HAGGARD DISMISSED

By PAUL ASAY, BILL VOGRIN and DEEDEE CORRELL Updated: November 5, 2006 at 12:00 am • Published: November 5, 2006
They were working late Saturday night at New Life Church. They squeezed extra chairs into every corner of the megachurch’s massive auditorium. They placed extra boxes of tissue in every aisle. New Life Church was setting the stage for a confession and apology from the man that started the megachurch in his basement 21 years ago, and from which he was fired Saturday. Today, members of the Rev. Ted Haggard’s church will hear the contents of a letter in which he explains his “sexually immoral conduct” and apologizes for what he first denied doing. The services at 9 and 11 a.m. will cap four days of allegations and denials that have rocked the 14,000-member church and the community where Haggard rose to be one of the most prominent evangelical leaders in the country. The scandal began Wednesday when a male escort in Denver said he had an ongoing sexual relationship with an evangelical leader. By later that day, Haggard had been named as that leader. The next day, he stepped down as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and placed himself on leave from New Life Church. An investigation was launched by the church’s overseer board, a panel of four outside pastors. By Saturday, the overseers said they had heard all they needed from Haggard to fire the popular pastor. “We have decided that the most positive and productive direction for our church is his dismissal and removal,” the board said in a written statement. “It was an easy decision once we discovered there was a sexual immorality,” said the Rev. Michael Ware, a member of the board and senior pastor for Victory Church in Westminster. “Dismissal was the only choice.” He would not elaborate on the investigation, saying church members deserve to hear the details first today. They also said the inquiry isn’t over. They don’t expect more allegations, but the board “will continue to explore the depth of Pastor Haggard’s offense so that a plan of healing and restoration can begin,” according to the statement. They did not address Haggard’s alleged methamphetamine use. Some people cast the situation as a struggle between good and evil and Haggard as the victim of a religious battle. “Satan may have won the battle. God will win the war. Satan is like a hunter. Satan goes for the big trophies. This is spiritual warfare, and Ted is under something the average person can’t fathom,” said Earl Beatty, who knelt at the church Saturday night. He said he sat in his car the night before, staring at the cross and crying. Others went into the New Life auditorium and knelt at the foot of the stage. At Haggard’s chair, notes piled up with messages of comfort. “You walked with me through many things in my life for 21 years,” one read. In Denver, Mike Jones — the male escort — was arriving home from a trip to New York, where he appeared on the Saturday “Today” show. He was en route to his home from Denver International Airport when he heard that Haggard had been fired. “I gotta be honest with you,” Jones said. “I cried. I lost it.” Stephen Larsen, assistant to Haggard, said Saturday night that the pastor was repentant and “wants to be finished with this." Services today are at 9 and 11 a.m. “He’s broken,” Larsen said. “He surely knows the shame he brought on his family, his church, his friends. He’s not thinking about himself.” Larsen said the church will always save a spot for Haggard. “Pastor Ted and his family will remain a part of our body, our fellowship,” he said. News of Haggard’s dismissal rocked the Christian world. Haggard was one of the evangelical movement’s most powerful leaders, and helped Colorado Springs earn the moniker of “evangelical Vatican.” He had the White House on speed dial, and Harper’s Magazine called New Life “the nation’s most powerful megachurch.” Haggard had served as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization that represents more than 30 million evangelical Christians, until he resigned. Haggard supported Amendment 43 on Tuesday’s ballot, which would define marriage in Colorado as between a man and woman, and was opposed to Referendum I, which would give same-sex couples legal rights. But he has also been a strong advocate for the environment and exhorted evangelicals to broaden their “moral values” beyond abortion and homosexuality. He advocated transparency among clergy, saying that pastors should be held accountable for their actions. “As soon as we believe that we can think, say or do secret things, there is a greater opportunity for the enemy to violate God’s Word (sic),” Haggard wrote in his 1995 book “Primary Purpose.” “After all, the newspaper’s best headlines are accounts of people doing things they thought would remain a secret.” Another book by Haggard, 2002’s “Letters from Home . . . Everything You Need to Know to be Successful in Life,” included this advice for his children: “Everything in your life is public. There are no secrets. Everything you say, everything you do, every place you go, every thought you think is going to be known by all. So if you want to do something that you’ll have to keep secret, don’t do it. “Don’t believe the lie that you can ever say something, do something, go somewhere or think things that others won’t know about. People who believe in secrets are people who ultimately fail.” Ware said that Haggard initially lied about the allegations to the media because his judgment was clouded. “Pastor Ted always taught us we’re all humans and we all make mistakes,” said Adam Poelstra, a six-year member from Monument who was helping at the church Saturday night. “We never viewed him as a super saint. He didn’t want us to.” Chris Howe, who recently graduated from Liberty High School, said he will always admire him. “There’s a little bit of shell shock, but it’s a new season and life will go on,” he said. “We’ve all fallen short at times. I’m sad, but I’d absolutely welcome him back.” The dismissal left local faith leaders shocked and saddened. “I would call this a 911 in this city,” said the Rev. Kelly Williams, senior pastor for Vanguard Church. Williams said it’s the responsibility of local pastors to rally around New Life Church and its congregants who “are going to be traumatized,” and added that the scandal will add to cynicism about the church. “As evangelicals, we have not done a very good job of addressing it (homosexuality),” Williams said. “It is a huge issue in our city, and we have neglected to see that.” The Rev. Benjamin Reynolds, who stepped down as senior pastor at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church last Sunday after revealing that he was gay, said that “the whole body of Christ is hurting. I’m not a member of New Life, but I’m certainly hurting.” Rabbi Howard Hirsch, executive director for the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue, said, “We are all in a state of shock and disbelief. He has been my friend for a very long period of time, and I want to remain his friend and be as helpful to him and his family as I can.” The Rev. Matt Heard, senior pastor for Woodmen Valley Chapel, told Woodmen congregants Saturday night that “this isn’t just New Life’s issue. It’s our issue. It involves loving Ted Haggard. He’s going through an unspeakable nightmare of his own doing.” Other pastors declined comment. Focus on the Family said it would not issue an immediate statement over Haggard’s dismissal. In a statement the organization released Friday, James Dobson said that “sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual, has serious consequences, and we are extremely concerned for Ted, his family and his church.” Staff reporters Scott Rappold and Danny Summers contributed to this report.
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