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Rev. Lonnie Latham – Hypocrisy and Corruption in the Pulpit

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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.

It seems as if more often than not, religion and hypocrisy walk hand in hand, especially down the spacious aisles of the Walmart-like super churches of the southwest. Whether it’s inner guilt which drives these twisted parodies of Jesus to success, or that the power and access to wealth which their position gives them is a corrupting force, the end result is exactly what Jesus preached against. These are the merchants in the temple and the Pharisees sitting in judgment all wrapped up together in one bundle of hate, hypocrisy and hubris.

The Southern Baptists may have been crazier in the old days when they were condemning dancing, miscegenation, popular music and education for women, but at least they were honest bigots and you knew where they stood. Lonnie Latham is a microcosm of the modern Southern Baptist church, all piety on the outside and corrupt to the core underneath.

The final irony of Latham’s story is the as yet unwritten next chapter. Like those who have gone before, rather than turning a new leaf and admitting his sexuality and striking out bravely as a gay pioneer among the Southern Baptists, experience teaches that Latham will deny his nature and attack his accusers, and then if that doesn’t work he’ll declare himself healed of his homosexuality, and redouble his efforts to impose his hypocritical morality on those around him.

Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart came through their scandals and are both back on TV. Latham should take heart, because it shows that fundamentalist congregations either have very short memories or an unlimited capacity for forgiveness. Of course, it could just be more proof of Barnum’s Maxim, and with a sucker born every minute there are plenty around to fill up the pews.

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About Dave Nalle

  • Bliffle

    This is an old story, corruption of the powerful. We all know that Lord Acton said that all power corrupts, but I think there is another factor at work in society which is even more prevalent: power attracts the ALREADY corrupt.

    Imagine, if you will, that you have some Monstrous Proclivity. Would you be content to cower in your room and not express it? Would you be content to suppress such a strong but vile proclivity? Would you risk expressing your proclivity and bear the consequences? I don’t think so. I think you would seek some kind of powerful position, using whatever means foul or fair that you had to use. After all, the obsession with your proclivity diminishes any conventional sense of societal approval. Then, protected by your power you could exercise your proclivity.

    If power attracts the already corrupt, then this obviates the usual (Jimmy Swaggart) defense: “I was a good person but succumbed to the temptations of my high office”. This is just another cowardly variation on the old pedophile excuse: “that 5 year old bitch tempted and seduced me”.

    Therefore, I conclude that a disproportionate percentage of powerful people are perverts. Of course, not all powerful people are corrupt perverts, many are sincerely interested in leading a group to a mutually beneficial goal.

    I don’t know much about churches, but I know a lot about corporations and businesses, and I know a little about political organizations. In my travels thru the executive suites I was always surprised at the astonishing propensity of executives to frequent prostitutes. Hiring prostitutes was the end state of many “business dinners”. Often, business meetings were scheduled at 4PM so that after a mere hour of business work we would go to dinner and thence to the arranged prostitutes. This was common procedure with businessmen from out of town, especially foreigners. Personally, I found this not only distasteful but dangerous so I never did it. I found it convenient to bow out during the drinking bout that went between dinner and the assignation by feigning drunkeness and extreme fatigue. It cost me some male camaraderie points.

    What defense do we have against these characters? We can’t just condemn every powerful person, but we can stop according them special respect and stop being lenient to the powerful. We can stop pretending that they are not corrupt because they already have what we ourselves would want. Don’t be awed by the powerful and successful: too often it is the masquerade of a monster.

  • http://pewview.mu.nu Warren

    “Lonnie Latham is a microcosm of the modern Southern Baptist church, all piety on the outside and corrupt to the core underneath.”

    Speaking as a Southern Baptist, I’m curious as to how many of the tens of thousands of member churches you visited to reach this conclusion.

    People mess up, and that’s one of the things that you don’t hear enough about from Chrisitans in general — that we mess up and need to be forgiven, not condemned. Fortunately, the majority of Southern Baptist churches teach this on a regular basis; and I know that from the average Southern Baptists I interact with on a daily basis.

    Ask the American Red Cross about SBC disaster relief. Ask the folks in Louisianna, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Texas, etc. about the Southern Baptists who are usually the first on the scene with aid — because we’ve got the infrastructure already in place, and we’ve got people willing to go.

    Yeah, Latham messed up, royally. But don’t throw out the entire SBC because of one person who did something wrong.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com/ Christopher Rose

    All “believers” are messing up, but I forgive you…

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    When William “Book of Virtues” Bennett was exposed as a high-stakes gambler, Michael Kinsley wrote that Bennett’s story of hypocrisy had “lit a lamp of happiness in even the darkest hearts.” That’s the perfect description of what happens to me every time one of these holier-than-thou bigmouths gets caught with his hand in the till or his dick in someone else’s till. Thanks for brightening my winter’s day.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Yeah, Latham messed up, royally. But don’t throw out the entire SBC because of one person who did something wrong.

    So the SBC as a body no longer condemns homosexuality and thinks gays can be ‘converted’ and no longer believes that women should be subservient in marriage, or did I get that part wrong too – because it’s in their statement of principles.

    But to be fair, this problem is not unique to the SBC, though they’re the most shining example of it. Many of the megachurches are non-affiliated or part of smaller sects, but they do mostly come out of the same tradition as the SBC.

