New Life Church fires Haggard

DENVER – An investigative committee of independent pastors concluded “without a doubt” on Saturday that the Rev. Ted Haggard had committed “sexually immoral conduct” and removed him from his duties as senior pastor at a mega-church in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The committee’s decision took away Haggard’s last position of church leadership – and cast doubt on his assertion that he had met a gay prostitute for a massage, but never had sex with him.

Earlier in the week, Haggard resigned from the presidency of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals under allegations that he had a three-year sexual relationship with the man. Haggard also has said that he bought methamphetamine from the prostitute, but did not use it.

The statement from New Life Church’s investigative committee did not list the evidence the group considered. But the strong wording left little doubt that Haggard’s conduct involved more than an illegal drug buy.

“It’s not just about meth. It’s not just about a massage. I guess that’s what we are to infer,” said the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the evangelical association.

“We all have to be humble and recognize that people – even our leaders – have feet of clay,” Cizik said. “So we love. And we forgive.”

A letter of explanation and apology from Haggard will be read at New Life services today. His wife of 28 years, Gayle Haggard, will also address the congregation. The couple has five children.

Haggard, 50, built the church after experiencing a vision during a three-day solitary fast on Pikes Peak, the majestic mountain that soars above Colorado Springs. Given to visions – he says he can see demons and he sometimes speaks in tongues – Haggard preached his first sermon in his unfinished basement on a cold morning in January 1985.

From the start, the church – and its leader – broke the mold.

Haggard led ebullient worship services filled with song and dance; he prayed over names in the phone book; he sent his members out walking through Colorado Springs with instructions to pray for specific parcels of land. He wrote a tract about his goals with the title “Making It Hard for People to Go to Hell from Your City.”

Haggard’s exuberance and inveterate optimism began attracting crowds, and New Life outgrew one space after another.

Nearly 22 years after that first service, the church has a congregation of 14,000 and a huge complex on the edge of Colorado Springs.

“He is probably one of the top 5 most prominent evangelicals in America and therefore in the world,” said Ted Olsen, news director for the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. “Hardly a day went by where we did not see Haggard quoted by someone. It was pretty rare for him not to have an opinion.”

Through their sorrow and bewilderment this past week, church members have been quick to say that the scandal will not bring down New Life – or shake their faith.

“This is a pruning, in a sense,” said Patty VanTassel, 50. “New Life Church is not about Ted Haggard. It’s about God … and rescuing people from sin.”

Many others have repeated a variation of that line: We don’t worship Ted Haggard. We worship God.

The church’s board of overseers said Saturday that they will “continue to explore the depth of Pastor Haggard’s offense so that a plan of healing and restoration can begin.”


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