Follow up on the tragic case of Rev. Brent Dugan

by David Blakeslee

In November, 2006, Presbyterian minister Brent Dugan was about to be outed and took his own life in a Mercer, PA hotel room. I wrote about that tragic event here and was prompted to look into aftermath of the situation by a recent comment left on that post from a person who knew Rev. Dugan.

On July 1, 2010 I called the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania and spoke with their executive director, Rev. Dr. Donald B. Green about the FCC complaint which was asserted by others to be filed against KDKA for its sensationalistic and provocative reporting on Pastor Dugan’s personal behavior.

Reverend Green was very generous to answer questions by phone from a person he did not know.  According to Reverend Green CASP is an association of pastors and bishops which need to reach consensus in legal matters before filing formal complaints to government bodies like the FCC.  Reverend Green stated that unfortunately, such a consensus could not be reached among participants in this association.  Instead they reached a consensus about facilitating a formal meeting with KDKA on the ethical issues involved in reporting Pastor Dugan’s private behavior in such a sensationalistic way.  The results of that meeting can be found here.

We also discussed the reporter involved in the Dugan journalistic “investigation.”  Marty Griffin apparently had a sensationalistic “journalistic” style prior to his targeting of Pastor Dugan.  This style cost his previous employer 2.2 million to settle the defamation suit that followed:

In 1997, Griffin’s then-employer, Dallas station KXAS-TV Channel 5, paid a reported $2.2 million to settle a defamation suit arising from a story Griffin aired about Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin. In that story, a topless dancer accused Irvin of participating in a rape with two other men — accusations she later recanted, and which resulted in perjury charges against her. Griffin also conducted a hidden-camera investigation of Irvin’s purported drug-buying activities, a story for which KXAS paid an informant $6,000. The station admitted no wrongdoing in the 1997 settlement, which Griffin opposed. In fact, Griffin’s online bio on the KDKA Web site boasts of winning awards for his reporting on Irvin, and adds, “That’s right — Michael Irvin doesn’t like Marty Griffin very much.”

Reverend Green reports that Mr. Griffin currently has a talk radio show which takes advantage of his sensationalistic and emotional style.

I would encourage readers to review the article above which thoughtfully addresses the chronology of events, the important considerations that journalists should consider when judging religious leaders who are in violation of their vows and the brand of journalists who may be ratings driven, rather than ethically driven in their pursuits.


What Happened Yesterday?

(What it Might Have Been Like for Victims)

by David Blakeslee

I got up. I got dressed. I hugged my children. I called a friend. I went to work. I packed my bag for a prolonged business trip. I went to lunch. I then went to the doctor’s office for a final check on my health and then, to get my teeth cleaned.

I was traveling for my work to a place where it might be hard to get medical attention. I sat down in the waiting room. I found a magazine, Sports Illustrated, to read. I flipped the pages and I looked around the room. I saw some friends from other parts of the company, smiling and talking to each other. Every few minutes a person left the room and every few minutes a new person came in the room. It was a strange feeling, not knowing all of them, but being bound by similar work and a similar mission.

I glanced down at my magazine, the Raiders continue to lose and look terrible. The Phillies are behind in the World Series, I know better, they already lost.. Pop…Pop Pop…Pop…Pop. Scream, crash. Pop…Pop…Pop, Pop, Pop. I know the sound. I am on the ground. I look in the direction of the Pop sound, a man with two guns commands the attention of the room. He is dressed like me. He looks like me. I look to others dressed like me, some are groaning, some wailing, some are whimpering, curled up in the corner as he approaches. Pop…Pop…Pop. I am panicked now. While his attention is turned I jump and run farther from him and push a small table down as a barrier. I realize that most of my co-workers have huddled in the far corner with me. Some are escaping through another door and down a hallway. Pop…Pop…Pop…Scream. Whimper. Moan. I know I am alone. I know this uniform he is wearing says I should trust him…I lunge…Pop. Pop Pop Pop.

This is what it may have been like for many of the victims yesterday at Ft. Hood.

Many words will be written about the events of yesterday and the overwhelming majority will be about the middle-aged man who knew where to find a group of trusting colleagues and then systematically betrayed them and murdered them. Many “explanations” or hypotheses will be written. Here is one: a narcissist, narcissistically wounded, acts out his wound in the most terrifying and humiliating way on people completely unprepared to defend themselves and trained to trust him. And he enjoys it. For a brief few minutes his subjective feelings of being small and a “victim” are extinguished in a gratifying hail of bullets and moans and death. It goes just the way he planned and he enjoys it.

Narcissism is rampant in this culture.

It is time to make it’s victims real, three dimensional. To narrate their motivations, their lives, to interview their friends and family and to hear what obstacles they overcame and how much they loved their country. They are small, unimportant people in this culture of celebrity. But they are deeply loved, deeply loved. And right now, everyone they loved is feeling destroyed.

