Can Pastor Come Back After Fall From Grace?

ByABC News via logo
November 12, 2008, 7:20 AM

Nov. 6, 2006 — -- Parishioners were weeping in the pews Sunday at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs when the disgraced Rev. Ted Haggard admitted to "sexual immorality" in a letter read aloud to the congregation.

Haggard was a man who once advised people on how to have a strong marriage and healthy family life.

"First of all, you find a person of the opposite sex and you make a lifelong commitment to them," he is heard saying on a Beliefnet video.

Haggard is now admitting to many -- though not all -- of the allegations about sex and crystal meth use made by a former gay prostitute, Mike Jones.

After days of denials, Haggard confessed and asked for forgiveness.

The letter said, in part: "The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. ...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." "

In a separate letter, Haggard's wife, Gayle, said she still loves her husband.

"I am committed to him until death do us part," that letter said.

Haggard's fall from grace is reminiscent of the sex scandals in the 1980s involving televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart.

At the time, those scandals created real disillusionment among some evangelicals. And now there are Christians who worry Haggard's fall could have an even more damaging impact.

"To me this is a spiritual 9-1-1 for the evangelical community," said Pastor Kelly Williams of the Vanguard Church. "I mean, it has that kind of effect."

For many people, the big question focuses on apparent hypocrisy when Christian leaders preach one thing, but practice another.

"Well, obviously hypocrisy is wrong," said Joyce Meyer, a prominent evangelist from St. Louis, today on "Good Morning America." "When things like this happen, we have to think not only about the people who fail, but also think about the hundreds of thousands of ministers who don't fail."

Unlike Swaggart and Bakker, Haggard built a position of real political prominence, in part because of his savvy handling of reporters. He even became an adviser to the White House.

His parishioners are now debating whether the church can survive.

"Yes, the church will survive because Jesus is the head of the church, not a person," said one parishioner.

"I personally think that New Life is Pastor Ted and I don't think he can be replaced and that's the honest truth," another said.