Pastor in gay scandal: back from the 'wilderness'

Pastor in gay scandal: back from the 'wilderness'

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Speaking out two years after being embroiled in a gay-sex scandal, former evangelical pastor Ted Haggard said last Friday 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 in his 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 methamphetamine.

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 coworker of his father molested him when he was 7, an experience that “started to produce fruit” later. Clarifying that last 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.”

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 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.”

Haggard also plans to launch a nonprofit group to help the poor and needy, his Web site states. 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 taping an “Oprah Winfrey Show” appearance this week for an episode scheduled to air this month, a spokesperson for the show confirmed last Friday.

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.

Haggard 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.

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 last 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.


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