Evangelical ousted amid gay sex scandal
The Rev. Ted Haggard was dismissed Saturday as leader of the megachurch he founded after a board determined the influential evangelist had committed "sexually immoral conduct," the church said.
Haggard had resigned two days earlier as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, where he held sway in Washington and condemned homosexuality, after a Denver man named Mike Jones claimed to have had drug-fueled trysts with him. He also had placed himself on administrative leave from the New Life Church, but its Overseer Board took the stronger action Saturday.
"Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct," the independent board said in a statement.
Haggard was "informed of this decision," the statement said, and he "agreed as well that he should be dismissed."
Haggard, 50, on Friday acknowledged paying Jones for a massage and for methamphetamine, but said he did not have sex with him and did not take the drug.
The statement from the 14,000-member church said the investigation would continue to determine the extent of the misconduct. The Rev. Mike Ware of Victory Church in Westminster, a member of the board, declined to characterize what investigators found but said the board did not talk to Jones.
Haggard did not answer his home or mobile phones Saturday, and neither was accepting messages. The Rev. Rob Brendle, an associate pastor at New Life, said Haggard was out of town.
"We are fully confident in the board's judgment and decision," Brendle said. "Everyone supports Ted and his family. We stand by him."
Jones said the news of Haggard's dismissal made him sad.
"I feel really bad for his wife and family and his congregation. I know it's a sad day for them, too," Jones said. "I feel bad when someone has so many attachments to others. It affects everyone. I'm certainly not cheering or jumping up and down over what's happened.
"I just hope the family has peace and can come to terms with things. I hope they can continue with a happy life."
The Rev. Ross Parsley will lead the church until a permanent replacement for Haggard is chosen by the end of the year, the statement said. A letter explaining Haggard's removal and an apology from him will be read at Sunday services.
Haggard's situation is a disappointment to Christian conservatives, whom President Bush and other Republicans are courting heavily in the run-up to Tuesday's election.
Many were already disheartened with the president and the Republican-controlled Congress over their failure to deliver big gains on social issues even before the congressional page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record).
Haggard, who had been president of the evangelical association since 2003, has participated in conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied Congress last year on Supreme Court nominees.
Haggard visited the White House once or twice, Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said Friday.
Richard Cizik, the evangelical association's vice president for governmental affairs, called Haggard's ouster "heartbreaking and unfortunate."
"He is a man who has done a lot of good and who hopefully after a period of repentance and counsel and spiritual restoration will have a future ministry at some point," Cizik said.
The association has named President Leith Anderson, senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., as its interim president.
The board's decision cuts Haggard off from leadership of the massive church he founded in the mid-1980s. He held New Life's first services in the unfinished basement of his Colorado Springs home.
Jones, who said he is gay, said he was upset when he discovered who Haggard was and found out that the New Life Church had publicly opposed same-sex marriage — a key issue in Colorado, with a pair of issues on Tuesday's ballot.
"It made me angry that here's someone preaching about gay marriage and going behind the scenes having gay sex," Jones said.
Jones has denied selling drugs but said Haggard snorted methamphetamine before their sexual encounters to heighten his experience. Jones agreed to take a lie-detector test Friday; the administrator of the test said the answers about his sex allegations "indicated deception."
But Jones said Saturday: "Obviously they determined there was sexual indiscretions, so I think that vindicates my claim."
Haggard told reporters he bought meth but never used it; he said he received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a Denver hotel. Jones said that no hotel referred Haggard and that he advertises only in gay publications.
In a TV interview this week, Haggard said: "Never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife, I'm faithful to my wife."
Church member Christine Rayes, 47, said the congregation had hoped the allegations "were all lies."
"We all have to move forward now," she said. "This doesn't make what Ted accomplished here any less. The farther up you are, the more you are a target for Satan."
Associated Press writer Judith Kohler contributed to this report.Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press.
The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right
The Suppressed Teachings of Gnosticism