Some former members of Saint James Church in Colorado Springs continue to call for founder Ted Haggard to step down from the pulpit — citing what they say is firsthand knowledge the pastor has behaved inappropriately toward male members and used drugs in recent years — but Haggard is now disputing the claims in online sermons and says he plans no changes in his ministry.
“I will never ever let these demonically inspired rumors and words determine what I'm going to do with my life,” Haggard said in his July 31 sermon, titled, “Ted Haggard responds to news article accusing him.”
Haggard declined requests for an interview about the renewed allegations before The Gazette published a story on July 24. When a reporter visited his Colorado Springs home recently, his wife, Gayle, answered the door and said they would not comment.
Instead, he has rebutted online the issues raised against him: “I’m going to keep doing exactly what I do. Jesus is my Lord. I'm going to continue being married to my wife of 43 years,” he said. “.. I’m going to continue teaching the Bible no matter where it is, no matter how big or small the group is.”
In his July 31 sermon, Haggard also rejected the sensational accusations dating back to 2006 that led to him being fired from the first church he founded in Colorado Springs, New Life Church. At the time, male escort and masseur Mike Jones said on a radio show that Haggard had been having sexual encounters with him for several years and using methamphetamine. The ensuing firestorm caused Haggard's meteoric career to implode, including his presidency of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals.
In his online sermon last month, Haggard swept that bitter chapter aside: “I was accused in 2006 by a guy who didn’t know me very well … the people who know me know these things are ridiculous,” he said. “I hate the fact that public record of me has been established by people who never met me or don’t know me.”
Although 16 years ago, Haggard had said he suffered from unspecified "sexual immorality," when the allegations went public, he said in his recent sermon that he took four polygraph tests regarding the accusations from 2006 and passed all of them. The Gazette was unable to verify that claim.
“Very few people in the press ever reported it because they wanted a narrative that we preachers are bad guys, and that’s what that guy (Jones) that didn’t know me was saying,” Haggard said in his sermon.
“Every time they’ve investigated one of these things, they’ve investigated them and determined them not to have merit.”
After last month's Gazette article, the newspaper received new accounts of alleged sexual misbehavior by Haggard, including from a gay pastor in New York who said one of his church members, who also is gay, has been saving screenshots of text messages from Haggard from 2018. The pastor sent them to The Gazette under the condition of anonymity for himself and the church member.
Haggard and the church member met on social media and exchanged phone texts, in which Haggard's verified cellphone number is shown.
“I thought we were friends, when all he wanted was more,” the church member messaged his pastor about Haggard. “Constantly asking me for nudes when I insisted that wasn’t happening … wanting to meet me and watch me naked. … Every time I said no, he would then apologize and say that was the devil taking over.”
The church member also told the pastor he was troubled by a photo Haggard sent him of one juvenile and several young men he went hiking with and asked if the church member found any of them attractive.
Haggard rebuts Sethman
A current Saint James Church leader and another former pastor of the church did not respond to requests for an interview about whether elders were investigating these latest allegations.
One change that has come to the present Haggard ministry is that Haggard sold the Saint James Church building at 4615 Northpark Drive in Colorado Springs nearly four months ago. In June, he started a new but familiar model, running a church out of his home.
In the July 24 Gazette article, Kirk "Seth" Sethman, a former Saint James congregant, said he had recorded statements from a now 20-year-old male church member who said Haggard had made sexual advances on him in 2019 when he was 16 years old.
Haggard also dismissed Sethman in his July 31 sermon, saying Sethman has a troubled past and has been angry with him, Haggard, for years.
Sethman acknowledged his past addiction to prescription painkillers and having served time in prison for burglary. He also said he'd had family problems with which Haggard helped him. He said he's clean for several years and hasn’t been behind bars in decades.
Sethman remains adamant that, "Ted Haggard is continuing to abuse his power and prey on young males."
While Haggard said in the sermon that he's "not perfect," has "made mistakes" and has "fallen short of the glory of God," he said he's never heard any complaints from customers in side job as a Lyft driver, where he said he has a premier rating. He said he's also "never had anybody on a board or an elder board complain."
The Gazette learned of at least two Saint James elders who asked to remain unnamed and who said they had sent letters a few years ago about their concerns, which went unanswered.
