Reverend Brent Dugan: Lifelong Service, Suppression, Treachery and Despair

Many of you may know the story of Rev. Dugan. I only became aware of it this week as reported in the Post-Gazette last month. Rev. Dugan was the pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon where he had served his congregation for over 19 years. Nineteen years of sermons on compassion, worship, prayer, morality. Nineteen years of visiting the ill, marrying the hopeful, burying the dead and consoling survivors. Nineteen years of jokes, tears, confusion and devotion. A lifetime of struggle with sensations which were at odds with his values.

Like all of us. Like all of us.

Like all of us he struggled successfully for a long time. He stated in his departing note to his congregation that until four years ago he had maintained his vow not to act on his same sex attractions. According to what limited information is available, “…he became close friends with a man who claimed to love him, and with whom he had occasional sexual encounters. That man cajoled him into leaving specific kinds of sexual fantasies on his answering machine, and then betrayed him by setting up a meeting at an adult bookstore, where KDKA-TV recorded him, Mr. Dugan wrote.”

Apparently KDKA-TV ran promotional ads about the story. No doubt the sensational nature of the story would sell more Colgate and Chevrolets.

Rev. Dugan checked into a motel, ate some aspirin and consumed a large amount of alcohol. He successfully committed suicide.

What kind of culture (individual+church+politics+press+commercialism) sets the stage for this sort of pain after a lifetime of service, sacrifice and silent struggling? What kind of people patiently plan and then wait for such a person’s failure?

Brent Dugan apparently led an honorable, commendable and generous life. He deserved much better than treachery for the sake of commercialism.

We all can be sadists, all of us. Suffering people give us the opportunity to vent our rage, on the weak, on the isolated, on the marginalized; to trivialize their lives through one fact, or one event or one set of sensations or one set of religious beliefs. God help us.

No, God help them.

UPDATE: 2/9/07 – A coalition of religious groups has filed a complaint with the FCC against KDKA over their investigative reporting of Rev. Dugan.

Religious Practice, Scientific Inquiry and Human Suffering

I thought I would make my first post on this blog an introduction in how I approach scientific material as a practicing Christian. I think it is always best to acknowledge worldviews at the beginning of any scientific discussion. I have argued that the social sciences in particular are negligent in this regard, implying that they are value free and scientific in their collection, organization and interpretation of data. I understand that this is a worthy goal, but I think the very nature of the things under study make this goal very elusive and implying objectivity in the social sciences ultimately misleads the public.

So I hope to be brief here but sufficiently illuminating so that further posts are placed in the frame of my worldview. I further hope that this will help readers ferret through the material presented and extract useful bits even if they are in conflict with my worldview.

Scientific Inquiry and Scripture:

There are many verses in scripture which guide and reinforce thoughtful scientific inquiry. The earliest and the first is part of God’s first command to Adam and Eve:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26

I think it is self-evident that you cannot be responsible for the supervision of creation and not understand it at the same time. Simply put, for the scientific Christian, curiosity is an act of worship. It is expressing wonder, admiration and respect for what God has created and the scientific Christian can worship better when he sees the intricacies and nuances of God’s creation.

The obligation is to have fidelity to the truth. Scientific inquiry for the Christian demands that the truth be sought like a workman, or a craftsman. Lazy scientific inquiry is implied as shameful (e.g., picking and choosing my research not to reveal the truth, but to reinforce my biases).

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15.

Being eager to teach, or enter the foray of blogging on faith, culture and science, is not a virtue in itself. Rather it implies a great responsibility that has eternal consequences:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1

Scientific inquiry should be guided by humility and collaboration. It is unlikely that pure anger or outrage will guide us to the truth:

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1: 19, 20

Beware the scientific discovery that makes you feel morally superior. This encourages a two-fold deception: I magnify the moral inferiority of the one I study and I minimize my own moral failings.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:2-5

This is in no way a comprehensive list of useful scriptures to guide scientific inquiry, you may know and recommend others.

Christ and Culture:

I read Niebuhr’s book (Christ and Culture) while in college and again in graduate school and quickly fit myself into the “conversion” model of Christ Transforming Culture. In this model, culture is corrupt (inherently sinful) and needs to be converted to Christian thought. This inherently antagonistic model became less useful to me over the years for two reasons. The first is my exposure to non-Christians who were working deeply and morally in the culture to have a positive impact in their marriages, with their kids, at their work and with their friends. The second was my exposure to some Christians who were so preoccupied with transformation that they had become interpersonally irrelevant to the culture or so offensive (morally superior) that there was no hope that they would ever interact honestly with the culture.