Utterly destroyed.

That is what narcissism can do.

(I spent the early years of my career at a small Air Force base as the base psychologist. It was humbling to see how hard everyone worked and how devoted to the mission they were. I learned there how many different kinds of people were better than me, stronger than me and kinder than me. For a medical officer to betray his troops is the worst kind of evil).

–David Blakeslee, Psy.D. is a psychologist in West Linn, Oregon.

Reflections on what we share in common

(This post from occasional contributor, clinical psychologist David Blakeslee, covers some similar territory as conservative gay blogger, GayPatriot on the Kevin Jennings controversy.) 

I have been a bit agitated lately, it is probably my own problem, but instead of being internally ruminative about such sensations I decided to find some object to focus these feelings on.  It didn’t take long, all I had to do was visit Warren’s blog .  There I could find a few outlandish assumptions, hypocritical comments and distortions of fact to justify ventilation.  Apparently that was not satisfactory enough, so I am writing this posting after a couple of years of absence (Warren, I don’t know how you do this day in and day out, your energy and integrity are deeply appreciated). 

Rationalization, minimization, and justification are not scientific arguments; they are psychological defenses to ward off anxiety.  Sometimes they are so effective that we feel quite calm when a grave injustice, which we should agonize about, has occurred.  Instead of tossing and turning at night, struggling with headaches and pacing the floor, we sleep quite soundly.  Sometimes they are so effective that the weak and the vulnerable are left without an outraged and strong protector; instead they get a philosopher, who through his mental games ends up functionally being a passive collaborator with a predator. 

Are gay teens vulnerable? Absolutely.

And just to whom are they vulnerable? Continue reading “Reflections on what we share in common”

Why Can’t Heterosexuals get it Right?

An article today in the Daily Mail, Betrayal of a Generation, outlines the difficulties experienced by children in the United Kingdom. The UK performed as follows:

Rates of teenage births were the worst in the developed world. British children were most likely to be drunk from the age of 11 onwards, most likely to have had sex by 15 and highly likely to smoke cannabis. Their diet was also poor.

The Netherlands ranked highest according to the UN study. The difficulties cited by the article suggest that pro-child social programs in the UK have not been effective at improving the plight of these children.

It leads me to the question which has long troubled me in the same-sex marriage debate: how can heterosexuals who have so neglected their obligations as parents dictate to gays and lesbians the limits of marriage and parenting rights?

It has been my opinion that if we indulge the selfishness and self-gratification of heterosexuals (sex without love, love without commitment, children as an afterthought) then we have no right to refuse gays and lesbians in their assertion that there should be exemptions from moral absolutes as well.

Kinsey, in his landmark studies on sexuality, from a population of participants sought to “describe” what America’s sexuality really was. To dispel myths and “get down to the facts.” We now know how agenda-driven his research was, and how flawed his population selection was. Kinsey is the left’s, Paul Cameron. Nevertheless, his work was championed and set the foundation for a sexual “revolution” which has had enormous negative consequences for multiple generations of children.

I may not agree with gay marriage based upon my religious beliefs and my interpretation of some social science data, but my larger concern, and the larger concern of our society’s future should be how heterosexuals are treating sex, love, commitment and parenting.

Sit, Jesus. Stand, Jesus. Good Jesus. Bad Jesus.

Every movement, whether political, religious, economic or social, hinges on the values of that group and how effective those values are at creating the desired transformation and keeping the movement alive through both good and bad times. Every group has a leader, at some point in time, who best articulates and embodies those values. Such a leader can either create a movement outright or accelerate a movement already begun. In later years that leader is revered and idolized for his accomplishments.

Christianity is such a movement. The difficulty and vision of Christianity are found in the person of Christ. The calling of Christ is to “…take up your cross and follow Me.”

The 20th Century has been noted for the acceleration of individual rights and individual freedoms. With that movement, whose leaders are you and me, comes a world tailored to the yearnings, wishes and demands of the individual. This movement has important repercussions in how we view faith and the values that faith demands.

As a psychologist in practice for 20 years, I have always viewed wryly my colleagues eagerness to talk about spirituality and their reluctance to talk about religion. Most psychologists view the former as healthy, adaptive and part of the process of becoming self-actualized. Most psychologists view the latter as regressive, reactionary, growth inhibiting and at best, quaint.

All this is to say that psychologists are quite willing to help people apply their spirituality in their own best interests. The happiness and meaning derived from one’s spirituality is the guage often used by clinicians to measure it’s effectiveness.

So how, then, would have psychologists evaluated poor Martin Luther. Tormented in adolescence, fearing the wrath of God in lightening, he converted to Catholicism and became a priest. But that did not alleviate his torment or his self-loathing. Hounded by guilt he drove himself deeper into his faith. He practiced penance with fervor in an attempt to alleviate his suffering. But to no avail. Ultimately, over years, he stumbled on “the rest of his faith,” that is, the glorious grace of God and his all sufficient supply in Christ. He wrote years later:

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new

heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager

sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

Luther’s work transformed Catholicism and Western Europe over the next 300 years. Most would argue that it was an overwhelmingly positive transformation. What if, upon seeing Luther’s suffering, a friend referred him to a psychologist who respected his spirituality, but did not respect his religion? Chances are, he would, with the best of intentions, undermine a pending revolution in the Christian faith, perhaps driving Luther into individualism, mysticism and irrelevancy.

Religious practice has recently been categorized along these lines:

Protean Religious Practice: involves picking beliefs and rituals from a broad variety of religious and spiritual practices.

Constrictive Religious Practice: involves picking a set of beliefs and rituals from a single authority.

Our hypothetical clinician would likely encourage Luther toward Protean Religious Practice in an attempt to free him from neurotic guilt associated with his constrictive religious practice. In that regard the clinician would be encouraging Luther to make religion “in his own image.” Luther would be commanding his religion to do his bidding, to escape his suffering. Sit Jesus, Stand Jesus. Good Jesus, Bad Jesus.

But that is not the example of Christ, and it is not the example of his disciples. Neither is it the example of the early church which suffered persecution to assert the dignity of female children being killed in Rome; or who confronted a murdering emperor (leading to the accountability of leaders to God); or institutionalized charitable giving, or contributed to the humanistic movement of the Rennaissance; or who contributed to the education of western Europe through the development of universities. All of this was based upon a constrictive religious practice. Jesus says I cannot choose whom I will love and whom I will not love (protean); the gospel is constrictive, demanding and calling us into the light of accountability: “If you cannot love your brother whom who have seen, how can you love God whom you haven’t seen?”

Similar challenges face clinicians and Christians as they attempt to understand same-sex attraction. Suffering is part of every Christian’s calling. All of us suffer as Christians for different specific reasons, but for the same single reason, we are sinners, born into a sinful world. We live for a better world to come and endure trials and tribulations for that future reward. Like Luther, I do not understand why I am suffering specifically (except that I am a sinner, in a sinful world) and I do not know yet what plans God has for my suffering (I doubt it will be as constructive and meaningful for the world as Luther’s suffering). I do know my sins are bold and require His amazing grace. And I am so thankful that nothing bars me from His unending mercy.

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.

Seduced by the Narrative

As a practicing psychotherapist of nearly 25 years I have had a close up view of how people suffer, how they come to understand that suffering and how they change. Much of my early practice was organized around helping people construct a historically grounded narrative to understand their suffering and to free them up to behave in a way that would not recreate more suffering and actually improve wellbeing.

Sometime in the late 1990’s it became obvious to me that this intervention was at least not very efficient and at times distracting from the urgent work at hand for my clients. Clients and others had developed a compelling narrative for why they were being destructive, but they they showed little drive toward transforming that insight into action. Sally Satel, M.D. wrote in last month’s New York times (read it here) how she sees this everyday in her methadone clinic. She writes well and thoughtfully on this topic.

Currently, I still describe myself as a psychodynamic psychotherapist, but with an edge and an energy that focuses on quality of life in the now. I view people’s struggles as having their roots in developmental errors, injuries and neglect. But my focus is “how does that lead to you taking less responsibility or seeing that you have less choices for your wellbeing in the now?” I think I concluded somewhere in 2000 that people were finding ways to change their lives years before psychology was created and they were doing it will very little insight in some circumstances. It is that power that I am interested in harnessing for my clients.

That brings me to the topic of Same-Sex Attraction. It seems to me we have two compelling narratives which have, at best, incomplete scientific support: a) that SSA is biologically determined and b) that it is caused by a wound in the child’s relationship with their same sex parent.

So the questions for my readers today is:

How do these narratives interfere with our conversation about Same-Sex Attraction? and, in a related question,

How do these narratives limit our client’s ability to see themselves as fully formed persons able to choose their actions in the now?

Thanks for checking in on the blog today.

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.

Here I am

I am grateful for the opportunity to help out Warren this month on this cutting edge site. My prayer is that I will faithfully walk the edge between faith, science and public policy (how does one walk on an edge with three sides? That task itself may explain some of the frustration, passion and confusion that plagues this public discourse).

I feel a bit intimidated by this responsibility so, to bolster my confidence, I have opted to increase use of a government approved substance available at multiple locations in every city.

Please see below and substitute “Dave…Dave, Dave, Dave” for “Glen”


David Blakeslee