Hey media: In delving into child prostitution scandal involving senator, don't forget the church

I'm on a reporting trip to Canada and writing this post from my hotel room in Hamilton, Ontario, southwest of Toronto.

Ordinarily when I travel, I don't pay much attention to the news back home in Oklahoma City. But this week — even though I'm 1,200 miles away — I haven't been able to escape the scandal making banner headlines in my local newspaper, The Oklahoman.

The headlines concern a state senator caught up in a child prostitution scandal:

Until this week, I had never heard of Shortey. Since I cover national religion news, I don't follow the key players in Oklahoma politics as closely as I did years ago when I worked for The Oklahoman.

But my 17-year-old daughter met Shortey through the YMCA’s Youth and Government organization, which lets teens participate in a program that simulates state government. My daughter, a high school senior, served as a judge in the YAG program and had meetings with Shortey and other students just recently. So she has been — for obvious reasons — distressed and sickened by this week's news (as has her father).

The Oklahoman has been all over the story — five front-page reports in three days (here, here, here, here and here) — and rightly so. Voters deserve to know what happened, and the newspaper has an important role to play in ensuring that justice is served.

And yes, there is — sadly — a religion angle, one that so far has not been pursued as much as it could be and should be.

Today's main story in The Oklahoman highlights the senator's religion — but only in a superficial way:

NORMAN — A conservative state senator who once wanted to be a missionary was accused Thursday in a child prostitution case of offering to pay a 17-year-old boy for sex.
Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, was charged with three felony counts, one week after police found him with the teenager in a Moore hotel room.
Gov. Mary Fallin, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, Senate leaders and many others called Thursday for him to resign.
The accusations “do not reflect the character and decorum that we expect of an elected official,” Fallin said. “It is not acceptable.”
The evidence against Shortey includes a graphic online conversation where the two discuss having sex and smoking marijuana, police reported in a court affidavit. The conversation was found on the teenager’s Kindle tablet.
Shortey, using the online name “Jamie Tilley,” at one point during the discussion about sex called the teenager “baby boy,” according to the affidavit.

Later, the newspaper notes:

Shortey had studied in college to do mission work in Uganda but decided to go into the oil and gas industry after having his first child. “I actually planned my life around being a missionary,” he said in a TV interview.

Believe it or not, that's it — all of the details The Oklahoman provides after introducing Shortey's faith background in the lede.

Among my questions that the paper fails to engage, much less answer: Does Shortey have a home church? If so, what do church leaders and fellow members say, if anything, about him and his arrest?

Also, what college did he attend? Does it have a religious affiliation? If so, do leaders there remember him? How do they react to the child prostitution charge? 

The Oklahoman has had full stories on fellow senators and politicians responding to the news and on random voters in his Senate district reacting to the charge. Wouldn't information about his church and religious background be equally relevant, especially given the shocking hypocrisy with which he is accused?

A quick Google search turns up Shortey's official Senate biography: 

Shortey graduated from West Moore High School in 2000, and following graduation he attended Heartland Baptist Bible College in Oklahoma City in preparation for mission work in Uganda.   In 2002, Ralph married his high school sweetheart, Jennifer and continues to make his home in south Oklahoma City with their two children, Kaitlyn and Elena.  With a growing family, Shortey decided against pursuing mission work and instead entered the oil and gas industry, working as a production consultant.

Heartland Baptist Bible College has ties to Southwest Baptist Church, an Oklahoma City megachurch that various online sources indicate is an independent Baptist church. Southwest Bible Church is included on a listing of independent Baptist churches that believe in using only the King James Version of the Bible. 

Is Shortey a member of that church? My Google review did not provide a quick answer. But given where the senator attended college, I am hopeful that reporters will do more digging. 

As I mentioned, I'm a long way from home as I type this. If I've missed media coverage that addresses the religion angle, by all means, please provide a link (or links) in the comments section.

Image via The Political Packrat

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