Updated: November 3, 2006 at 12:00 am
The Rev. Ted Haggard admitted today he bought methamphetamine from a male prostitute but maintained he never had sex with the man and never used the drug. “I bought it for myself but never used it. I was tempted but I never used it,” he said, smiling constantly from the driver’s seat of his pickup truck as he answered questions from reporters outside his home. His wife sat silently next to him; three of his children were in the backseat. He was on his way to an appointment and couldn’t talk long, he said on the morning after the long day during which he resigned his leadership post at the National Association of Evangelicals and placed himself on administrative leave from the 14,000-member New Life Church. Haggard, dressed in a blue plaid shirt, let his truck idle as he addressed reporters through the passenger’s side window. A panel of outside church leaders wanted to talk to him about the scandal, he said. “Both (religious) positions are based on trust and right now my trust is questionable,” he said. First question from the media: had he ever used meth? “No,” Haggard replied, adding that he did indeed buy it from Jones and it indeed was his voice on the message Jones has produced as proof of his contact with Haggard. “Yeah, I did call him. I did call him,” Haggard said. “I called him to buy some meth, but I threw it away.” Has he ever used it, a reporter asked. “No, I have not. And I did not ever use it with him,” he said. He said he threw it away because “it was wrong. I was tempted, I bought it, but I never used it.” Next question: how did Haggard know Jones would sell it to him? “He told me about it. I went there for a massage so — we’re late for an appointment and so, but thank you for your work,” Haggard said. “How did you find him to get a massage from him?” the reporter asked. “A referral,” Haggard said. “From the hotel I was staying at.” The scandal began Wednesday night when Mike Jones, a Denver male escort, alleged on a talk radio show that he had a three-year relationship with Haggard during which the eminent pastor paid him for sex. Jones, 49, denied selling meth to Haggard. “Never,” he told MSNBC. Haggard “met someone else that I had hooked him up with to buy it.” Jones also scoffed at the idea that a hotel would have sent Haggard to him. “No concierge in Denver would have referred me,” he said. He said he had advertised himself as an escort only in gay publications or on gay Web sites. Jones told The Gazette his acquaintance with Haggard — whom he knew as “Art” — lasted about three years, with Haggard calling him every month or so and paying him for sex. Haggard’s middle name is Arthur. Jones said he learned Haggard’s real name about six months ago while watching a History Channel program on which Haggard was interviewed. Jones began researching Haggard and discovered his church’s positions on same-sex marriage. “I got to tell you, I started getting pissed,” he said. Jones said he never let on to Haggard that he knew who he was. Jones said he was motivated in part because this year’s election includes two significant gay rights issues on Colorado’s ballot. Amendment 43 would define marriage as between a man and a woman, and Referendum I would give same-sex couples certain legal rights. Haggard has been an outspoken supporter of Amendment 43. Jones approached Denver news outlets with the story about two months ago, but first spoke publicly Wednesday in an interview with Peter Boyles, a talk show host on KHOW (630 AM). Wednesday evening, television station KUSA in Denver aired an interview with Jones, in which he named Haggard as his client. Haggard denied the charges on KUSA that evening. “I did not have a homosexual relationship with a man in Denver,” Haggard told KUSA. “I am steady with my wife. I’m faithful to my wife.” Haggard also told the station: "I have never done drugs - ever. Not even in high school. I didn't smoke pot. I didn't do anything like that. I'm not a drug man. We're not a drinking family. I don't smoke cigarettes. I don't socially drink. We don't socially drink. We don't have wine in our house. We don't do that kind of thing." A voice identification expert hired by KUSA to compare the messages provided by Jones with samples of Haggard’s voice said nine of 12 words were “perfect matches.” Jones submitted to a polygraph Friday morning, but the test detected some deception. The polygrapher said he wanted Jones to repeat the test at a later date when he is rested. “We’re so grateful that he failed the polygraph,” Haggard said this morning. Also, the Rev. Ross Parsley sent an e-mail to some church staff saying that the church’s four-member board of overseers had met with Haggard. Parsley will take the helm of the church until Haggard’s status has been resolved. “It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true. He has willingly and humbly submitted to the authority of the board of overseers, and will remain on administrative leave during the course of the investigation,” the e-mail stated. No timetable was set for release of the board's findings, although church officials said board members and Haggard would address the congregation in some manner at Sunday services. The church services are at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. More than 200 church staff members attended a meeting this afternoon to discuss the Haggard situation, said Joe Kirkendall, associated pastor for the church's college ministry. The gist of the discussion, Kirkendall said, was "Let's be a team. Let's be a family. We are charting unchartered waters. This isn't a time to hide, it's a time to serve." Haggard did not attend the meeting, and neither did Parsley, New Life's associate