The Recording Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Church has been arrested for propositioning a male undercover officer for oral sex.

The Oklahoma City police were conducting a sting operation to respond to complaints about male prostitution. The Rev. Lonnie Latham, pastor of the South Tulsa Baptist Church, was arrested after he invited an undercover policeman back to his room at the Habana Inn for oral sex. The charge was not prostitution or solicitation but rather offering to engage in an act of lewdness.

At present there may be facts of the case that are not fully understood. However, it appears to me initially that without any suggestion of money taking place, the pastor was arrested for offering to engage in sex with another man.

This raises concerns about the legality of the arrest, or even of the sting. After Lawrence v. Texas was decided by the Supreme Court, it is no longer allowed for any state to set up laws that make it illegal to offer to have sex with another man. Other laws against prostitution or public acts of lewdness can remain if they are applied equally. As the sex was to take place in private (a hotel room) and since no money was offered (as best we can tell) this may turn out to be an illegal arrest.

Perhaps Oklahoma City may have some other facts or there may be exceptions to Lawrence of which I’m unaware. We will have to wait and see. However, I hope that Lambda Legal will recognize that Rev. Latham is as much a victim of discrimination – as he is a proponent of it – and will offer legal assistance.

This situation, though sad, does highlight one significant problem with the ex-gay movement. It’s reported that Latham also supported a Baptist Convention directive that encourages befriending homosexuals in an effort to persuade them to become heterosexual and reject their “sinful, destructive lifestyle.”

Latham, it would seem, has fallen victim to his own rhetoric. He no doubt believed his church’s teaching that there is no sexual orientation, just sin. That by rejecting or refusing a label of “homosexual” and by trying not to live a “homosexual lifestyle” he could overcome his sinful nature. It is both ironic and pathetic that his fight against his own intrinsic characteristics led him to a life that includes furtive sexual trysts in a sordid hotel and ultimately a criminal record.

It is clear that Latham behaved as a hypocrite in his religious life. It will be interesting to see if he relies on the protections that have been won by gay advocates to protect him legally. Without efforts (which have been adamantly opposed by the Southern Baptist Church) sex between men would still be illegal in Oklahoma and Rev. Latham could be facing a possible jail term. I do not yet know if Latham spoke out against Lawrence or other legislation on which he can now rely, but if so it would make him doubly a hypocrite.

I hope that through this, Rev. Latham can gain some introspection and take whatever steps are necessary to reconcile his sexual orientation (whatever it may be) with his life. However, based on the history of similar situations, it is likely that Latham will “repent” and disavow his “sin”. He will lose respect, his position of leadership in the denomination, and possibly his church. But most sad, he will probably lose his chance to start over and stop fighting himself. Let’s hope he doesn’t.

So far, though, the good reverend’s position has been more laughable than laudable. He claims:

As the Rev. Lonnie Latham, 59, left jail Wednesday, he said “I was set up. I was in the area pastoring to police.”

I think that perhaps Rev. Lonnie meant that he was ministering to the needs of his fellow man.

UPDATE 1/6/05

Correction: Rev. Latham was arrested in the parking lot of the Habana Inn. He had a room at a nearby hotel.

Update: This from the Tulsa World:

A pastor has resigned from his Tulsa church and from the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention after being arrested on charges that he propositioned a male plainclothes police officer.

Rev. Lonnie Latham, 59, who was senior pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church, also resigned from the board of directors of Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma on Thursday, citing “personal reasons,” Heidi Wilburn, a spokeswoman for the state organization said Friday.

The Associated Baptist Press surprisingly has a very good article laying out the details of the case a clarifying some details:

Latham wrote a column in support of the SBC effort to convince gays to “accept Jesus Christ as their savior and reject their sinful, destructive lifestyle.”

This indicates that Latham’s hypocrisy was active rather than a passive agreement with his denomination.

“I was involved in a prayer ministry in that area, and I had a dialogue with police,” he said, according to the website of the Daily Oklahoman newspaper. “The officer made many suggestions.”

But, according to police officials, Latham made no mention of prayer, told the officer his name was “Luke,” and said he was from Dallas and worked frequently in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Very little has been made of the fact that Latham lied. This is, according to Scripture, every bit as much a moral failing as any issues surrounding adultery or sexuality. In fact, the prohibitions against lying vastly outnumber any mention of sexual sins of any nature. The commandment against lying actually made it into the big ten as written by God, as opposed to the law written by Moses.

According to the website, the church has an average Sunday-morning attendance of about 700 and has experienced significant growth since Latham became its pastor in 2002.

It is unfortunate that an obviously charismatic man with an ability to reach people has allowed his own internal struggle to now bring sorrow to himself, his family, and his church. How much better it would have been for Latham to be truthful to himself and those he cares for.

Oh, and also to the police and the news media.

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