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Tony Jones: Does Lavender Magazine owe bigoted pastor an apology?

A story from Lavender Magazine earlier this week outing a vocally anti-gay Twin Cities pastor raised eyebrows. But, did the magazine cross the line in its newsgathering process?

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.

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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, IMHO the top media critic in the Twin Cities 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.”

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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.

This post was written by Tony Jones and originally published on the Tony Jones Blog.