At the end of January we were once again surprised or not so surprised when a local Florida pastor was arrested for alleged indecent behavior at a public park.
The man, along with three others, was arrested after approaching an undercover police officer for a sexual encounter in a Polk County recreation area. It’s a story we’ve heard time and again and it is taken in many ways, depending on your perspective.
Some are disgusted that a married man of the cloth would behave in such a way while others revel in the news that a religious leader got busted for doing exactly what he probably preached against.
Almost every television outlet in Orlando and Tampa Bay covered the arrest and slapped the man’s identity and face on their reports. One newspaper published the story online along with a photo of the man smiling with his wife and two small children it was a photo befitting a Christmas card that was pulled from the website of the pastor’s church. Facebook was abuzz with the story. People shared the links to the pastor’s plight along with comments like, another one bites the dust, and practice what I preach, not what I do.
Watermark operates on a policy that does not identify those arrested for victim-less crimes such as inappropriate sexual behavior in public. It’s a policy we adopted in the first part of 2011 and have adhered to ever since. I admit I didn’t support the policy but I can abide by and respect it.
If you can afford the time to go to a public park and look for a sexual encounter, then you can afford a $25 room at a No-Tell Motel for a few hours of down-low fun, out of view of public eyes. Translation: learn to keep it in your pants and your name will stay out of the newspapers.
But I also understand concerns some of our readers expressed before we implemented the policy. Their arguments were about the unfair targeting of gay men by the police and punishing the lonely through public guilt.
But back to the most recent story of the pastor in the park.
As I watched the story unfold on the local news I know I smiled, thinking, here we go again another pastor who protests too much. But then I started researching the arrested pastor online. While there wasn’t a lot of information out there, none of it was anti-gay at least of what I saw.
I’ve never seen the soft-spoken pastor at Pride events holding hateful signs warning of the sins of homosexuality and I would remember if he’d posted a viral video or two about sodomites, a label so many right-wing evangelicals like to give us.
I don’t know the pastor and for all I know he’s held skinhead rallies and is best friends with Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t know what he preaches when it comes to LGBT issues since I’ve never graced a pew in his church.
But I do know I feel pity and sadness for this man, who was so ashamed of his natural sexual orientation that he had to find same-sex encounters in secluded areas of a public park in the middle of the week rather than with a regular partner or members of his own community.
What he allegedly did is against the law and reports say that he made no secret of his identity when he was arrested by Polk Sheriff’s deputies.
But rather than celebrating another pastor literally getting caught with his pants down or condemning him for allegedly doing something that too many in his profession preach out against, the LGBT community of Lakeland and its surrounding areas should reach out to him, offer him some guidance and yes, maybe even some support.
This man will no doubt lose his ministry, which is his income, and the embarrassment felt by his wife and children will probably cost him his family and his home life.
That’s not something to celebrate that’s something to mourn. And if anyone can understand feeling like there’s nowhere to turn, it’s those of us in the LGBT community who have faced that very situation ourselves.