In the years that have followed I have changed my view and see myself working more synthetically with the culture and my Christian faith (Christ Above Culture). In this model I view culture as part of God’s creation, a necessary social structure meant to provide a sense of connection with other people and a sense of purpose and place in the world. In that regard, a healthy culture provides for the safety, wellbeing, purpose and place for it’s people. This has tremendous overlap with Christian faith, but is not, in and of itself, Christian faith. Christian faith is always a “subculture” of every culture. For me, ideally, my goal is to create a safer, healthier culture for all of its members and in so doing model Christian charity. If I am successful as a Christian, I model Christ in such a way that my neighbors benefit from my faith even without converting to my faith (see here).

Sin and Mental Illness:

This is where this discussion gets a little fun. I view mental illness as a consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve: part of living in a broken world. It deserves as much compassion, curiosity and care as any other consequence of the fall (pain in childbirth, for example).

However, I do not share, with many of my humanist colleagues, a view that mental illness is morally neutral. Compassion and curiousity about mental illness does not require that I abandon a moral compass or obscure personal responsibility. In 1959 Mowrer wrote of this difficulty, and tried, in vain, to resurrect a tried and true moral compass within psychology:

…Hell is still very much with us in those states of mind and being we call neurosis and psychosis: and I have come increasingly, at least in my own mind, to identify anything that carries us toward these forms of perdition as sin (Mowrer 301).

You can find a brief article in Time Magazine summarizing this issue as it was raised in 1959 and quoting both Mowrer and Ellis here .

How does this impact scientific inquiry for me? First, I should not expect that every moral behavior will lead to positive mental health. Neither should I seek to distort the scientific literature to “demonstrate” that sinful behavior results in mental illness, or is mental illness. The most obvious result for this blog is to not get caught up in “proving” that homosexual behavior is a mental illness as a means of emphasizing it’s sinfulness.

The Christian, in following the moral imperative to be holy, may endure suffering. In fact it is expected. Suffering is part of being conformed to the person of Christ. It is part of the theological doctrine of sanctification. Some mental health professionals may considering this suffering a manifestation of mental illness. They may seek to alleviate it by arguing for the irrational nature of spiritual practice.

So an odd set of circumstances arises around morality and mental illness:

1. Science may demonstrate that certain immoral behaviors result in mental illness.

2. Science may demonstrate that certain immoral behaviors do not result in mental illness.

3. Science may demonstrate that certain moral behaviors improve adaptive functioning.

4. Science may demonstrate that certain moral behaviors decrease adaptive functioning and may indeed create mental illness.

There is much more to say here, but that is another topic altogether. I hope this is a good beginning for those who share my faith and those who disagree with it to discuss how our worldviews effect how we look at Scientific Inquiry and Human Suffering.

Mowrer, O. Hobart (1960). Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils. American Psychologist 15: 301-304.

Year in review – Top ten stories from 2006

As much for my own reference and recollection as anything else, I compiled this top ten list of stories from 2006. Since I am the only voter, the list is subjective and regular readers might arrange them differently or think I should have included another story over one of these. I am interested to hear any reactions along those lines. They are arranged in the order of the interest the story seemed to create here on the blog, not their actual importance in the real world.

I first note the topic which is a link to all relevant blog posts and then describe the story briefly. It’s been an eventful year, eh?

1. Gerald Schoenewolf’s NARTH article – This issue was reported widely on blogs as well as the mainstream press and seemed to generate the most interest of any of the issues I blogged about. The article on political correctness, Dr. Schoenewolf’s angry defense, and NARTH’s handling of it (removed it from the website but then allowed Dr. Schoenewolf to defend it) figured prominently in my decision not to attend the 2006 NARTH conference and the resignations of David Blakeslee and Ned Stringham from NARTH’s Scientific Advisory Board. A popular YouTube video also came about as a result. I wish a better and wiser 2007 to NARTH.

2. Richard Cohen’s media appearances – This series of posts garnered much interest from readers, with critics of ex-gay efforts delighting in Mr. Cohen’s decisions to take his reparative drive theories and techniques to the mainstream media. His appearances bewildered and divided people who support those who seek to live out conservative views of sexuality. I severed ties with PFOX over the matter due to Mr. Cohen’s association with them.

