Anti-gay pastor spied at support group for men with same-sex attraction

Undercover reporter busts Rev. Tom Brock, but journalistic ethics and expectation of anonymity questioned

Published June 23, 2010 10:31PM (EDT)

A Lutheran pastor ardently critical of allowing gays into the clergy is on leave from his Minneapolis church after a gay magazine reported his attendance at a support group for men struggling with same-sex attraction.

Church officials, however, said Wednesday that the Rev. Tom Brock likely will return to the pulpit at Hope Lutheran Church because he acted in accordance with his faith by attending the group.

A fixture on local cable access shows, Brock regularly broadcasts conservative views on homosexuality and criticizes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for liberalizing its gay clergy policy. Lavender Magazine published a story last week about Brock's quiet attendance of the Faith in Action meetings, written by a reporter who falsely posed as a member of the group.

"The fact that he said one thing publicly, and privately he's a homosexual -- that's somewhat inconsistent," said Lavender president Stephen Rocheford. "This company has a policy not to out people. The one exception is a public figure who says one thing and does another."

The Lavender article never explicitly said Brock confessed to homosexual activity. It quotes him at one point talking about a recent mission trip to Eastern Europe, of which he says, "I fell into temptation. I was weak."

Hope Lutheran's executive pastor, the Rev. Tom Parrish, said when confronted with the article, Brock "simply said he indeed has been attending this Christian group, both going there and being honest about temptations he has, and is being held accountable so he never would do anything with that temptation."

Parrish said Brock was put on leave from the job of senior pastor at Hope Lutheran when the article came out, but likely will return after an internal investigation.

"What they've done is unconscionable," Parrish said of Lavender's covert infiltration of Faith in Action. The group is the Minnesota affiliate of the Catholic Church's Courage program, described on its website as a "spiritual support system which would assist men and women with same-sex attractions in living chaste lives in fellowship, truth and love."

Brock, who has an unlisted phone number, did not respond to several interview requests made through Parrish.

Lavender is a twice-monthly free magazine Rocheford co-founded in 1995. The article was written by John Townsend, a freelance writer, who does not include details of how he gained access to the group except to say he went through a preliminary interview with its administrator, the Rev. James Livingston. Townsend did not reveal if he actively participated at meetings he attended or simply listened.

Livingston did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Rocheford said he did not think it uncommon for media organizations to send reporters undercover to obtain secret information. But Kelly McBride, an expert in journalism ethics at St. Petersburg, Florida's Poynter Institute, said she found Lavender's approach "troubling."

"It's kind of like being a spy," McBride said. "For most groups that deal with something where members of the group find it shameful, there's a strong presumption of confidentiality."

The article graced Lavender's cover, with a large picture of Brock in his vestments over the title, "Antigay Lutheran Pastor Protests Too Much."

Last summer, leaders of the ELCA met in Minneapolis for a national convention where they voted to let individual churches hire noncelibate gay people as clergy as long as they are in committed relationships. In a TV broadcast, Brock called it a "grievous week" and mentioned that a tornado struck the convention hall where the Lutherans were meeting right as they were preparing to vote.

"Every time the Bible mentions homosexual behavior, it condemns it," Brock said in the broadcast. "It never adds, it's OK if you love each other."

Hope Lutheran officially left the ELCA last year, joining instead the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations.

By Patrick Condon

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