GORDON BOYD
Eyewitness News

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - Pastor Ronnie Powe, Sr., says he never knew that his only son, his namesake, who'd helped him minister to Chattanooga's United Tabernacle Church of God In Christ, had been leading a 'double life.'

"My son lived the life of a straight young man with the family and with the congregation, and with those he knew in the church community," Pastor Powe says.

"Outside, he lived as a gay young man."

Tuesday night, Chattanooga Police caught Ronnie Powe, Jr., in a car with a 15-year-old boy, behind the old East Lake Elementary School.

"The suspect first said that he was just speaking to a member of his church about some problems," CPD spokeswoman Rebecca Royval says.

"The officer observed some unusual things and investigated a little further."

Police reports don't indicate, nor will Ronnie Powe, Jr., say whether he knew the boy was underage; only that they had met through a gay web site.

Had the teenager been of age, the charges Powe faces would have been lewd acts or indecent exposure.

"More than a ten year age difference brings a more serious charge," Royval says.

The charges ring hollow in his parents neighborhood of Indian Hills/Hillsborough Heights.

Their closest neighbors won't go on camera. But they describe Pastor Powe Sr., as warm, gentle, and no nonsense; his son as unfailingly polite, never inappropriate.

 Pastor Powe, Sr. sees his son as conflicted between his own truth, and A Pentecostal faith that condemns homosexuality.

A homosexual lifestyle is not what God ordained for us, and we're not gonna back off of that," he says.

"But we believe all this has happened to help him come to terms with who and what he is."

Ronnie Powe, Jr. has resigned as United Tabernacle's youth pastor. He admitted his homosexuality, and that he had been charged with statutory rape, to a church prayer meeting Wednesday night, his father says.

Powe, Sr. is adamant in stating that his congregation's teenagers and children never could have been in any danger.

"Because of the way we do things, our structure,it would have been hard for him to do anything without being discovered," he says.

Powe, Jr., has declined to go on camera. But he tells Eyewitness News he'll ask forgiveness from the 15-year-old, the boy's family, his own family, and his church.

First he must face the state of Tennessee. A conviction for aggravated statutory rape could put him in prison for five years.

"I want my son to know that he's supported, and that no matter what style of life he was involved in, we love him," Powe Sr. says.

"With counseling, with time, I believe that he will be one of the greatest preachers that ever lived."

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