'Ted Haggard: Scandalous' Review

"Ted Haggard: Scandalous" isn't a redemption story in the sense that the former evangelical leader and his family found validation from the Colorado Springs community that once shunned them.

But the reality TV-style special, which aired Sunday on TLC, does tell the story of Haggard's attempt to put the scandalized past behind him and to open a new chapter of his life with a church that would cater to "sinners" rather than the "self-righteous."

"When I die, I want to have something good. I don't want my biggest mark to be that I had a great church and I blew it with drugs and sex. This is my redemption," said Haggard, who used to lead the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was also the former president of the 30 million-strong National Association of Evangelicals.

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The special also builds up a case for Haggard's new church, showing the Christian preacher at times in tears as he presents a vulnerability that would perhaps be more relatable to the people he is trying to reach.

"I'm a broken man. I know why poor people drink. I think I know why rich people drink. I think I know why they take drugs. I know why they get to a place where they'll just have sex with anyone or anything. And that's not the best that God has," he said.

The one-hour documentary follows the events that took place one week prior to the launch of his start-up church. The piece opens with a Monday press conference in which Haggard announced his plans to start St. James and ends with the church's first Sunday service inside of Haggard's barn.

The story is mostly through interviews with Haggard and his wife, Gayle, but the documentary also features insider views from four of his children: Christy, 28; Marcus, 27; Alex, 19; and Elliott, 17, who expressed both support and concern for their parents' endeavor.

Over meal one day, Marcus asked his father why he would want to start a church after his last run didn't "wrap up" so well.

Haggard responded that they experienced 30 years of incredible success in ministry and 23 years at New Life.

"It was my personal life that messed that up," he said.

Christy, meanwhile, said starting a new church would put the family in a place where "people would freely judge us" but still indicated support for her dad.

Cable-viewing audiences also got to tag along with Haggard and his wife as they made media appearances on the Joy Behar Show and a conservative radio talk show on KVOR.

Although the interviews were meant to help Haggard promote his new church, Haggard and Gayle found themselves tackling questions on homosexuality.

Behar challenged Haggard's moral authority to start a church and also asserted that his views on homosexuality as a sin were wrong.

While on KVOR, one caller questioned whether Haggard was "still gay," to which Haggard answered, "I've never been gay."

But the show also gave glimpses of Haggard's counseling style as he and his wife talk about substance abuse with Kathy, a suburban wife turned drug addict, and counsel Brook and Jordan, a young couple struggling with trust issues over the wife's alcoholism and the husband's infidelity.

After a week of struggles, Haggard finally welcomed people for the first church service of St. James, knowing that a mediocre turnout would lead to public humiliation.

One woman who showed up voiced her support for Haggard, saying she has and will always follow Pastor Haggard.

During the service, Haggard gave a sermon on his vision of a church that would be built on love rather than judgment.

"Love doesn't condone negative things in our lives. It heals the negative things in our lives," he told the packed group.

"Ted Haggard: Scandalous" is less of a documentary and more of pilot for a reality TV show. The program would have been more compelling if it had included interviews with former New Life Church members or Haggard's former colleagues on what they thought of his new venture.

It is also very one-sided, prompting the viewers to almost despise the evangelical community for condemning one of their own instead of embracing them. The reality is that while there are many evangelical churches that take a strong position against homosexuality, they will still reach out with open arms to walk alongside those who have different theological viewpoints than their own.

However, it is apparent that Haggard does have passion for new-found purpose in life, pledging to "spend the rest of my life increasing love in those that will allow me to influence them and their families."

The most interesting moments in the special is not about the start of St. James but instead involves how Gayle stands by her husband through the slander and his dark moments. One could see that their marriage remains strong and she actually embodies the Christian values of unconditional love and forgiveness that the couple is trying to identify as part of the new church.

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