Mon, Nov 06, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Evangelical pastor ousted over drug and sex scandal

AP , COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO

The Reverend Ted Haggard was dismissed as leader of the megachurch he founded after a board determined the influential evangelist had committed "sexually immoral conduct," the church said.

Haggard had resigned two days earlier as president of the National Association of Evangelicals -- where he held sway in Washington and condemned homosexuality -- after a Denver man named Mike Jones claimed to have had drug-fueled trysts with him. He had also placed himself on administrative leave from the New Life Church, but its Overseer Board took the stronger action on Saturday.

"Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct," the independent board said in a statement.

Haggard was "informed of this decision," the statement said, and he "agreed as well that he should be dismissed."

Haggard, 50, on Friday acknowledged paying Jones for a massage and for methamphetamine, but said he did not have sex with him and did not take the drug.

The statement from the 14,000-member church said the investigation would continue to determine the extent of the misconduct. The Reverend Mike Ware of Victory Church in Westminster, a member of the board, declined to characterize what investigators found, but said the board did not talk to Jones.

The Reverend Rob Brendle, an associate pastor at New Life, said Haggard was out of town.

"We are fully confident in the board's judgment and decision," Brendle said. "Everyone supports Ted and his family. We stand by him."

Jones said the news of Haggard's dismissal made him sad.

"I feel really bad for his wife and family and his congregation. I know it's a sad day for them, too," Jones said. "I feel bad when someone has so many attachments to others. It affects everyone. I'm certainly not cheering or jumping up and down over what's happened."

"I just hope the family has peace and can come to terms with things. I hope they can continue with a happy life," he said.

The Reverend Ross Parsley will lead the church until a permanent replacement for Haggard is chosen by the end of the year, the statement said. A letter explaining Haggard's removal and an apology from him was to be read at services yesterday.

Haggard's situation is a disappointment to Christian conservatives, whom President George W. Bush and other Republicans are courting heavily in the run-up to tomorrow's elections.

Many were disheartened with the president and the Republican-controlled Congress over their failure to deliver big gains on social issues even before the sex scandal involving former Republican representative Mark Foley.

Foley was accused of sending inappropriate messages to teenage male congressional assistants.

Haggard, president of the evangelical association since 2003, had participated in conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied Congress last year on Supreme Court nominees.

Haggard visited the White House once or twice, Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said on Friday.

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