Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Friendship, Trust and Betrayal

There is something sickening when you discover, often accidentally, that someone you knew and trusted betrayed the trust you and others accorded them.

In researching the blog I wrote recently about former Washington Governor Dan Evans, I mentioned a mutual friend who introduced me to former Governor Albert Rosellini.

BetrayalThe friend was a youth evangelist whom I met when he was a featured speaker at a church camp in Colorado that I attended. He was dynamic, fresh and exuded a brand of Christianity that was more tangible than simply worshipping in a church on Sunday.

Born in Canada, he led a Youth for Christ ministry in Victoria, BC while still in high school. Later. he led Youth for Christ programs in San Jose and Tacoma, Washington. When he came to my church camp, he was based in Tacoma. He was the one who suggested I consider going to college in the Pacific Northwest. He was surprised his suggestion took hold.

After I entered college and was involved in my own church ministries, he and I lost touch. In fact, I hadn’t thought of him for years until I started writing my Dan Evans blog.

It didn’t surprise me that he moved on to start a Juvenile Justice Ministry as part of the Youth for Christ program in Chicago. His friendship with Rosellini flowered because both men shared concerns and views about social justice and smart correctional programs. That was in 1982, long after I abandoned my ministerial ambitions and taken up journalism and politics.

My friend’s outgoing personality was a natural fit as a radio host and frequent guest on television. He wrote books – 18 of them. He led seminars. And he worked with young gang members.

Like David Wilkerson, author of the The Cross and the Switchblade, my friend wasn’t content preaching to the comfortable people in the front pew. He wanted to reach people hustling – and too often dying – on the streets. One of his programs was called “God Among the Gangs.” That kind of ministry requires skills and savvy that aren’t taught in seminaries.

His work won him many plaudits. He was given an award by the National Gang Research Center. He was an auxiliary chaplain to the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. He was featured speaker at the National Council on Crime Prevention and as a consultant to Boys & Girls Town.

The Crosss and the SwitchbladeThen everything turned upside down in 2008 when news reports indicated my friend, who was then 73 years old, was arrested and charged with soliciting a sex act from a young male prostitute on a street somewhere in Chicago. A few years later, five men filed civil actions against my friend alleging he sodomized them when they were minors and paid them hush money and gave them drugs to keep quiet. The alleged victims said the money my friend used to pay them was collected from his ministry. They said their “bad-boy” actions weren’t all that secret; Youth for Christ staff members who worked with or for my friend had seen undressed boys in his bed.

I was unable to find out what happened as a result of the arrest and the legal case initiated by his alleged victims. In some ways, that doesn’t matter. He betrayed everyone whose life he touched directly or indirectly. He betrayed me.

You cannot avoid wondering when he began molesting young boys. Was he already a pedophile when I knew him? I don’t know. I never will know.

My long-time colleague and friend, Pat McCormick, shared his complex of feelings when he learned one of his high school classmates who went on to be a priest had been charged with sexually molesting minors. I recall Pat expressing feelings of revulsion mixed with a sorrow and disappointment about his classmate’s indefensible actions. I found myself with identical feelings.

It is hard to separate the friendship I once felt for this man from the disgust I feel now for what he has done. Should I hate this man? Should I forget the inspiration he provided to me? He was a role model of activist Christianity, a robust example of walking the talk. Is clinging to what he meant to me inappropriate in light of what he has done to who knows how many young boys?

My choice is easier because this is a friendship of the past, not one still part of my present. Even so, it is a friendship that sticks out in my memory, and the pain of learning of my friend’s fall from grace stings.

When I asked him how you know you have been called to the ministry, my friend gave an honest answer. He said you will know if you are called. When the time came for me, I realized I wasn’t called. Without his advice, I might have bowed to peer pressure or allowed pride to influence my decision.

I am reconciled that I hate what my friend did. But I also realize I am unable to extend that hatred to the friendship that once mattered a great deal to me. My friend lost my trust, but not our ancient friendship.

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One comment on “Friendship, Trust and Betrayal

  1. Mary Edmeades
    January 8, 2015

    Gary, it seems that all to often many of us are faced with this same dilemma. I agree with you that you cann ‘hate’ the actions your friend took – there isn’t a way to justify those actions. The trouble is always that there are good memories that remain as well. Perhaps the lesson is bedded deep. It may take a while to sort through all the layers. Sad. These situations mostly just make me sad.

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