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Q&A with Alexandra Pelosi on “The Trials of Ted Haggard”

pelosi.jpgAlexandra Pelosi is the talented filmmaker behind “The Trials of Ted Haggard”–though, as she put it in the New York Times yesterday, she prefers to be considered a maker of television, not documentaries. Fair enough, as her light, earthy, humanizing touch is just right for the small screen.

It is also the right touch for a story about Haggard’s afterlife: after two decades of pastoring a megachurch, after high-profile years as an international spokesperson for evangelicalism, and after a very public sex-and-drugs scandal that brought his life to the ground. Pelosi’s movie follows Haggard as he applies for his first job, takes up golfing, moves from house to house, and sorts through the remains of his life. Her camera is compassionate toward him inasmuch as it allows him to have that afterlife, but it’s also unflinching in capturing his fear, his anger, and his confusion about his own identity. 
Pelosi was kind enough to answer a few questions by email. Our exchange is after the jump. 
Note: I sent these questions to her on Friday, before the story broke that another young man says he had a sexual encounter with Haggard. Pelosi mentions that new story in one of her answers below. 

You were
making a documentary about evangelicals when Ted Haggard was at the height of
his power, and he was part of that movie. You must have been editing footage of
him at about
the time his life fell apart. What was that experience like for you???? 

When Ted had his fall from grace I was in the hospital having my first son. I had to go
back into the edit room to update the movie about what happened to Ted. When I
found out that Ted was living a double life, I felt very personally deceived by
him. ???
When did you decide you wanted to capture this part of the Ted
Haggard story???
I was visiting my sister in Scottsdale and she told me that she
heard on the news that Ted lived in her neighborhood. So my husband pulled out
his cell phone and called him. Ted picked up the phone and invited us over for
lunch. We went and spent 9 hours talking over what happened (I did not film any
of this). Then, over time when we visited Arizona we stopped in to see how he
was doing and I filmed little moments because it was so interesting how
different his life was after he was exposed. After he moved back to Colorado
Springs, we started editing together the story of what it was like for him in
exile. ???
In the documentary, Haggard tells you the church told him to go to
hell. Do you agree? Did you speak with anyone at New Life about their version
of these events?
I have spoken with many member of New Life Church but I have
not spoken with anyone from the Board–they never returned my calls. I let
them speak in the movie by using footage from CNN. I didn’t think it was fair
to make Brady Boyd speak on the subject since he came to the church after the
scandal was over. ??
How would you describe the trials of Gayle Haggard? How
would you describe the trials of the Haggard children?
I do not feel sorry
for Ted–he deserved to be punished for deceiving the people who trusted him–but I do feel sorry for Gayle and the children. They have suffered the most
through all of this. Still, they forgive Ted, and if you ask them why they will
tell you that the Bible says ‘you must forgive.’ ????
You’ve done a deep
study of evangelicals in “Friends of God,” and you’ve captured an
archetypal story of religious downfall with “The Trials of Ted
Haggard.” What do you think, and how do you feel, about evangelical
Christianity now? And what about Christianity apart from the evangelical
You need to make a distinction between all of the nice, good
church-goers and the ‘holier than thou’, sharp-tongued Church leaders.?I have a
great respect for the all the individuals I met at all of the churches I
visited. I made many friends at New Life who I stay in touch with today, but I
am suspicious of the politically active evangelical leaders who have been very
judgmental of the rest of us ‘ungodly’ types. The reason why so many people are
suspicious of the church is because they built their institutions by preaching
forgiveness. They did not always practice what they preach. 
Ted admitted he was
a “deceiver and a liar,” but his bigger sin was he brought bad
publicity to the church, so they paid him to disappear? A young man alleges
inappropriate relations with Ted and they paid him to keep his mouth shut? It
all sounds a little shady. 
The reason why secular people love the story of
Ted’s fall is because it confirms all of their suspicions about what happens
behind closed doors at churches. As Ted says in the movie, churches are a
business, and he was bad for business so they made him disappear. 
the years, while making these films, I got on all of the mailing lists of the
different church ministries. Needless to says, the fundraising calls I get
from these groups are very un-Christian. Last night, my two year old (who was
baptized in the Catholic church) answered the phone, and it was a man from some
church group asking for money to “Stop Obama and the baby killers in
Congress from butchering babies.” My son repeated, “Church mama,
Obama baby killa.” God is bigger than that!

Comments read comments(9)
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Danny MacPhail

posted January 26, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Great post. Nice to hear a little more from Pelosi.

