Claim against Evangelical Leader Stuns Springs-Area Residents
One Gay-Rights Proponent Sees a Chance for a Lesson to " Lighten up and Not Condemn People for Who They Are."
By Erin Emery
November 2, 2006
Colorado Springs - Frank Whitworth has fought for gay rights in Colorado Springs since the early 1990s, and he hopes Colorado Springs takes a lesson from a male prostitute's allegation that he had a long-standing sexual relationship with New Life Church pastor Ted Haggard.
"I hope that instead of vilifying Ted, that the community will take a lesson that we should lighten up and not condemn people for who they are," said Whitworth, who founded Ground Zero when voters in the state passed Amendment 2, which prohibited municipalities from passing laws that protected gays. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional.
Across Colorado Springs on Thursday, people were stunned by allegations made against Haggard, one of the community's most prominent leaders.
Whitworth said that while he directed Ground Zero about a decade ago, he received a 10- to 12-page letter that accused Haggard of having a sexual affair with a man. Whitworth said it was not his policy to use unsubstantiated claims, and he believes he threw the letter away.
"The interesting thing is Ted Haggard called me and asked me if I had received such a letter, and we had a conversation. I said, 'Ted, I don't go for character assassination."'
It was the second time in a week that a religious leader in Colorado Springs stepped down from the pulpit. The Rev. Benjamin Reynolds resigned as senior pastor of Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, a few weeks after telling his congregation he is gay.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Jerry Heimlicher said he was shocked that Haggard had resigned from the National Association of Evangelicals and taken an administrative leave from the church.
"I hope it's not true," he said of the allegations. "But I at least admire him for stepping aside to let the air clear. I have nothing but respect for him; when you consider what he built, I have nothing but the greatest of admiration for him."
Heimlicher said he hopes that New Life Church will remain strong.
Ryan Acker, executive director of the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Center, said he received 30 telephone calls and e-mails from people who were shocked by the allegations.
"People are just taken aback, and especially that Ted has stepped down has really raised some eyebrows," Acker said.
"Whether or not Ted is gay, as the allegations say, I think today he is facing the same ridicule that gays and lesbians face every day, in part because of the teachings that have come from his church," Acker said.
Staff writer Erin Emery can be reached at 719-522-1360 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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