SBC drops Howard Johnson in wake of hotel sex bash

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The Southern Baptist Convention and Howard Johnson Hotels are parting ways after it was revealed that the hotel chain is hosting a private sex bash in one of its St. Louis hotels. St. Louis is the host city for the 2002 annual meeting of the SBC, the nation's largest non-Catholic denomination.

The SBC has canceled its block of rooms at Howard Johnson and will recommend that Southern Baptists find alternative lodging during the June 11-12 annual meeting. Furthermore, the SBC said it does not feel comfortable recommending other Howard Johnson locations for future meetings.

The uproar started when the Howard Johnson St. Louis Airport franchise announced it was hosting the sixth annual "Beat Me in St. Louis" conference April 26-28.

The "educational pansexual event" is sponsored by St. Louis Leather and Lace (StL3), a group "dedicated to the free expression of alternative lifestyles and forms of loving," including polygamists, bisexuals, homosexuals, transvestites, trans-genders and cross dressers.

According to a report on CNSNews.com, StL3's "Beat Me in St. Louis" FAQ page states, "We expect to have demos, seminars and workshops covering caning, flogging, single-tail whips and other hands-on demos and seminars suited for people who are relatively new to the lifestyle as well as for those with a great deal of experience."

Despite Howard Johnson's attempt to attract families, the hotel's 4,500-square-foot conference center will be the site of "Dungeon Parties," featuring medieval torture devices, the group has declared.

Jack Wilkerson, vice president of business and finance at the SBC Executive Committee and convention manager, informed hotel officials of the convention's decision in an April 4 letter.

"Howard Johnson Hotels have historically supported the traditional family and solicited family business, but the current environment and philosophy has made an apparent shift dramatically against that position," he wrote.

"It is extremely unfortunate that your hotel and parent corporation has chosen this departure, which is a direct attack on the fabric of traditional family values and the Biblical heritage of our denomination and its churches," he added.

Wilkerson said more than 4,000 hotel rooms have been blocked for messengers and guests attending the St. Louis meeting. He assured Southern Baptists who have already made reservations at the Howard Johnson will be given assistance in finding alternative housing.

"Any Southern Baptist impacted by this will be relocated to another hotel," he said. "We don't want to inconvenience messengers or guests to our annual meeting."

Hemant Patel, the hotel manager who gave the go-ahead for the event, told CNSNews.com the hotel will be closed to the public during the sex bash.

"They have private functions, that's all we know," Patel said. "They say they're a private function. We usually try not to interfere with a private function."

HoJo's guests are a top concern, Liz Ryan Sax, a media relations manager for Howard Johnson's parent company, Cendant Corporation, told CNSNews.com. But Sax said Cendant doesn't own any of the Howard Johnson locations, it just franchises them.

She explained that when individual HoJo locations enter into a franchise agreement, there are "standards and stipulations" set by Cendant to which the hotels must adhere.

However, Sax said, "The way that we see it is that as long as they [Howard Johnson St. Louis Airport] are adhering to their local government ... they're the best judge of how their town should conduct business."

HoJo's "Family Plan" allows children under 18 to stay free at all locations when staying in the same room as an adult, but Bill Johnson, president of the American Decency Association, told CNSNews.com he isn't buying into the hotel chain's kid-friendly sales pitch.

"They put all this propaganda out about how children are their staple, their centerpiece, and it just does not ring true," Johnson said.

"It's phony to me," he told CNSNews.com. "They're doing whatever they can to make a dollar with little concern for principle, for standards, for healthy sexuality, for guarding the hearts and the minds of people of all ages, obviously."

Johnson said Cendant Corporation and the management at the Howard Johnson in St. Louis need to "have a reality check."

That "reality check," he said, involves mobilizing Christians and conservatives to call and e-mail Cendant and the hotel hosting the event.

"They must receive many, many calls and many, many communications, that if they don't stop this, they will pay a price for this in the future," Bill Johnson said. "I'm talking about financially; not only this one little local chain, but the whole chain, the whole branch of Howard Johnson's needs to be truly sensitized at such a time as this."

Johnson said he has patronized the hotel chain in the past, but will not stay at any of the hotel's franchises until they make "a 180-degree turn on their position for this upcoming event." He is demanding "a declarative statement that this will never happen again and an apology."

Johnson told CNSNews.com, "If we don't rise to the challenge of this moment, little by little, other corporations or other hotel chains or so on and so forth, they too, will become careless."


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