Alex Blaze

Journalist attends anti-gay "12-step" program, outs quasi-famous pastor

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 23, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: ethics charges, hypocritical motherfuckers, john townsend, journalism, Minnesota, outing, thomas brock

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. thomas-brock.jpegBrock'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:

  1. Someone in the group told him Tom Brock was there
  2. Townsend is a chaste gay man himself and went to the meetings in good faith only to report on them later
  3. 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.

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JonathonEdwards | June 23, 2010 12:32 PM

"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."

Mr. Triplett is dead wrong in this. The answer is most definitely "yes". There certainly is a compelling enough reason to agree to confidentiality to gain admittance and then to breach it and out Tom Brock. The compelling reason is the gay teens turning tricks in the Tenderloin because their homophobic parents kicked them out. The lesbian teen suicides that will happen this week because their pastors follow Brock and taught her to hate herself. The transwoman that gets beaten up because some redneck in rural Minnesota heard Brock frothing at the mouth about the abomination of queering gender.

Journalistic ethics take a back seat to actual ethics and in this case, Mr. Brock is responsible for evil and needed to be stopped. I applaud Mr. Townsend.

Now. There's a youth pastor serving a church in rural Missouri that I know for a fact is gay. Mr. Townsend: can you suggest how I might go about repeating your success, finding him and outing him? By whatever means necessary....

I have to say that because this Pastor attacks LGBT people he should be dealt with. Were the reporter just fishing and outing people I would have a problem with it. But he seems to have targeted one homophobe who was doing damage.
Maybe he saved some kids life because that kid will not be forced by his family to listen to this man. People like this man kill, indirectly, but still yet they kill they do it with words and with ideas.
I have said again and again that i have no problem outing a phobe who is attacking our people. If he wants to be a closet case fine, if he actually tries to affirm his straightness by attacking others than all bets are off and he should have no expectation of 'family privacy'.

What Triplett did is reprehensible and if there are any legal avenues for a civil suit against him and Lavender magazine, I'd pursue them if I were Brock and/or this group. Brock is certainly a piece of work but I don't see any hypocrisy here or even much that is newsworthy. He's gay. Ok. So what? Being gay and part of this group trying to live celibately are perfectly consistent with their religious beliefs about homosexuality. Any "slip-ups" by Brock might be newsworthy but repenting of these occasions of "sin" and re-dedicating oneself to celibacy are in keeping with this mindset whether one is talking about sex or anything else. Heck, it's not even clear that Brock has had any "slip-ups", though I suspect otherwise, since we have to rely upon Triplett for the veracity of this report but the man's own unethical behavior completely blows his credibility. Now if Brock had been caught with a male hooker or something outside of this group that would be a different story, but this? I find it to be disgraceful.

Paige Listerud | June 23, 2010 2:44 PM

I currently attend Al-Anon meetings that are LGBT inclusive and am looking for a good Overeaters Anonymous meeting to attend.

Confidentiality is a cornerstone of being able to share one's personal life at these meetings. I would hate to see them become an area where journalists felt they could infiltrate and print up the more salacious details of one's personal life. That would produce a chilling effect on all 12 step programs.

It would be one thing if the journalist had found out about Brock at said meeting and then tailed him further to see if Brock would have any more "slip-ups" with the gypsies, tramps, and thieves right here in America. Then the journalist could simply report on those slip-ups rather than the content of what was disclosed during this meeting. It would demand more patience and perseverance on the part of the journalist, but it would also be far more ethical.

Brock leads in the right wing response to the changes in the Lutheran Church and no doubt he promotes the ex-gay "cure" to his fellows. He does real, public damage and deserves to be the target for an outing. But evidence for his outing should have been built on his same-sex ACTIVITIES outside of meetings--not his confidential confessions of in them within the context of the meetings.

gayjaybird | June 23, 2010 3:10 PM

While I am not at liberty to share more details, I can say that I do know that the reporter was tipped off. He was not fishing for people to out, and the article makes it clear that the Lavender author was not attending as an attempt to deal with his own issues, since he went undercover.

As far as the outing itself, I would have a problem if the 12-step program involved was a legitimate program. Ex-gay programs like Courage have been show to be harmful to their participants, and are not endorsed by any secular professional associations. (Unlike 12-step programs for other issues) Also, not only is this pastor harming himself (his perogative, between him and the deity of his choice), he is actively harming others by his rhetoric and vitriol. As was mentioned before, how many children are kicked out of their parents homes and left to fend for themselves on the street due to the LGBT hatred caused by this guy? How many people have faced discrimination because of his testimony?

Michael Triplett | June 23, 2010 4:48 PM

Thanks for picking up this story, because I think the ethical issues raises are a good conversation to have.

Just as Courage isn't a classic 12-step program, it also isn't a classic ex-gay program. Generally, Courage participants don't deny they are gay nor do they think they can necessarily change. They just don't believe acting on being gay is consistent with their faith. Courage isn't suggesting that people can "pray away the gay" but instead believe you can "pray to help you from acting on sexual temptation that prevents you from being chaste." I know of at least one same-sex couple who attend Courage.

Outing is a complicated issue for journalists and you won't find a lot of agreement. Some of the most heated discussions at NLGJA conferences have been over the subject of outing and it is an area where journalists and activists disagree.

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.


Alex - just one informational point. Stephen Rochefort volunteered to me that he was an A.A. member, it wasn't something I tricked/lied out of him. I actually made doubly sure with him it was OK to print that, since I take A.A.'s confidentiality seriously - in other words, it wasn't something I did "with ease," but something with his explicit permission. Regardless of what you think of the ends to Lavender's means, they did it differently.

(You can argue the programs in question were different too, but I certainly hope a bunch of homophobes don't feel justified in crashing, say, a gay-student support group on the grounds that that group is illegitimate and "not like A.A.")

Thanks for picking up the story. -- David.

Thanks for the explanation. I updated to reflect your comment here.

I actually wouldn't put it past a gay journalist to go to an LGBT support group (for, say, coming out instead of remaining chaste) and reporting on it if a homophobe like Tom Brock was there. I think that'd happen a lot faster than this situation did. The only issue is that there aren't many out-and-out homophobes looking to come out of the closet in a supportive environment. They tend to segregate themselves from the rest of us.

My issue isn't that it's "not like A.A," but that it's not medical, psychological help at all. Medical confidentiality arguments aren't really persuasive here because it's really a group of people involved in a bizarre semi-religious sexual ritual (have sex, feel guilty, describe it to a group of voyeurs, feel humiliated, delay orgasm as long as possible again... it all sounds S/M to me).

But in the end if he agreed to confidentiality to participate it seems to me he should have respected that unless he had a really good reason - everything there was meant to be "off the record." I think we basically agree on that here.

Patrick Clements | June 24, 2010 7:36 AM

I wrote a lot about the "ex-gay" movement back in the late 90s and had to change a lot of names or use first names only. The group leaders I wrote about had pretty much debunked themselves publicly. Running across a scoop, though - combine that with a sense of righteous indignation, and I can understand the enormous temptation Townsend must have felt. He was wrong, but wow - I understand it all too well.

Wow! What a story. I'd like to know which of the three reasons you outline was the motivation for the story. I think you nailed those 3 reasons, Alex.

Would someone please comment on or get Mr. Brock to explain his "There's a lot of gypsies there" comment?

I am half Romani or Gypsy and a lesbian and I would really like to hear his explanation.

So not only are we dealing with homophobia, but we get racism as well?

I would like to respond to this article as a former Courage attendee who is now out and in a wonderful relationship. Those who might suggest that Courage is not an ex-gay ministry are lying. Here is my proof based on what I witnessed and heard at Courage meetings. Courage approaches the idea that gay, lesbian or bisexual people should completely abstain from all romantic and physical activity between people of the same sex, because the Catholic church teaches that only sex between one married woman and man for the purpose of procreation is appropriate. As such all emotional and physical intimacy between people of the same sex is treated as a sexual "disorder," "addiction" or "malfunction." Therefore if people of the same sex are engaging in romantic and sexual activity it is because of their "intrinsically disordered" behavior.

How else might Courage be an ex-gay ministry? Because they suggest psychological resources like NARTH (National Association of Research and Treatment of Homosexuality). The very organization of therapists and researchers who encourage reparative therapy. Also the word "disorder" is the same word used by Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Courage and their founders claim that "same-sex attractions" are due to things like an absent father, an over bearing mother resulting in "injured masculinity" for men or "absent femininity" for women. How is this not an ex-gay ministry.

I want to share with everyone the one incident that finally helped me change my mind and why I think Lavendar Magazine's tactics were perfectly ethical.

My last meeting that I attended (and finally woke up at) one individual shared with the group that he was getting very discouraged about the idea that because he is gay he will never get married or have children. Another individual told him that there are many homosexual men in heterosexual marriages that are very happy and healthy. When he said that, I just about blew my pipe. During the years that led up to my going to Courage for a time, I remember hearing the stories of many closeted gay men in heterosexual marriages who are afraid, lonely and unable to tell their wives for fear of what will happen. Many fear that they will never see their children again or face some kind of discrimination in a court or by their wife or from someone else. How is that a healthy marriage?

Someone finally had the courage to send someone in to tell others what goes on in a Courage meeting. A "hate crime"? I don't think so. The only "hate" involved here, is the hate that the group is encouraging in the men who attend the group for themselves and their desire to love and be loved by someone else in a healthy and holy way. Suggesting that gay, lesbian, or bisexual people are "disordered" and their desire to love and be loved by others is "disordered" and teaching them to have such shame should they dare to show that love, is not a healthy attitude and does not lead to holy living. Not when we deny before ourselves and God that who and what we are is wonderful, beautiful and worth sharing with that someone who will honor it some day.

Those are my thoughts.

An adult who engages in activism, rhetoric, or evangelism which leads to the destruction of other human beings, either spiritually or physically, has forfeited their right to the Closet.

"Courage" can't even pass for a 12 Step Program. The idea of a 12 step program for sexual orientation is too sad to be laughable. Before you know it, we'll have Breathers Anonymous. I've been in three 12 Step programs for about five years. Unfortunately, I have run into quite a few splinter groups claiming rights to the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions (anonymity). My personal favorite are the "12 Step Groups" that don't work the 12 Steps!

Anyone could start a "12 Step Group" for perfectly natural things, like: nose picking, compulsive left handedness, or monthly menstruation. And we'd let them go off and do their "Program" until they start advocating a public campaign against the left-hander-lifestyle. They're now responsible for encouraging discrimination and they have place themselves center stage in the controversy. As any public figure in America, their lifestyle is now open for scrutiny. If a reporter notices their right-hand wobbles a bit when they write, the reporter would be obligated to report it. If the reporter stumbles upon a tip about the Anti-Leftist attending bogus "Lefties Anonymous" meetings, he should investigate and report that too.

I believe that hypocrisy has to be Outed, especially in a case where that person is contributing to human suffering