The Ethics of Outing an Anti-Gay Preacher

I’ve followed Tom Brock for years.  Brock is a Lutheran pastor at a non-descript church in North Minneapolis.  It’s not a mega-church, and I’ve never met anyone who goes there.  I’ve never read anything Brock has written, and I’ve never heard him speak at a conference.

But Brock has been a steady presence on the local cable access channel for years.  In a churchy version of Wayne’s World, Brock’s cable show sometimes has him preaching from a pulpit in a small studio bedecked with ferns, and other times he is interviewed by a waif of an older woman who looks and sounds like she smokes three packs a day.  It is, as I said, a bit like Wayne’s World.  Less famously than John Piper, Brock also blamed the tornado that hit the ELCA convention in Minneapolis last year on God’s wrath against homosexuality.  More recently, he has parlayed that “fame” into a daily radio show on the local conservative Christian radio station.

But my fascination with Brock has always been his mixture of Lutheranism and conservative theology.  I’ve heard him rail against the ELCA — his former home denomination — numerous times.  He’s talked about crashing conferences at liberal churches in the Twin Cities in order to disrupt the proceedings with questions about the Bible.  And I’ve even heard him go after the emergent movement.

Well, Lavender Magazine, the GLBT magazine of the Twin Cities, snuck a reporter into a Catholic support group for men struggling with the “sin” of homosexuality, and lo and behold, Brock was in attendance, talking openly about his struggles.  The article, by John Townsend, is not well written or researched.  He mistakenly refers to Brock as an “associate pastor,” for instance, and he writes that Brock’s church broke with the ELCA over the vote last summer to ordain openly practicing homosexual clergy, when in fact Hope Lutheran left the ELCA (over similar issues) in 2001.

These are facts that could have easily been checked, but weren’t.  Instead, Townsend’s rambling article that neck-snappingly switches from third-person journalism to first-person opinion is most interested in this “get” from one of the support group meetings:

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.”

David Brauer

David Brauer, IMHO the top media critic in the Twin Cities, posted yesterday and filled in some of the gaps in the story.  He also spoke to someone from Brock’s church, which Townsend didn’t.  That spokesperson said that Brock had been placed on a two-week leave, and that Brock’s struggles had been previously known to some of his confidants at the church.

More importantly, Brauer questions the ethics of a reporter lying his way into a confidential support group and then reporting on what he heard.  Brauer interviews the publisher of Lavendar Magazine, who himself participates in a 12-step group:

Ironically, Rocheford is a recovering alcoholic of 27 years who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings weekly. I asked the Lavender publisher: would he have printed Brock’s statements had the pastor confessed to sexuality struggles at Rocheford’s A.A. meeting? Presumably, the publisher’s fellow alcoholics would look dimly on anyone violating the sanctity of anonymity for any reason.

After a long pause, Rocheford says, “I’d have to think about it.”

More significantly, Brauer gets this quote from the executive pastor who is now running the church during Brock’s absence,

Parrish says Brock is not a hypocrite for condemning homosexual behavior while loathing it in himself. “He always held out the hope of redemption and change, but our church teaches you to struggle with it and the lord still loves you. You have to keep from giving in to it.”

And that’s clear in the Lavender article.  Regardless of Brock’s own sexual proclivities, he hates homosexuality, and he says as much, repeatedly, during the support group.  He finds homosexual sex, in which he presumably participates, disgusting and demonic.

So Brock is a walking contradiction…  So another virulently anti-gay preacher turns out to be gay…  This is really not news.

My advocacy of gays’ full inclusion in the life of the church is established.  And I’m happy to see another bigot removed from the pulpit and the radio for a few days.  But sneaking into a confidential support group is way over the line. I’ve had people — people I used to consider friends — attempt to pry into my own personal life and “get to the bottom” of the reasons for my divorce.  I’ve had former friends write blog posts full of unsubstantiated insinuations about my divorce.  And I’ve even fielded a phone call from a Christianity Today reporter who wanted to know why I got divorced, under the auspices that my personal life was affecting my theological positions and vice versa.  So I know a bit about this kind of thing.

IMO: Lavender Magazine owes Tom Brock an apology and a retraction.  But, of course, the damage to his soul has been done.

  • Tyler

    I think one’s personal life affects one’s theological views, but in a way that is necessary and justified. “why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” Ac 15.10

  • http://missional.ca Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Sadly, I think some people will use this journalistic blunder as “evidence” against the dangers of the GLBT community & “agenda”. It should be clear that this is reflective of headline grabbing, poor journalism, which happens in publications & mediums of all stripes.

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  • http://sweetbiandbi.wordpress.com Rachel

    As one who used to work with and for Mr. Rocheford–I can tell you that his behavior and judgement here is just scratching the surface getting at the depths of his lack of integrity and business scruples. My deepest hope is that the LGBT community could stand up and finally say “no thanks” to this rag that says it is the voice of the LGBT community.

  • carla jo

    What’s especially sad is that it’s this kind of approach that pushes people like Tom Brock deeper into the closet. The smug approach to this whole thing makes everyone look bad and we churchly folks need to make sure we are never joining in the gleeful chorus that rises up when the Tom Brocks and Ted Haggards and George Alan Rekers of the world are “found out.” Yes, they cause tremendous pain in their efforts to push down their personal struggles and it’s hard not to feel a little satisfaction when their hypocrisy comes to light. But for all his idiocy as a pastor–and I’ve seen enough of him on my late-night channel surfing to feel confident labeling him as such–Tom Brock is clearly a man in pain, a man who was working out that pain the best way he knew how, and who has now been outed in a way that will likely lead to more pain for him, for his church, and for the GLBT community. And that’s just sad.

