Anti-Gay Pastor Outed in Meeting of Gay Men ’Overcoming’ Desires: Is That REALLY a 12-step Program?

by Scott Stiffler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jul 26, 2010

When Lavender Magazine published John Townsend's article "outing" the Rev. Tom Brock, Minnesota's major gay newsmagazine got a lot more than the editors and publisher bargained for.

What was to be yet another expose condemning the hypocrisy of closeted homophobes received an unprecedented amount of attention -- and, perhaps more surprisingly, considering the controversial nature of this particular 12-step type program -- controversy.

Condemnation from the religious community and the media was swift - -not regarding the murky ethics surrounding the topic of outing, but for the way Townsend went about securing his knowledge that the Lutheran Pastor who regularly spoke out against homosexuality was struggling with same-sex attraction.

On April 16, Townsend attended (infiltrated?) a meeting sponsored by Faith in Action (FIA) -- a Minnesota branch of the Catholic organization Courage (which promotes celibacy as a way of managing same-sex desires.

Townsend describes the event as "a confidential meeting of gay men 'struggling with chastity' at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in St. Anthony, a suburb northeast of Minneapolis.

The Lavender Magazine article's outing of Brock (and its condemnation of his hypocrisy) came largely from what Townsend observed during the FIA meeting. But did Brock have reasonable expectations of privacy, confidentiality and anonymity regarding what went on within the four walls of that room?

Keeping the "Anonymous" in 12-Steps
In the "Understanding Anonymity" section of their website, Alcoholics Anonymous maintains that such guarantees are an inherent part of any 12-step group's efforts. Elsewhere on the site, in an open letter to the media, AA says, "The principle of anonymity is a basic tenet of our fellowship. Those who are reluctant to seek our help may overcome their fear if they are confident that their anonymity will be respected."

AA is best known, of course, for its initial initials: Alcoholics Anonymous. In the past several years, many other addictions have sprung up using the 12-step model with "Anonymous" in their name, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous.

For Lavender Magazine President & CEO Stephen Rocheford, such ethical considerations are rendered moot, overridden by the journalist's obligation to expose hypocrisy as practiced by public figures in leadership positions. "Since the founding of this publication," Rocheford told EDGE, "I have had a policy of not outing anyone, with one exception, and that is when a public figure publicly attacks the gay community on one hand, and is privately homosexual on the other hand."

Asked whether that standard applies when information is gleaned from a meeting such as that which Brock attended, Rocheford launched into a swift defense of his publication's activities as they apply to the letter of the law: "When you have a doctor/patient or lawyer/client relationship, you have expectations of confidentiality under the law," Rocheford asserted. "The key here is the pastor was a public person and is not subject to the same expectations that a private citizen would have. So legally, it was entirely acceptable for us to do it. Our libel attorney approved every word we printed."

Can You Name a Person in Such a Meeting?
But just because it was legal, does that mean it was also right? Before attending the FIA meeting, Townsend had taken part in an entrance interview during which he represented himself as someone matching the group's profile. Rocheford says that far from being unethical, his reporter's actions were part of a longstanding journalistic tradition of going undercover to get the story.

"Reporters infiltrate things all the time," he argued. "In fact, we went into a great deal of discussion about that in the second article," which waspublished at the same time as the first, and addressing many of the ethics brought up by information acquired through the FIA meeting.

Furthermore, Rocheford maintains that the FIA should not be given the same considerations as, say, Alcoholics Anonymous, citing the fact that the second article, "Courage, AKA Faith in Action An Inside Look at Catholic Gay Chastity Group", "cited several PhD therapists who talk about the inappropriate nature of that group and what it does to people. It's a Catholic fa├žade. They add the term 12-step to give it legitimacy, but no sane professional would believe that it is legitimate."

A drug and alcohol counselor at New York City's LGBT Community Center disagrees, noting that such public betrayals of implied confidentiality within any support group can discourage those in crisis from seeking the help they need.

"I was disgusted by what that reporter did." says the counselor (who spoke to EDGE on the condition that he/she not be identified by name). "I understand why the reporter would want to out this pastor, but the way he went about it soils people's feelings on helping themselves."

