A conservative Lutheran pastor in Minneapolis who has preached against homosexuality said Monday that he has been attracted to men for decades, and plans to discuss his struggles on a nationally televised religious program.
The Rev. Tom Brock has been on leave from Hope Lutheran Church for about six weeks, following the publication of a Lavender magazine article alleging that he attended a support group for Christians battling same-sex attraction.
Brock, who is 57, acknowledged Monday that he attended the group, but said that he has never had sex with another man.
"I've been celibate my whole life," he said. "I'm a virgin, but you'd never get that out of the Lavender article."
Rev. Tom Parrish, of Hope Lutheran Church, said Brock will remain on paid leave for at least six months and has stepped down from his position as senior pastor. Parrish, who has been named the interim senior pastor, said Brock will eventually retire to the church as a pastor, but will spend most of his time working to start a national television and radio ministry.
Brock hosts a local radio show and has been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. After a tornado struck the Minneapolis Convention Center last August, Brock said it was an act of God designed to send a message to members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The delegates had assembled at the building for their annual convention, where they later voted in favor of allowing gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as ministers.
"It was God saying 'hello,' and sadly, the Lutherans ignored it," Brock said during an appearance on the Christian Worldview radio show last August.
Brock said Monday that his views on same-sex marriage have not changed. He said he continues to view homosexuality as a sin, and believes that people who engage in same-sex behavior and do not repent will go to hell. He also said he's not backing down on his comments about last year's tornado.
"It's so uncannily timed that I still believe that was God," he said.
Brock criticized Lavender magazine for publishing the account of his support group membership, and said the publication probably rushed the article to coincide with the annual Twin Cities Pride festival.
Reporter John Townsend attended the confidential Courage support group at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Minneapolis by posing as a Baptist. The group, which goes by the name Faith in Action in Minnesota, leads confidential support groups modeled after 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Brock said the group helps people battling same-sex attraction learn to fight their sexual urges and lead chaste lives.
"This guy lied his way into the group, basically, and then attended the group, and then said things that just were not true," Brock said.
Parrish said if he had known about the article earlier, he would have filed for an injunction to prevent its publication.
In the article, Townsend described Brock recounting a recent trip to Slovakia. "I fell into temptation," the article quotes Brock as saying. "I was weak. That place has this really, really weird, demonic energy. I just got weak, and I had been so good for a long time."
Brock does not deny making the remarks, but said they have been misinterpreted.
"[Townsend] assumed that I meant homosexual behavior," he said. "That was his assumption, but he was wrong. There's all kinds of stuff about falling into temptation that doesn't involve having sex with people."
Townsend did not return calls for comment. He told The Associated Press that he felt Hope Lutheran had the right to reinstate Brock, and he hoped the pastor's openness would make members of the congregation more sympathetic to gay people.
"He's free to do what he wants to do and say what he wants to say," Townsend said of Brock. "But he will have less credibility on that now, I'm afraid."
Brock said that he's struggled with same-sex attraction for decades, and has sought counseling over the years to help prevent him from engaging in sexual behavior with other men.
"It was in college when I realized, 'Boy, I've got a problem here,'" he said. "But looking earlier, though, before college, looking back I can see there were some signs that there was an issue. But college is when it became more clear to me."
Brock said he attended Bethel College, where he received a degree in Biblical Studies. He said he didn't seek out counseling while at Bethel College, but a psychology professor told him about a counselor who dealt with issues of same-sex attraction.
"Whether [the professor] understood that that was my struggle or not, I don't know, because I never explicitly talked with him about it," Brock said.
Brock said he's sought out help from pastors at other congregations, in addition to attending the Courage meetings. He said Courage members pray together and are "holding each other accountable to live pure lives."
Brock said he did not disclose his struggles to Hope Lutheran Church leadership or members until after the Lavender article was published. Church leaders then created a four-person group, which included a retired police officer and an outside expert in personnel matters, to investigate whether Brock ever had sexual relations with another man, Brock said.
Brock said the group interviewed other priests who attended the support group, along with other pastors whom Brock said had served as "accountability partners" to help him avoid acting on his sexual desires. The group also asked congregation members to come forward if they had any information about Brock's sexual behavior.
The investigation took about five weeks, and uncovered no evidence that Brock ever had sex with another man, he said. If it had, Brock said the church would probably have asked him to resign.
Parrish confirmed Brock's account of the investigation.
"They tracked down every source, every person, every accusation ... and they came back with a clean bill of health," Parrish said, adding that if the investigation had found evidence of what he called "non-biblical behavior," Brock would have been fired.
Brock said he wants to remain on leave for now, but looks forward to returning to the church.
"I've had to respond to all this stuff, and it's been very draining," he said. "So I'm taking the time for healing and rest."
Brock said that when he returns, he will help expand the church's local television program to stations in 20 cities. And he plans to incorporate his personal struggles with same-sex attraction into his televised preaching.
"The view I have is, look, I have this struggle, but there is the power of Christ to help us follow him, and if you do fall and stumble, there's forgiveness if you repent and turn to him," he said. "And so I hope that's the new message that will come from all this."
Parrish said the Lavender article also sent a message to 12-step groups.
"The reality is that we're living in an age where you can conduct background checks," Parrish said. "I think more 12-step programs will move to that because they don't want reporters sneaking in under an assumed name, which is what this reporter did, and have them do something like this."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)