There seems to be a big difference between Senator Ralph Shortey’s public persona and his secret behaviors recently revealed by a public arrest and indictment for child prostitution.
And, an Oklahoma City pastor believes he knows some of the more subtle religious dynamics of Shortey’s struggle.
State Senator Ralph Shortey, R-Okla. City, was indicted in Cleveland County Thursday on three felony charges: Engaging in child prostitution, engaging in prostitution within 1,000 feet of a church, and transporting a minor for prostitution/lewdness.
Moore Police caught 35-year-old Shortey earlier in the week in a hotel room with a 17-year-old male after receiving a “check welfare” call from family members of the minor.
The officers reported a strong smell of marijuana when they approached. They found a container with small amounts of marijuana in the room and an opened box of condoms and lotion in Shortey’s backpack.
Oklahoma’s age of consent is 16. However, it is 18 for the state’s child prostitution laws.
A conversation of the two making plans was still on the minor’s electronic device.
Shortey turned himself in to the Cleveland County Sheriff Thursday and then eluded the media after posting bond.
Ralph Shortey’s arrest and the three felony charges tell a story of more than just another hypocritical Right-wing politician.
Instead, it’s a story of how his Christian fundamentalist background would not allow him to deal with some of his deepest struggles according to the Reverend Bobby Griffith.
Griffith is one of two pastors for City Pres Church, a progressive Presbyterian Christian congregation in midtown.
“At first, I didn’t know what church or college he had attended,” Griffith told Free Press. “But then a quick Google search brought it up. As soon as I saw that, everything clicked and made sense to me. I knew. As terrible as that sounds, I knew.”
Shortey studied to become a missionary in his younger years at Heartland Baptist Bible College, an unaccredited school sponsored by Southwest Baptist Church at 1300 SW 54th St. in Oklahoma City.
Attempts to contact the pastor of Southwest Baptist were unsuccessful.
Griffith doesn’t know Shortey, but grew up on the south side of the city in the same rigid religious fabric of fundamentalism.
But unlike Shortey, he eventually moved out of that tradition in practice and belief.
Griffith now specializes in the study of fundamentalism as he works toward his Ph.D. in History at the University of Oklahoma.
The topic of his research is post-WWII fundamentalism, politics and culture. He also teaches church history part time at Mid America Christian College in Oklahoma City.
“Except for the anger at someone doing that to a minor, I felt sadness for him,” Griffith said.
He explained that American Christian fundamentalism has a strong focus on prohibiting the interaction of men and women except for sex within marriage for procreation.
“There’s no cultivation of what healthy friendships look like outside of sexualization,” Griffith said.
He said that in the process of trying so hard to prohibit what fundamentalists would characterize as immoral sex, they unintentionally over emphasize it in a negative way.
”For sex, it’s kind of treated as something very shameful,” said Griffith. “You have to do it for procreation within the bounds of male/female marriage. But an even cross-gender relationship – just human touch – is sexualized.”
Griffith said that if anyone in that tradition is gay or bisexual they have “no way to talk about that.”
“It’s impossible. He [Shortey] could never talk about it in his college,” said Griffith. “If he says something about it to a school counselor, they will turn him in to the administration and he would be expelled.”
And Griffith said that even talking with one’s pastor in that tradition can be perilous. In some cases a pastor may respond to a confession of sexual doubt by shaming the individual and throwing them out of the church.
He said that “there is no safe place to talk through those things.”
“It’s horrible. The irony of fundamentalism is that the very black and white sense of right and wrong ties into the authoritarianism,” said Griffith.
He sees Shortey as being caught in an inner turmoil about his own sexuality with no mechanism for dealing with the feelings.
“So what do you do? You act out or repress. You just hide who you are on the inside. It’s not very freeing.”
The pressure to perform in rigid moral ways, matched with the authoritarianism of that tradition does not leave room for exploration or experimentation.
It doesn’t allow for anyone to express the struggles he is having, and gain perspective from friends or even a spouse Griffith said.
“I think that fundamentalism does drive what some might call ‘unseemly behavior’ underground. Because there’s no way – there is zero outlet for that.”
“You can’t talk to your friends about it. You can’t talk to your wife about it. If anyone were to find out that you had a counselor, or a psychologist or a psychiatrist you would be deeply shamed.”