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For the 14,000 members of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, it has been a rough couple of days. Their pastor, Ted Haggard, has stepped down amid allegations that he had a three year sexual relationship with a male prostitute. Last night, the church's acting pastor told parishioners that Haggard acknowledged that some of the charges were true.
Today, Haggard told local reporters that he did buy methamphetamine and get a massage from the man. But he denied a sexual relationship. Haggard has also resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Members of Haggard's mega church are stunned by the news.
Eric Whitney of member station KRCC spoke with some of them today.
ERIC WHITNEY: This morning in a corner of the vast parking lot at New Life Church, 17- and 18-year-old Jocelyn Garcia and Terra Bear were coming to pray before school, which they say they do fairly often. The young woman said they were shocked to learn that Haggard had admitted that some of the allegations against him were true.
Ms. TERRA BEAR: Didn't believe it. I thought it was ridiculous.
Ms. JOCELYN GARCIA: I know. I was like, no way. I was like, elections, because it's just like so weird with the timing and stuff, you know.
Ms. BEAR: I thought it was a complete scam, but now he's admitting to it. It's just hard to comprehend.
Ms. GARCIA: It is hard. It's heartbreaking. But he's still human, you know. We don't worship him, and we've just got to keep our hearts in the right place.
Ms. LINDA COATS(ph): I personally don't believe it. I just absolutely cannot succumb to the realization that my pastor would do something like that.
WHITNEY: Linda Coats is a retired biology teacher who brought a placard to the church to hold in front of TV cameras. It said I support my pastor.
Ms. COATS: It's very vague as to what he admitted to. We don't know exactly what happened, and that's what I'm waiting to hear and find out.
WHITNEY: Twenty-one-year-old Ashley Booman(ph) says she wants to hear more, too.
Ms. ASHLEY BOOMAN: But you can't necessarily trust the media, so I guess we'll find out a lot on Sunday.
WHITNEY: The church has appointed a board of four pastors from other congregations to investigate the allegations and if necessary, to discipline Haggard.
Nineteen-year-old David McNamara says he thinks his pastor is innocent. Like others here, he thinks the church email telling the congregation that their pastor had admitted some of the accusations are true is still open to interpretation.
Mr. DAVID MCNAMARA: Like some of the allegations could be that he knew the gay person in Denver, which obviously, he's a pastor of a 14,000 member church, so of course he's going to know that. But beyond that, you know, we have to go and search deep into, you know, exactly what happened and everything like that.
WHITNEY: But 40-year-old Terry Collins, a church outreach volunteer who comes to New Life every day, seems more willing to believe that Haggard might have strayed significantly. Like others, though, he spoke of the need for the congregation to unite.
Mr. TERRY COLLINS: Pastor Haggard, he's made some mistakes, but I'm going to stand behind him. I'm going to pray for his family. I'm going to have a positive perspective on this whole thing. I'm going to be here for the people. And I'm going to try to be a positive example.
WHITNEY: Inside the cavernous foyer of the church, things are still very much business as usual. Christian pop still plays from speakers in the ceiling. Banners hang in the lobby advertising the upcoming Christmas show and Pastor Ted Haggard's books are still prominently displayed for sale.
For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Colorado Springs.
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