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When Ms. Pelosi
talked to Mr. Haggard

When Ms. Pelosi
talked to Mr. Haggard


Nancy's daughter, Alexandra, is a documentarian who recently set her lens on evangelicals for her new HBO special, Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi. In an exclusive Q&A the new mom tells The Advocate what she unearthed--and what Ted Haggard is really like.

In 2002 TV news producer Alexandra Pelosi's private video diary on George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign trail became HBO's documentary Journeys With George, which would win an Emmy. In 2004 she followed up with Diary of a Political Tourist, which profiled the Democratic presidential candidates' campaign trails. On January 25 HBO will premiere her most recent documentary, Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi. This time around Pelosi, a blue-state Democrat (and the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi), spent more than a year traveling across the country interviewing evangelicals from TV minister Joel Osteen to creationist educators to former National Association of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard. Just days after Pelosi completed Friends of God, Haggard stepped down from his position over allegations of crystal meth use and sexual trysts with a male prostitute. The Advocate talked to Pelosi earlier in January about making Friends With God, her relationship with Haggard, and what she learned about evangelicals.

There have been a lot of documentaries about Christian fundamentalists, including the recent feature Jesus Camp. What's different about your film that other films haven't already discussed? Mine is much more mainstream. Jesus Camp was about a very small portion, a very small sect. The Pentecostal movement is small. I went to 16 states and spent two years talking to people. I didn't stay with one family for a year. Don't make it sound like I'm disparaging other people's work, because it is so hard to make anything. I don't want it to look like I'm being critical of what they did. It's really important to support one another. I tried to make a big cross section of the 50 or 80 million evangelicals there are in this nation. We don't know how many there are; there's been debate among the pollsters. But if that's true, it would include the liberal evangelicals, the Mel Whites, and the Dan Wallaces. I didn't really focus on the liberal evangelicals, which could be about 20%. The problem with the evangelicals is they have a bit of an identity crisis. They like to escalate their numbers, to talk about how many of them there are, but then they like people to say, "Oh, the Christian [Wrestling Federation], they don't count, they're fringy." Or "Oh, the evangelicals who care about poverty and the environment, they don't count." The highest number we've gotten is 80 million, and that's the number out of Jerry Falwell's mouth.

Now back to the answer to your question: I try not to be like Chicken Little, "the sky is falling." A lot of New York liberal Democrats who go to the megachurches come back talking about how scary they are, and I never say that. I have nothing but admiration for these people and respect for them. I don't think they are dangerous or trying to take over the country like a lot of people think they are. Maybe they're trying, but I don't think they could. I'm not afraid of them, as most New York liberals would be.

But you're also not some gay kid living in Texas. If you were a lesbian living in a small town, do you think you'd feel the same way? No, I think they cause pain to the gay community, and you can't ignore that. That's why I included [out evangelical] Mel White in the movie. I was trying not to make it a polemic. Everyone I know knows what we think, and I was trying not to include what we think. We know what we think of them, and it's not a secret. They don't talk about the war, and they don't talk about the environment. And they don't talk about gay rights--well, obviously they talk about gays. So I tried to let them talk about and understand where they are coming from, and of course they are coming from the Bible. Everything comes from a Bible.

You were raised in a Catholic home in a fairly religious family. Did that make it easier for you in making this film and getting to know your subject? Or if you're not a fundamentalist, it doesn't matter what you are? It doesn't matter what you are. If you're not a fundamentalist, you're going to burn, so it doesn't matter. The thing about growing up in a religious household is, I went to Catholic school, and everyone in my family went to Catholic school, and we were raised on the Bible, and there was a lot of church in our lives, but we were never told gay was wrong, or abortion was wrong, or evolution was wrong, so you can still be raised on the Bible and walk into the Bible Belt and talk to evangelical Christians, and they are speaking another language. They interpret the Bible in a different language. The way they interpret the Bible is different from the way I interpret the Bible.

You're a straight gal from San Francisco. Did your gaydar go off when you were around Ted Haggard at all? I love that question, because everyone says "How could you not know?" He was foreign to me. They all were to me. I don't know Christian evangelicals, so this is what they were. Maybe someone would have said, "God, they seem really gay." To me it was all new, so I didn't know what to call it. He had five children and a wife! Maybe that doesn't shock you, but he really had pretty good credentials. A wife and five kids--that usually means they are heterosexual.

