Reverend Tom Brock’s “Courage” Falters When Faced With Exposure
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
—Queen Gertrude in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
It’s a common human foible to say one thing, and then do the exact opposite. For example, a mother who smokes forbids her child to do so, or a father who watches violent television programs won’t let his child do so. In these cases, a double standard is perfectly defensible.
However, in a free society of consenting adult citizens, “live and let live” should remain the common baseline. I may not like what you do or believe, but as long as you’re not hurting anyone, destroying common property, or infringing on the rights or life of others, including myself, then it’s no problem. As the New Testament holds: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Unfortunately, petty demagogues of various religious faiths will claim that it’s their way to heaven, or the highway to hell—black and white, with no gray. If you disagree, you’re deemed to be a moral relativist who at the very least will be trivialized. At worst, like Joan of Arc in the Middle Ages, you’ll be burned at the stake by the Catholic Church as a crossdressing heretic. Or, in 21st-Century Iran, you’ll be hanged for being a gay teen under Islamic law.
Of course, these are extreme examples, but they caution that zealotry, too long unchecked, can be disastrous. They’re reminders that two of the world’s largest religions have barbaric cruelty in their legacies.
That said, the major religions and countless minor ones have adherents who contribute assiduously in myriad ways toward bettering the human condition. But the faithful of any sect or movement always should be on guard against demagoguery.
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.
Reverend Tom Brock Versus ELCA
Reverend Tom Brock is the Associate Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis. He is known for his denunciations of homosexuality and GLBT rights on his daily KKMS AM 980 radio program, The Pastor’s Study. His video series lambastes with outrage the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for progressive attitudes toward women’s reproductive rights, racial equality, ecological stewardship—and, worst of all in his view, openly gay or lesbian pastors having the right to minister if they are in a committed monogamous relationship with a member of the same sex.
The latter breakthrough, which ELCA enacted last year, led to the Hope congregation’s breaking with ELCA, and affiliating with the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC).
Last August, on the day ELCA began debate over whether gay and lesbian clergy in committed relationships would be ordained as pastors, a tornado that had not been forecast ripped off part of the roof at the Minneapolis Convention Center, where the national ELCA conference was being held, as well as the cross on the roof of Central Lutheran Church, the conference host, across the street. As put forth in his video series, Brock saw this as a sign from God that Lutherans must break away from ELCA.
Brock, who finds omens in any number of things, noted that what he calls the ELCA “sex statement” passed by 66.6 percent—a reference to 666, the “Number of the Beast” (the Antichrist) in the Bible’s Book of Revelation. The actual vote was 559 to 451.
Amid Brock’s panic over gays in the video series is a lower-intensity level of distress about Lutheran Church financial duress supposedly caused by liberal attitudes. He seems to doubt that God will provide.
Internalizing Homophobic Shame, Twelve-Step Style
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.
My First Meeting
I encountered Brock at my very first FIA meeting on April 16.
Having arrived 10 minutes early, I was greeted amicably outside St. Charles Church by its Pastor, Father Paul A. La Fontaine. He escorted me inside, down some stairs, through a kitchen, and into a meeting room.
At 7 PM, Brock entered with two younger men, who immediately swooped toward where I was seated. They grilled me to ferret out if I was Catholic, or at least Christian, and how I found out about the meeting. I was taken aback, as Father Jim Livingston, in my initial interview at North Memorial Hospital through which I was granted access to participate, gave the impression that the group was comparatively low-key and easygoing. I told the two that I was Baptist, not Catholic, but that I had great respect for Catholicism, having defended the Catholic Church to friends and family. I added that I had Googled to find the location.
One of the two younger men laughed, teasing that “now, Tom isn’t the only non-Catholic in the group.”
At one end of the table, Brock sat adjacent to me. At the opposite end was La Fontaine. After opening remarks, reading, recitation, and prayer, he asked how we had been faring—over the past week, since we last attended, or in my case since my interview—with what participants were calling a “gender disorder.”
Brock recounted that it had been “a good week.” He had been on a trip to the East Coast, and had kept his mind off men.
Following the first round were moments when attendees brought up feeling excluded and stigmatized as boys for being inept at sports.
Brock observed that he sometimes “feels effeminate” because he has no interest in the sports page, and that he feels deficient because he finds society’s mass interest in sports to be a bore.
On the other hand, most of the men, including Brock, expressed a deep love for opera and classical music. He related that he was especially fond of a Ralph Vaughan Williams composition.
When the topic of same-sex marriage came up, Brock stated, “The world needs [heterosexual] marriage.”
Another person chimed in, calling same-sex marriage “a cult of mutual masturbation”—oblivious to the unintentional humor.
At one point, Brock became very intense in talking about some recent statistics that the percentage of HIV/AIDS cases caused by homosexual contact had increased. He was accurate, which is why safer-sex information should be widely available—something the group certainly would oppose.
