Saturday, 10 January 2009


LOS ANGELES - Ted Haggard, the powerful U.S. evangelist who fell from grace in 2006 amid a gay sex scandal, returned to the spotlight Friday saying his faith was stronger but he wished people had been more forgiving.
Haggard, 52, was exiled from the New Life mega-church he founded and told by church elders to leave Colorado after admitting "sexual immorality" and buying methamphetamines from a male prostitute.
It was a stunning admission for the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a formidable force among U.S. conservative Christians and a group that had the ear of the White House.
An HBO documentary about Haggard's year in exile, his struggle with his sexuality in the face of his past condemnation of gays, and his attempts to make a living outside the church, will air on the cable TV network on January 29.
Haggard, his wife Gayle and two of his five children appeared on a panel for U.S. television critics Friday to promote the documentary, "The Trials of Ted Haggard." He had previously been barred by evangelical leaders from speaking to the media.
"I don't think it is a flattering piece. I think it is even-handed," Haggard told Reuters in an interview. "It is embarrassing for me for people to see it, but it does answer their questions."
Haggard refers to himself in the documentary as a sinner who deserved the punishment meted out to him. He says he came close to suicide.
"I DESERVED IT" But he said the year his family spent living in cheap motels or the homes of friends had ultimately strengthened his faith -- although he held out no hope of returning to work as a pastor.
"I can't imagine very many churches inviting me to speak, even though I am a better Christian now and have a better understanding of scriptures than ever," said Haggard, who is back in Colorado working as a life insurance salesman.
"It has strengthened my faith. I do wish others had been more forgiving toward me. But I think those who hate me and judge me had a reason. I deserved it."
Three weeks after church elders told Haggard to leave and ordered him to undergo "spiritual restoration," they announced that after counseling he was "completely heterosexual."
Haggard smiled wryly at the statement, saying he fits into neither the gay nor the evangelical community.
"My therapist says I am a heterosexual with complications. I don't say that because it is more complex. I love my relationship with my wife. I am so much better than before. I am not restless," he said.
"For 30 years, I thought that you could take care of any problem with prayer. Now, a good therapist has helped me understand how the brain works."
During his exile, he told documentary maker Alexandra Pelosi that he continued to "struggle from time to time with same-sex attraction."
"Even though I'm a sinner, even though I'm weak," he told Pelosi, "God's best plan for human beings is for men and women to unite together."
Pelosi, the daughter of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told Reuters that Haggard asked to change nothing in the documentary.
During his exile, he attended a church in Arizona but sat at the back to avoid being recognized. He applied to work as an online admissions university counselor, and at one time got a job delivering fliers door to door.
"I wish I had resigned my position with the church way earlier than I did, and been more open with my family. But I was afraid," he told journalists. "I now know more about hatred and judgment than ever before, and I know it doesn't help."