That said, the counselor is on the same page as Lavender when it comes to outing hypocrites: "Apart from the way he did it, I am glad he outed the pastor. Someone who speaks so negatively against the LGBT population; or somebody else who may be hiring prostitutes or doing other unethical things for a pastor, it's fair game."

Yet the counselor doesn't give Townsend a free pass when it comes to betraying the confidences of a support group.

"The world should honor the confidentiality of people that are trying to help themselves," the counselor maintains, adding "For him (Townsend) to do that gives an open gate to others to do things like that. It makes it harder for people to get the help they need."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy’s at The Palace. . .at Don’t Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli’s 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.


  • , 2010-07-26 01:43:43

    Those gay people don’t need help. they need freedom from two of the greatest farces of all time - that there is something wrong with being gay. And that gays can and need to be fixed And what do these programs do - well lets look at the head of Exodus, the umbrella group for this movement.... Don Schmierer, one of the key people, is one of three American christians exporting hatred to Uganda. the three are the key people behind the "death for gays" uganda bill in the uganda parliment. As if the world hasn’t had enough genocide. The key guy in the Uganda parliment is a David Bahati, who said he would hang his own son if the son was gay. HIs act of christian love. And all the real psych associations - not the fake fronts put up by the Exodus etc people - say that being gay is not a choice, it is just like being str8 - built in from birth. The American Psychological Association voted for that statement 125 to 4. People who have doctorate degrees in Psychology, not faith in whatever....., inlcuding the 250 or so different relgiions int he world who often have been at war with each other. And lets take a look at other people for whom sexuality was denied from an early age. These people, str8 and gay, were behind the endless rapes of children under their care by the cAtholic church. Documented not just in the USA, but it Brazil, ireland, italy, Austria, Switzerland, GErmany etc. Deny sex to people, and it ultimately comes out. And the handiest victims were the alter boys. For much of the period there were no alter girls btw. and the ultimate crime was how the church hid these crimes for decades if not centuries, moving offending priests to new locations where they could continue their crimes. And why did this happen - becuase priests get promoted, the rot reaches all the way to the top. anything at all to protect the church. For once the "faith" is broken its power and money will disappear. Or as someone else said, power corrupts, absolutist power corrupts absolutely. And when you claim to speak for god................... Well we had another example of that from a different brand name a few years ago. 9/11

  • kelly, 2010-07-26 08:47:35

    The American Psychological Society has denounced repairative therapy and therefore any 12 step program is a farce. That leads me to believe that the people in the program are not getting the real help they need. I believe the author did the public a favor by outing the priest and that he did not violate anonymity.

  • , 2010-07-26 10:29:39

    There is no equivalence between this FIA meeting and an AA meeting. AA doesn’t reinforce bigotry. Would anybody, except a racist, condemn a journalist who infiltrated a fascist organisation and reported that a well known proponent of racial equality was in fact a member a race hate group?

  • , 2010-07-26 10:52:37

    ^^^ And yet why did so many liberal and even gay commenters (like the person from the NYC Center) condemn the reporter? I agree, it’s weird.

  • Marc, 2010-07-26 12:09:14

    This particular outing tactic could backfire: The pastor could very easily claim that he is being authentic and consistent in his albeit mis-guided views about sexuality. All he needs to do is argue that he is seeking help for what he perceives to be a problem for him. Assuming he is sincere, he can claim that there is no hypocrisy, thus blowing the reports claims to the contrary out of the water. I think it would have been better (although more difficult) to catch him in the act, so to speak, of being intimate with a same-sex partner.

  • Chaz , 2010-07-26 15:18:30

    I think this outing is absolutely and completely justified.

  • Wimsy, 2010-07-26 16:25:05

    A hypocrite who pontificates bigotry from the pulpit "soils people’s feelings on helping themselves." Three cheers for Townsend & Lavender!

  • , 2010-07-28 02:03:04

    If it si that important that you need such strict privacy maybe seeing a therapist is more appropriate than just going to a 12-step program. I belonged to a recovery group and I don’t remember any guarantees of strict anonymity or secrecy.

Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook