John Townsend, a writer for Lavender, Minnesota's LGBT paper, went undercover to a support group for gay Catholics trying to be chaste to out rabidly anti-gay Lutheran pastor Tom Brock. Brock's been leading a crusade against the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America after they voted to allow openly gay people to become pastors, on his radio show, in his church, and through a series of videos.
Townsend doesn't say how he knew Brock would be at the meeting, but he met with the priest who runs it, agreed to keep everything secret, and then started going to meetings:
"He looked me in the eye, we had a conversation about the importance of confidentiality, and we shook on it," Livingston recalls.
In the Catholic Church, gays are allowed as long as they remain celibate. The Church doesn't try to change attraction so much as it tries to change behavior; if a guy can overcome the force that has populated the planet with almost seven billion people then he's fine by them:
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
The ELCA is much better when it comes to gays, voting last year to allow openly gay clergy so long as they're in monogamous relationships, lifelong relationships. Brock himself, though, vehemently disagreed with that position, broke his church away from the ELCA over their liberalism, and went so far as to say that a tornado last year was a punishment from God to the Lutherans. He even brings it up in his videos:
In his video series, seething with disgust, Brock stirs his viewers to leave ELCA because of its inclusion of gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships. He exhorts his flock: "Game over!"
The fourth stated AFLC principle is: "It is therefore the sacred obligation of the congregation to purify itself by the quickening preaching of the Word of God, by earnest admonition and exhortation, and by expelling the openly sinful and perverse."
And Brock follows that - he's completely against being openly gay both in the support group and in front of the cameras. But that doesn't mean he doesn't fall off the wagon:
At the May 28 meeting, as usual, the priest facilitator--this time, Livingston--opened with a reading and prayer. The individual participants then shared how well or not their efforts to maintain chastity had been over the past week, or since their last attendance.
Brock looked buffer than previously, in a tight-fitting, short-sleeve shirt that accentuated biceps and triceps more ripped than the month before.
When it was Brock's turn to share, he related that he recently had been on "a preaching mission to Slovakia," where he met with other clergy.
Then, Brock admitted, "I fell into temptation. I was weak. That place has this really, really weird, demonic energy. I just got weak, and I had been so good for a long time. Things had been going so well for a long time. There's a lot of gypsies there."
According to Brock, he confessed the foregoing to someone at Hope Lutheran Church.
Brock clearly was put off by the gypsy presence in Slovakia, continuing with a sense of revulsion in his voice, "They're toothless, filthy; they smell, stink; and the gypsies are trained in how to pick your pocket."
Notice the disgust in that last sentence, which isn't really surprising. I'm guessing he had sex with a gypsy, possibly a hustler ("trained in how to pick your pocket"), and, after getting off, was revolted by his actions.
Instead of "hypocrisy," this is simply the expected companion to the disgust towards gay people in public. That disgust is everywhere in our culture, but people going to think about gay sex every seven seconds and experience disgust with themselves are inevitably going to act out in some way.
Questions raised about journalistic ethics
Townsend attended the meeting undercover and knew that the meetings were confidential. David Brauer at the Minnesota Post says it would be unethical to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as a participant and then write, with names, what the people at the meeting said.
I think we can all agree with that, but this group isn't a real 12-step program and homosexuality isn't an addiction. Comparing this to actual psychological help is insulting both to LGB's and people who run real programs that help people with real addictions. And, considering the ease with which David Brauer published the fact that Lavender's publisher is a recovering alcoholic, it seems that participation in such a program isn't what's supposed to be confidential, but what actually went on there. Brauer stopped by in the comments and says the publisher gave him permission to print that fact.
Michael R. Triplett at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association isn't buying, though:
It seems to me that it doesn't matter whether it is a "classic 12-step program" or not if it was clear that confidentiality was expected. The reporter admitted to Brauer that he knew confidentiality was expected, yet reported Brock's name and comments anyway.
I emailed with a Courage participant I was familiar with and asked him about the expectations of the meetings. He said that whenever someone new attended a meeting-usually after being referred by a priest-that the meeting's confidentiality expectations were reiterated. So there is little doubt the reporter knew about the ground rules.
The other side of the ethics question is whether the story was so important it justified violating the confidentiality of the meeting and participants' expectations. In other words, was this the only way to get the story and is the story important enough to breach this ethical line.
To me, the answer is no. While you may not like what Brock says and stands for-and you may feel the same about what Courage stands for and does-there probably isn't a compelling enough reason to agree to confidentiality and then breach it.
In other words, outing Brock may have been OK if Townsend found out some other way, like a prostitute coming forward to be interviewed or a rentboy tipping journalists off about a European vacation. It's the way Townsend found out about it, with a clear confidentiality agreement, that bothers Triplett.
Which raises the original question of what Townsend was doing at the meeting in the first place. He doesn't explain why he was there in his article, but I can think of a few possibilities:
- Someone in the group told him Tom Brock was there
- Townsend is a chaste gay man himself and went to the meetings in good faith only to report on them later
- Townsend attended the meetings just to see if anyone well-known turned up or to write about them generally, and there was Tom Brock
It seems a better model for understanding these meetings is as secret religious practices instead of confidential psychological treatment. I don't know if that changes much, but I will admit that my jaw dropped when I read this story and saw that a gay journalist actually broke into one of these meetings and reported on who was there in the same way police officers used to bust into private gay parties and journalists for papers like the Minnesota Post would publish their names, addresses, and mugshots (a practice that still goes on, except for men caught having sex in public).
The whole story is worth a read, since it's already out there, although going to a secret meeting after having understood the confidentiality agreement and promised confidentiality, without anything like secret military plans or bribing of government officials to report on, seems a little too much even for me.