Father, give us grace and mercy. Father, help us this next week and a half as we go into national elections, and Lord we pray for our country. Father, we pray that lies would be exposed. We pray that deception would be exposed.

These were the words Ted Haggard used to open his sermon last Sunday. And until this week Ted Haggard was one of the most influential religious voices in the nation. Haggard was pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, the head of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals, and an advisor to President Bush on evangelical issues. Now he is none of these things.

On Wednesday, a Denver hustler named Mike Jones brought Haggard’s position to sudden destruction through exposure of lies and deception. Jones claims that he had engaged in a three year sex-and-drugs based relationship with the pastor. Jones says that he came forward and made the accusation because he saw Haggard on television campaigning for an amendment to the Colorado constitution to ban gay marriage.

Jones is being taken seriously.

The accusation is that about once a month Haggard (going by “Art”, short for his middle name Arthur) would contact Jones and would travel to Denver where he would pay Jones for sex. The two would use crystal methamphetamine to enhance the sexual experience.

After the claims were made public Haggard stepped down from his position both in the NAE and in his church.

In support of his story, Jones provided a news station with tape recordings that he says are Haggard’s voice. A voice recognition specialist hired by the station says that there are close matches between the recordings and a taped interview with the pastor. Both recordings seem to support Jones’ claims about drug use.

“Hi Mike, this is Art,” one call began, according to the report. “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.”

Jones took an on-air polygraph test which suggested that he was being deceptive. However, the administrator of the test indicated that this is probably likely to Jones’ lack of sleep or food and to a migraine headache he was suffering. They are proposing that the test be re-administered when Jones has had sleep.

In a claim reminiscent of the John Paulk “explanations”, Haggard makes a partial admission. Recognizing that complete denial is futile, the pastor denies having sex with Jones but does admit to some “indiscretions”.

Haggard, 50, said he never had sex with Michael Jones, a 49-year-old Denver man who raised the allegations this week. Haggard said he received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a Denver hotel.

As for the drug, the reverend claims he bought the meth out of curiosity but threw it away.

“I bought it for myself but never used it,” Haggard told reporters gathered outside his home. “I was tempted but I never used it.”

Obviously it is too early to determine the accuracy of either man’s words. However, some aspects of Haggard’s story seem blatantly absurd.

Jones offers the kind of massage that is advertised on the internet along with escort services, not the kind of massage that is recommended by a reputable hotel. In order for Haggard to be believed about the limits of his contact with Jones, he will need to substantiate his story with testimony from hotel staff.

Also, the wording of Haggard’s telephone messages suggests that his drug acquisition was not a singular event. “Hey, I was just calling to see if we could get any more. Either $100 or $200 supply” does not sound like someone who has never tried the drug and is only curious.

Considering the glaring inaccuracies in Haggard’s version, it is likely that at least some of what Jones is claiming is true. It would appear from Haggard’s own taped words that he partook in drug usage and – as meth is a drug that lowers inhibitions and sharply spikes libido – it is difficult for me to believe that physical contact under the drug’s influence was limited to massage.

It is clear that Haggard has suffered a fall from which it may be impossible for him to recover. And that is sad.

I vehemently object to Haggard’s anti-gay activism. And I think it the height of hypocrisy for him to be campaigning for an anti-gay amendment while sneaking around with a gay hustler engaging in drugs and – most likely – sexual activity.

And the positions taken by the National Association of Evangelicals is far from compassionate or even considerate of the issues faced by same-sex attracted Christians. From the National Association of Evangelical’s Same-Sex Marriage webpage:

Homosexual activity, like adulterous relationships, is clearly condemned in the Scriptures. In Leviticus 18:22 God declares the practice of homosexuality an abomination in His sight. In Romans 1:26-27 the practice of homosexuality is described as a degrading and unnatural passion. I Corinthians 6:9-10 identifies the practice of homosexuality as a sin that, if persisted in, brings grave consequences in this life and excludes one from the Kingdom of God.

But Haggard was not as rabidly anti-gay as are some other evangelical leaders. Unlike his neighbor, James Dobson, Haggard believed Lawrence v. Texas was an appropriate decision. And he also advocated for a secular pluralistic society. And it is unfortunate that this somewhat nuanced position has been silenced.

Also, we must consider that it is possible that Ted Haggard is a man who is significantly (or even primarily) same-sex attracted. And if so, he is a man with whom many of us here can empathize. His religious convictions may be in sharp contrast with his internal drives and that can lead to disastrous consequences and a chaotic life.

It is my hope and prayer that Ted Haggard can find a life that is consistent, honest, and meaningful and brings peace to himself and those around him. I also hope that this moment of crisis will remind him and those around him that our primary moral focus should be on our own life and not in political campaigns that seek to impose on and punish others who are not so very different from ourselves.

Autumn Sandeen and Jim Burroway also contributed to this article.

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