It takes a lot of hard work and natural talent to come in first in the corrupt preacher sweepstakes if you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After all, you have to compete with the notorious Robert Tilton and his money-as-sacrament TV ministry of greed. Yet Reverend Lonnie Latham is doing his best to eclipse Tilton by following in the notorious footsteps of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Tilton may be greedy and hypocritical, but he managed to avoid any sex scandals.
Latham is the pastor of the South Tulsa Baptist Church, one of the largest congregations in a town which is truly the buckle on the Bible Belt. He's also on the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, the second largest Christian denomination in the United States.
The Southern Baptist Convention is notable for its strongly held public positions on traditional moral values which include outspoken condemnatation of homosexuality and belief in 'wifely submission' in marriage. Latham himself is known in the Tulsa community for his preaching against homosexuality and his belief that homosexuality can be 'cured' through aggressive application of the Bible in sexual orientation reeducation programs.
I can only imagine the joy of his congregation on Thursday when they heard on the local news that the most-righteous Rev. Latham was arrested in Oklahoma City for picking up a male prostitute who unfortunately turned out to be an undercover police officer. Can't you hear the sounds of elation which will echo in the warehouse-like vastness of his megachurch on Sunday when he stands up to explain to the faithful how he was just ministering to the homosexuals and pastoring to the police? Surely he can make them understand that he didn't travel the 100 miles to Oklahoma City to avoid being spotted by anyone he might know, he did it because the gay prostitutes there needed missionary support to give up their sinful ways much more than their local counterparts in Tulsa.
This story is both amusing and somewhat tragic, but what's truly remarkable about it is how often we've seen it repeated. It's become a cliche - the man of God who has an altar boy under his robes, a mistress in the choir or a gay lover working in the church office. And it's usually the most morally righteous and the most outspokenly critical of the sins of others who seem to be the most corrupt. It's as if their self-loathing drives them to direct their anger and hatred outwards towards others - often those who share the same prurient interests.