Haggard Steps down Amid Gay Affair Inquiry
By Eric Gorski, Felisa Cardona and Manny Gonzales
Denver Post [Colorado]
November 2, 2006
New Life Church's Ted Haggard, a backer of Amendment 43 to ban gay marriage in Colorado, says he could "not continue to minister under the cloud" of accusations.
Facing shocking allegations that he paid a gay prostitute for sex, prominent Colorado Springs pastor Ted Haggard placed himself on administrative leave Thursday from his church position and resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a platform that made him a rising star in conservative politics.
Haggard, 50, said in a statement released by his 14,000- member New Life Church that he could "not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations made on Denver talk radio this morning."
In interviews over the past two days with KHOW talk radio, 9News and The Denver Post, Michael Forest Jones, 49, of Denver alleges he had sex on a monthly basis with Haggard over three years. Jones claimed Haggard used the name "Art," admitted he was married and used meth before the two had sex.
In an interview Wednesday with 9News, Haggard denied he'd used drugs or had gay sex, saying he's been faithful to his wife. Haggard, who has five children, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Late Thursday, The Associated Press reported that the acting senior pastor at New Life, Ross Parsley, told KKTV-TV of Colorado Springs that Haggard admitted some of the accusations were true, but Parsley didn't elaborate.
The timing of the disclosure has stirred controversy, coming days before Colorado voters will decide on two measures related to gay rights and marriage. Haggard is a chief supporter of Amendment 43, which would define marriage as only between a man and a woman, and he has taken no position on Referendum I, which would grant domestic- partnership rights to same-sex couples.
Haggard is unquestionably a national figure. Since founding New Life Church in his basement in the 1980s, the son of an Indiana veterinarian has ascended the ranks of evangelical leaders, taking part in White House conference calls, counseling foreign leaders and being named by Time magazine as one of the nation's 25 most influential evangelicals.
Martin Nussbaum, New Life Church's attorney, emphasized that Haggard's leave and an imminent inquiry into the matter by an outside church board should not be construed as an admission of guilt but rather in keeping with church policies.
Under church bylaws, an outside "board of overseers" investigates allegations of immorality, financial misdealings or teaching heresy, Nussbaum said. The board has authority to discipline the senior pastor, remove him or restore him to ministry.
"I am voluntarily stepping aside from leadership so that the overseer process can be allowed to proceed with integrity," Haggard said in his statement. "I hope to be able to discuss this matter in more detail at a later date."
The overseers board is made up of the Rev. Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, La., where Haggard worked as a youth pastor more than two decades ago; the Rev. Mark Cowart of Church For All Nations in Colorado Springs; the Rev. Tim Ralph of New Covenant Fellowship in Larkspur; and the Rev. Michael Ware of Victory Church in Westminster.
"We want to know the real truth," Ware said. "We obviously hope it's not true. We want to be open, independent. There's always two sides to a story."
Ware said the group has not met and has no timetable, and it's unclear what exactly the inquiry will involve.
Haggard was replaced on an interim basis by Parsley, who has worked in senior ministry in the church for 15 years. "People need to be patient and allow this process to unfold as it was designed to," Parsley said in a statement.
In a prepared statement Thursday, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson rapped the news media for reporting a rumor "based on nothing but one man's allegation," referred to Haggard as a friend and suggested the timing of the story was meant to influence the outcome of the Amendment 43 vote.
"(Haggard) has shown a great deal of grace under these unfortunate circumstances, quickly turning this matter over to his church for an independent investigation," Dobson said. "That is a testament to the character I have seen him exhibit over and over again."
Later Thursday, a news conference in downtown Colorado Springs that was to feature civic and religious leaders voicing support for Haggard was canceled for reasons that are unclear.
For 2 1/2 hours Thursday night, church elders met to discuss the situation. One man, who did not identify himself, said the congregation expects Haggard will address them during weekend services.
At Haggard's home just a short drive from the church, a gate blocking the driveway was locked, and television crews set up across the road.
Jones told The Post that Haggard contacted him about three years ago through an ad Jones placed in a gay newspaper or on the website Rentboy.com.
Jones said Haggard introduced himself as being from Kansas City, but Jones said he later knew otherwise because his caller ID showed the calls as coming from Colorado Springs pay phones. But he said he didn't confront him because Haggard was a client.
They met at least once a month at Jones' Denver apartment, and Haggard paid cash, Jones said. "He was very nice and very soft-spoken," Jones said. "We never talked about anything heavy-duty."
Jones alleged Haggard snorted a small amount of methamphetamine that he brought with him at least a dozen times to enhance the sexual pleasure. Haggard told 9News he's never done drugs.
About six months ago, Jones said, he was watching TV when he saw a History Channel program on the Antichrist that included Haggard as an expert. He researched Haggard on the Internet. "Once I pulled him up, I'm going, 'He's big."'
Rob Brendle, an associate New Life pastor, said Haggard fought to make Amendment 43 only define marriage, breaking with other evangelical leaders who favored a broader measure barring domestic partnerships. Haggard has said marriage deserves special status, while civil protections should be a separate issue.
"He has been the person within the evangelical community in Colorado Springs, more than any other leader, been the defender of the rights of homosexuals with his work on the language of the amendment," Brendle said. "If there is a hammer who has been driving this nail, it's not Ted."
As for Jones' allegations, Brendle said, "I have no question in my mind that everything this man says is false. I know Ted to be a man of the utmost integrity and the highest moral character."
Staff writer Manny Gonzales contributed to this report.Fallout: Could the potential scandal be enough to affect key votes in Tuesday's election? 9A
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