Saying that he was a "deceiver and liar" who had given in to his dark side, the Rev. Ted Haggard confessed to sexual immorality Sunday in a letter read from the pulpit of the megachurch he founded.
The disgraced former president of the National Evangelical Association, which represents 30 million evangelical Christians, apologized and said "because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn't want to hurt or disappoint them."
"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life," he said.
Haggard, 50, resigned last week as NEA president, where he held sway in Washington and condemned homosexuality, after a man claimed to have had drug-fueled homosexual trysts with him. Haggard also placed himself on administrative leave from the 14,000-member New Life Church, which he founded in the 1980s. Its independent Overseer Board fired him Saturday.
The letter was read to the New Life Church by another clergyman, the Rev. Larry Stockstill, senior pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, La., and a member of the board that fired him. Neither Haggard nor his wife, Gayle, attended.
In his letter, Haggard said "the accusations made against me are not all true but enough of them are that I was appropriately removed from his church leadership position."
He did not give details on which accusations were true. Haggard had acknowledged on Friday that he paid Mike Jones of Denver for a massage and for methamphetamine, but said he did not have sex with him and did not take the drug.
The Overseer Board, made up clergy from various churches, used stronger language.
"Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct," the board said in a statement.
At the New Life church, youngsters were sent from the room before elders began discussing the church crisis.
"Worshippers are always challenged by crisis. And when tragedy and crisis strikes it is at that moment that you truly decide if you are a worshipper of the most high god. And today as the worship pastor of this church I am very proud of you," said the Rev. Ross Parsley, who has replaced Haggard.
Ryan Price and his fiancee, Karen Geyer, were impressed. "It seemed genuine — from the heart. It's unfortunate but it happens," said Geyer.
"He's reaching out and asking for forgiveness," said Price.
Jones, who said he is gay, said he was upset when he discovered who Haggard was and that New Life opposed same-sex marriage — a key issue in Colorado, with a pair of issues on Tuesday's ballot.
"I am sad for him and his family. I know this is a tough day for him also," he said in a telephone interview Sunday. "I wish him well. I wish his family well. My intent was never to destroy his family. My intent was to expose a hypocrite."
The scandal has disappointed Christian conservatives, whom President Bush and other Republicans are courting heavily in the run-up to Tuesday's election.
Many were already disheartened with the president and the Republican-controlled Congress over their failure to deliver big gains on social issues even before the congressional page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record).
Haggard, who had been NEA president since 2003, has participated in conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied Congress last year on Supreme Court nominees.