It takes only a couple of minutes from the moment we enter the gas station for someone to recognize him. A biker in a leather jacket and a black knit cap spots him as he approaches the register, does a quick double take, and then comes over to ask the same question everyone asks.
"Pastor Ted! How you been?"
"Doing well! Doing well!" Ted says, shaking the stranger's hand. "I can't see who you are under there. What's your name?"
The biker lifts his hat, introduces himself as Robert. He used to listen to Ted preach at New Life years ago, he says, back before everything happened.
"Well, it's good to see you, Robert! Thank you for saying hello."
"I hope everything works out for you."
"Thank you!" Ted says, flashing his toothy, rectangular smile. "You know one of the advantages of my story? It can't get worse!"
Ted turns back to the cashier, twenty-ounce Mountain Dew in his hand.
"Are people being friendly to you today?" he asks her. Her face flushes as it all becomes clear; she nods.
"Great to hear!" Ted says, and bounds into the bright October day.
Ted likes it here in Colorado Springs, the place where he served for twenty-two years as pastor of New Life Church, a congregation with 10,000 members and a Six Flags–sized campus on the north side of town. He doesn't go there anymore, of course. But he's constantly bumping into former parishioners like Robert, and he enjoys telling them about his comeback—that four years after the scandal that destroyed his career, made him a national punch line, and got him temporarily banished from the state, he's moved back home, kept his family together, and started a new church. It feels good to be here, he says, to show the cynics a real-life resurrection.
The question of whether Ted is in a position to help others—whether he should be helping others—isn't an easy one, even for some of his friends and advisers. "What happened four years ago was a violation," Glenn Packiam, a New Life executive pastor, said when we spoke on the phone last fall. Packiam still considers the Haggards friends, but when I asked if he thought Ted should be back in the ministry, he was careful. "Every person has to discern for themselves whether they can trust him again," he said.
In Ted's mind, though, he's never been more capable, more called, than he is now. He has walked through the fire and emerged with family and faith restored. He's "less broken now," he says, more whole, spiritually and psychologically. This may be true. But "less broken" doesn't necessarily equal "redeemed." And what he's working to repair may not be the sort of thing that can be fixed.
Last spring, Ted's eldest son, Marcus, approached me at a conference where I was speaking about a book I wrote on my semester undercover at the Reverend Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Marcus surprised me when he suggested that I should talk to his dad: "He almost wrote your book."
Marcus explained that as a teenager, Ted had written for his school paper and hoped to become a journalist. He was accepted to a few college journalism programs, but his dad, a midlife evangelical convert, offered to buy him a brand-new Pontiac LeMans—blue coupe, tan leather seats—if he went to Oral Roberts University instead.
Ted wasn't thrilled about attending school with the Jesus crowd, but a car is a car, so he came up with a plan: He would go to Christian college and write an insider exposé. All of which means, in essence, that Ted and I have one very strange thing in common, and that he would have scooped me by thirty-five years had the Holy Spirit not called him to the ministry after a late-night prayer session in the parking lot outside his sophomore dorm.
A few months later, I called Ted to ask if he would be open to letting me meet with him. He was wary, but after consulting Gayle, his wife of thirty-two years and the closest thing he has to a publicist, he agreed to let me visit. It wasn't until I arrived in Colorado Springs that Ted called to say that plans had changed, that he was going on an overnight camping trip with Elliott and Jonathan, two of his other sons, and that instead of meeting at his home, would I maybe want to tag along?
Ted is a goofily handsome man with sandy-colored hair that he parts on the side like a 1950s school principal. Even when he's the loudest in the room, as is often the case, he's good at creating a quick intimacy, addressing you by name and readily poking fun at himself.
"Kevin, you just have to promise to write about my dashing style," he jokes as we load up the car, glancing down at his too-big New York Giants hoodie and dad jeans.
I follow the Haggards' white Escalade in my rental for two hours, past Eleven Mile Canyon to a lush hilltop clearing overlooking a wide valley.
Almost as soon as we're out of the car, Ted sets out in search of a cell signal. Even though he goes to the mountains several times a month—and even though his phone has software that allows Gayle to track his movements via GPS—he wants to check in, make sure she knows exactly where we are.
"It's my responsibility to rebuild trust," he explains, "since I'm the one who screwed up." Ted talks about the scandal freely, whether asked about it or not, which first seems like the by-product of four years of intensive therapy but may also be a canny way to control the narrative, to preempt others' suspicions and doubts.
When we get back to the campsite, Elliott has already built a fire and raided the cooler Gayle packed. Jonathan, a slight, scraggly-bearded 23-year-old with a developmental disability, piles logs on the ground as he slowly sounds out "fa-ther son camp-out."
Taking in the night, Ted lets out an almost comically long, satisfied sigh. "Our lives have returned to normal," he declares, sliding a marshmallow onto a skewer. "We're starting to do the things we did before, because we're getting a grip on life again."
Elliott, a high school junior with moppish hair and the quiet confidence of a cool-crowd kid, rolls his eyes in a Dad, come onnnnn way. "I don't think our family has a normal anymore," he says.
"Yeah," Ted says, laughing. "It's a pretty dynamic situation."
The air is colder up here than in Colorado Springs, and we huddle around the fire as Ted delivers a series of autobiographical mini-sermons about his childhood in rural Indiana and his time at Oral Roberts. He loved school, even though he now realizes "it was where I was taught that I could pray through my issues instead of getting real help." He tears up talking about this stuff, though he says everything makes him cry these days.
"I cried when the Chilean miners got rescued. I cry when I watch Undercover Boss. I cry at anything that shows people being people. I'm a wreck."
I'd hoped to ask Ted about the new church, but after the kids go to sleep in the Escalade (too cold for tents, they decide), his mood darkens, and for the next few hours, as the fire burns down to nearly nothing, he bitterly runs through everything we all have wrong about him.
He says that despite popular perception, he was never a right-wing power broker in the vein of Jerry Falwell. His reported weekly chats with George W. Bush were usually just briefings with low-level White House staff. He was never a homophobe, either, he says, and though he supported a 2006 amendment outlawing gay marriage in Colorado, he was also in favor of a ballot measure that would have extended domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples.
When I start to ask about Mike Jones, the escort who exposed him, he cuts me off.
"We never had sex sex," he says, glancing at the car to make sure that Elliott and Jonathan are asleep. "I bought drugs and a massage from him, and he masturbated me at the end of it. That's it."
The rest of the article at GQ