A provocative piece (hat tip: Queerty) in Lavender magazine in Minnesota where a reporter attended meetings of Courage, the Catholic ministry for gays and lesbians, and outed a Lutheran minister known for his “anti-gay” positions. The story, by John Townsend, discusses meetings where he meets Rev. Tom Brock.
In stunning contrast to all this homophobic vitriol, I observed firsthand that the words spoken by the 49-year-old, unmarried Brock from his ivory bully pulpits do not match his actions.
My first encounter with Brock was at a confidential meeting of gay men “struggling with chastity” at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in St. Anthony, a suburb northeast of Minneapolis. It’s not a Lutheran church, but rather a Catholic one. This group is sponsored by Faith in Action (FIA), Minnesota’s official arm of the global Catholic gay-chastity-maintenance organization called Courage. It models itself after the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
FIA holds a two-hour support group at St. Charles every Friday evening from 7 to 9 PM, facilitated by a Catholic priest. It sometimes starts a few minutes late, giving participants a chance to settle in, and grab a cup of coffee or a soda. The men gather around a long table. The priest begins with a scripturally inspired reading—which in one session was referred to as a homily—followed by recitations spoken by participants, and prayer.
Once this opening ritual concludes, the next phase commences, as each person directly shares how well or not he fared during the previous week, or since the last meeting he attended, in his struggle to maintain homosexual chastity. He reports any homosexual fantasies or feelings; any resistance or nonresistance to masturbation; any homosexual contact or activity experienced; and/or any encounter with homoerotic or arousal-inducing images of men. He also may digress to other topics triggered by his “sharing”—which is within permissible parameters.
A group for women meets separately. On one occasion, a middle-aged lesbian fondly regarded by members sat in with us.
After the first round, conversation continues, ranging from discussions about a particular homosexual rut one of the members was in, to financial worries, criticism of progay political efforts, and defenses of Catholicism. The term “gay” is eschewed in favor of words like “disorder” or “gender disorder.” However, very occasionally, unsquelched comments cropped up about homophobic bigotry, plus even grudging admiration for the tenacity of out gay men facing societal ridicule.
When Brock was in attendance, the conversation inevitably would turn political, focusing on gay and church issues, and beyond—not only during his first round, but also in his sharing time, and before the session commenced.
The rest of the story talks about Brock’s comments during meetings, stories he shares, how he looks, etc. It’s a compelling read, especially given Brock’s notoriety in Minnesota. The article also discusses the ethics of outing.
As cantankerous and varied as GLBT activism is, virtually everyone holds privacy sacred. The exception is if someone in a public position of political, social, or theological influence engages in homosexual or transgender activity while at the same time denouncing the basic civil rights of GLBT citizens. Former Senator Larry Craig’s restroom cruising and Dr. George Rekers’s Rentboy.com allegations come to mind.
The GLBT community and its allies have a wide variety of principled viewpoints, often conflicting, on just how out a GLBT person should or should not be, as well as what constitutes healthy sexuality or sexual excess. Both sides of these big philosophical questions are discussed and argued conscientiously every day.
However, it’s a universal consensus among GLBT individuals and straight allies that to bash GLBT persons physically and/or sociopolitically—but then turn around, and be homosexually active oneself—is hypocrisy
So is it ethical to “out” someone you meet in a program modeled after a 12-step program that operates on anonymity? Does it matter if you attend as a “participant” as opposed to as a “reporter” or “investigator.”
What’s not clear from the story is whether the reporter attended the meetings in a good-faith, or whether he attended in order to disclose information about Brock. Ultimately, it may not matter, but it does raise a question of intent.
Personally, I find the ethics of the reporting suspect. If someone disclosed during a Narcotic Anonymous/Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that they had sexual encounters with men while being openly hostile to gays, would it be OK to report that?
I think the story of how Courage works is an interesting one and the group has been very secretive–obviously–which means there has been little coverage even in Catholic press circles. While many people disagree with their approach–which focuses on working steps, remaining chaste, prayer, and little contact with openly gay people–the question is whether the practice, itself, is so dangerous that people’s expectation of anonymity should be violated in order to expose it.
UPDATE: More insight on the ethics.