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US evangelist in male prostitute claim

The Age | November 4, 2006

Male prostitute Miike Jones claims he had sex as many as 36 times with Ted Haggard, above. Photo: AP

THE president of the American Association of Evangelicals, who regularly consults the White House on policy matters, has resigned following allegations that he regularly visited a male prostitute.

A man told a Denver radio station that Pastor Ted Haggard, who runs one of the largest churches in the US, the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, had paid him for sex about once a month for the past three years.

Mike Jones, 49, of Denver, told the Associated Press he had voicemails from Mr Haggard as well as an envelope he said Mr Haggard used to mail him cash. He has offered to take a polygraph test on local radio.

Mr Jones told a Denver television station, which has been investigating the allegations for two months, that Mr Haggard used methamphetamine in his presence on several occasions.

"People may look at me and think what I've done is immoral, but I think I had to do the moral thing in my mind and that is expose someone who is preaching one thing and doing the opposite behind everybody's back," Mr Jones said.

"I made myself cry and I made myself sick," he told the Denver Post about his decision to come forward. "I felt I owed this to the community. What he is saying is we are not worthy, but he is."

He claims he was contacted by Mr Haggard three years ago for sex, either through a gay newspaper advertisement or an online advertisement he posted on the internet. He showed the newspaper an envelope addressed to him from "Art", a name he says Mr Haggard used — sent from an address in Colorado Springs. Mr Jones said the envelope came to him with two $100 notes inside. He also played voicemails claimed to be from Mr Haggard.

Married with five children, Mr Haggard stepped aside from his position as leader of the New Life Church, which has 14,000 members, pending an inquiry by a board of overseers. He is one of America's most influential evangelicals, and according to Harper's magazine, talks to President George Bush or his advisers every Monday. He denied the Jones allegations in a television interview, saying: "I've never said I'm perfect, but I haven't had sex with a man in Denver, and I've been faithful to my wife." He said he had never met Mr Jones.

But in an official statement from his church, he was more circumspect. It said: "I am voluntarily stepping aside from leadership so that the overseer process can be allowed to proceed with integrity. 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."

Although he has called homosexuality immoral and something which "excludes one from the Kingdom of God", in his television interview he was at pains to say he had never preached anything that could be called hateful.

The allegations are likely to have wider ramifications, coming a few days before the national mid-term congressional elections in which the Republicans are hoping to stave off defeat by getting its core supporter groups, including evangelical Christians, to vote. This key group has been disillusioned in the wake of the scandal surrounding sexual emails by a congressman, Mark Foley, to young congressional pages. Another scandal surrounding a higher authority with ties to the White House will not encourage them to vote.

Mr Haggard, well-known for dressing in jeans and driving a pick-up, is widely praised as an energetic, charismatic pastor who has pushed to expand evangelical activism into issues such as global warming and world poverty. But he has not shied away from the traditional culture-war issues of abortion and homosexuality.

A lengthy profile in Harper's magazine recounts how he built the New Life Church in part by hanging out at gay bars and inviting patrons to come to sermons and be saved. Under his leadership, the National Association of Evangelicals, which has 30 million members, reaffirmed a policy statement that describes homosexuality as "a deviation from the Creator's plan" and calls same-sex relations a sin that "if persisted in … excludes one from the Kingdom of God".

In the television interview, Mr Haggard suggested the allegations might amount to little more than "election-year politics".

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