COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The Rev. Ted Haggard, senior pastor at New Life Church, resigned Thursday as president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals, following allegations he paid a Denver man for sex over the last three years.
He denied the allegations and placed himself on administrative leave from New Life Church, pending an investigation of his accuser’s claims, a move church officials said is standard after allegations of impropriety.
He said in a statement Thursday afternoon that he could “not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations made on Denver talk radio this morning.”
At Haggard’s gated home, the lights were on this evening, but the occupants draped blankets across the windows when it grew dark. No one answered repeated calls to the callbox at the gate.
One woman driving by stopped and said to the media gathered outside, “I hope you all aren’t giving our pastor a hard time. He’s a good man.”
At the church – within view of the Haggard home – church members expressed optimism that the allegations were false, but said that even if they were not, the church would go on.
“We’d be shocked if it were true. But our faith is based on God not one minister,” said Megan Oaster, 26.
Others were angry. “This upsets me because they besmirched his name for an election,” said new member Seth Otterstad. “I’m going to pray about it.”
Several religious leaders quickly rallied behind Haggard.
“Ted Haggard is a friend of mine, and it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday’s election,” Focus on the Family founder and chairman James Dobson said in a news release issued before Haggard resigned his national post Thursday.
Dobson called the media “unconscionable” for reporting “a rumor like this based on nothing but one man’s accusation.”
Haggard has not returned phone calls Thursday from The Gazette, but he did tell Denver television station KUSA Wednesday that “I did not have a homosexual relationship with a man in Denver. I am steady with my wife. I’m faithful to my wife.”
A man who identified himself as Mike Jones, 49, of Denver told the Associated Press Thursday that he has voicemails from Haggard as well as an envelope he said Haggard used to mail him cash. Jones declined to make any of that available to the AP.
“There’s some stuff on there (the voice mails) that’s pretty damning,” he said.
No evidence to substantiate Jones’ claims has been produced.
Jones told KHOW radio station and KUSA that he and Haggard had a three-year relationship. He told the Associated Press that Haggard paid him to have sex nearly every month.
Jones said 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 television identified as Haggard.
He said he last had sex with Haggard in August. He said he did not warn him before making his allegations public this week.
The Rev. Ross Parsley, associate senior pastor, will serve as acting senior pastor for 14,000-member New Life Church while the investigation into the allegations proceeds.
The process involves an investigation by pastors outside the New Life system. The overseers could recommend Haggard be dismissed, reinstated but disciplined or reinstated without discipline. The experts that may look at this incident are Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Center in New Orleans, Mark Cowart, of the local Church for All Nations, and Mike Ware, pastor at Victory Church in Denver.
“This is really routine when any sort of situation like this arises, so we’re prepared,” said Carolyn Haggard, a church spokeswoman and Haggard’s niece. “The church is going to continue to serve and be welcoming to our community. That’s a priority.”
Steve Holt, senior pastor at the 3,500-member Mountain Springs Church, said of the allegations, “It’s fishy. I think people should take note that this is five days before election, and that Ted is proponent of yes on Amendment 43 and No on Referendum I.”
He feels that the so-called religious and cultural wars “are out of control” on both sides. And this is a good example of it.”
He says he has been good friend of Haggard for 11 years, and they sometimes pray together. “He’s a man of integrity and good works, and there is no reason to believe the accusations. I don’t want to see him impugned with spurious accusations with no relevant information to back it up.”
The Rev. Rob Brendle, associate pastor for New Life Church, also says the allegations are unfounded.
“I know Ted to be a man of unwavering integrity,” Brendle said. “There’s nothing in this man’s charges that is true.”
Don Armstrong, rector for Grace Episcopal and St. Stephen’s Church in Colorado Springs, says he doubts Jones’ accusations are true.
“I’ve known Pastor Haggard for a long time, and he’s a decent man,” he said. “That’s the last thing he’d succumb to.”
