Video: Top pastor quits after sex allegations

updated 11/3/2006 7:47:21 AM ET 2006-11-03T12:47:21

The head of the National Association of Evangelicals, who has stepped down while his church investigates a claim he paid a man for sex, had been working to broaden the evangelical agenda, raising the profile of the group but also drawing criticism from old guard leaders.

The Rev. Ted Haggard of Colorado had continued to fight abortion and acceptance of gay relationships in his three years as association president, recently championing a proposed ban on same-sex marriage on his home state’s ballot. But he also prioritized anti-poverty work and environmental activism. The association recently started a project called “Re:Vision,” meant to advance a “broad biblical agenda” to include improving health care and ending racism.

“He’s helped to build up the organization,” said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. “He’s also taken risks.”

One of Haggard’s biggest leaps came when he said he believed global warming was occurring, and that stopping climate change should be an evangelical priority.

His position drew a rebuke from some prominent evangelicals including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, leading Haggard to keep the association out of at least one religious environmental protection campaign this year. The NAE is an umbrella group that claims a membership of 45,000 conservative yet very diverse churches that usually act independently.

“It created some disgruntlement among certain evangelicals who thought that any attention diverted away from abortion was moving in the wrong direction,” said Corwin Smidt, a political scientist at Calvin College who researches evangelicals.

Haggard resigned Thursday as president of the NAE and as pastor of his New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., after a 49-year-old Denver man said the pastor had paid him to have sex monthly over the past three years. Haggard, a married father of five, denied the allegations.

The pastor, who is about 50, started his Colorado Springs church in 1985, seven years after graduating from Oral Roberts University. New Life has since expanded to 14,000 members, with a campus near the Air Force Academy that includes a 24-hour prayer center.

'A public policy mission'
Recognizing the dramatic spread of conservative Christianity in Africa, Haggard travels to the continent about twice a year, taking other American pastors along to educate them about fast-growing churches abroad. He so admires the success of African pastors that he modeled the main sanctuary of his Colorado Springs church on a Nigerian megachurch.

His position with the evangelical association was influential; Haggard has participated in conference calls with White House staffers and has lobbied Congress for conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices. But the association is too decentralized for the kind of political organizing Dobson and other evangelical activists lead, Green said.

“The NAE sees itself as have primarily a religious mission and alongside that, religious mission, a public policy mission,” Green said. “They have not been in the forefront of the political mobilization efforts, but they have cheered them on.”

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