2009 at 7:57 am

When we put our faith in man he will fail every time. When are we going to apply the word of God to our lives? When are we going to learn that it is not religion but relationship. This is not about Ted Haggard or the evangelical churhc! This is about the gospel and the message of Christ being brought to those still in darkness! We are so consumed with Pastors/Ministers/ etc that we have forgotten what we are all called to do and that is spread the gospel of Christ! Preach the word in and out of season. Do not under any circumstance place a mere man in the position reserve for the Lord! Stop looking to man and begin to look at God the father through Christ Jesus. It is so sad when I see people lose their nature minds because of their pastor leaving, their pastor sinning. This cause many to leave the church, doubt the word of God and its power. But if you had put your faith in God in the beginning then losing a pastor would hurt but not destroy you. Let us pray for our brother Ted Haggard and ask the Lord to move on his heart that he may establish relationship with God and not a religion of man and his rules and regulations.
Come back to the word! Come back to Sound doctrine
Minister Tonya

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Your Name

posted February 2, 2009 at 8:54 am

i wood like one of your bibles for free i am not working
i have a poor credit score that is what they go buy.
know and it caust 500.00 to get your ged to day
so coud you send me one please
james hunter
827 west 5 ave
shakopee .mn

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Scott Fyock

posted February 2, 2009 at 6:47 pm

In the early church (pre-Constantine)there was no job description to match the function of Ted and a host of others. Every believer had a function which involved spreading the Good News, caring for the poor and down trodden, and helping each other. This isn’t just Ted’s fault. It’s our fault for making heroes out of guys like him, or anyone with a little charisma, and for making Christianity a spectator sport. Sex scandals like those of Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggert, Paul Cain, etc.; implications of financial improprieties, i.e., Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland,Pat Robertson, etc.; and let’s not forget about the Catholic Church and the mess it’s leaving in its wake. Isn’t it about time we abandon this ridiculous non-biblical “Christianity, inc.” and attempt to return to simply following our Lord and Master, without all the “Dr.’s”, “Rev’s”, “Bishops”, “Pastors”,and “Apostles” setting themselves up as authorities between us and Christ? Who needs ’em?
Scott Fyock

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posted February 3, 2009 at 5:20 am

The only real conclusion that this documentary should have had is that Ted Haggard finally admit that his sexuality is God-given, that the Bible is used to justify evangelical (and general Christian) bigotry against gays and lesbians (created in God’s image) even though such use is immoral and wrong, and that he would live his life openly and honestly and minister to the great unevangelized mass of gay and lesbians who thirst for spiritual sustenance and enlightenment based on God’s LOVE and not man’s false religion. Alas, Ted Haggard shows why the evangelical movement will be over in a few more years: the blatant hypocrisy and vanity of evangelicals cannot continue to sustain their spiritual heresy.

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posted February 3, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Why would Ted Haggard invite a camera back to himself and family?
His disgrace was very public, so why shouldn’t his journey to find himself be public? Homosexuality is a complex issue…There are no easy answers and what I see is a man in search of answers and trying to reconcile that with God and the Christian life.
I can see he’s very sorry for it all, but how does one apologize for being bi-sexual? I know Haggard doesn’t want to paint himself into a corner by saying that he is either homosexual or bi-sexual. He feels he’s neither, but has ‘issues’ Fair enough, is all I can say.
We should all breath a sigh of relief for our own lives and be thankful, those of us who are Christians that don’t have to struggle with something this difficult.
I hope the best for him and that he and his family come to some measure of resolve, repentence and healing.

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Your Name

posted February 3, 2009 at 11:15 pm

The truth written well. Hopefully Ted can come to this.
Thanks for the article.

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posted February 9, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Hmmmmm. 10 more cases of sexual misconduct being investigated – 3 of them underage. Yes. The tip of the iceberg.

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Your Name

posted February 24, 2009 at 1:30 am

Steve, You are so right. See Matthew 20 and 23 for the teachings of Jesus against pyramid structures. Gene Edwards book Climb the Highest Mountain points out that heirarchy was a system never designed for humans but was the system for angels, and so when the fallen angel Satan came to earth he brought that idea with him in order to gain power over humans. Needs to go back to hell where it came from. Ted was wrong in this, as are most ministry leaders today. Check out Ken Blanchards new book LEAD LIKE JESUS for a good line on that, or UPSIDE DOWN from NavPress. Satan wants heirarchy because that’s the only way he can rule, since he’s not omnipresent and all-knowing. And many of the leaders of so called Christian denominations and seminaries and Bible schools are also free masons… so wrong…evil. Is Huckaby also a free mason? Bad boy if he is.

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