The National Association of Evangelicals confirmed the selection of the Rev. Leith Anderson, senior pastor of a Minnesota megachurch, as its interim president on Saturday, temporarily filling the leadership position that was left vacant by the sudden resignation of its former president, the Rev. Ted Haggard.
"Dr. Anderson knows the evangelical world and is uniquely positioned to serve the National Association of Evangelicals at this time," said L. Roy Taylor, NAE Chairman of the Board. "He's a man of great personal integrity and spiritual leadership who can step into the president's role without missing a beat."
A 15-member Executive Committee made the selection at an emergency conference on Friday, during the same time they accepted Haggard’s resignation. The following day, Anderson agreed to serve for an indefinite period in order to give the Association time to find a permanent president.
Anderson is the senior Pastor of the 5,000-member Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., and has served as the NAE interim president in the time immediately preceding Haggard’s appointment in 2003. According to Richard Cizik, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the NAE, Anderson’s experience, coupled with his steady composure, makes him the perfect candidate for the difficult position.
“I have complete confidence in Leith,” said Cizik, who has been with the NAE for 25 years. “He was a unanimous choice by the Executive Committee. He brings both the authority as a pastor, an author, missions leader, and seminary lecturer to the organization, and a calming presence like baking soda on a frying pan.”
Anderson fills the NAE presidency at time of tragedy and scrutiny for the 60-year-old organization. Early last week, Mike Jones, a male prostitute from Denver, revealed to the media that he allegedly had a three-year sexual relationship with Haggard, a married father of five. Although Haggard only admitted to receiving a massage from Jones, he confessed to being “guilty of sexual immorality” and opening “the door for additional allegations.”
In an interview with CNN, Jones said he exposed the relationship because he “owed it to the gay community to expose the hypocrisy” and to influence this week’s vote on an amendment banning gay marriage in Colorado.
“I’ve been listening to Mr. Haggard and his church actively campaign against gay marriage amendment to the constitution in Colorado, and I thought this was not right,” said Jones. “Here is a man who is married, and he is fooling around behind his wife’s back.”
Cizik, however, said he believes voters in Colorado and elsewhere will not be swayed by the controversy. Instead, he said, “evangelicals may come out stronger from this experience,” with an opportunity to share the gospel to people they had not had a chance to speak with before.
Cizik also expressed deep gratitude to those supporting and praying for the NAE, adding that the organization has been “receiving non-stop calls of support.”
Anderson has served at Wooddale Church for 29 years, and is the author of eight books. He was educated at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and received a B.A. in sociology from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., a Master of Divinity from the Denver Seminary in Denver, Colo., and a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.