Disgraced Pastor Has Opposed Gay Unions Ted Haggard, the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of a "mega-church" in Colorado Springs, Colo., is embroiled in a scandal over his hiring a male prostitute and buying drugs. Previously, Haggard has called homosexuality a violation of God's plan.
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Disgraced Pastor Has Opposed Gay Unions

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Disgraced Pastor Has Opposed Gay Unions

Disgraced Pastor Has Opposed Gay Unions

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Ted Haggard has been a pastor in Colorado Springs for about 20 years, but his influence goes far beyond that city.

NPR's Jeff Brady has interviewed Haggard in the past and followed his career over the past couple of years. Jeff joins us from Denver. Jeff, Ted Haggard arrived in Colorado Springs about 20 years ago. What brought him there?

JEFF BRADY: He says it was divine inspiration that brought him to Colorado Springs and that's also what he says prompted him to start his church. Before that, he had been involved in a variety of missionary activities, one of them actually involved smuggling Bibles into the former Soviet Union.

And then in his late 20s, he was associate pastor in a large church in Baton Rouge. He traveled to Colorado and pitched a tent on the side of Pike's Peak and fasted and prayed and that's where he concluded that God had a special plan for Colorado Springs and that he was to be a significant part of it.

And he wasn't the only one at the time. There were others who were coming to the city, and since then, it's become sort of a center for evangelical Christianity. And Haggard began holding services in the basement of his home. Eventually, I mean, his church grew very rapidly and now it's the largest one in Colorado - 14,000 members.

SIEGEL: Now has Haggard been especially vocal on issues of homosexuality or gay rights?

BRADY: His positions have been similar to other conservative evangelicals. Maybe not quite as harsh as most of the others. He does say that God's plan is for people to live in heterosexual relationships, that homosexual relationships violate God's plan and he says that they're a sin. He opposes gay marriage. Right now there's a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban gay marriage in Colorado and he supports that.

But one place he seems to depart with a lot of other evangelicals is on the issue of civil unions for gay couples. And he's never really taken a specific stand on that, as far as I can tell.

SIEGEL: You have interviewed Ted Haggard in the past and you've seen him responding to these allegations now. What's your impression?

BRADY: You know, he looks pretty much as he always has. I was really surprised to see him being interviewed. He's just a master communicator. He's absolutely compelling to watch. You can see why his church has grown so quickly.

And even when he was being asked questions that had to be very uncomfortable for him to answer, he was composed. His voice was strong. And he looked the questioner straight in the eye. It was just really impressive.

SIEGEL: Now you have to give us some geographical context here. It's no surprise that he's based in Colorado Springs, which has become a sort of center of evangelical Christianity in the country.

BRADY: Exactly. There are about 100 religious groups based there. They call themselves para-church organizations. They're not churches, but they're religious organizations. The best known is probably James Dobson's Focus on the Family, but there are so many others.

I think one of my favorites is probably the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys. Their whole job is to hold cowboy church at rodeos across the West mostly. And there are groups that provide aid to needy folks all over the world. Compassion International is one of those groups.

And one of the groups is actually affiliated with Haggard's New Life Church. It's called the World Prayer Center. It has an online presence and it's billed as the only real time global prayer network. There are folks out there today and a lot of folks, as Eric Whitney just mentioned in that piece, who are very stunned. But they all said whether Ted Haggard is their senior pastor or not, their church will live on.

SIEGEL: Jeff, I asked you about what he has said about homosexuality. The other issue here is the use of methamphetamine. Is that something that figures at all in his ministry? Have you heard him talk about it ever or not?

BRADY: Well, certainly he does talk about the things that people are challenged by in life, and he says everyone is challenged by something. And he's never been very specific about what he is challenged by, but he says everybody is tempted by something and you have to stand up to that. He said here he was tempted by methamphetamine and he went and he bought it from this gay prostitute in Denver. But he says he never used it. He threw it away and never used it.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Jeff.

BRADY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jeff Brady speaking to us from Denver.

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