Shock. Disbelief. Denial.
By Paul Asay and Deedee Correll
November 2, 2006
The Rev. Ted Haggard resigned Thursday as president of the National Association of Evangelicals after a male escort said Haggard paid him for sex over a three-year period.
Haggard, senior pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, also put himself on administrative leave from New Life while a panel of outside church leaders investigates the accusations.
Haggard denied the allegations made by Denver resident Mike Jones, and so far no conclusive evidence has verififed the claims. But KKTV reported late Thursday that acting senior pastor Ross Parsley said Haggard has admitted to some of the indiscretions. He did not say what Haggard admitted to, the station said.
"There has been some admission of indiscretion, not admission to all of the material that has been discussed. But there is an admission of some guilt," Parsley told the Colorado Springs station.
Haggard said in a statement he's stepping aside to let the investigation run its course.
He could "not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations made on Denver talk radio this morning," he said in a written statement released Thursday.
He said he might talk about the issue later and will seek "both spiritual advice and guidance" until then.
Parsley will take the helm of the church until Haggard's status has been resolved.
The Haggard story dealt the evangelical world its most serious shock since the 1980s scandals of televangelists Jim Bakker of the PTL Club and Jimmy Swaggart of the Assemblies of God.
Haggard heads Colorado's largest megachurch and has been an influential leader in the national evangelical movement — a movement some say was instrumental in getting President Bush re-elected in 2004.
Time Magazine named him one of the country's 25 most influential evangelicals, and Harper's Magazine called New Life "the most powerful megachurch in America."
At Haggard's gated Briargate home, the lights were on Thursday evening, but the occupants draped blankets across the windows when it grew dark. No one answered repeated calls to the callbox at the gate. Haggard did not return telephone messages from The Gazette.
One woman driving by stopped and said to the media gathered outside, "I hope you all aren't giving our pastor a hard time. He's a good man."
At the church — within view of the Haggard home — church members expressed optimism that the allegations were false, but said that even if they were true, the church would go on.
"We'd be shocked if it were true. But our faith is based on God, not one minister," said Megan Oaster, 26.
Others were angry. "This upsets me because they besmirched his name for an election," said new member Seth Otterstad. "I'm going to pray about it."
The allegations surfaced days before the Tuesday election, when two significant gay rights issues come up for a vote in Colorado. Amendment 43 would define marriage as between a man and a woman, and Referendum I would give same-sex couples certain legal rights. Haggard has been an outspoken supporter of Amendment 43.
Jones, the male escort from Denver, said his acquaintance with Haggard — whom he knew as "Art" — lasted about three years, with Haggard calling him every month or so and paying him for sex. Haggard's middle name is Arthur.
Jones said the encounters typically lasted less than an hour.
"It was just encounters," Jones told The Gazette. "There was no emotion involved."
Jones also said he saw Haggard use methamphetamine.
Jones said he learned Haggard's real name about six months ago while watching a History Channel program on which Haggard was interviewed. Jones began researching Haggard and discovered his church's positions on samesex marriage.
"I got to tell you, I started getting pissed," he said.
Jones approached Denver news outlets with the story about two months ago, but first spoke publicly Wednesday in an interview with Peter Boyles, a talk show host on KHOW (630 AM).
Wednesday evening, television station KUSA in Denver aired an interview with Jones, in which he named Haggard as his client. Haggard denied the charges on KUSA that evening.
"I did not have a homosexual relationship with a man in Denver," Haggard told KUSA. "I am steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife."
Jones says he has two voice mail messages and a letter from Haggard, which he released to KUSA.
The television station hired Richard Sanders, a voice identification expert from the University of Colorado at Denver, to compare the voice mail messages with samples of Haggard's voice.
KUSA reported that nine of 12 words were "perfect matches" and that Sanders planned to issue a report today.
Jones acknowledged the political sensitivity of his allegations. "He is being the hammer, and the gay movement is his nail," he told Boyles.
Several religious leaders defended Haggard before his NAE resignation Thursday afternoon.
"It's fishy," said the Rev. Steve Holt, senior pastor for 3,500-member Mountain Springs Church. "I think people should take note that this is five days before the election, and that Ted is a proponent of yes on Amendment 43 and no on Referendum I."
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said the media were to blame.
"It is unconscionable that the legitimate news media would report a rumor like this based on nothing but one man's accusation," Dobson said.
"Ted Haggard is a friend of mine, and it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday's election — especially the vote on Colorado's marriage protection amendment — which Ted strongly supports."
The Rev. Donald Armstrong, rector of Grace Episcopal and St. Stephen's Church, said he's known Haggard for more than two decades and knows he's not gay.
"I've known pastor Haggard for a long time," he said. "That's the last thing he'd succumb to."
Greg Montoya, editor of a newspaper that focuses on Denver's gay, lesbian and transgender community, Out Front Colorado, said rumors about Haggard had circulated for years through Denver's gay community. Michael Rogers, head of the gay activist Web site Proud of Who We Are (www.proudofwhoweare.org), said he thinks Jones is telling the truth.
"I'm just looking at history," Rogers said. "But I don't know a lot of people who step down from those positions if there's not something behind that smoking gun."
Local gay spiritual leaders say they've never heard rumors that Haggard was gay.
"I feel a lot of sympathy for Ted," said Nori Rost, head of Just Spirit, a gay rights advocacy group in Colorado Springs. "Having been a pastor, you live in a fishbowl anyway. It must be very painful for Ted and his family."
Bryant Adams, state Republican Party communications director, said the matter was between Haggard and his accuser.
"Some gay prostitute goes on the radio and says he's had some type of relationship with Ted Haggard," Adams said. "I think you call into question where the source is coming from.
"I'm not commenting on this," he added. "We don't have anything to do with Ted Haggard. We don't talk with his group. There's no need for us to."
At New Life and NAE, officials were reluctant to talk. NAE Chairman Roy Taylor said in a written statement he was now the organization's acting leader and that the organization will release an official statement on Haggard today.
At New Life, a board of overseers — four pastors not connected with the church — will investigate Haggard and determine his fate: The pastor could be reinstated, disciplined or fired.
"People need to be patient and allow this process to unfold as it was designed to do," said Parsley, the acting senior pastor.
The overseers met Thursday to determine how to proceed, said Haggard's attorney, Martin Nussbaum. He said there is no timeline for the investigation.
"We are on a journey here, not an errand," he said.
Gazette reporters Pam Zubeck, Tom Roeder, Anthony Lane, Andy Wineke, Dave Philipps and Perry Swanson contributed to this story.
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