Pubdate: Mon, 06 Nov 2006
Source: USA Today (US)
Page: 3A
Copyright: 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Patrick O'Driscoll, USA TODAY
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)
Bookmark: (Christianity)


At His Church, Determination to Go Forward After Scandal

COLORADO SPRINGS -- The former president of the National Association 
of Evangelicals confessed that he is "guilty of sexual immorality" in 
an apology letter read Sunday to tearful worshipers at his New Life Church.

"I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so 
repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult 
life," wrote Ted Haggard, 50, who was fired Saturday as head of the 
14,000-member church.

Haggard, accused last week by a gay prostitute of monthly encounters 
and illicit drug use for three years, gave no specifics. He wrote 
that the allegations by Mike Jones of Denver "are not all true, but 
enough of them are true" that his dismissal was justified.

Haggard, who also resigned as president of the 30-million-member 
National Association of Evangelicals, was absent Sunday from the 
church he founded. His letter was read from the pulpit by Pastor 
Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, La., head 
of an independent board of overseers that fired Haggard. Children 
under middle-school age were sent out beforehand.

"I know your hearts are broken," Stockstill said. "This is the way 
God works in his house," with love but discipline.

In a separate letter to "Women of New Life Church," Haggard's wife, 
Gayle, wrote that she remains committed to her husband "until death 
'do us part.' We started this journey together, and with the grace of 
God we will finish together."

An overflow crowd of more than 7,500 applauded after Haggard's 
statement was read. They gave his wife's message a standing ovation.

Jones, 49, went public last week. He told Denver's KUSA-TV that he 
learned Haggard was a religious leader after seeing the client he 
knew as "Art" on a History Channel program months ago. Jones said he 
came forward to expose Haggard's hypocrisy in supporting a 
gay-marriage ban on the Colorado ballot Tuesday.

Haggard first denied knowing Jones and later said he never had sex 
with him. In interviews, the pastor said he had paid Jones for a 
massage and for methamphetamine. Haggard said he was tempted to use 
the drugs but never did.

The overseers said they had determined "without a doubt that he has 
committed sexually immoral conduct." They did not mention drugs.

Haggard asked church members to "forgive my accuser. He is revealing 
the deception and sensuality that was in my life. ... He didn't 
violate you; I did."

The church prepared for an emotional day, handing out tissues at the 
doors of the arena-like worship hall known as "the Living Room" in 
keeping with New Life's home-style tone.

"We are a family. When difficult times come, families pull together," 
said interim Pastor Ross Parsley, himself in tears. "Christians are 
watching. We need to be the ones who say, 'Our foundation is not 
shaken.' It is not planted on any one man, mission or ministry."

New Life members expressed regret for their pastor's sins but pride 
in how their church responded.

"He's a man and he can fall, and he did," said Penny MacInnes, 53. 
"We're here for the church, not for the man."

Added her husband, Randy MacInnes, also 53: "We're still people. 
We're not gods."

Stockstill told congregants that when he met with the Haggards to 
"very gently let them down" with the news of the firing, "he said ... 
this is the right thing for Gayle and I.' I saw a sense of relief."

He said the week's events were an opportunity to help the nation. "I 
believe America needs a shaking spiritually. How about you?" he 
asked. The congregation broke into applause, cheers and whistles.

The dramatic confession came two days before Colorado voters decide 
two ballot questions, one that would ban gay marriage and one that 
would guarantee domestic-partner rights. Analysts said they doubt the 
scandal will have much effect. "Maybe if it had happened a month 
ago," GOP political consultant Katy Atkinson said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake