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.

15 thoughts on “Reverend Brent Dugan: Lifelong Service, Suppression, Treachery and Despair”

  1. Thanks for checking in this morning Kevin…

    It is terrifying and important to be at the edge of people’s confusion, limitations, fear and anger. But it is the most loving place to be…because otherwise we are completely alone.

    God is fearless in meeting me there, I pray He meets you there moment by moment.

  2. I knew Brent quite well, he was neighbor and more importantly a friend. We live in a society where it is profit at any cost. Profit can be defined in so many painful ways in this situation. I miss him and pray for him everyday. I am hopeful we find a way to change, to accept, to be at peace. I am sad to say, this will not happen in my lifetime. thank you for sharing his story.

  3. I have known Brent Dugan for 38 years. He came to our church fresh out of the seminary. He was our assistant pastor then our pastor. We all loved him. He stood by me no matter what. I truly loved this man. I only know that the world has lost someone that cannot be replaced. My heart goes out to the congregation at Ben Avon. I know the sorrow you are feeling. I did not know that he had passed away until just this week. We e mailed each other every Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I did not get a reply this year, I was a little concerned. On Tuesday this week, I looked up his phone number on the internet, indending to call him on my lunch hour. There was a link to his name, and I hit it. What a shock, and for what? Because of his sexual preference? Because KDKA TV had to have a story? My son came to me and told me he was gay, then asked me if I still loved him. Of course, not just because he was my son, but because I have no right to judge anyone in any social situation. I only wish Brent could have known the unconditional love, support and help that so many people would have given him. I only want to say, Brent, I love you unconditionally, you have been my best friend, biggest confidant, and the spiritual support I have needed over the years. This world is going to miss you. I hope that as the years go on, someone will learn from this and continue your legacy…rest in peace my friend, I will see you again when my work here is done, I love you


  4. If Dugan had been revealed to have been having an affair with a married woman, would he have committed suicide?

    Would it have been any less sinful? Yet we live in a culture dominated by people who insist on interpreting Christianity in a twisted fashion that is based more on culture and bigotry than on Christ.

    If Dugan had been preaching that interpretation, the press would have been right to expose him for his hypocrisy.

    The only blame should lie with those that continue to create a world where culture and bigotry dictate religious morality.

  5. I am confused. Is this a man who was violating the trust of those who paid his salary. Is this a fellow who chose to be a servant of God while being grossly unfit for that responsibility? Is this a man who inflicted his own pain upon himself through deception and concealment? Is this a man who knew his homosexual behavior to be abhorant to God. Yes it is.

    I am confused by your statements that reporting was at fault. The reporting was not libelous. It is not unlike the pictures published of sex offenders and lawful.

    The tragedy is that he took his own life instead of leaving the ministry and getting the counseling he needed. Remember, this is a man who thought it wiser to take his own life instead of forsaking his sins.

    You need to ask yourself what is it about a church that would allow such a person to conceal their true selves to a congregation. What does such a congregation stand for if they allow their morally broken pastor to live in such deception. Certainly many in the church knew he had these behaviors, yet they did nothing. They could have quietly released him and counseling him to leave the ministry.

    But no. They were silent.

    What a terrible terrible thing that has happened because neither those leaders of the church nor the minister himself could own up to the truth. And now a family is broken.

    It is about time churches stood for Christian Principles.

    Oh how sad.

  6. How sad that Rev. Dugan battled with the feelings of SSA or that anyone does. How commendable that he rejected the behavior for such a long time. We – the Church – in many cases, refuse to face homosexuality and same-sex attraction as yet another sin. We refuse to deal with it in churches, afraid we’ll get our lily-white hands dirty when all the time we are being judgmental and UN-Christlike in our response to people who so desperately need the love of Christ and the love and acceptance of the Church. What sin have we committed by this behavior? Think about it. How can we say we represent Christ, when we refuse to offer hope to those who struggle – with any sin? We must remember there has only been one sacrifice for sin and that is the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. When we realize that, we MUST recognize that sin is sin. There are no “good” sins. All sin is of Satan. How, then, can we cast aside the individual who is yearning to be loved and accepted. As Christians, we are failing if we reject the person/s suffering with SSA, who want deliverance and victory in Christ. We must stand up for Christ – be His reflection – and offer His love to all. We can only know that Rev. Dugan was feeling guilt and despair for having given in to his feelings. We can be thankful God knows our heart. Hopefully, Rev Dugan accepted God’s love and forgiveness as he lay dying. Can you imagine the compassion of Christ to him? May God also reach the man who tempted him and drew him into this final web.

  7. I have read this thread in great sadness. I too realize that there are many who struggle with their SSA in secret and in fear. I know of friends who deal with serious depression because of these feelings. I also know of my own life of depression and avoidance. My actions did not correspond with my value system. I rejected myself and felt I was not worthy and that no one could accept me for who I thought I was.

    Once the fear was overcome I could start to reach out to some who where compassionate and begin to get honest with them and myself. Once I felt like I did belong it became easier to be myself around them. As these relationships deepened I know longer needed to hold on to my old ways of coping with the world and isolating myself. I began to enjoy peoples company, especially mens friendship and sexual desires eventually began to weeken. Yes there are times when I allow myself to become over stressed and I feel a need to retreat back into old patterns and ways of thinking, but try to remind myself how I felt when I isolated myself.

    I have not rejected the value that I learned early in live I have rejected a behaviour pattern that led me to believe I was something I was not. I have also used the best of the values I learned to try to be as compassionate to others who are hurting and walk along with them as others did for me in my most difficult times, but I do not just tell them to accept that because they have SSA that is all that they are. I hope to be able to show them there is so much more to them than their sexual desires.

  8. I’ve reread this whole thread all the way from David to Steve several times. It’s so refreshing to sense some ‘common ground’ again. Thanks to all.

  9. Oh my, David… reading this reminds of the time after Dale died. I needed to live in a dark place for a while, wrestling with grief, weighing the complexity of everything surrounding suicide mixed up with depression, deeply held beliefs, and shame related orientation and sex.

    Early on I felt a need to blame folks who were present in the circumstances and events which led up to his death. Over time I recognized that I wasn’t comfortable, and wouldn’t be healthy, investing energy in blaming those folks, or their cultural, social, religious, or communty influences. The important thing for me to do has been to learn from Dale’s life as well as his death, to contribute to making a better world than the one he knew.

    Both Rev. Dugan and Dale spent decades with their private struggles, hiding, afraid to reveal themselves fully to their most trusted loved ones. The private struggles didn’t have total control over them them, but among all of the layers that made them who they were, that layer took on more prominence for them as it warped and twisted, rippling through other layers.

    When each of them sought some degree of solace or resolution, they found betrayal instead at times. They ran headlong into their worst fears. They desperately sought ways to avoid revealing themselves to those who had been with them and loved them through thick and thin.

    Addled by a toxic brew of dysfunctional thinking, fear, brain chemistry gone haywire, and desperation, they elected to leave us. We’ll never know the exact recipe of that cocktail, but in the language of personal responsibility and full disclosure, I need to acknowledge that suicide results from both losing hope and choosing to die.

    For me, the simple question is how can I be a compassionate and empathetic presence, and occasionally if I’m lucky, a teacher and encourager of the same among the folks I meet?

    I, too, hope for healthier, safer, more supportive communities which have the courage and integrity to accept the sacred — and the profane — embedded in every person in their midst.

    But sometimes it just hurts.

  10. I see four villians here:

    1. A church culture that made him feel unable to be open with his orientation (regardless of wheather he acted on it).

    2. A gay culture that sought to make an example of a man simply because of his position as a Christian leader.

    3. A media culture that seeks titilation and sensationalism with total disregard as to the results.

    4. A person so broken that they did not see the inherent evil in setting someone up for destruction.

    But above all of these, there is the current culture war – created and engaged by persons seeking power and prestige – which makes it difficult for anyone to see others and anything but a man wearing the enemy’s hat. Without that enmity and anger stirred up by culture warriors, Dugan may have been able to talk out his desires without fear of condemnation, the gay community may have not seen Dugan as an enemy, the trapper may not have felt any justification for his actions, and the media may not have seen a story.

    I agree with Warren and Jim that the solution is to create a world in which Dugan could live in peace an community. And perhaps to point out to those on the right and the left who delight in stirring things up that lives are at stake.

  11. Which is why it is all the more important that we all work together to create an environment where people like Rev. Dugan can live in peace.

    Ditto. I would add after the word peace , “…and in community.”

  12. The anti-gay attituides that forced him into the closet are deadly. So is the attitude that someone’s secret struggle should be on the 6 op’clock news.

  13. This is a very sad story. I don’t know anything about Rev. Dugan, but it appears that his betrayal is truly abhorrent.

    Certainly no one side in any debate is immune to some pretty despicable behavior. Which is why it is all the more important that we all work together to create an environment where people like Rev. Dugan can live in peace.

  14. This is so sad. Thanks for writing about it. Shows the church needs to do something better to reach out and make it ok to be human.

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