NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Lonnie Latham, pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla., was arrested the night of Jan. 3 in Oklahoma City for “offering to engage in an act of lewdness” according to charges published in various wire reports.
In an area of the city known for male prostitution, Latham allegedly asked a male undercover police officer to go with him to a local hotel for sex.
Television cameras captured him leaving the jail the next day when he stated he “was set up” and was in the area “pastoring to police.”
When reached by phone, Latham told Baptist Press that on advice from his attorneys he declined to comment.
Latham has been pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church since 2002. The statistical records available for the SBC show that the church grew in resident members from 995 to 1,571 during his first two years there. Information for 2005 was not available.
He also served in various roles within the denomination: as recording secretary for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and by virtue of that office as a member of the state convention’s 64-member executive board and as one of four members representing Oklahoma on the 82-member Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. Both roles required election by messengers from churches, for the BGCO at the 2000 state annual meeting and for the SBC EC at the 2004 national annual meeting.
Baptist Press learned from officials of the church, the BGCO and the SBC Executive Committee that Latham has resigned each of his positions.
In a letter to the BGCO and an e-mail to the SBC EC, Latham cited “personal reasons” for his resignation. However, in resigning as pastor, he spoke in person to lay leaders and staff at South Tulsa Baptist Church.
The church’s minister of administration, Russell Slack, stated that Latham also submitted a letter, but that the contents would not be shared publicly until Sunday with the church body. Slack said that Latham appeared contrite when he presented his resignation.
“We have obviously two functions: One is to take care of the church and one is to minister to Lonnie as a brother in Christ,” Slack said. He added that the church is moving on with their ministries.
“Our focus is on the future,” he said. “We have a great history and we believe we have a great future, but we’ve got to focus on God working through our lives, allowing Him to be the controlling aspect so that we are, again, in the future, the witness and the minister in this community as we should be.”
Anthony Jordan, BGCO executive director-treasurer, spoke with Baptist Press after having talked with Latham.
“We have a dual responsibility,” Jordan said.
“From the standpoint of the church and, certainly, as brothers in Christ, we are to hold Lonnie to the biblical standard of morality and to hold him accountable for his actions.” He added, “Lonnie has responded to that admonition by resigning from his church, asking their forgiveness and stepping aside to seek healing.
“At the same time, in the midst of failure, the church is to be a place of restoration,” he said. “That is the biblical admonition.”
In a statement to Baptist Press, Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, expressed concern for all those involved.
“We’re all saddened by Lonnie Latham’s action along with the subsequent charge against him,” he said. “Our heartfelt concern goes out to Lonnie, his family, church and community in South Tulsa. The emotional anguish must be agonizing for these who know him best. They are on our hearts and in our prayers….
“Of course, Christians are human and among 16 million Southern Baptists there will be moral lapses,” Chapman said. “When it happens, we grieve for the family, the church, the denomination, and God’s Kingdom and we pray for complete rehabilitation of the one(s) who has fallen.”
Latham was outspoken about social and cultural issues, including opposition to tribal gaming as well as support for the state amendment to protect the traditional definition of marriage. Voters approved tribal gaming for the state but also voted overwhelmingly for the constitutional amendment.
He also supported the report by an SBC task force that churches needed to provide productive, effective and redemptive ministry to help homosexuals leave that lifestyle.
Critics of the Southern Baptist Convention have seized upon Latham’s arrest to attack Christians in general for hypocrisy. Others, like the homosexual group Soulforce, have taken advantage of the opportunity to attack the SBC’s position that homosexuality is a sin.
In a press release, Soulforce spokespersons called the SBC “anti-gay” and accused Southern Baptists of causing homosexuals to live a “dark and secretive double-life” that causes “this kind of needless suffering.”
Chapman addressed various criticisms that have been aired in the media.
“Obviously, this news has brought negative attention to the Southern Baptist Convention and Baptists in Oklahoma,” Chapman said. “It has opened the door for those who seem to relish the failure of any Christian. It has given an opportunity for those who will to seize the moment to mock the Christian heritage to which Lonnie has testified through the years.
“Regardless of what others may say,” Chapman continued, “the failure of one does not negate the witness of many faithful Christians to the power of Jesus Christ in their lives. The hypocrisy of a messenger does not compromise the integrity of the message. The Bible is no less true than it was a week ago or years ago. It continues to offer hope to all who will believe, including Lonnie and the rest of us.”
California pastor Rob Zinn, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, in a statement to Baptist Press, said, “My heart was broken to hear the report about Lonnie Latham. My first response was to pray for him, his family, church and the work of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“At this moment, the best that we can do is pray — God knows all the facts, the truth and the situation and He is able,” Zinn said.
Jordan urged compassion and cautioned about being too critical of anyone else’s failures.
“None of us knows what lurks in the heart of any of us,” Jordan said in his interview with Baptist Press.
“As Christians, when somebody says, ‘I have sinned; I need your forgiveness; I need your help,’ we need to offer our forgiveness and walk alongside them to restoration.”
Jordan is scheduled to preach at South Tulsa Baptist Church this Sunday.
The lewdness charge against Latham is a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. No trial date has been set.
Official statements can be found at the following websites:
— South Tulsa Baptist Church, www.southtulsabaptist.org
— Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, www.bgco.org
— Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, www.Baptist2Baptist.net