It's becoming to difficult to keep track of all the Republican sex scandals these days. The latest "moral values" offender is Reverend Ted Haggard, head of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Haggard resigned yesterday as president of the National Association of Evangelicals amid allegations that he paid for gay sex during a three-year tryst with a male escort and used drugs such as methamphetamines. According to the acting pastor of New Life, Haggard admitted that "some of the accusations against him are true." Today, Haggard told reporters that he bought meth, though never used it, and received a massage from the accuser.
This is not just any religious leader we are talking about. "No pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted," Jeff Sharlet of Harper's reported in a profile of Haggard last year. He talks to President Bush or his advisors every Monday.
Haggard, like his fellow Christian soldier James Dobson, also happens to be a leading opponent of gay marriage and an ardent critic of an amendment on the Colorado ballot November 7 that would give same-sex couples equal rights under the law and a supporter of another amendment that would prohibit gay marriage in the state. He's called gay marriage a "sin" and "devastating for the children of our nation."
It's a routine that's won Haggard praise since as far back as 1993. "During services at the New Life church," the New York Times reported back then, "Pastor Ted Haggard warns against the evils of homosexuality and adultery. His followers respond with exuberant clapping and shouts of 'Amen!' and 'That's right!'"
In 2004, he led the push with Dobson and other religious right leaders for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Haggard's accuser, male escort Mike Jones, decided to finally speak up because "I felt like I had to take a stand, and I cannot sit back anymore and hear [what] to me is an anti-gay message."
Conservatives are worried that the allegations may further depress "values voters" already angry about the Mark Foley revelations. "If the story is true, Ted's a hypocrite of the worst kind," Sharlet writes on his blog. "Then again, he's also another victim of the very closet over which he publicly stands guard."