Watching some of the scenes of Ted Haggard, where he talks to young men in his congregation, it is almost painful. There's a community of a lot of young men. He was a father figure, so he related to a lot of young boys from broken homes. That is just what was explained to me, as the culture of his megachurch.

But in your documentary Haggard talks to some of them about how great their heterosexual sex lives are. It was unsettling to watch. Did I believe that all of the men in their church had sex with their wives every day? Maybe not. That's why I included [that scene], because this is who they say they are. Not one friend of mine would tell me they have sex every day. That was unusual. But guess what? Being in a megachurch was unusual.

What's been the reaction from the evangelical Christians about your film? If this movie had aired before Ted Haggard's fall, they would have loved this movie, and shown it in their churches, and been proud to make it to secular television in prime time. But since the fall of Ted Haggard, they are very embarrassed by him. The only complaints [about] Pastor Ted [were] "He fell from grace--can't you edit him out before this airs on television?" Now members of the religious organizations are saying Pastor Ted was weird, and I say he did speak for 30 million evangelicals. I spent a lot of time with him. He explained everything to they can crash the Capitol switchboard. He explained their power. He was my leading man. I went to Texas with him, I went to Arizona with him on his Promise Keepers tour. He came to New York and we hung out together. I saw a lot of Pastor Ted.

What was he like as a person? He was a really nice guy. You asked, "Did you know something about him?" Here is what I would say: Living in New York, my caricature of the religious right is they are these Holy Roller Jesus freaks. Meeting Pastor Ted, he changed my impression. That's why I stuck with him. He was reasonable. We talked about gay marriage. He said, "I think the gays should be lobbying for civil unions, because that's more doable." He wasn't a hater. And I know everyone likes to talk about how he was a hypocrite, but I think Stephen Colbert said it best [originally about Mark Foley]: Ted Haggard is not a hypocrite--he didn't try and gay-marry anyone. He knows homosexuality; he preached from the pulpit that homosexuality is a sin. That's what he believes because that's in the Bible. Now, he did it...that doesn't mean he didn't know it was a sin. He was really reasonable. He was younger, and he seemed to be this new generation of evangelical. His church is full of these cool kids.

Is he a real loss to the evangelicals? Was he unique in that community? He had an open-door policy. He let all media into his church. People say, "Why did you spend so much time with him?" A lot of times, if someone makes a piece of television, you make the movie you can make with the access you get. Pastor Ted took me everywhere. [Megachurch pastor and best-selling author] Rick Warren didn't take me on tour with him. If evangelicals have any complaints about the movie, I have to say to them, "You should have given me better access." He wanted to show off his brand of evangelical. If this had aired before [his] fall, I would have been at a huge opening premiere night at [Haggard's former congregation] New Life Church.

Is it harder to make a movie now that your mother is so politically prominent? I don't know yet, since I haven't made anything new.

Are people boiling this film down to "This is something her mother believes" or "This has implications in Congress"? No. My mother doesn't take legislative tips from me. When she's trying to figure out how to run the House, she doesn't call me. Or vice versa. I've been making television for 12 years. And she's been running the House for...12 days? I've been doing this a long time. I made movies about politics that were completely apolitical. My first movie was well-received by the Republicans. It was probably better received by Republicans than Democrats. I tried not to put my views in this. I don't put my opinions in there.

Were you really on the road alone a lot? Yeah. The kind of things I make, I make with a handheld camera that you could buy at any Circuit City. I had a small handheld camera. I don't have lights, or a microphone, or camera crews. I rent a car, pack a bag, and drive through the Bible Belt with a camera. Last night we had the Washington, D.C., premiere of the movie. When I was watching it on the big screen, I thought, I was a woman, alone, in the South, sleeping in truck stops. I'm driving down the freeway while filming. Every time you see a billboard, I had to pull over and get the shot. It hurts my stomach now, thinking about it.

Any plans for what you will do next? I have an 8-week-old baby now. So all I have to look forward to is dirty diapers.

Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi airs on HBO, Thursday, January 25, at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central.

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