By Alan Cooperman and Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006 5:14 PM
One of the nation's most influential conservative Christian leaders, the Rev. Ted Haggard, said today he bought methamphetamine and received a massage from a self-described male escort. But Haggard denied allegations by the man that he ever used the drug or had sex with him.
Haggard, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, resigned yesterday as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and stepped down as leader of his Colorado mega-church. The association and church are investigating allegations by the male escort, Mike Jones, that he had a three-year relationship with Haggard.
Jones has said in radio and television interviews that Haggard, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., paid him for sex about once a month during trips to Denver. "Generally, it was $200," each visit, Jones said.
Haggard, who is married and has five children, told reporters outside his house today that he bought methamphetamine from Jones "for myself but never used it."
"I never kept it very long because it was wrong," Haggard said. "I was tempted. I bought it. But I never used it."
Jones said he did not sell Haggard the drug but helped him buy it from a third party. Haggard used the drug "every time he visited me," Jones said.
Asked if ever had sex with Jones, Haggard said today, speaking from inside his car, "No, I did not." Haggard said he was referred to Jones by the Denver hotel where he was staying.
Jones said he did not know Haggard's true identity -- he knew him only as "Art" -- until he saw the pastor on television about six months ago.
"This is the time [the] Da Vinci Code movie came out," Jones told MSNBC. "I was watching the History Channel. And they were doing a show on the antichrist. And all of a sudden his face shows up as, you know, an expert. And I go . . . 'Oh, my God, that's Art.' "
Yesterday, Jones told Peter Boyles, host of a talk-radio show on KHOW-AM station, that he has recorded voice-mail messages and a letter from Haggard, and that he witnessed the pastor using methamphetamine. But he did not immediately produce the alleged voice-mails or letter.
Jones indicated that he is going public with the accusations at least in part because Colorado has two questions related to same-sex marriage on Tuesday's ballot. One is Amendment 43, which would define marriage as between one man and one woman, and which Haggard has supported. The other is Referendum 1, which would give same-sex couples more legal rights and benefits.
"Being a gay man all my life . . . I felt it was my responsibility to my fellow brothers and sisters, that I had to take a stand, and I cannot sit back anymore and hear [what] to me is an anti-gay message," Jones said.
Yesterday, Haggard vigorously denied the allegations that he used methamphetamine and had sex with Jones. "Never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife," he told a Colorado television station, KUSA.
In a later interview with a different local station, the associate pastor of the New Life Church, which Haggard headed, said Haggard had offered "some admission of indiscretion" to the church leadership -- although "not admission to all of the material that has been discussed."
"There is an admission of some guilt," the Rev. Ross Parsley told KKTV 11 News last night. Parsley, who has been tapped to serve as interim pastor of New Life Church while the allegations are investigated, said he did not have details, and told the television station that the 14,000-member Colorado Springs congregation continued to support Haggard "100 percent."
In an earlier statement issued by the church, Haggard said he could "not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations," which were first made public on a Denver talk-radio station yesterday morning.
Although he has avoided endorsing political candidates, Haggard has been a staunch ally of the Bush administration. Some political observers said his resignation was more bad news for Republicans trying to rally their conservative Christian base to turn out for the midterm elections.
"This is one more factor that could increase the disillusionment of evangelicals with prominent leaders on the Christian right and with the political process as a whole, and some may conclude that perhaps their forebears were wise to be wary about politics," said William Martin, a professor of religion and public policy at Rice University and a biographer of the Rev. Billy Graham.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Haggard has visited the White House and has occasionally participated in outreach efforts by Bush aides to the evangelical leadership. But he played down suggestions that Haggard has close ties to the administration.
Conservative Christian leaders rallied around Haggard. "I've always admired Ted's Christian character and his ministry, and I find these accusations incredible, frankly," said the Rev. L. Roy Taylor, chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals, which has about 45,000 constituent churches across the country.
Taylor said that the NAE's executive committee will hold a teleconference today to decide how to proceed. He said he may serve temporarily as president of the organization, in addition to his regular duties as the stated clerk, or administrative leader, of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America.
"I'm a minister not a political scientist, so I couldn't predict" what political impact Haggard's resignation might have, Taylor said. "Evangelicals have a serious understanding of the power of sin and human evil, and realize that every person, whether Christian or not, struggles with the dark side," he added.
In his written statement yesterday, Haggard said he was "voluntarily stepping aside from leadership" of New Life Church so that its four-member board of overseers could conduct an investigation. "In the interim, I will seek both spiritual advice and guidance," Haggard said.
Haggard declined further comment yesterday, but a close colleague at New Life Church said that although he is stepping down as pastor temporarily, his resignation as president of the NAE is permanent.
"Ted realizes this is a pretty consuming situation in terms of media, and in order to make sure the good work of the NAE goes forward without distraction, that is a decision he voluntarily made," the colleague said, speaking anonymously because the church was limiting its comments to the written statement.
John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, said Haggard's resignation is likely to reverberate more loudly in Colorado than nationally.
"Haggard is a very important political figure in Colorado, and there are tight races there as well as ballot questions that could be affected," he said, citing in particular the embattled reelection efforts of Reps. Marilyn Musgrave and Tom Tancredo, both Republicans. "I think there's less of an implication for what evangelicals might do nationwide, because outside of Colorado he's not directly involved in voter turnout efforts and is seen as more of a religious leader than a political one."
Green also noted that under Haggard's leadership, the NAE has sought to widen the evangelical agenda to include global warming, international human rights and poverty issues. Although non-evangelicals may view Haggard as a diehard conservative, within the evangelical movement he is seen as a moderate, Green said.
"If the allegations are proven true, it could discredit a prominent moderate figure in the evangelical community," he said.