"I’ve only had this one man (Sethman) and that man back then that didn’t know me complain about it (Jones), because they hated what I do," Haggard said. "And they’re the ones that are establishing the public record because of the way our press is."
New Life Church's insurance company had paid a young adult male ex-church member $179,000 after he claimed Haggard performed a sex act in front of him in 2006 and sent him explicit messages.
Required to report
As religious institutions, churches are afforded certain legal protections under state and federal laws.
But those do not include an exception to laws that require child-abuse reporting, said Eric V. Hall, a Colorado Springs attorney with Sparks Wilson PC, who specializes in church law.
In general, ministers, along with educators, doctors, emergency responders and other professionals, are required to report reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect. At an institution, that usually happens through an internal chain of command first, and then to child protective services.
The exception under Colorado law and reinforced by the First Amendment is if a minister has learned about possible child abuse in confidential communication with a penitent, Hall said.
“Even though there might not be a legal duty to report, I certainly think there’s a moral duty to report suspected criminal conduct to the police,” Hall said.
Catholic, Southern Baptist, United Methodist churches and other congregations have been publicly exposed in recent years for hiding widespread sexual abuse by clergy and other leaders.
Churches sometimes do that to “protect” their reputation, said the Rev. Kelly Williams, pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, part of the Southern Baptist Convention.
But in doing so, they cover up harmful behavior that has the potential to repeat and perpetuate itself, he said.
“In some cases, it may be because they are fearful that it will impact the church’s trust with people and impact their desire to attend, give and get involved,” said Williams, whose church has not had any accusations.
The government cannot influence who religious organizations choose as ministers, said Hall, the attorney.
The First Amendment, however, does not grant churches immunity from lawsuits about those decisions, he said, "with precedent-setting cases showing that churches can be held liable for negligent hiring or negligent supervision, for example.
Internal bylaws and policies determine how churches handle claims of misconduct by employees, including its leadership, Hall said.
'That's just Ted'
Several former Haggard followers who contacted The Gazette following the July 24 report said Haggard displayed strange behavior at times before his disastrous blowup in 2006.
That year, his sermons “became status updates about him traveling the world, who he talked to, because he was the head of the evangelical association,” said a former New Life Church employee who asked not to be identified. “It just sounded like he was the center of the show. We were going, ‘This is not the culture of this church.’”
Another former New Life staff member who also asked not to be named because he has ties to the church, speaks of Haggard announcing at a staff meeting that the pool at his home was open to interns to use, and clothing was optional for the males.
Some employees looked at one another in bewilderment, he said. Others brushed it off as “Oh, that’s just Ted.”
Another time, Haggard announced at a staff meeting he was giving an intern a raise because he was good-looking and he liked his smile and his build, a staffer said.
In his sermon of Aug. 7, Haggard refers to people making things up, they “get a suspicion about this or whatever.”
“In 2006 I was accused, and they accused me of things I never even dreamed of, but then it became my national reputation. So I decided to use it,” Haggard said in his Aug. 14 sermon.
“Before, I was a successful minister and well-respected evangelical leader,” he said. Now, “I’m the chiefest of sinners, and I use it. When I meet people, I say, ‘Hey, Jesus died on the cross for a reason, and I am it. I have no hesitation in using what is dished out to me.”
Haggard said in his sermon he is pastoring about 50 people through his new home church, which he calls Storehouse, “as faithfully as I can.”
Some of his followers say Haggard is a wonderful preacher.
Connie Power writes on Saint James’ Facebook page that she’s grateful for knowing Haggard for 35 years and “eternally thankful to you for helping me realize the truth of God’s love for me,” and that she follows his sermons even though she's relocated to Texas.
In his Aug. 21 sermon on power and referencing the biblical account of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, Haggard speaks of chief priests and officials shouting accusations at Jesus to influence the decision to crucify him.
“How do we do that nowadays? Social media and the press,” Haggard says. “Simply by shouting accusations in the newspaper, in the press, gives accusations credibility in people’s minds that are unable to think.
“'Then Herod began mocking and ridiculing Jesus,’” Haggard reads from the Bible. “Sound familiar?”