In a tearful videotaped message Sunday to his congregation, the senior pastor of a thriving evangelical megachurch in south metro Denver confessed to sexual relations with other men and announced he had voluntarily resigned his pulpit.
A month ago, the Rev. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in Doug las County preached to his 2,100-member congregation about integrity and grace in the aftermath of the Ted Haggard drugs-and-gay-sex scandal.
Now, the 54-year-old Barnes joins Haggard as a fallen evangelical minister who preached that homosexuality was a sin but grappled with a hidden life.
“I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy,” Barnes said in the 32- minute video, which church leaders permitted The Denver Post to view. “… I can’t tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away.”
His wife, Char, cradled his hand. Barnes declined an interview request through the church.
Unlike Haggard, who had the ear of the White House, Barnes is not a household name. He is a self-described introvert who avoids politics, preferring to talk about a Gen-X service at the nondenominational church he started 28 years ago in his basement, church officials said.
Barnes and Grace Chapel stayed out of the debate over Amendment 43, a measure approved by Colorado voters last month defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
“I can’t think of a single sermon where he ever had a political agenda,” said Dave Palmer, an associate pastor.
Palmer said the church got an anonymous call last week from a person concerned for the welfare of Barnes and the church. The caller had overheard a conversation in which someone mentioned “blowing the whistle” on evangelical preachers engaged in homosexuality, including Barnes, Palmer said.
Palmer met with Barnes, who confessed. At an emergency meeting Thursday, a board of elders accepted Barnes’ resignation after he admitted “sexual infidelity,” violating the church’s code of conduct. Church leaders also must affirm annually that they are “living the moral and ethical teachings of Scripture in my public and private life.”
Asked for details of Barnes’ transgressions, Palmer called them “infrequent events in his life” that to his knowledge did not take place in recent months.
Sitting cross-legged in jeans and an open-collar shirt, Barnes spoke in his video about evolving feelings growing up in a firm moral family: from confused little boy to adolescent racked with self-loathing and guilt.
In their only talk about sex, Barnes said his father took him on a drive and talked about what he would do if a “fag” approached him.
Barnes thought, “‘Is that how you’d feel about me?’ It was like a knife in my heart, and it made me feel even more closed.”
When Barnes experienced a Christian conversion at 17, it gave him a glimmer of hope. But his homosexual feelings never went away, he said. He said he cannot accept that a person is “born that way,” so he looks to childhood influences.
Barnes said he asked God many times why he was called to ministry, to start Grace Chapel, carrying a “horrible burden.”
The soft-spoken Barnes is an unlikely big-church pastor.
After graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary, Barnes and his wife moved to Denver and began a Bible study. His church met in a school and a mortuary, bought property at Colorado Boulevard and Arapahoe Road, and now occupies a campus off County Line Road that used to be a car dealership.
Barnes described struggling with what he believes is the biblical teaching that homosexuality is an abomination. Over the years, he grew to accept that “this is my thorn in the flesh.”
Barnes expressed hope for a future where one can “be who you are” and be accepted and loved in the Christian community and also spoke about “separating some of the teachings from Scripture” from Jesus Christ.
Palmer said he wasn’t sure what Barnes meant, but Barnes told him that he believes God views homosexuality as a sin.
Barnes said he has been in counseling three times and never found anyone he could talk to.
His wife said on the video that she didn’t know about her husband’s struggles until he confided in her last week. The couple has two daughters in their 20s.
Char Barnes said she feels “like I’m living someone else’s life” but was grateful her husband revealed himself. The couple said they hope to stay in Denver. Near the tape’s end, Paul Barnes says, “This is what it is, it’s right, and it’s time.”
Church elder Russ Pilcher said the reaction at services Sunday was largely concern for the couple. “I thought, ‘Where did I fall short in making myself so unapproachable that he couldn’t come to me?”‘ Pilcher said.
Paul and Char Barnes will get counseling, but unlike Haggard, they will not go into seclusion or report to a board of reconcilers, Palmer said. He said it will be more personal and that church members will play a role.
Associate pastor John Zivojinovic is the interim senior pastor, and choosing a successor is still months away, Pilcher said.
Given the Haggard story, Pal mer was asked whether Barnes’ fall from grace would expose the evangelical community to further charges of hypocrisy.
“The criticism is valid if you look at perfection being the mark, because the next person who stands at our pulpit is going to be guilty of not being perfect as well,” he said. “Does that mean we have to change what we say about the word of God? We can’t do that.”
Sermon: “Most of us … wear masks”
To hear what the Rev. Paul Barnes said during the fall of fellow pastor Ted Haggard, about the “masks” most of us wear, click here.
On Nov. 5, the Rev. Paul Barnes scrapped his prepared sermon. The Rev. Ted Haggard scandal was still unfolding, and he couldn’t let it go unnoticed.
So Barnes wrote a new sermon: “Integrity, Sin and Grace.”
Barnes defined integrity as “being the same on the outside as you are on the inside.”
All people come to God broken, he said. Maybe it’s alcoholism, he said. Or a bad temper. Or pornography. Some people overcome their problems; others continue to live with them, he said.
“Most of us, if the truth were known, we wear masks,” Barnes said. “… Sometimes, we wear masks because we want to be appear more perfect than we are. But the reality of it is, all of us are so very imperfect.”
The second evangelical church leader has stepped down in as many months. What’s going on? Tell us your thoughts, in the discussion feature below, or by clicking here.
Some people view homosexuality second only to pedophilia on a list of “disgusting things a person can do,” he said.
But why, he asked, do so many Christians gloss over the sins of adultery or idolatry?
“What causes more damage to a society? The 2 to 3 percent of the people in a society that are gay or the 50 percent of people in society who have been married and divorced and remarried?”
He urged grace and mercy for sinners – all kinds.