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Martyn Oliver

posted January 27, 2009 at 1:13 am

Churches are a business? Well, I suppose they need to pay bills and run their affairs, but a church can certainly have sound business practices without “being” a business. My guess would be that the more a church thinks of itself as a business (or as a political force) the more it loses, or compromises, its spiritual mission.
I know that’s a strange point to focus on given all the sex and lies stuff, but I wonder if this kind of corporate religiosity is more dangerous than we might think. It was bad for Haggard and bad for New Life. They might rethink that component of their self-conception.

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posted January 27, 2009 at 2:47 am

For more detail please view the url as mention below :

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Nick Rogers

posted January 27, 2009 at 8:39 am

I have to agree with Martyn. The business comment really struck me. Are the heads of these churches acting more like CEOs and less like leaders of faith. While I know pastors are very responsible for the budget and fiscal necessities of the church, I believe good and sound spiritual leadership with a touch financial fortitude will bring enough financial support to be a non-profit yet functioning organization.
The Catholic church that I grew up in offers and interesting example that doesn’t necessarily prove my point but shows the two differing sides of the argument. The pastor when I was a child was an elderly (near retirement) priest. He never asked for money but was adored by many for his attention to his parishioners and his gentle touch both physically and spiritually. Under the old regime, the church fell deep into debt. The new pastor of the church is a fund raising machine and an in-your-face person. He has no qualms about standing at the pulpit and pleading for money. Yet his spiritual message has been lost. He fails to teach and is quick to reprimand. Now that I am only home, and go to this church, on Christmas (for my mother’s sake and because I am no longer Catholic), I am so disheartened. Two years ago he scolded the congregation for wearing denim jeans to mass and for leaving early. While yes it may be a little casual, isn’t the point that these people are there to capture the faith and spirit of God. Isn’t that more important than what they where and when they leave. My new brother-in-law, who did not grow up Catholic, is astonished by this man’s inability to teach, preach, and deliver the Christian message, and so am I. Perhaps if the pastor reconsidered his goal, is it to lead by faith or to run the business of the church.
Thanks Patton for the interesting Q & A and the intriguing perspective it brings.

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Leonard Robinson

posted January 28, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Ted Haggard is a tragic and pathetic figure. He is now using this film as a rehabilative vehicle to restore his public image. The sad part is he still believes that he is struggling with his sexuality. He needs to admit that he is gay. I know that many of you still believe that homosexuality is wrong, however many people were decieved by Haggard. The deception I find to be more troubling than the homosexuality. God asks us to all to be truthfully with ourselves. The truth for Pastor Haggard is that he is a gay man and God still loves him.

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JFaye G.

posted January 30, 2009 at 7:14 am

Ted Haggard, it seems, has allowed his “religion” to enslave him and for that reason alone, I feel sorry for him. We worship God in truth and in spirit and Mr. Haggard refuses to accept the truth of who he is and instead burdens his family with his untruthfulness.
There is still a hope however that with all his charisma, he may knock down the walls of homophobia, judgement and hypocrisy embodied by the church and make us truly more a reflection of God’s love and acceptance. The trials of Ted Haggard brings front and center the issues of homosexuality and hypocrisy in the church.
What confuses me more than the homosexual acts, is why drugs? What an obstruction to the many people who struggle with substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) … especially youth … and who participate in drug rehab ministries at particlarly these mega churches.

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posted January 30, 2009 at 5:27 pm

It seems that no matter what the church did, they would have been faulted.
The leaders had a congregation to protect from the media while helping them deal with Ted’s betrayal. He didn’t just cheat on his wife, he betrayed the members that trusted him. I’m sure they wanted to spare Ted’s family any more pain. They wanted to follow scripture and provide a path to restoration. They wanted to help Ted find a way to make a living since his acts had disqualified him from serving in any evangelical pulpit.
“Go to hell” to me would have been just firing him and leaving he and his family to deal with the consequences on their own.
Here’s what I believe. His year of salary ran out so he’s pimping himself as a victim. Haggard is not only a liar, but ungrateful, too. His attack on his church shows his lack of repentance. God will deal with him for it but I feel for his family and for those that held out hope for him.

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posted February 1, 2009 at 3:57 pm

“While I know pastors are very responsible for the budget and fiscal necessities of the church…”
Um…no, they’re not — at least not in mainline denominations like mine. Our budget is determined by our congregation, church council and pastor working in concert. Our pastor’s salary and benefits are based on denominational guidelines, which in the ELCA suggest that a pastor’s salary reflect that of master’s degree professionals with equivalent experience in the community (like a high school principal). We also have independent financial audits. And our pastors are answerable to both the congregation on one hand and to their synodical bishops on the other.
I know that mainline denominations aren’t currently en vogue, but I’d suggest to readers that while we may not have the flashy high-tech churches with high-profile clergy, we have more accountability built into our systems than many independent churches and “ministries.” And most of our denominations have more progressive theological and social points of view than the big-box ministries. Just sayin’.

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