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The tragic death of Brent Dugan

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William Crawley | 16:02 UK time, Wednesday, 13 December 2006

13819672.jpgThis is a dreadful story. A Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh has taken his own life, and has left a final letter to his congregation explaining why. The Reverend Brent Dugan, 60, was found dead in November. It appears that KDKA, a local television channel, was about to broadcast an "expose" of the pastor's sex life, and Mr Dugan discovered this by watching a trail on television. In desperation, he wrote a letter to his church then committed suicide. The letter was read to his presbyterythis week.

One can only hope that some questions are asked about responsible journalism in Pittsburgh, and about the kind of religious culture that leaves a man like Brent Dugan feeling so isolated.

Comments

William - don't even partly blame the media - the blame lies totally with a homophobic mainstream church.
The DUP's denial of homophobia this week in opposition to incoming equality legislation is remembered. They were just trying to preserve religious rights which they say are more important! - than life? Eh?

  • 2.
  • At 11:48 PM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

This is hardly unique in American culture, in fact it is far more common than a lot of Americans would believe or like to believe. The ultimate failure to maintain a facade, and public image of the fantasy they create in their own minds has driven more than one American to suicide. This apparantly happens with some frequency in the corporate and business world. When I worked for AT&T some years ago, I heard some interesing stories about top executives who did themselves in when they became as you would put it redundant. It wasn't just the loss of the large homes, the cars, and the rest of the lifestyle their huge salaries had brought them, it was the illusion they had projected convincing even themselves that they sat at the left hand of God. I heard one story where they came to work one morning to find the recently laid off head of security lying dead right outside the CEO's office, his brains blown out by his own hand. Reminds me of the ancient Japanese cultural practice of hara-kiri. Tsk, tsk! Such a pity.

  • 3.
  • At 02:33 AM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • pb wrote:

William

I concur with your concerns about the journalism and the religious culture that left this man feeling so isolated.

Having said that, the possible split in the Anglican communion illustrates that gay clergy are common enough.

The fact that this is suicide is a news story means such incidents as this are rare in comparison.

So many gay clergy never take their lives it might appear the primary responsibility in this case is on the journalists, but that is somewhat of an assumption without knowing all the facts.

But perhaps some responsiblity should also be on the journalists who rarely cover the full story on human sexuality. ie that sexuality appears to be very flexible and that many people switch from straight to gay and gay to straight all the time. (eg sources: Peter Tatchell, Alfred Kinsey, Andy Comiskey, Enc Britannica etc)

The Apostle Paul also noted that some of the church members he wrote to had left a gay lifestyle.

If this and the details behind it were more commonly acknowledged perhaps there would be a lot less suicidal people out there who feel they have no control whatsoever over their sexual identity.

I acknowledge that most of us live in fairly liberal societies where people have the freedom to do these things, but I fear that many well meaning people are resolutely stereotyping many "gay" people to death on the altar of gay lib ideology.

If you think I am wrong then can anyone explain why a hetero person turning gay has numerous state resources to support him from many western states.

But if a gay wanting to turn straight appeals for help, in some places any professional helping him/her could risk being struck off or prosecuted. It does not seem to officially happen.

Witness a Bishop in the UK in the past year who was threatened with prosecution by the police for making views similar to the above on air.

So perhaps if the sexual regulation orientation regs go through we may see some gay people suing Govts because they withheld support to help them move from gay to straight.

But back to the point. A human being is dead needlessly and such suicides are an important issue to keep on the public agenda. And William, I respect the way you raised it without turning it into a football.

PB

I agree with Alan Watson: the journalists who were intending to break the story should bear no responsibility nor any moral fault for what happened.

This is entirely a story about homophobia in the name of God. What was it that forced this minister to hide his sexuality from the full knowledge of his congregation? Homophobia in the church. He would likely not have been able to become a minister at all had he been out of the closet from the beginning.

This is, unfortunately, yet again, another system-wide fault of evangelicalism, not restricted to homophobia by any means. I've seen church elders almost set themselves on fire trying to put out a cigarette when another church member comes to visit. I've seen alcoholics attempt to deal with it on their own because they know their church would ostracise and condemn them rather than invite and support them. And I've seen gay people drive themselves crazy trying to fight the very essence of their sexuality because their churches have taught them that that's what God wants. Gay Pride Day or Morning Worship? What a horrible choice to force a person to make in the name of a loving God.

I suspect PB's inclination to blame journalists is because he doesn't want to admit that the problem lies at the door of his own theology.

  • 5.
  • At 06:47 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Irene Eilish wrote:

Previous commenters seem to think the blame goes to either journalists or religious fundamentalists in this case. Will is right to ask questions about both groups.

Irene- The point I was trying to make is that both groups are NOT responsible. I don't believe that journalists are to blame for anything in this story. If you differ, let's talk about it. Tell me why journalists should not break a story of this kind?

  • 7.
  • At 08:52 AM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • Gee Dubyah wrote:

I think that a man who preaches one thing and practices another is asking to be unmasked.

Noone deserves to die for it, but it was his feeling that he couldn't live with the shame.

His shame for the record, in my opinion, was his duplicity, not his sexuality.

A sad tale made possible by intolerance.

  • 8.
  • At 11:23 AM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • PB wrote:

John

Like William you make a crucial but flawed assumption that sexuality is fixed, flying in the face of an awful lot of evidence.

Can you reverse up and have another look at this?

I stand to be corrected but it was my understanding that studies show that mental problems with gay people are no less common in countries where their sexuality is widely accepted. If so, it is hard to blame the church for this problem.


And lastly John, is there something wrong with your thinking that you have no problems at all with the media running an expose on someone's private sex life?

Most people might have guessed that I, coming from a biblical viewpoint, might have endorsed this expose of a gay clergyman and you as a liberal might have opposed it.

But in fact it appears to be the other way round!!!

Even the National Union of Journalists in the UK might pull you up on this John.

From the NUJ code of conduct;-

http://www.nuj.org.uk/inner.php?docid=59

6. A journalist shall do nothing which entails intrusion into anybody's private life, grief or distress, subject to justification by overriding considerations of the public interest.

10. A journalist shall mention a person's age, sex, race, colour, creed, illegitimacy, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation only if this information is strictly relevant. A journalist shall neither originate nor process material which encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred on any of the above-mentioned grounds.

I have grave reservations into intrusion into anyone's private lives unless there is an overrriding case of public interest, because of the danger of suicide etc.

That is very differnt from discussing these issues in abstract using information which is on public record.


PB

  • 9.
  • At 09:41 PM on 16 Dec 2006,
  • pb wrote:


JW

caved in on this one?


GW

I am shocked by your lack of mercy.

How would you like this done to your brother of father?

I dont care if it is a clergyman or gay rights leader practising hypocrisy in their private sex lives.

Most journalists in the UK, according to this code of conduct, agree with me on this.

Absolutely disgraceful.... and you argue your position in the name of.....

........tolerance????!!!!

Have some mercy for goodness sake.

I dont see any indication that he was preaching against homosexuality in his ministry.

But in your eyes the real cause of his death was his, that he could not deal with the shame!!

How sad!


PB

  • 10.
  • At 01:55 PM on 18 Dec 2006,
  • Gee Dubyah wrote:

PB

I feel for the man's family. But not for him - he had a choice.

But I ask, what was the reason for the suicide?

He could not deal with the shame. I see nothing contentious in this assertion.

If this happened to my brother or my father I would be angry at him and the institution had placed himself in - that a revelation about his sexuality was not an eventuality he could contemplate.

If Brent Dugan slept with men, then what was wrong with that? Nothing in my book - so why the suicide?

We need to accept responsibility for our actions - the journalist will (rightly) suffer some sleepless nights, but like it or not a public figure not practising what he preaches is news.

If George Bush was shown to be an atheist whilst professing Christianity, is that not a news story?

Whats the difference?

How many Presbyterian congregations would be prepared to have a gay man lead them? Dont deny homosexuality is unpopular in Presbyterianism. Dugan knew that and couldn't face it - if the Presbyterians were so wonderfully tolerant then the suicide would never have happened.

  • 11.
  • At 03:02 AM on 27 Dec 2006,
  • John W. wrote:

As someone who knew Pastor Dugan, I can say I'm glad that this has attracted the attention of the BBC.

With all that is being said, I'd like to give my take on this story.

Pastor Dugan never preached anti-gay messages like Ted Haggard or Pat Robertson. His sermons simply preached the Gospel: the forgiveness of ALL sins through Jesus, without comment one way or another on ANY political issues.

As for a homophobic church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) maintains that all officers: Deacons, Elders, and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, to live in "fidelity and chastity in marriage or in singleness." This is required for gay and straight alike. This policy was not designed as, or is anti-gay.

The media coverage of this story was what started it all. The time that the story was to air, Nov. 2 was the height "sweeps" week (where local TV stations set advertising rates.) This was nothing more than a ratings stunt. KDKA has yet to air the story. They probably never will. They did air promotions for the story, however. One showed the reporter almost on a stakeout at Pastor Dugan's home. While the promo's never said his name or his church, they did show his face. The damage had been done.

Pastor Dugan killed himself because he was terribly ashamed for what was about to be revealed. His pride and fear collided, with extremely sad results. Brent was not concerned with what John Doe on the other side of the county thought of him. He was worried that the church congregation he served admirably for many years would think less of him. While what Brent did may have been questionable, it was even worse for a reporter, looking for a cheap ratings booster, to exploit him like he did.

  • 12.
  • At 04:48 AM on 27 Dec 2006,
  • Sarah Hains wrote:

John W thank you so much for your comments here about Brent Dugan. My condolences to you all all of Brent's friends. I hope others will pay close attention to what you've written about journalistic abuses.

  • 13.
  • At 05:12 AM on 27 Dec 2006,
  • Daniel K Lee wrote:

GW's comments disgust me. This is a terrible story about how the press can forget the implications of their actions in the pursuit of a "good" story. What was Rev Dugan's crime? To be a single, gay man? To have been duped by another man? To have been walked into a sting operation by a journalist in need of an ethics class?

The person who needs to ask forgiveness here is not Brent Dugan, but the report MARTY GRIFFIN from KDKA news. He should be ashamed of himself.

  • 14.
  • At 11:37 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Wil Snodgrass wrote:

What is saddest is that PCUSA had nothing to say about this sad death. I sent Joan Gray (Moderator) a letter explaining that deaths like this will continue to occur as long as she hesitates on basic civil rights issues. Of course I got no response back of back from Joan, I think she is perhaps a little busy washing the blood off her hands.....or at least trying too.

  • 15.
  • At 06:14 PM on 21 Feb 2007,
  • beverly wrote:

I just want everyone to know that I knew Brent Dugan for the last 38 years. He was my youth pastor when I was a young lady comming into my own. I have never known a more kind, gentle, loyal, person in my life. He has been the support so many of us needed. When I felt that no one else in this world ever wanted anything to do with me, Brent was there. If I had only one wish it would be that more people were like Brent Dugan. I loved him so much. He has been my best friend throughout the years. He did my marriage ceremony, baptized both of my kids, was there for me through a nansty divorce. He was there when both of my grandchildren were born, and we shared pictures of them. The joy this man brought to my life is unexplainable. I did not know that anything had happened to him. I know that he did not answer my e mail at Thanksgiving nor at Christmas. I just figured he was on a mission may be to Africa. This was such a shock to me. I have to ask KDKA TV if this was worth it? You basically killed my best friend. I am so angry right now. Brent is gone, but I know that his legacy will live on in the congregation that he left in Pittsburgh and the many friends he left in Fairmont. I love you Brent and I always will. I will miss you during the time I have left on this earth but I know I will see you again, and my friend, you don't have to worry, you are not judged anymore. Have peace and be happy now, it is the ones here on earth that have to live with their decisions to harm your reputation. I love you and miss you....

  • 16.
  • At 12:18 PM on 13 Mar 2007,
  • Bob-gsc wrote:

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