Christian Bigwig Quits over Gay Sex Scandal
November 2, 2006
The president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals resigned his post and took leave from his church Thursday, one day after a gay male escort claimed having a three-year sexual relationship with him, the Associated Press reported.
Ted Haggard, one of America's leading Christian-right figures, is the founder and senior pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
Haggard denied the accusations Wednesday in an interview with Colorado TV station KUSA. But in a statement the next day, he said he "could not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations" of Mike Jones.
Jones, 49, told Denver's KHOW-AM radio Wednesday that he and Haggard had been in a "sexual business" relationship for the past three years, and that Haggard had used methamphetamine in his presence during their monthly trysts.
"People may look at me and think what I've done is immoral, but I think I had to do the moral thing in my mind, and that is expose someone who is preaching one thing and doing the opposite behind everybody's back," Jones told KUSA.
Haggard, also 49, is married with five children and stringently anti-gay. He supports Amendment 43, a harsh marriage ban that is one of two gay-related measures on next week's Colorado ballot.
"I don't know if this is election-year politics or if this has to do with the marriage amendment or what it is," Haggard told the TV station.
The other measure, doing well in Colorado polls, would grant unmarried couples some domestic-partner protections. KUSA denied any "October surprises," claiming it began talking with Jones more than two months ago.
Jones said that he had advertised himself as an escort on the Internet and that a man who called himself Art contacted him. Jones said he later saw the man on TV identified as Haggard.
He that he last had sex with Haggard in August and that he did not warn him before making his allegations this week.
Jones said he has voice-mail messages from Haggard, as well as an envelope he said Haggard used to mail him cash, though he declined to make any of it available to the AP.
"There's some stuff on there (the voice mails) that's pretty damning," he said.
The church, meanwhile, has announced an investigation, to be followed by a decision by its board of overseers.
Church legal counsel Martin Nussbaum told the TV station that, according to the church's bylaws, when an allegation of immorality is made, a pastor is supposed to go on leave while the rest of the board makes a decision on his future. He said Haggard's actions are not an admission of guilt.
Haggard, a 1978 graduate of Oral Roberts University, was appointed president of the association in March 2003. He has participated in Christian-right leaders' conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied members of Congress last year on U.S. Supreme Court appointees after Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement, AP reported.
"I made myself cry and I made myself sick," Jones told the Denver Post of his decision to come forward. "I felt I owed this to the community. What he is saying is we are not worthy, but he is."
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