Thursday, April 16, 2009

Movie Review: The Trials of Ted Haggard, 2009; Alexandra Pelosi, dir

Having watched Alexandra Pelosi's other two films over the past week, we finished Wednesday night with her profile of exiled evangelical leader Ted Haggard, a name by now synonymous with deceit and hypocrisy, a textbook definition of someone hoist on his own petar. Mutsumi and I were, I suppose, looking forward to a few laughs at Mr Haggard's expense. When the film ended 50-minutes later, Mutsumi said, “Ted-san gambatte hoshii.” Don't give up, Ted.

This morning I've been doing a bit of reading of opinion about the film and it seems many think it was part of a cynical plan by Haggard to rehabilitate and relaunch a public career. Some have suggested that if he were sincere in his repentance, he would forever lead a quiet life of service.

Motivation is worth considering. Many of us would simply be too ashamed to have our personal failings broadcast across the world, which is perhaps why its difficult to see Haggard's decision as anything but manipulative. But for someone who for so much of his life worked in front of large numbers of people, whose identity was in part or in whole built on the affirmation offered by others, it must be an immense struggle (in addition to the others) to have yourself affirmed only by yourself, to live with the acclaim only of your immediate family. Perhaps he did the film because he needs to be forgiven by a larger community. Perhaps he believes that by sharing his struggles, he can encourage others facing similar difficulties, that from his disgrace something good may come.

In the course of his career, Haggard has caused hurt and harm to others, none of which I am ignoring or attempting to minimize. Some might feel that sympathy for him is misplaced, that he deserves every thing that has happened to him. I think Haggard would agree. And from the film it appears he is genuinely struggling, as he knows how, to understand what happened, to understand himself. He doesn't seem smug. On the contrary, he appears confused, unsure, like someone who for once doesn't have all the answers.

It seems a significant change for Haggard to accept the healing potential of secular psychology, to accept that Christianity and homosexuality may not be incompatible, to admit that the community he built did not practice the virtues of acceptance and forgiveness he spent his career teaching. How many of us could as easily accept our own shortcomings – and then lay them out for all to see?

By the end of the film I was thinking Haggard's a brave guy to allow Pelosi to expose him. Like Mutsumi, I was wishing I could wish him the best.



Post a Comment