3. Joseph Berger’s NARTH article – This story preceded the controversy over Dr. Schoenewolf’s article. Reacting on the NARTH website to a San Francisco Chronicle article, Dr. Berger said that gender variant children might do well to face teasing in school in order to move them toward reality. With encouragement from Exodus and others, NARTH issued a retraction and removed the article. Much damage was done however, as Dr. Berger’s article was repeatedly and at times erroneously referred to by opponents of the Palm Springs Love Won Out conference.

4. Ted Haggard’s resignation – I did quite a few posts on this sad story and was quoted in a Denver Post article regarding the aftermath. Along with the revelation of fellow Colorado pastor, Paul Barnes, the disclosures of Rev. Haggard have prompted many in the evangelical world to reflect on how the church responds to homosexuality.

5. The return of the co-founders of Exodus – About half way through the year, I began receiving emails from Michael Bussee. Michael, one of the co-founders of Exodus International, took exception to my account of the early days of Exodus. Through some spirited and pointed exchanges, Michael and I forged a good connection via the blog and email. These exchanges eventually led to the establishment of wonderful discussions with other early movers and shakers (e.g., Robbi Kenney, Ed Hurst, Lori Rentzel) including helpful reflection on the term ex-gay.

6. Re-evaluation of the term “ex-gay” – As an aspect of the co-founders of Exodus discussion, Exodus Executive Director, Alan Chambers publicly expressed his desire to retire the term ex-gay. The discussion that ensued about the term took many tangents including the common ground discussion and built on an earlier post about what change of sexuality means. At present, it seems to me that the discussion is taking a break for the holidays. I hope to see these topics revived in the new year.

7. Swedish pheromone study and press coverage – The study was certainly news in itself as the Swedish team led by Ivanka Savic, found large differences in how the brains of lesbians and straight women were activated by what the researchers proposed were pheromone-like substances. I got involved by noting the incorrect reporting of the study from both the Associated Press and the United Press International. After I made several contacts with Dr. Savic and then the wire services, both the AP and UPI issued corrections.

8. APA President Koocher’s remarks about client self-determination – In an APA town hall meeting, guest blogger, David Blakeslee asked APA president Gerald Koocher for guidance in helping religiously conservative people who were in conflict over same-sex attraction. Dr. Koocher raised some eyebrows with his answer and subsequent clarification, published on this blog. This exchange led to an invitation from Dr. Koocher to submit my sexual identity therapy framework to the APA for a review. The entire APA convention and a NARTH inspired protest led to several posts, including the comments of APA luminary Nicholas Cummings.

9. Sexual identity therapy – I launched a blog dedicated to providing a framework for mental health interventions with people in conflict over same-sex attractions and chosen values and beliefs. The guidelines differ on several key points from gay affirmative and reparative therapy models. Related to this topic, the paper, “I am not a reparative therapist,” generated much discussion.

10. Abortion and mental health articles – In January, I wrote two articles regarding mental health consequences of abortion. These reports featured interviews with David Fergusson, David Reardon, and Nancy Russo, all prominent researchers in the field. The impetus was a report from David Fergusson’s team demonstrating some mental health risks associated with having an abortion. The interviews and attention to this topic led the APA to remove an outdated public policy information page from their website (NARTH, take note). The page is still being updated but is archived here. These reports were, as far as I can determine, the most widely distributed pieces I have written. Over 15,000 news sources worldwide ran one or both of them.

Honorable mention – The birth order effect research by Anthony Bogaert and subsequent research reports that did not find such an effect occupied my time and several posts. Research from Bearman and Bruckner and most recently the research of Frisch and Hviid found no support for the birth order effect in large and varied groups of respondents. Other issues such as the Equality Ride, Brokeback Mountain, the 60 Minutes report, Gay or Straight?, and the Foley debacle were also important. But one must stop reviewing sometime and say thanks to those who read and comment here.

Happy new year!

Mitt or Mitt?

I don’t venture into politics much here but this story is a fascinating mix of sexuality, religion and politics. Mitt Romney is apparently putting out feelers regarding the GOP presidential campaign. The issue in blogdom is “Can a Mormon win?” Hugh Hewitt, Christian conservative who knows Romney, believes he can and is supporting him.

I think Romney will need to do something fairly quickly to be conservative enough for the Republican base if he is to be successful. With his stance in 1994 on gay rights, I think he will get a chilly reception. Will there be a winter surprise for conservatives from the Romney camp? What I mean is, will he feel the need to do something in the area of gay rights to find his inner social conservative prior to lining up serious conservative support? I doubt the Mormon issue will be as much of an issue as his potential duplicity in saying one thing while running for Senate and posturing another way when seeking the GOP nod.