Evangelical Dismissed Amid Sex Scandal
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ 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 Saturday.
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 how extensive Haggard’s misconduct was. The Rev. Mike Ware of Victory Church in Westminster, a member of the board, declined to characterize what investigators found.
Haggard did not answer his home or mobile phones Saturday, and neither phone was accepting messages. Jones did not return a phone message seeking comment.
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 of them were already disheartened with the president and the Republican-controlled Congress over their failure to deliver big gains on social issues even before the sex scandal broke involving former GOP Rep. Mark Foley.
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 repentence and counsel and spiritual restoration will have a future ministry at some point,″ Cizik said.
The board’s decision cuts Haggard off from 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.
James Groesbeck, a church elder, said he was glad the investigative board acted quickly.
``I’m saddened by what came out, but I think they’ve done their job,″ Groesbeck said by telephone. Church members are drawing strength from one another and are caught up in the activity, but that likely will change, he said.
``I think it’s going to be really difficult in a week or two,″ Groesbeck said.
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 also said Haggard snorted methamphetamine before their sexual encounters to heighten his experience but has denied selling drugs. He agreed to take a lie-detector test Friday; the administrator of the test said the answers about his sex allegations ``indicated deception.″
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.