Grace Chapel takes a patient approach after the pastor’s gay admission. Others weigh fallout.

By Eric Gorski
Denver Post Staff Writer

Separated by a confession of sin, the Rev. Paul Barnes and leaders of his former church will reunite this week and plot the road ahead. Meanwhile, others ponder the broader implications of a second consecutive evangelical pastor toppled by a gay-sex scandal.

Barnes, 54, resigned last week from Grace Chapel in Douglas County after admitting to homosexual relations. He will meet the church’s board of elders to discuss a counseling regimen and a severance package, said Dave Palmer, associate pastor at the 2,100-member nondenominational church.

Palmer on Monday also described in greater detail Barnes’ encounters with other men. He called them “infrequent, short, passing events in his life,” nothing illegal and involving adults not affiliated with the church.

“We are all broken, but we are standing by God’s word, and part of that is grace and healing,” Palmer said.

Barnes’ admission is attracting more attention because it came a month after Colorado Springs pastor Ted Haggard was fired amid allegations that he had paid a male prostitute for sex.

While Haggard was a national figure who championed an anti-gay marriage amendment, the low-profile Barnes avoided politics, church officials said.

Officials from Grace Chapel allowed The Denver Post to view a videotape of Barnes’ tear-stained message played at services Sunday. In the tape, he confessed to “struggling with homosexuality” since he was 5. He described praying for God to make it go away and feelings of isolation. He also talked about failed attempts at counseling.

Barnes resigned after an anonymous caller alerted the church that someone talked about “blowing the whistle.”

One prominent local evangelical leader, Denver Seminary president Craig Williford, predicted additional pastors would fall in the wake of the Haggard scandal.

“When one person gets caught or confesses, it’s almost like others get a new courage to face this dark side of their private lives,” Williford said. “Not only that, but the person who is complicit with the pastor will come forward. We may not be done.”

While evangelicals cannot compromise on their belief that Scripture condemns homosexuality, the movement also has been guilty of being too mean-spirited, Williford said.

“We may have talked about the evils of homosexuality in attempts to justify our position and not been as evenhanded or fair in representing the homosexual community as we should have been,” he said. “At times, we have probably over- generalized the lifestyle and made villains out of people who live in homosexuality.”

A climate of accusation may lead to false allegations, however, said H.B. London of Focus on the Family, who is part of a team overseeing Haggard’s “restoration.” London said he has a greater concern: “Pastors who represent the message of the church should practice what they preach.”

Michael Brewer of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Colorado said he hopes attitudes about homosexuality will evolve, even among conservative Christians.

“This is yet another tragedy resulting from fundamentalist religion’s inability to accept the reality of sexual orientation,” Brewer said. “The hope of many gay and lesbian people is that society will recognize that people are who they are and not attempt to force them into roles that ultimately are destructive.”

A national gay-rights group, Truth Wins Out, issued a statement Monday urging conservative churches to “call off their war against homosexuals and rethink their deadly dogma.”

Grace Chapel officials are taking a patient approach to succession and seeking advice from Barnes and his wife, Char, on how to help them, Palmer said. The couple is out of town to avoid the media glare but wants to stay in Denver.

Severance will be part of the discussion with the elder board, Palmer said. The church does not disclose pastors’ salaries.

The couple is getting professional counseling on two fronts from specialists in marriage and family crisis, Palmer said.

One is a counselor with a secular practice who happens to be Christian, and the other is a Christian counseling ministry.

“Had the church been more of an environment of grace and had Paul been able to share his struggles in that environment of grace early on in his ministry experience, then I think it would have lessened the probability of his falling,” Palmer said.