U.S. evangelical leader resigns over 'sexually immoral conduct'

The leader of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals agreed to resign Saturday from his New Life church after its independent investigative board recommended removal, saying he was guilty "of sexually immoral conduct."

A disgraced leader of the evangelical Christianmovementin the United States has agreed to resign from hisColorado church after its independent investigative board found him guiltyof "sexually immoral conduct."

"We, the Overseer Board of New Life Church, have concluded our deliberations concerning the moral failings of Pastor Ted Haggard," said a statement from the14,000-member church in Colorado Springs.

"Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct."

Haggard —former president of the influential U.S. National Association of Evangelicals outspoken gay marriage opponent and confidant of the Bush administration —admitted Friday he bought methamphetamine and received a massage from Michael Jones, a gay prostitute, who claimsHaggard paid him for drug-fuelled sex trysts.

Haggard denied the sex allegations, but said that he did buy the street drug known as meth from the man because he was curious.

"I bought it for myself but never used it," he said Friday. "I was tempted, but I never used it."

Investigation will continue: church

The church's statement said the investigation would continue to determine how extensive Haggard's misconduct had been.

The Rev. Ross Parsley will lead the church until a permanent replacement for Haggard is chosen, something that should happen by the end of the year, the statement said. A letter explaining Haggard's removal and an apology from Haggard will be read at Sunday services.

"The language of our church bylaws state that as Overseers we must decide in cases where the Senior Pastor has 'demonstrated immoral conduct' whether we must 'remove the pastor from his position or discipline him in anyway they deem necessary,"' the statement said.

"In consultation with leading evangelical and experts familiar with the type of behaviour Pastor Haggard has demonstrated, we have decided that the most positive and productive direction for our church is his dismissal and removal," it continued.

James Groesbeck, a church elder, said he is glad the investigative board acted quickly.

"I'm saddened by what came out but I think they've done their job," Groesbeck said by telephone.

With files from the Associated Press