He wants you: Clips from interviews with fallen Pastor Ted Haggard were all over YouTube.com last week.
Pastor Ted Haggard—the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the founder of a Colorado Springs mega-church and confidant of the Bush White House—has fallen from grace in a gay sex scandal.
Early in November in a series of interviews with the Denver media, Michael Forest Jones alleged that Haggard had hired him for sexual services on a regular basis for more than three years. He said that Haggard also used methamphetamine during many of their later encounters.
Jones, 49, is a powerfully built bodybuilder who has advertised his massage services 'with the pleasure of the man in mind' in the local gay newspaper and online. He said Haggard first contacted him for sex in 2003, identifying himself as 'Art,' a businessman from Kansas who frequently traveled to Denver.
Only earlier this year, when he saw 'Art' interviewed on television, did Jones come to realize that his client was Haggard. The preacher has taken a prominent role in pushing Colorado's constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and he can be seen in the current documentary Jesus Camp.
Jones saved phone messages that 'Art' left on his answering machine in August as well as envelopes that 'Art' had mailed containing cash. Forensics experts have said the voice on that machine likely is Haggard.
Jones began to approach the media about two months ago. The story went public when he was interviewed on talk radio Nov. 1.
'Art' is no two-bit preacher. Pastor Ted Haggard, 50, is a married father of five. He founded the New Life Church in his basement in 1985 and grew it to 14,000 members, the largest church in Colorado. He became head of the 30-million-member evangelical association about the same time he started using Jones' services.
When the story broke, Haggard tried to cop a plea and cut his losses. The next day he resigned his position as president of the association and took a leave of absence from the church. He said he once bought meth and was tempted to use it, but quickly threw it away.
He also acknowledged hiring Jones, but only for massage services. 'I did not have a homosexual relationship with a man in Denver,' he said. He claimed they never had sex.
Perhaps, as Bill Clinton considered what Monica did to him not to be sex, Haggard did not consider what he did with Jones to be sex; but Jones did. Jones said they had sex, but at least on his side, there was no emotional involvement.
The New Life Church convened the independent Overseer Board, composed of outside clergymen, to review the situation. It needed little time to permanently remove Haggard from the church. The Board said in a statement, 'Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.'
In a letter read to the New Life Church congregation on Nov. 5, Haggard confessed, 'The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. That's part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life.'
'The accusations made against me are not all true, but enough of them are that I was appropriately removed from my church leadership position.' Haggard apologized to them for having 'caused shame and embarrassment for all of you,' and confessed to having lied to reporters about the incidents.
'I didn't want to ruin his life or his family's life,' Jones said. 'I had to take a look at myself and how this affected my community, and I believe I did the right thing. You just can't have it both ways when you have so much influence ... . He should have been a better role model.'
'What's interesting to me is that having adulterous gay sex is apparently, in Haggard's mind, a worse sin than buying crystal meth. He copped to the meth before the sex,' wrote gay pundit Andrew Sullivan on his blog. 'The drugs-worse-than-sex may be a story that works in the mainstream; but, among some Christians, drug abuse is nowhere near as bad as being gay.'
Wayne Besen has written extensively on the ex-gay movement. He says, 'Haggard is correct that there is a dark and repulsive part of his life, but it is not his homosexuality; it is his closet and the lies he used to maintain it. He built his empire on the backs of gay people and now he faces an awful comeuppance for his anti-gay sins.'
'Even after the downfall of James McGreevey, Mark Foley and now Ted Haggard, the right wing continues to promote the lie that homosexuality is just a temptation that can be changed. But if Haggard couldn't pray away the gay, who can? It is time Evangelical Christians exchange their anti-gay rhetoric for reality,' says Besen.
Amy Sullivan, one of four bloggers on Beliefnet, feels 'the story will reverberate further and longer than any of the scandals of the 1980s ( Swaggart, Bakker, etc. ) because it involves not just personal behavior, but an issue that conservative evangelicals have made extremely clear is one of their two top priorities.'
'And I wonder how or if this will affect the condemnation of homosexuality in general within conservative evangelical circles. After all, we know that people's attitudes change once they learn that someone they know is gay. A lot of evangelicals know ( or at least know of ) Haggard. If he indeed has been involved with a gay man, that could blow a lot of evangelical minds.'
Social conservatives initially tried to spin the allegations against Haggard as a politically motivated move just before the elections. Maybe the timing was, says Besen, 'but having played the sexual-orientation card as an election year ploy for decades, they are in no position to complain about this November ballot box boomerang.'
Will the Haggard scandal have any impact on the elections? Ted Trimpa is of two minds and nervous. He has difficulty believing it will translate into a vote against the amendment to ban gay marriage that is on the ballot in Colorado. 'Whether or not evangelical voters will be less likely to vote is yet to be seen.'
What worries the political consultant to the pro-gay Gill Action Fund, based in Denver, is that both the Foley and now the Haggard scandals 'have shifted the public conversation from equality and basic legal rights to gay sex ... . Whenever 'gay sex' is the story, or at least part of it, no amount of 'hypocrisy' can drown it out.'
Trimpa says Colorado Referendum I, which would establish civil unions, had been leading and building support. But those scandals 'have unaffiliated women wondering whether their husbands are pulling a Haggard on them.' That has 'jeopardized our lead and now we're in a dead heat at best' on the referendum. Turnout will be key to the outcome in this and other votes across the country.