Brock Wrestles With “Weird” Demons
At the May 28 meeting, as usual, the priest facilitator—this time, Livingston—opened with a reading and prayer. The individual participants then shared how well or not their efforts to maintain chastity had been over the past week, or since their last attendance.
Brock looked buffer than previously, in a tight-fitting, short-sleeve shirt that accentuated biceps and triceps more ripped than the month before.
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.”
In his video series, Brock slams ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson for his call to “combat racism” at a New Orleans youth conference.
However, Brock did clarify that as a pastor, he got to meet a group of Christian gypsies who “were so in love with God.”
Brock’s admission of his Slovakian sexual breakdown seemed to have had a subtly stunning effect on the group. Livingston made no comment.
Brock went on to tell about a side trip on to Salzburg and Vienna, Austria, then to Bavaria, Germany, where he visited Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest retreat at Berchtesgaden. He joked about a “fat woman tour guide,” and how the food was good, but heavy with meat and potatoes.
In what seemed like an effort to break the ice over the shock of Brock’s sexual stumbling in Slovakia, one fellow made a coy comment about German composer Richard Wagner, a favorite among the Nazis. He started intoning the notes of Flight of the Valkyries. A smiling Brock joined in wafting his hand as if he were a conductor with a baton.
Lutheran Pastor Picks Catholic Priest’s Brain
Before the May 28 meeting started, Brock wondered if Livingston ever got hostile feedback from seriously ill patients at North Memorial. Always on an even keel, Livingston responded that when it does occur, some patients will claim they are all right with God, and don’t really need a priest.
Shaking his head with condescending affirmation, Brock declared, “Yeah, they think they can do it all on their own, and don’t need anyone to help them.”
Later on, Brock told of a Catholic priest in St. Michael, Minnesota, who recently officiated the funeral of a man who had lived with a longtime same-sex partner. Brock questioned the rightness of this situation, pointing out if he were in the priest’s shoes, he would have been reluctant to conduct the funeral.
Livingston countered that it could be done as “an act of charity.”
Brock on Women
Later in the session, Brock remarked that even though he is “against the ordination of women pastors,” he presented a workshop to female Lutheran pastors in Slovakia. But, in his words, “I didn’t tell these women that I actually don’t believe in women being pastors.” However, he learned that many women pastors there were “assistant pastors to their husband, who was the head pastor,” and that ultimately, “nature takes over, when they have children, and they then assume their role as mother and leave ministry behind.”
That very day, on The Pastor’s Study, in describing the plight of an abused wife, Brock asserted that one “is to suffer for Christ. Her husband was a stinker, but she stuck it out for the sake of Christ.” In the same episode, he also railed against ELCA’s GLBT tolerance.
Homophobia or Heterosexism?
When I asked Dr. Steve Burns, a Licensed Psychologist, about the internalized homophobia of closeted gay and bisexual men, he explained that it was not homophobia, but rather “heterosexism—that the only truly normal way to believe is heterosexual. So, it follows, then, that if you were anything other than heterosexual—gay, for instance—growing up in the culture, then every image you get is that there’s something wrong with you, and you need to hide it.”
Burns stressed that help is available at every level of being closeted, and that capable therapists will not push anyone toward some agenda.
One thing I noticed is that all FIA participants held a sweepingly generalized caricature view of how they thought gay men interacted and lived in general. The myth of the so-called “gay agenda,” along with a basic ignorance of myriad differences between gay men, was intrinsic.
Lutheran Rupture/Lutheran Healing
In his video series, seething with disgust, Brock stirs his viewers to leave ELCA because of its inclusion of gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships. He exhorts his flock: “Game over!”
The fourth stated AFLC principle is: “It is therefore the sacred obligation of the congregation to purify itself by the quickening preaching of the Word of God, by earnest admonition and exhortation, and by expelling the openly sinful and perverse.”
This grim, abject theology is echoed in two films, Fanny and Alexander and The White Ribbon. In both, the internalized horror of Lutheran pastors over eternal damnation is projected unmercifully onto those they deem foul. And in doing so, they actually contradict themselves—because if God is perfect, He does not make mistakes.
French novelist Romain Gary once remarked about the Iowa Lutheran upbringing of his tormented ex-wife, actress Jean Seberg, that it indoctrinated her with “its inbred poison of original sin.”
ELCA wisely and urgently has intuited this contradiction between spiritual colonialism and spiritual wholeness. The GLBT controversies are only symptomatic of a larger obstinacy that seems more fitting not in a free society, but in a fear-based culture where adherents congregate in secret to ward off Satanic spirits. ELCA’s loving moral courage and serious efforts toward restoring compassion, as well as a concept maligned a lot lately by reactionary rhetoric—“justice”—serve to rescue Christianity from the pre-Enlightenment crowd. It’s cause for optimism.
The Twelve Steps of Courage
(taken from the Courage Handbook)
We admitted that we were powerless over homosexuality and our lives had become unmanageable.*
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives to the care of God as we understood Him.
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of our character.
We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make direct amends to them all.
We made the direct amends to such people whenever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of God’s Will for us and the power to carry it out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.