The City Paper's Melissa Meinzer offers us a peek into the world of Brent Dugan's flock after his tragic suicide, fueled in part by KDKA's planned story on his homosexual activities. To put it bluntly, a lot of people over there hate Marty Griffin for his role in this story and view him as completely responsible for Dugan's death.
What you don't read in the article is much reflection on the part of his congregation about Dugan's struggles with his homosexual identity. Outsiders like Pastor Janet Edwards reflect on the larger struggle of the Presbyterian Church with the issue, but this is what you get from his congregation:
After the first time [Jane] DeSimone and her husband met Dugan, she says, they briefly and privately discussed their impression that he might be gay. “Who cares?” she says with a shrug. “I definitely didn't care. I just dismissed it.”
That strikes me as so sad. Not caring or dismissing sexual orientation is a far, far cry from accepting, embracing and affirming people with diverse sexual orientations.
Brent Dugan was on a collision course with disaster far before KDKA poked into some of his activities. He dedicated his life to a faith community which imposed conceptions of sexuality that did not fit his identity. Clearly,the fear of being labeled “gay” in a gay-dismissive environment can push someone to secret sexual behavior much like Ted Haggard.
Its an interesting comparison between Haggard preached in an environment that was much more openly hostile to gay people, yet he pops into rehab, declares himself cured and is back in the limelight. Dugan obviously struggled deeply with his sexual identity in a faith community that prefers to sidestep the issue if at all possible, yet sought a solution much more final that Haggard. Haggard compounded his sins with infidelity and drug abuse (not to mention hypocrisy in the pulpit). Dugan was an unmarried man whose relationships hurt only himself. No evidence of drug use and certainly no reports that he preached hate from his pulpit.
The problem is not the media's investigative journalism. Its not the risky behavior of individual pastors. The problem is the heteronormative culture that pervades mainstream Christianity, imposing a rigid sexual conformity on everyone in its wake.
While the anger and despair of Pastor Dugan's congregation is understandable, it would compound the tragedy of his death if they failed to examine this aspect. Perhaps blaming KDKA is part of the healing process (and certainly KDKA will capitulate on their demands), but if they stop at that point then Brent Dugan's life as a man of faith struggling with his sexuality is effectively dismissed once again.
Hopefully, Jane DeSimone does care this time.
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