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Police arrest pastor on lewdness complaint

By Jesse Olivarez, The Oklahoman, January 5, 2006

The senior pastor of a Tulsa Baptist church was arrested outside a northwest Oklahoma City hotel after allegedly propositioning an undercover officer, police said.

Lonnie Wayne Latham, 59, senior pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church, was arrested Tuesday on a complaint of offering to engage in an act of lewdness, police Capt. Jeffrey Becker said. He was released on $500 bail Wednesday.

Officers were working in the area of NW 39 and Pennsylvania Avenue after receiving several complaints from area residents that men were flagging down passers-by and propositioning them.

About 9:45 p.m., the plainclothes officer was driving an unmarked car and investigating the complaints when a car began following the officer's car.

Both cars then pulled into a parking lot on the southeast corner of NW 39 and N Youngs Boulevard. The man driving the second car then told the undercover officer he had a hotel room at a nearby motel and asked the officer to go back to his room with him for oral sex, Becker said.

Latham was arrested a short time later in the parking lot of the Habana Inn, 2200 NW 39 Expressway. His car was impounded.

A conviction on an offering to engage in lewdness charge, if one is filed against Latham, carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.

Becker said Latham was not accused of solicitation because no money was offered or exchanged.

Officials at South Tulsa Baptist Church had no comment and calls to Latham's home went unanswered late Wednesday.

As he exited the Oklahoma County jail, Latham told NEWS9 he had been set up by police.

"I was set up," he said. "I was involved in a prayer ministry in that area and had a dialogue with police. The officer made many suggestions."

Becker said the officer reported there was no discussion of prayer during the exchange. The officer said the man called himself Luke, claimed he was from Dallas, worked out of Tulsa and visited Oklahoma City once a month.

Latham is one of four executive members of the national Southern Baptist General Convention from Oklahoma. Heidi B. Wilburn, spokeswoman for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said in a statement that the group is "deeply grieved" by Latham's arrest.

"Our first concern is for his church and family," she said. "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."

In 2004, Latham spoke out against the statewide measure that established the Oklahoma lottery. He has also supported the Southern Baptist Convention's policy that urges its members to befriend gays and lesbians and convince them they can become heterosexual.

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