By Colleen Slevin
Monday, November 6, 2006
COLORADO SPRINGS, Nov. 5 -- Before pastors began explaining to the congregation at New Life Church why its founder wasn't there Sunday, the youngsters were sent out of the room.
Some in the standing-room-only crowd in the megachurch's 8,000-seat auditorium wiped away tears and embraced one another as they heard the Rev. Ted Haggard's remorseful confession of "sexual immorality," read by a member of the church board.
"I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life," wrote Haggard, who resigned Thursday as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 30 million evangelical Christians. The Overseer Board of New Life fired Haggard on Saturday.
Brought low by a man who said last week that Haggard paid him for sex and used methamphetamine, Haggard has not changed his version of events -- that he received a massage from the man and bought drugs but threw them away.
His letter, without addressing details, asked for forgiveness for himself and his accuser -- a plea many accepted with open arms.
After services, Patty Erwin was on her knees near the back of the auditorium, and her first prayer was for Haggard.
"We all love him because he's a part of our family. You don't just throw away a sister or a brother," said Erwin, who's been coming to the 14,000-member church for 15 years. "Desperately, we love him, and we wouldn't be here if we didn't."
In another letter read to the congregation, Haggard's wife, Gayle, promised to remain with her husband. The audience laughed when she said they no longer had to worry about her marriage being so perfect that she couldn't relate to them.
"My test has begun; watch me. I will try to prove myself faithful," she wrote.
Churchgoers and the ministers speaking Sunday made it clear they did not approve of what Haggard had done, but they also called on people to seek God's grace, love and restoration in their own lives.
The Rev. Larry Stockstill, senior pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, La., and the Overseer Board member who read the Haggards' letters, said Haggard had been more open to his dark side because he was stretched thin by the demands of his pastoral work and his national profile. But he said no one is without sin and it's better to acknowledge it than try to hide it, adding that exposing Haggard's sin could help make people more aware of that.
"We can be angry at God and say the timing is terrible, or we can say 'Blessed be His name,' " said Stockstill, echoing a line from a hymn.