In a tearful videotaped message Sunday
to his congregation, the senior pastor of a thriving evangelical
megachurch in south metro Denver confessed to sexual relations with
other men and announced he had voluntarily resigned his pulpit.
A month ago, the Rev. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in Doug las County
preached to his 2,100-member congregation about integrity and grace in
the aftermath of the Ted Haggard drugs-and-gay-sex scandal.
Now, the 54-year-old Barnes joins Haggard as a fallen evangelical
minister who preached that homosexuality was a sin but grappled with a
“I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy,”
Barnes said in the 32- minute video, which church leaders permitted The
Denver Post to view. “… I can’t tell you the number of nights I have
cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away.”
His wife, Char, cradled his hand. Barnes declined an interview request through the church.
Unlike Haggard, who had the ear of the White House, Barnes is not a
household name. He is a self-described introvert who avoids politics,
preferring to talk about a Gen-X service at the nondenominational
church he started 28 years ago in his basement, church officials said.
Barnes and Grace Chapel stayed out of the debate over Amendment 43,
a measure approved by Colorado voters last month defining marriage as
between one man and one woman.
“I can’t think of a single sermon where he ever had a political agenda,” said Dave Palmer, an associate pastor.
Palmer said the church got an anonymous call last week from a person
concerned for the welfare of Barnes and the church. The caller had
overheard a conversation in which someone mentioned “blowing the
whistle” on evangelical preachers engaged in homosexuality, including
Barnes, Palmer said.
Palmer met with Barnes, who confessed. At an emergency meeting
Thursday, a board of elders accepted Barnes’ resignation after he
admitted “sexual infidelity,” violating the church’s code of conduct.
Church leaders also must affirm annually that they are “living the
moral and ethical teachings of Scripture in my public and private life.”
Asked for details of Barnes’ transgressions, Palmer called them
“infrequent events in his life” that to his knowledge did not take
place in recent months.
Sitting cross-legged in jeans and an open-collar shirt, Barnes spoke
in his video about evolving feelings growing up in a firm moral family:
from confused little boy to adolescent racked with self-loathing and
In their only talk about sex, Barnes said his father took him on a
drive and talked about what he would do if a “fag” approached him.
Barnes thought, “‘Is that how you’d feel about me?’ It was like a knife in my heart, and it made me feel even more closed.”
When Barnes experienced a Christian conversion at 17, it gave him a
glimmer of hope. But his homosexual feelings never went away, he said.
He said he cannot accept that a person is “born that way,” so he looks
to childhood influences.
Barnes said he asked God many times why he was called to ministry, to start Grace Chapel, carrying a “horrible burden.”
The soft-spoken Barnes is an unlikely big-church pastor.
After graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary, Barnes and his
wife moved to Denver and began a Bible study. His church met in a
school and a mortuary, bought property at Colorado Boulevard and
Arapahoe Road, and now occupies a campus off County Line Road that used
to be a car dealership.
Barnes described struggling with what he believes is the biblical
teaching that homosexuality is an abomination. Over the years, he grew
to accept that “this is my thorn in the flesh.”
Barnes expressed hope for a future where one can “be who you are”
and be accepted and loved in the Christian community and also spoke
about “separating some of the teachings from Scripture” from Jesus
Palmer said he wasn’t sure what Barnes meant, but Barnes told him that he believes God views homosexuality as a sin.
Barnes said he has been in counseling three times and never found anyone he could talk to.
His wife said on the video that she didn’t know about her husband’s
struggles until he confided in her last week. The couple has two
daughters in their 20s.
Char Barnes said she feels “like I’m living someone else’s life” but
was grateful her husband revealed himself. The couple said they hope to
stay in Denver. Near the tape’s end, Paul Barnes says, “This is what it
is, it’s right, and it’s time.”
Church elder Russ Pilcher said the reaction at services Sunday was
largely concern for the couple. “I thought, ‘Where did I fall short in
making myself so unapproachable that he couldn’t come to me?”‘ Pilcher
Paul and Char Barnes will get counseling, but unlike Haggard, they
will not go into seclusion or report to a board of reconcilers, Palmer
said. He said it will be more personal and that church members will
play a role.
Associate pastor John Zivojinovic is the interim senior pastor, and choosing a successor is still months away, Pilcher said.
Given the Haggard story, Pal mer was asked whether Barnes’ fall from
grace would expose the evangelical community to further charges of
“The criticism is valid if you look at perfection being the mark,
because the next person who stands at our pulpit is going to be guilty
of not being perfect as well,” he said. “Does that mean we have to
change what we say about the word of God? We can’t do that.”
Staff writer Eric Gorski can be reached at 303-954-1698 or [email protected].