senior pastor, whose wife delivered a baby Thursday morning, Kirkendall said. Kirkendall spoke as he arrived for a Friday evening meeting of the college ministry. The meetings normally attract about 1,000 people, but he expected more at this one. The Haggard situation will be discussed, but then the meeting will move on to other topics, Kirkendall said. "We don't worship Ted Haggard. We worship a God," he said, but added, "I still love my pastor. Our hearts are deeply wounded." The National Association of Evangelicals’ executive committee voted today to accept Haggard’s resignation after they learned he had admitted to some indiscretions. The Bible holds Christian leaders to a higher standard of accountability, the statement read. “Therefore, it is especially serious when a pastor and prominent Christian leader deliberately violates God’s standards of conduct.” Due to the “seriousness of Rev. Haggard’s misconduct,” the statement read, “an extended period of recovery will be appropriate.” “We pray that the overseers’ ministry to him will lead to his eventual moral healing, restoration in Christ, and service in the Church." The Haggard story dealt the evangelical world its most serious shock since the 1980s scandals of televangelists Jim Bakker of the PTL Club and Jimmy Swaggart of the Assemblies of God. Haggard heads Colorado’s largest megachurch and has been an influential leader in the national evangelical movement — a movement some say was instrumental in getting President Bush re-elected in 2004. Time Magazine named him one of the country’s 25 most influential evangelicals, and Harper’s Magazine called New Life “the most powerful megachurch in America.” Today, television crews from the major networks and reporters from such national publications as The Washington Post congregated at the New Life campus, many milling about the parking lot or interviewing church members. But scandal in the pulpit is far from rare. Focus on the Family’s pastoral care center receives 400-600 calls a month from pastors, many of whom are struggling with addiction or sexual issues. “When Ted Haggard is accused of something like this, I’m not surprised of the accusation because I deal with it so much,” said the Rev. H.B. London, head of Focus on the Family’s pastoral center. “I am surprised of the man.” London said that it’s possible for wayward pastors to return to the pulpit, but it takes time — sometimes as much as five years: He said Haggard should be remorseful and confess his sins, though the congregation doesn’t necessarily need to hear all details. “When someone has created chaos in the lives of their family and their church, they really need a lot of time to heal and regroup,” London said. “We work with churches to help in the restoration,” London said. “It’s not rare. But coming back to the same congregation is many times difficult because people have drawn their own conclusions.” Larry Magnuson, executive director of the pastoral retreat SonScape Ministries, believes that churches should be more forgiving of their wayward pastors. “I am a believer in grace,” he said. “If we’re not about giving people another chance, then we really don’t have a message for the world.” Focus on the Family founder James Dobson issued a statement today saying his organization is "heartsick" over the revelations. "We will await the outcome of this story, but the possibility that an illicit relationship has occurred is alarming to us and to millions of others," Dobson said. Focus on the Family is a worldwide Christian media ministry based in Colorado Springs. Dobson said he and Haggard will continue to be friends “even if the worst allegations prove accurate.” One Colorado Springs pastor said the revelations should not lead to Haggard’s dismissal because Haggard said he did not have sex with Jones and never used the drugs he purchased. “I am praying hard for Ted,” said the Rev. Donald Armstrong, rector of Grace Episcopal and St. Stephen's Church. “Somebody like Ted, who’s so prominent, is going to be under constant attack from evil and temptation. So it's hard for any of us to understand the level of temptation or the level of attack he's had to deal with, but if this is the case then he walked up to the edge and was victorious, and I think we ought to celebrate that.” Armstrong said some critics of evangelicals sitting in the “cheap seats” are watching the news and would be delighted to see Haggard discredited. But Haggard could have increased credibility with others for having overcome temptation, he said. “Christians understand sin, and they understand God's forgiveness, but they also understand the call to repentance and amendment of life,” Armstrong said. Some of the gay activitists who Haggard has labeled “immoral” today expressed sympathy for the embattled minister. But they also hope he now understands what they go through every day in Colorado Springs, they said. “Whether or not Ted Haggard is gay or straight, yesterday he began experiencing some of the ridicule experienced by gays and lesbians on a daily basis, in part because of the work of his church,” said Ryan Acker, executive director of the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Center. “It’s sad. It’s sad for him, for his family, for his church,” said the Rev. Dan Koeshall, pastor of Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church in Colorado Springs. Koeshall is gay, as are most of the members. “Even though he has had, in the past, a record of separating himself from the gay lesbian bisexual and transgender community, I feel like we’re still part of the same family,” Koeshall said. Staff writers Paul Asay, Perry Swanson, Scott Rappold, Pam Zubeck and Andrea Brown contributed to this report.