Mike Jones (top) told the Associated Press on Thursday that evangelical leader Rev. Ted Haggard paid him to have sex as many as 36 times over three years. Haggard (bottom) resigned as president of the influential National Association of Evangelicals on Thursday following Jones' allegations. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
A leading evangelist and outspoken opponent of gay marriage has given up his post as president of the National Association of Evangelicals while a church panel investigates allegations he paid a man for sex.
The Rev. Ted Haggard resigned as head of the 30 million-member association Thursday and also gave up leadership of his New Life Church pending the investigation into allegations he had monthly trysts with a gay prostitute over the past three years.
Haggard, a married father of five, denied the allegations, but the acting pastor of his church later said that Haggard had acknowledged some of the accusations were true.
"I just know that there has been some admission of indiscretion, not admission to all of the material that has been discussed, but there is an admission of some guilt," Ross Parsley told KKTV-TV of Colorado Springs.
Parlsey did not elaborate, but in an e-mail addressed to congregants, he wrote that the church's four-member board of overseers had since met with Haggard.
"It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true. He has willingly and humbly submitted to the authority of the board of overseers, and will remain on administrative leave during the course of the investigation," the e-mail stated. A copy was obtained by KMGH-TV in Denver.
Late Wednesday, Haggard told KUSA-TV: "I've never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife, I'm faithful to my wife."
The allegations surfaced as voters in Colorado and seven other states get ready to decide Tuesday on amendments banning gay marriage. Besides the proposed ban on the Colorado ballot, a separate measure would establish the legality of domestic partnerships providing same-sex couples with many of the rights of married couples.
Members of Haggard's 14,000-member megachurch were stunned.
"It's political, right before the elections," said Brian Boals, a New Life member for 17 years.
Church member E.J. Cox, 25, called the claims "ridiculous."
"People are always saying stuff about Pastor Ted," she said. "You just sort of blow it off. He's just like anyone else in the public eye."
The accusations were made by Mike Jones, 49, of Denver, who said he decided to go public because of the political fight over the amendments.
"I just want people to step back and take a look and say, 'Look, we're all sinners, we all have faults, but if two people want to get married, just let them, and let them have a happy life,'" said Jones, who added that he isn't working for any political group.
Jones, who said he is gay, said he was also upset when he discovered Haggard and the New Life Church had publicly opposed same-sex marriage.
"It made me angry that here's someone preaching about gay marriage and going behind the scenes having gay sex," he said.
Jones claimed Haggard paid him to have sex nearly every month over three years. He said he advertised himself as an escort on the Internet and was contacted by a man who called himself Art, who snorted methamphetamine before their sexual encounters to heighten his experience.
Jones said he later saw the man on television identified as Haggard and that the two last had sex in August.
He said he has voice mail messages from Haggard, as well as an envelope he said Haggard used to mail him cash. He declined to make the voice mails available to the AP, but KUSA-TV reported what it said were excerpts late Thursday that referred to methamphetamine.
"Hi Mike, this is Art," one call began, according to the station. "Hey, I was just calling to see if we could get any more. Either $100 or $200 supply."
A second message, left a few hours later, began: "Hi Mike, this is Art, I am here in Denver and sorry that I missed you. But as I said, if you want to go ahead and get the stuff, then that would be great. And I'll get it sometime next week or the week after or whenever."
Haggard, 50, was appointed president of the evangelicals association in March 2003. He has participated in conservative Christian leaders' conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied members of Congress last year on U.S. Supreme Court appointees after Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement.
After Massachusetts legalized gay marriage in 2004, Haggard and others began organizing state-by-state opposition. Last year, Haggard and officials from the nearby Christian ministry Focus on the Family announced plans to push Colorado's gay marriage ban for the 2006 ballot.
At the time, Haggard said that he believed marriage is a union between a man and woman rooted in centuries of tradition, and that research shows it's the best family unit for children.
Associated Press Writer Dan Elliott contributed to this report from Denver.