Morality Tale: A Pastor's Fall From Grace

The Rev. Ted Haggard had boyish dimples and a perpetual placid smile, but spoke of demons on earth. As a young pastor in Colorado Springs, Colo., he tore apart the local phone book and prayed over every name. He warned of "Satanists" and covens abroad in the city. Over time, his New Life evangelical church grew to be among the most powerful houses of worship in the country, with a congregation some 14,000 strong. Haggard called these faithful "Puritan descendants," but spoke of the omnipresence of sin. To be a Christian, he warned, "is to be in a constant state of war."

What no one saw was the war within Haggard himself. Last week Mike Jones, a former male prostitute in Denver, came forward to claim he'd had a three-year sexual relationship with Haggard, a vocal critic of gay rights. Married with five children, Haggard initially denied even knowing Jones. But then Jones produced recordings of a voice that sounded like Haggard's asking Jones to help him secure some crystal meth. In the recordings, reviewed by NEWSWEEK, the voice is polite but persistent: "I was just calling to see if we could get any more ... I could pick it up really any time." On Friday, Haggard acknowledged buying crystal meth from Jones but denied using it. Nor had he slept with Jones, he said, whom he claimed to have hired for a massage on the recommendation of a Denver hotel. Jones, who says he saw Haggard use meth regularly but denies ever selling it to him, failed parts of a lie-detector test when asked if he'd had sex with Haggard. But by late last week, New Life's Board of Overseers had determined Haggard was guilty of "sexually immoral conduct" and dismissed him as pastor of the church.

From Elmer Gantry to televangelist Jim Bakker, the man of God felled by sins of the flesh has always been a venerable American character. But Haggard is not just another minister who met temptation; he was, until Thursday, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), a powerful lobbying group that represents some 30 million Christians. He has boasted of his access to President George W. Bush, and is a confidant of Focus on the Family head James Dobson, who said Haggard's downfall had "grave implications for the cause of Christ." The emerging details of Haggard's hidden life show a man of great talents consumed by urges he couldn't name.

Born in Indiana, Haggard went to Colorado Springs in 1985 and set about building a Christian kingdom in the Rockies. Attractive and savvy in the ways of pop culture, he earned hordes of quick converts and eventually moved his church from his basement to a giant campus north of the city.

By the late '90s, Colorado Springs was home to more than 100 other evangelical organizations--chief among them Focus on the Family. New Life's hefty growth made Haggard an evangelical celebrity. Named president of the NAE in 2003, he told congregants of a long Oval Office chat with President Bush. He bragged to reporters about weekly White House conference calls. "There was a significant influence exerted on the last election by Colorado Springs," he told Harper's magazine in 2005. "God has a plan for this city," he later said.

But there was another city, teeming, to the north. In Denver, Mike Jones worked as a male escort who posted ads in local gay publications and on the Internet escort site Rentboy.com. Three years ago, Jones says, he received a call from a pro-spective client who called himself "Art." (Haggard's middle name is Arthur.) The men began a monthly relationship, Jones says, claiming Art paid him about $200 a visit.

Last spring, Jones was watching television when he saw a familiar face speaking in a History Channel documentary on the Antichrist. "Oh, my God," he thought, "that's Art." The next day at the gym he saw Haggard on television again. An Internet search showed Haggard to be an international figure.

The relationship continued, Jones says, but he was becoming increasingly troubled. The minister was among the most prominent supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Colorado, on the ballot this fall. "I don't understand it," Haggard told The New Republic in 1996, when asked what he thought of gay-pride parades. "It would be like having Murderer's Pride Day."

As Haggard grew more prominent in evangelical circles, though, he seemed less quick to press the gay issue. Under his leadership, the NAE urged Christians to de-emphasize cultural issues and focus more on human rights and the environment. He even applauded the Supreme Court's 2003 decision striking down state sodomy laws.

Jones says his relationship with Haggard ended this past August. Not long after, Jones approached a Denver television station with his story. (The station did not air Jones's claims until he went public on a radio show last week.) Meanwhile, Haggard was showing signs of strain. In an Oct. 12 conference call with NAE's executive committee, NEWSWEEK has learned, he offered to resign as president, citing overwork. Offering more support, the group persuaded him to stay. "Maybe he had a premonition," says an NAE official, anonymously discussing personnel matters.

After the sex-and-meth allegations, NAE officials quickly downplayed Haggard's Washington ties. ("I'm sure the president has met him on more than one occasion," said a senior Bush aide, who asked for anonymity discussing a politically sen-sitive scandal. "But this isn't a name the president would instinctively know.") Some found the timing of the incident--five days before the midterm elections--suspicious. Still, Jones says he came forward on his own.

Haggard's parishioners say they'll pray for him. Earlier this year Haggard appeared on the faith Web site Beliefnet and said it is "easy" to have a happy family. "It is not hard if you lose your life for the one you're marrying and your children," he said. But after three decades battling Satan on earth, Haggard may have fallen victim to the demons within himself.