More on Outing Courage

The Minnesota Post’s media critic David Brauer has done some digging into the Lavender magazine profile of Rev. Tom Brock and provides some additional insight into the magazine’s justification for sending a reporter undercover to a Catholic support group for gays that operates similar to a 12-step program.  Brauer’s story–plus a mention of NLGJA’s blog–was picked up by Romenesko.

The most interesting tidbit in Brauer’s analysis is that Lavender publisher Stephen Rocheford has participated in a 12-step program as a recovering alcoholic.

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.”

The publisher’s get-out-hypocrisy-free card? That the gay-chastity program, sponsored by Courage, a Catholic organization, “doesn’t come anywhere near” to classic 12-step programs. “They’re mimicking on 12-step programs,” he declares.

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.

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14 Responses

  1. Though I obviously must exempt Mr. Triplett, the fact remains that this action has been widely approved in gay circles, as can be seen in the other comment field here and those linked elsewhere

    The intellectual crudity, self-righteousness, hatred and viciousness that seems to pass for reasoning in such circles says it all. Every approving post is a variation on “Courage/the pastor/Catholicism is bad, therefore any action done against it is good.” Like a head-clearing ammonia pill under the nose, it stings but it clears the head.

  2. As I posted to the previous NLGJA article:

    I see three levels of difficulty here:
    1. Outing Brock. This I have no trouble with.
    2. Attending a self-help group undercover. Regardless of my personal distaste for “ex-gay” or “chaste gay” groups, I find this troubling. I certainly think Townsend and his editors have failed to explain the extraordinary journalistic justification for doing this.
    3. Specifically identifying the location, and time. I cannot see any justification for this. When I attended a religious”ex-gay” group (which I referred to as my “bible study”) I would have been horrified if it had been publicly identified. I would not have been emotionally equiped to handle even the potential exposure. This I unequivocally oppose.
    There is sufficient cause to question several aspects of this story and I think the editors and publisher of Lavendar need to respond.

  3. Those who find the outing of Brock unprofessional seem to forget that he is a public person. He has made a career out of crusading against glbt rights. As a public person, he does not have the same expectations of privacy as a private person. Hence, I have no qualms about the alleged violation of his privacy. Moreover, it has been a cornerstone of his radio programs and other media advocacy to argue that sexually active gay people should not be employed by churches. Hence, he is a hypocrite of the first order. He has helped create the oppressive conditions in which he must now live. Surely, he must resign from his pastorate since he unquestionably is a sexually active gay man. There is a certain poetic justice there. I have no problem with breaching the confidence of people like Brock any more than I had a problem with publishing the pentagon papers, despite their “top secret” status.

  4. “He has made a career out of crusading against glbt rights.”

    Actually, no. His career is as a pastor.

    “Surely, he must resign from his pastorate since he unquestionably is a sexually active gay man.”

    Actually, no. There is no evidence that he is — mere surmise by hostile parties. “Membership in Courage” =/= “sexually active.” I knew of my inclination long before I actually did anything, either with another man or, as Woody Allen says, “my favorite person.” I can also pretty much guarantee that if he was sexually active in any but the most occasional “once-a-year” fall, the reporter who infiltrated Courage meetings would have learned that explicitly.

    Oh … and the church already has said he likely is not stepping down — (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hFpCkKdCUlY_nixiPDT0YcXmc0zwD9GH8EU80)

  5. Assuming that Townsend is reporting accurately, he is a sexually active man. He “confessed” to giving in to “temptation” in Slovakia. He opined that a tornado was sent by God to signal his displeasure with ELCA when they approved a policy to allow partnered pastors. I suppose he thinks it is more noble to have sex in toilets than in the parsonage. He hosts a radio program where he frequently rails against homosexuality and gay rights. He has several sermons to this effect on the Hope Lutheran website, though they have taken down his videos. Guess that is a little too in your face hypocrisy even for them.

    • I was Children’s Ministry Director at hope Lutheran from 1990- 1996. Tom Brock, SR Pastor, asked me to resign when my husband & I divorced AND my gay son was 18 and self medicting with alcohol. Brent died of alcohol poisoning in 2000. Tom Brock’s homophobic railings from the pulpit broke spirits, and one was my son’s. Seems to me Tom Brock should resign… I had to.

      • So sorry to learn of your son’s death and of your firing by Brock. The kind of smug self-righteousness he revealed in forcing you out because of your divorce seems to be characteristic of him, and may help explain his self-loathing. In any case, he deserves no sympathy. I have no sympathy for Courage either: this is a dangerous organization that practices “reparative therapy,” which has been condemned by the American Psychological Association as unethical and harmful. I hope that other journalists infiltrate them and shine some sunlight on their abusive practices.

  6. Interesting that the “once-a-year-occasional fall” doesn’t count as sexually active. Maybe you can be a little bit pregnant or still a virgin after a few acts of intercourse. I am not surprised that his church is not going to fire him: after all, they do protect their own. They just want to tell OTHER people how to live their live. But then, I suppose, that is the definition of hypocrisy. If the creep had any integrity, he’d resign of his own volition. I suppose he’ll enter rehab instead.

    • Maybe my point wasn’t clear. The “once-a-year occasional fall” standard I cited was not intended to be an absolute definition of sexually active, but a standard of whether someone who attended Courage meetings would know if another guy was sexually active. If someone is acting out rarely, others might not know; if often, they almost certainly will.

      And no … acknowledging a stumble in Slovakia doesn’t necessarily mean he was active with another person. Since the Church teaches masturbation, it also CAN refer to a stumble. Take this from someone familiar with how Courage members talk.

      • Um … “the Church teaches masturbation” was obviously “thoughtus interruptus.” I meant “the Church teaches masturbation IS WRONG.”

  7. […] continued in another blog post on the issue: The other side of the ethics question is whether the story was so important it justified […]

  8. Actually, it seems that the participants in this group sat around sharing their sexual adventures and masturbatory fantasies and frequencies, said tsk, tsk, and then went home to masturbate over the revelations. Something is wrong with a Church that teaches that practice of 99.9% of the male population is wrong. But my point is that reparative therapy is unethical and abusive and good journalists should infiltrate such groups and expose them to the light of day.

  9. “and then went home to masturbate over the revelations”

    you know this … how?

    But thanks for the end, which proves my point and gives the game away on anything else you might say on the subject — another variation of “They are bad, therefore whatever is done to them is good.”

  10. No, my point is not “They are bad, therefore whatever is done to them is good.” It is that they are bad and no journalist should feel compelled to play by their rules.

    Again, Townsend did not reveal any identifiable personal information about any private individual who attended the group. He did reveal information about the group itself and about a public individual. I find nothing unethical about revealing this information, any more than I would it unethical to reveal information about any other cult.

    There is a difference between violating the confidences of private individuals and those of public individuals. I happen to know three Roman Catholic priests who are sexually active and another who probably would like to be but may not in fact be. I have no intention of “outing” these people because they are essentially private individuals and what they do is none of my business, either as a person or as a journalist. However, if these people became public crusaders against homosexuality, I would no compunction at all about exposing them. In fact, I would regard it as my duty to do so.

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