A politically active Southern Baptist pastor from Oklahoma was arrested Tuesday night and charged with offering to engage in a lewd act with a police officer posing as a male prostitute.
Lonnie Latham, 59, senior pastor of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />South Tulsa Baptist Church, was one of three men arrested in a sting operation in Oklahoma City. Two of the men were charged with solicitation for prostitution. Latham received a misdemeanor charge of lewdness, police said, because there was no offer to exchange money.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Latham, former director of missions of Tulsa Metro Baptist Association, is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Since 2000 he has served as recording secretary for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
Following his arrest, Latham told reporters in Oklahoma City that he did nothing wrong and that he was “set up” and abused by police.
According to News Channel 9 in Oklahoma City, police set up a sting operation because of complaints at a particular intersection. Latham reportedly followed an undercover officer several blocks before they met in a parking lot. There he allegedly invited the officer to return to a hotel room he had rented and engage in a sexual act. He allegedly used an alias to identify himself and said he was from Dallas.
Latham told reporters he was in the area because he was “involved in a prayer ministry.”
According to a history on the South Tulsa Baptist Church Web site, Sunday school attendance has grown and there have been more than 100 baptisms since Latham became pastor in 2002.
“We are deeply grieved to hear the news about our pastor, Lonnie Latham,” said a statement on the church Web site. “Our first concerns are with Lonnie, his family and our church family. We will be focused on doing what we can to minister to everyone in this difficult time. Our church has a great future of ministry in this community. We would appreciate your prayers.”
Latham has been vocal on political issues including a Baptist-backed campaign opposing the expansion of gambling in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Baptists are on record against homosexuality. In 2004 the convention overwhelmingly adopted a resolution encouraging both houses of Congress to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. According to a news report, the passage of the resolution was met with resounding applause.
Latham was among Oklahoma directors of missions supporting a resolution in August 2000 encouraging pastors and churches to “seriously consider” adoption of the revised Baptist Faith & Message as their generally accepted confession of faith. Critics of the move viewed it an unprecedented effort by state convention leadership to impose a faith statement from the top down.
Among revisions to the document, approved by the SBC in June 2004, was to add a reference to “sexual immorality,” including homosexuality, as a vice to be avoided by all Christians.
The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma issued a statement on Latham’s arrest.
“The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma is deeply grieved having heard the recent news regarding Lonnie Latham,” said BGCO spokesperson Heidi Wilburn. “Our first concern is for his church and family. As Christians we reach out to those who hurt; however, we fully support law enforcement in dealing with these matters. While we certainly do not condone this type of activity we do continue to care and pray for Lonnie during this difficult time.”
Latham was released from jail on $500 bond. If convicted he could face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.