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Ted Haggard leaves Colorado for Phoenix

5:28 PM, Apr 18, 2007   |    comments
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Haggard, 50, resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals last year, after a former male prostitute alleged a three-year cash-for-sex relationship. The man also said he saw Haggard use methamphetamine. Haggard confessed to undisclosed "sexual immorality" and said he bought meth but never used it.

As part of his severance package from New Life Church, a 14,000-member congregation he started in his basement, Haggard agreed to leave Colorado Springs, a city he helped make an evangelical center.

"When he moved out of town today, there was a kind of relief on the part of the church that life can get back to normal," said the Rev. H.B. London, one of three ministers overseeing what has been called Haggard's "restoration." "For the Haggards, it is the beginning of a huge new chapter. It's a brand new start for them, the beginning of a new beginning."

Before his fall, Haggard was an emerging voice in evangelical politics. He took part in White House conference calls and fought to broaden the movement's agenda to include environmental issues.

In Phoenix, Haggard plans to pursue a graduate degree in counseling at an area university, said London, who heads an outreach effort for pastors through Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based conservative Christian group. London was not sure where Haggard would be studying. The Haggards and two of their children - another three are grown - are expected to live in a home made available by a supporter.

Ted and Gayle Haggard have ties to Phoenix. The couple spent three weeks at secular treatment center in the area after the scandal broke. And the Pentecostal church they will attend, Phoenix First Assembly of God, is led by the Rev. Tommy Barnett, another member of Haggard's restoration team.

Bakker, the televangelist, found refuge at Barnett's church after being released from federal prison for bilking supporters of $158 million. He volunteered at a Los Angeles church mission run by Barnett's son.

London said he believes Barnett told his congregation Sunday that Haggard would be joining them. Barnett and officials at his church did not return calls seeking comment.

Haggard faces a test in going from being on the pulpit to becoming just another face in the pews, London said.

"Once you were in charge of a megachurch and a mega-staff and making mega-decisions, now your main decision is where you're going to school, where to eat and what you're going to do on your day off," London said.

The Rev. Mike Ware, a member of a separate panel of pastors that investigated the claims against Haggard, said: "We've all been in agreement that Ted should have a fresh start, gain some fresh perspective, and it's very difficult for them to get the kind of healing they need staying in Colorado Springs."

Ware said Haggard is continuing to receive counseling, which officials said will include an exploration of his sexuality. Haggard has told his advisers he does not believe he's gay.

As part of a severance package that will pay Haggard through 2007, Haggard agreed not only to leave town but to refrain from discussing the scandal publicly. He did not return messages Wednesday. Haggard's most recent annual salary was about $138,000, benefits excluded.

His former congregation has felt the sting of the scandal. Since Haggard's fall, attendance has fallen 20 percent and giving has dropped 10 percent, said Rob Brendle, an associate pastor. As a result of the decline, the church laid off 44 employees, or 12 percent of its work force.

(Copyright 2007. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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