Gay spiritual leaders in Colorado Springs said the allegations probably won’t impact statewide elections. There are two major issues on the ballot related to sexuality: Amendment 43, which would define marriage as between a man and woman, and Referendum I, which would give same-sex couples more legal rights.
“The time is interesting,” said Nori Rost, who runs an organization called Just Spirit, a gay and lesbian activist agency and religious-right watchdog. “I would say that probably the male escort and Ted Haggard are the only ones who know the truth of what happened.”
The National Association of Evangelicals said the chairman of the NAE’s board, Roy Taylor, will serve as the acting leader. The executive committee will issue a statement after a meeting Friday.
Richard Cizik, vice president for government affairs for the association, expressed shock. “Is this something I can imagine of Ted Haggard? No,” he told the AP.
State Republican Party Communications Director Bryant Adams declined to comment but said, “That’s Ted Haggard’s business. That’s between Ted Haggard and his accuser. I’m not going to slam somebody.”
Asked if he would go to bat for Haggard, he said, “I don’t know enough about the situation. Some gay prostitute goes on the radio and says he’s had some type of relationship with Ted Haggard. I think you call into question where the source is coming from. I’m just not commenting on this. We don’t have anything to do with Ted Haggard. We don’t talk with his group. There’s no need for us to.”
Mikey Weinstein, who sued the Air Force over forced proselytizing at the Air Force Academy and had his case thrown out last week, said Haggard told him in late September in an e-mail he planned to resign from the NAE to spend more time with his family and church but did not elaborate.
On Peter Boyles’ show Thursday, Boyles announced Jones would take a polygraph test Friday morning.
Jones told Boyles his evidence consisted of “various voice mails that he has left me. Even if the voicemails didn’t even mention sex, let’s just say that, why would he be contacting me period?”
Jones said Haggard’s fantasy was for Jones to arrange for a group of “young college guys . . . around 18-22. He would love to have an orgy,” he said.
Jones said the two got together at least once a month. At first, he said, Haggard claimed he was from Kansas City. “As time went on, the calls started coming from Colorado Springs,” he said.
Jones said he didn’t realize who Haggard was until about two years ago when he saw a History Channel program for which Haggard was interviewed.
Jones said he decided to expose what he called Haggard’s hypocrisy.
“After sitting back and contemplating this issue, the biggest reason is, being a gay man all my life, I have experienced with my friends some sadness. I had two friends that were together 50 years, when one of them would get in a hospital for an accident or something, their partner could not get in to see them. I saw a lot of sadness. I felt it was my responsibility to my fellow brothers and sisters that I had to take a stand.”
He said he was tired of Haggard’s anti-gay messages and acknowledged he hopes the news affects Amendment 43.
“I don’t know if it’s going to change any votes or not. What I want people to think about when they step in the voting booth, is, `If I were a gay person, what would I want out of life? And you would want the same things everybody else wants.'”
Greg Montoya, editor of a newspaper that focuses on Denver’s gay, lesbian and transgender community, Out Front Colorado, said Jones is a well known figure who was voted by the paper’s readers three times as the best massage artist and personal trainer in the area.
“He definitely knows what he’s doing, he’s very aware of his appearance,” Montoya said of Jones. “And from what I know he’s a very good personal trainer as well.”
The stocky Jones is known for getting results with his weightlifting students, Montoya said.
Montoya said rumors about Haggard’s love life have circulated through Denver’s gay community for the past year. A Web site that includes Jones’ contact information advertises “Massage by Mike.”
He describes himself as standing five feet eight inches and weighing 190 pounds. His arms, he claims, are 18 inches; his chest 47 inches; his waist 32 inches; and his thighs 24.
“I offer a deep tissue and Swedish style massage with the pleasure of the man in mind,” he writes. “If you like a strong muscle man to bring pleasure to you, then please call me.”
He listed his rates as $70 per hour and $90 for an hour and a half.
Gazette staff members Pam Zubeck, Tom Roeder, Dave Philipps, Carol McGraw and Annie Mullin contributed to this report.