    IMO if your church has a broadcast studio, an amusment park, a gym and its own movie theater you’re looking for God in the wrong place.

    Dave

  • Rod

    Hypocrisy is a shared vice by all humans, not restricted to Southern Baptists.

    If the charges against Lonnie Latham are true, then it seems he qualifies as a homosexual, or at least, was attempting to engage in a homosexual act.

    Those with sensitivities towards homosexuality have been gleeful, almost euphoric, in Pastor Latham’s “downfall.” I have not read in this article or others similar, any defense of Lonnie Latham’s attempted homosexuality. That seems to me, very hypocritical.

    Obviously, this was a blatant hypocritical act of Lonnie Latham. But isn’t it also hypocritical to embrace, advocate and advance homosexuality and then condemn someone for an attempted homosexual act?

  • Dave Nalle

    Hypocrisy is a shared vice by all humans, not restricted to Southern Baptists.

    True, but their prediliction towards extreme and aggressive moralizing and their attempts to impose their version of morality on others puts their hypocrisy in greater contrast and makes it an irresistible target.

    If the charges against Lonnie Latham are true, then it seems he qualifies as a homosexual, or at least, was attempting to engage in a homosexual act.

    Those with sensitivities towards homosexuality have been gleeful, almost euphoric, in Pastor Latham’s “downfall.” I have not read in this article or others similar, any defense of Lonnie Latham’s attempted homosexuality. That seems to me, very hypocritical.

    I’d defend him if he went against the southern baptist practice of condemning and trying to cure homosexuals, but continuing to persecute them while keeping his own tendancies in the closet makes him kind of evil and not particularly sympathetic.

    Obviously, this was a blatant hypocritical act of Lonnie Latham. But isn’t it also hypocritical to embrace, advocate and advance homosexuality and then condemn someone for an attempted homosexual act?

    I don’t think anyone – and certainly not this article – is condemning his homosexual act. The condemnation is for his denial of his own nature and persecution of other homosexuals.

    Dave

  • T-Town Appologist

    According to Lonnie he has not done anything wrong… still. He has lost his job, resigned for every committee in the southern baptist convention and in oklahoma, but still has not done anything wrong. There has been no remorse, appology or action to make ammends for his actions either. He is on video tape asking an undercover officer for oral sex, and yet he was “set up”.

    I am a southern baptist and feel as though we need to heal our wounded. The problem comes when the wounded does not think they have done anything wrong OR are so proud that they think they can beat their screw up. Lonnie is guilty of what he did and has done for years, according to his own words. In a private meeting he admitted to having hundreds of encounters with me, yet in public will not own up to his actions. It makes me feel sad for him, but at the same time does not make we want to help him, afterall he has not done anything wrong yet, in his public statements anyway.

    Eddie Sutton got caught too. If you have not heard, he smacked his SUV into another SUV causing injuries to himself and others. The difference between him and Lonnie though, is that he owned up to his actions. Before any reports were made public, he stated his problem yesterday, admitted his error and is seeking help. We as the public want to forgive people like that, I want to route for him to get better and lead OSU again, and I am sooner fan.

    Lonnie receives no such feelings for me. Caught in homosexual adultrey he denies. Videos will be shown in court and he will say he was set up. The ACLU will come along side of him and attempt to sue OKC, but he is still wrong. He is setting a terrible example for others, especially those who still look up up to him. What a sad and pathetic situation.

    Oh, for those of you who want to defend Lonnie, just keep in mind one thing, he still has not publicly said he has done anything wrong, so there is nothing to defend.

  • Dave Nalle

    Interesting to hear the ACLU has come in on his side. I’m not a big fan of prostitution sting operations on purely moral and constitutional grounds. Of course that doesn’t absolve Latham of responsibility, but it does mean that perhaps he doesn’t need criminal punishment in addition to the stygma he’s already bearing.

    Dave

  • http://rainbowsendpress.com/exposed/ Rev. Shelly Strauss Rollison

    Both sides agree that there was no offer or request for money. Consenting acts of homosexual sex are not illegal anymore after Lawrence v Texas. Legally, Latham DID nothing wrong and the ACLU and his defense attorney are correct in trying to get the charges of lewdness thrown out. If they fail, then legally, homosexual acts are once again illegal.

    The biggest “wrong” Latham is guilty of is hypocrisy. And he is a hypocrite on the grandest scale. He’s also guilty of deception, misrepresentation and some might argue he’s a fraud, but when it comes to matters of faith, its all in the eye of the beholder.

    As a gay minister who deals extensively with GLBTs in search of a spiritual home, I see the struggle gays who are raised in fundamentalist faiths (not just Christianity either) have when trying to come to grips with their faith and their orientation. (I don’t call it a “sexual” orientation because it’s not about sex: it’s about who you can fall in love with. “Sexual” orientation cheapens all relationships to mere acts of sex, IMHO.) I can understand his reluctance to come out and face the scorn of his flock. That doesn’t make him any less of a hypocrite, but it does, IMHO, make him a pitiable figure, so wrapped up in self-hatred and scorn.

    Love and Light,
    Rev. Shelly Strauss Rollison

  • Carol J

    Jesus called those of His flock His “sheep” and warned us of the wolves. There are positions of trust, such as the pastorate, school teachers, political positions, which when trust is broken, should not allow that person to continue in the position. Forgiveness is not the issue; trust is.