Former U.S. evangelical leader confesses to 'sexual immorality'
Adisgraced former leader of the influential U.S. Evangelical Christian movement confessed Sunday to his followers that he was guilty of "sexual immorality," less than 24 hours after he was fired from the Colorado church he founded.
In a letter that was read to the congregation of the New Life Church by another clergyman, the Rev. Ted Haggard apologized for his acts and requested forgiveness.
"I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment for all of you," he said, adding that he had confused the situation by giving inconsistent remarks to reporters denying the scandal.
"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. 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."
Haggard resigned last week as president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals, where he held sway in Washington and condemned homosexuality, after a man claimed to have had drug-fuelled homosexual trysts with him.
Haggard, 50, had acknowledged on Friday that he paid Mike Jones of Denver for a massage and for methamphetamine, but said he did not have sex with him and did not take the drug.
Letter not specific on allegations
Haggard also placed himself on administrative leave from the New Life Church, which has 14,000 members, but its independent Overseer Board fired him on Saturday.
In his letter, Haggard said: "The accusations made against me are not all true but enough of them are that I was appropriately removed from this church leadership position."
He did not give details on which accusations were true.
The letter was read to the church by the Rev. Larry Stockstill, senior pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, La., and a member of the board that fired Haggard.
Before the letter was read, members of the congregation sang and cheered during their Sunday, singing refrain after refrain of "I will bless the Lord at all times."
Youngsters were sent out of the room before elders began speaking about the church crisis.
The Overseer Board, made up clergy from various churches, used stronger language.
"Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct," the board said in a statement.
'Sad day': accuser
Haggard's accuser, who has said he came forward only after learning the identity of the influential gay marriage opponent, said news of Haggard's dismissal saddened him.
"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 just hope the family has peace and can come to terms with things. I hope they can continue with a happy life."
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 Tuesday's election.
Haggard, who had been president of the evangelical association since 2003, has participated in conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied Congress last year on Supreme Court nominees.