Can Pastor Come Back After Fall From Grace?

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.

Emergency for Evangelical Community?

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.

Time for Evangelicals to Embrace Gays?

Both Swaggart and Bakker have regained small followings. In a faith based on sin and redemption, Haggard may be able to come back, too.

Meyer said that the church is putting together a group of men to counsel Haggard and "help with his restoration."

"I think a lot of times people in the ministry, because they're the ones everybody is looking for to help, they don't know who they can go to to get help," Meyer said.

At least one evangelical leader says that this incident could help reduce the anger and tension between the Christian and gay rights communities.

"There is something good. … that could come out of this," said Rich Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals. "My hope and prayer is that this whole tawdry affair will lessen some of the vitriol that has gone on between gay rights activists and evangelicals."

Meyer, however, doesn't think that the evangelical community will welcome gays with open arms anytime soon.

"I realize that Ted Haggard has made a terrible mistake and I'm really glad for him, and for everybody that did come out in the open, because lies and deception are much worse than the truth," she said. "But I don't believe what he's done has changed the stand on morality or the word of God. Nor do I think it should change our stand on gay marriage."