  • http://wearesparkhouse.org Kristofer

    Whether Brock deserved a public slap for his hypocrisy or not, which is legitimately debatable from both angles, betraying a 12-step group’s confidence is a breach of trust that anyone who sees themselves as recovering addict of any kind would immediately identify as egregious. Who in that group is not now feeling the terror of exposure? Lavender can atone somewhat for this by printing a retraction and a carefully worded apology to its readers, especially 12-steppers.

    With respect to Brock himself, with his outing being so public I would suggest what he most needs now from the GLBT community is compassion and inclusion, insofar as he would accept it.

  • http://dariusteichroew.blogspot.com Darius

    Hmm, how is Brock any different from someone who preaches that lying is sin yet still lies on occasion himself? One can have biblical standards and yet not always live up to them.

  • CJ biggs

    Congratulations! You have just crossed over into ODM status. The hunted becomes the hunter.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      CJ, Huh? How so? — I’m guessing you read the headline but not the post.

      (ODM = Online Discermentalist Mafia)

  • http://thehopefuleskeptic.com Nick Fiedler

    nice thoughts tony. you say, “in which he presumably participates” did the article say he preforms the act?

  • http://www.theburnerblog.com The Burner

    List of Walking Contradictions
    Apostle Paul
    Pastor Who Struggles With Porn But Still Has To Preach That Lust Is A Sin
    Kris Kristofferson’s Pilgrim
    The Burner

    TJ, would you rather Brock seek help for what he believes to be a wedge between him and God while preaching the perceived evil of that sin on Sunday, or hypocritically be silent on the subject?

    Further, and maybe more importantly, isn’t it a shame that Brock cannot weather this storm AS A PASTOR OF HIS CHURCH among the care and concern of his community instead of being forced out in humiliation? As a pastor, how could you exclude a member from the community because of a public discovery of a “private” sin while the member was already actively taking steps to change?

  • http://dariusteichroew.blogspot.com Darius

    Amen, Burner!

  • darren

    Wow, that IS way over the line! All this sort of unscrupulous action does is makes people think that there’s NO safe place on the planet for people to open up about their struggles. This is a travesty. I think he should get sued.

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Tony,

    I am not acquainted with Brock, but I think that you might be a bit severe on Rev. Brock. You wrote:

    “So Brock is a walking contradiction… So another virulently anti-gay preacher turns out to be gay… And I’m happy to see another bigot removed from the pulpit and the radio for a few days.”

    We all struggle with sin. Those of us who struggle against a certain sin might be in a better position to understand it and intelligently talk against it, knowing its power and evils.

    I am “virulently anti-“ drug. I know the way that they’ve deceived and hurt me. I am far from perfect, but I know something about its evils. Love requires that I warn others of its entrapments. Sadly, in our society, enablement often passes as love, and warning passes as hate.

  • Rick S.

    Tom Brock’s soul was damaged long before it was exposed in all of its gloom for the world to see. This YouTube video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UH1WVXPN21M&feature=player_embedded#
    is particularly disturbing after-the-fact, especially in how Brock, who is pushing 50 and has been single all his life, speaks with contempt and loathing against gay couples who “love” each other.

  • Lisa

    Normally, I am not in favor of outing. I do beleive an apology is not owed to Mr. Brock. He is a disgrace to his office and frankly the communinty at large benefits from his outing.

    No, there is no safe place. If Mr. Brock REALLY didn’t want anyone to know he would not rely on the goodwill of those he hates to hold his secrets.

    He assumed the risk that he would be outed. He acted in ways so outrageous as to invite the act of outing. This isn’t new. One might argue that he was making a cry for help.

    I hope he gets some. Then I hope he helps the people whom he has wronged with his hatred and his office.

  • Brian E

    Anyone who violates the sanctity of a 12 step group is a despicable human being. I don’t care how “disgraceful” or hateful the outed person is…

    John Townsend and the publisher of the magazine ought to be ashamed of themselves. I realize how stupid that sounds, but there’s no other way to describe it…lowly, cowardly, gutless and disgusting. How many addicts (alcohol, drug or whatever) might hesitate to attend meetings in light of this? If it’s even one, that’s far too high a price to pay. This sort of violation of privacy ought to be criminalized and the publisher and reporter made to pay.

  • Turner

    Full inclusion of homosexuals in church life?
    Getting mad at people who are investigating your reasons for divorce?
    Raking this guy across hot coals?
    You seem to be a walking contradiction Tony Jones…the book of yours I bought is going in the trash.

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  • carla jo

    The fabulous Jenell Williams Paris weighs in here:

    http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/97195149.html?page=1&c=y

  • http://www.lovefiercely.blogspot.com Cathryn Thomas

    “My advocacy of gays’ full inclusion in the life of the church is established. And I’m happy to see another bigot removed from the pulpit and the radio for a few days. But sneaking into a confidential support group is way over the line. I’ve had people — people I used to consider friends — attempt to pry into my own personal life and “get to the bottom” of the reasons for my divorce. I’ve had former friends write blog posts full of unsubstantiated insinuations about my divorce. And I’ve even fielded a phone call from a Christianity Today reporter who wanted to know why I got divorced, under the auspices that my personal life was affecting my theological positions and vice versa. So I know a bit about this kind of thing.”

    THEN TONY… WHY THE HECK ARE YOU REPOSTING IT! IT IS WAY OVER THE LINE! SIGH.

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