Embattled national evangelical leader the Rev. Ted Haggard admitted Friday that he bought methamphetamines and received a massage from a gay prostitute, but denies he ever used the drug or had sex with the man.
Haggard, 50, a married father of five, who resigned his post as head of the thirty million member National Association of Evangelicals, said he never had sex with Mike Jones, a 49-year-old gay escort who claims to have had a drug-laced three year tryst with Haggard.
Haggard, who was leaving his home with his wife and three of his five children, said he bought the methamphetamine because he was curious. He claimed he threw it away.
Haggard earlier claimed charges against him were untrue, and were political retribution for his campaign in support of a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Haggard, pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church, announced his resignation on Thursday.
"I am voluntarily stepping aside from leadership so that the overseer process can be allowed to proceed with integrity," Haggard said in a statement. "I hope to be able to discuss this matter in more detail at a later date. In the interim, I will seek both spiritual advice and guidance."
Haggard also gave up his post at the church.
A pastor at Haggard's church, Ross Parsley, sent an e-mail to congregants saying Haggard "confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true."
"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."
Among the allegations made by Jones was that Haggard paid him for sex and snorted methamphetamine with him before their sexual encounters to heighten the experience.
Jones said he decided to go public with his story because of Haggard's opposition to the proposed state ban on gay marriage.
"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 is gay and is not working for any political group.
"It made me angry that here's someone preaching about gay marriage and going behind the scenes having gay sex," he said.
Colorado voters will decide on the gay-marriage ban amendment when they vote next Tuesday.
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.
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."
Carolyn Haggard, spokeswoman for the New Life Church and the pastor's niece, said a four-member church panel will investigate the allegations. The board has the authority to discipline Haggard, including removing him from ministry work.
The allegations stunned church members.
"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."
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.