Evangelical leader quits after gay sex allegations

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The Independent US

In an election eve bombshell, the head of the politically powerful US Christian evangelical movement has resigned after accusations from a gay prostitute that he regularly paid the man for sex.

Ted Haggard, the president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals, covering thousands of churches and some 50 denominations, denied the charges yesterday, saying he did not know Mike Jones, his male escort accuser.

But he has also stepped down "temporarily" from the leadership of his own New Life Church, pending the outcome of an investigation by an outside board of overseers. "I've never had a gay relationship with anybody," Mr Haggard, 50, who has five children, said. "I'm steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife."

Mr Haggard later admitted he did get a massage from Mr Jones and buy methamphetamine from him. But he continued to deny he ever had sex with him. The pastor said he bought the drug out of curiosity but never tried it. "I bought it for myself but never used it. I was tempted, but I never used it," he said

Mr Haggard suggested the timing of the allegations was directly related to the midterm elections on Tuesday, in which the evangelical turnout will be crucial for Republicans as they seek to prevent a Democratic takeover of Congress.

Prominent among the issues they are employing to galvanise this vital party constituency is that of gay marriage. Amendments banning gay marriage are on the ballot in eight US states, including Colorado where Mr Haggard and the New Life Church are based.

If Mr Jones is to be believed, it was the vociferous opposition of Mr Haggard to gay marriage that prompted him to go public. In a local television interview, he accused the pastor of "preaching one thing but doing the opposite behind everyone's back. This story should be out, it's so wrong."

Last night the case grew more confusing, as Mr Jones underwent a lie detector test, which apparently revealed "some deception". On the other hand Ross Parsley, the acting senior pastor at the New Life Church, told reporters that Mr Haggard had made "some admission of indiscretion" - thought not to include all the charges against him.

"He confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations are true," Mr Parsley told congregants at the 14,000-strong New Life Church in an e-mail, adding that Mr Haggard had "willingly and humbly submitted to the investigation".

Mr Jones, who is 49, alleges the pastor paid him to have sex almost every month over a three-year period up to last August. Mr Jones said he advertised his services as an escort on the internet, as a result of which he was contacted by a man who called himself Art, and who used methamphetamine before their meetings to heighten his sensations.

Mr Jones then says he saw the man he knew as Art on television, identified as Ted Haggard. He further claims to have compromising voicemail messages from the pastor, and an envelope in which, he says, Mr Haggard sent him money. According to a TV station, one of the voicemails begins: "Hi Mike, this is Art. I was just calling to see if we could get any more. Either $100 (£53) or $200 supply."

The reaction in evangelical circles was shock, along with a strong suspicion the affair was politically motivated. Though Mr Jones insists he is not working for any political group, his charges could damage Republicans if the scandal deters significant numbers of evangelical supporters from voting.

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