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Evangelical leader quits, denies male escort's allegations

Story Highlights

• Top evangelical leader denies Colorado man's claim that pastor paid for sex
• Rev. Ted Haggard quits national leadership post, steps aside from church pulpit
• Accuser cites Haggard's support for same-sex marriage ban as motivation
• Influential religious figure also denies accusation of drug use
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(CNN) -- The president of the National Association of Evangelicals resigned Thursday after denying an accusation by a male prostitute that the pastor paid him for sex over three years.

The Rev. Ted Haggard said he is also temporarily stepping aside from the pulpit of his church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, pending an internal investigation by the church.

The National Association of Evangelicals is an umbrella group for more than 45,000 churches and some 30 million members across the country. (Watch Haggard deny the accusations -- 2:07 Video)

"I've never had a gay relationship with anybody. I'm steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife," Haggard told CNN affiliate KUSA-TV.

Haggard is married and has five children, according to the National Association of Evangelicals Web site.

Colorado is one of eight states where voters will consider bans on same-sex marriage in Tuesday's elections, and Haggard has been a supporter of the measure.

In 2005 Time magazine put Haggard on its list of the 25 most influential evangelical leaders, noting his participation in a weekly conference call with White House staffers and other religious leaders.

Haggard, 50, put himself on administrative leave as senior pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church. Haggard said in a written statement that he could "not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations made on Denver talk radio this morning."

"I am voluntarily stepping aside from leadership so that the overseer process can be allowed to proceed with integrity," he said. "I hope to be able to discuss this matter in more detail at a later date. In the interim, I will seek both spiritual advice and guidance."

The allegations were made Tuesday and Wednesday on Denver radio station KHOW by Mike Jones, who said he was a male prostitute and had a three-year sexual relationship with Haggard, with the last tryst occurring in August. He also said Haggard used methamphetamine during their encounters.

Haggard also denied the allegations of drug use. "I have never done drugs, ever -- not even in high school," he told KUSA-TV.

While Thursday's statement from Haggard's church did not repeat his denials, the church's lawyer, Martin Nussbaum, told the Denver Post that the pastor's resignation was in no way an admission of guilt.

Jones told KHOW he went public with his story because of Haggard's support for Colorado's proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"I cried many nights; I got sick tormenting myself about whether I should do this," he said. "I finally had to come to peace with myself. ... I had to do the moral thing."

Jones, who said he no longer worked as a prostitute, described himself as a Christian and said that although he was a registered Democrat he had voted for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush for president.

Jones said the relationship began about three years ago, when a man identifying himself as "Art" -- who said he was a married man from Kansas City, Missouri -- sought his services. Jones said he advertised at the time as a male prostitute on the Internet and in newspapers serving the gay community.

The two saw each other about once a month, with Art visiting Jones in Denver and paying him $200 in cash "for no more than an hour," Jones said.

"It was not emotional. It was physical, just strictly physical," he said.

Jones said he learned Art's identity when he saw him on television four months ago. Jones said he became upset when he learned that Haggard's church supported the proposed state constitutional amendment.

Asked whether he has proof to support his claims, Jones told KHOW that he kept several voice mails from Haggard on his telephone answering machine and an envelope containing two $100 bills from him.

Support from Dobson

New Life's associate senior pastor, the Rev. Ross Parsley, will serve as acting senior pastor of the church. Parsley requested "the community's compassion and prayers for the person who came forward with accusations, for the Haggard family and for the New Life Church community."

Under the church's governing structure, a board of overseers made up of four senior pastors of other congregations will lead the inquiry, with the power to discipline or remove Haggard or restore him to the pulpit, the statement said.

"New Life Church long ago adopted an overseer model of governance for situations just like this," Parsley said in the statement. "People need to be patient and allow this process to unfold as it was designed to do."

Amid the furor over the allegations, Haggard received support from another prominent religious conservative leader, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. It also is based in Colorado Springs.

"It is unconscionable that the legitimate news media would report a rumor like this based on nothing but one man's accusation," Dobson said in a written statement issued before Haggard's leave was announced.

"Ted Haggard is a friend of mine, and it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday's election -- especially the vote on Colorado's marriage-protection amendment, which Ted strongly supports," Dobson said.

Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, told CNN that "the accusations do not comport with the person that I know."

"Since 1942, the NAE has never had a moral, ethical or financial scandal of any sort. Thus, this is very painful," Cizik said. "I believe that our record of speaking and acting in conformity with biblical values will be upheld."

CNN's Delia Gallagher contributed to this report.


The Rev. Ted Haggard denies allegations that he paid a gay escort for sex.



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