COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Nov. 4, 2006 — -- "Dismissed." That was the blunt language from the Overseer Board of the Rev. Ted Haggard's New Life Church.
"Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct," the four-member board decided late today.
The dismissal followed serious sex and drug accusations leveled by a self-described retired male prostitute, who claimed Haggard paid for a homosexual relationship that allegedly lasted three years and that the founder of the New Life Church had purchased methamphetamines.
Accuser Mike Jones said he made the charges public because he believed Haggard was hypocritical in denouncing same-sex marriage while partaking in a homosexual relationship. The revelations came only days before voters here and elsewhere will go to the polls and, in some cases, vote on amendments impacting gay rights.
Haggard was "informed of this decision," the Overseer Board said, and he and his wife "have agreed as well that he should be dismissed and that a new pastor for New Life Church should be selected."
Haggard did not answer his phone today, but church officials said an apology from the beleaguered pastor would be read to parishioners at two services Sunday. The Rev. Ross Parsley will lead the church until a replacement is selected by the end of the year.
Associate Pastor Rob Brendle, in his first interview following the dismissal, told ABC News that he was disheartened by the news, but added he would continue to support his mentor and friend. When asked to explain why Haggard maintained his innocence for the past few days but now accepted his dismissal, Brendle was hard pressed to answer.
"It's sad, and it does surprise me because I've always known Ted to be a man of the highest moral character and personal integrity," Brendle said. "I can tell you that in being in regular contact with Ted and his family over the last several days, he has been consistently humble and contrite."
While Haggard's downfall is viewed as a disappointment to Christian conservatives, whom President Bush and other Republicans are courting heavily in the run-up to Tuesday's election, not everyone in Colorado Springs agrees that the news will keep evangelicals from the polls.
Bob Loevy, a political science professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs for the last 38 years, told ABC News that evangelicals may, in fact, turn out in greater numbers.
"It's my opinion that when challenged, evangelicals are actually emboldened and tend to show up at the polls," he said.
Colorado Springs is home to no less 300 evangelical churches, and is widely regarded as the epicenter of the religious movement. Focus on the Family also is located in Colorado Springs, which is home to several military bases and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Voters in Colorado on Tuesday will be asked to decide whether they should support Amendment 43, which reinforces the traditional definition of marriage as the union between a husband and wife. Professor Loevy says he expects the measure to be adopted, in no small measure because of the influence of the evangelical movement.
Will Haggard ever again step foot in the church he founded?
"Without a doubt he will be back," said Brendle.
"Not, however, in a leadership role," he added.
Brendle stressed that the church will survive because of parishioners' deeply held beliefs. He told ABC News that other disgraced evangelicals have failed because they reacted "stupidly" in the face of controversy.
"We are going to be smart about this," he said. "This church will survive and grow. You'll see."