Recently I received an unsolicited book in the mail. As a minister and as a blogger, I sometimes receive unsolicited books in the mail, usually on topics in which I have no interest, and I generally toss them straight into the recycling bin. Upon opening the envelope, I read the title of the book, Being Alive and Having To Die: The Spiritual Odyssey of Forrest Church, and having no interest in Forrest Church I headed for the recycling bin. But before I tossed the book, I thought to myself, “I wonder if the author dared tackle Church’s sexual misconduct?” The author did dare, so I decided to read on.
Dan Cryer, the author of Being Alive and Having To Die, portrays Forrest Church as having come from privilege. The son of Frank Church, a prominent U.S. Senator, Forrest Church could trace his ancestry back to the Mayflower through both his mother and his father. He grew up in large part near Washington, D.C., in a county with the highest per-capita income in the country. His father went to Stanford University, and that’s where Forrest received his undergraduate degree. Although he was estranged from his father during the late 1960s, as were so many upper middle class young men of his generation, he once avoided arrest because U.S. Forest Service troopers liked his father’s pro-conservation initiatives in the Senate. Forrest Church continued following his father’s footsteps: his father had gone to Harvard Law School, and after a year at Pacific School of Religion Forrest transferred to Harvard Divinity School.
He married Amy Furth when they were both undergraduates at Stanford. Cryer’s descriptions of their marriage makes Forrest Church sound like a male chauvinist pig, e.g., “…the young husband did have a bad habit of wounding Amy by making important decisions without consulting her” (p. 65). Beginning in 1976, Church began having affairs with other women, although he himself “declined to characterize these as ‘affairs'” (p. 188). After he was called to the prestigious pulpit of All Souls Unitarian in New York (in “that nation’s wealthiest ZIP code”[p. 110]) in 1978, the affairs continued, though not with members of the congregation. By 1991, the marriage of Amy and Forrest Church “had been shaky for a long time” (p. 187). It was in that year that the whole thing blew up.
Forrest Church had begun a serious affair with a member of his congregation, Carolyn Buck Luce, in 1990. He was infatuated with Buck Luce, and they began having secretive sex in a friend’s apartment, even though both were still married, and both had school aged children at home. Church publicly announced to his congregation that his marriage was ending, but he did not announce that he was sleeping with another member of the congregation. Rumors began to spread. Things quickly got ugly, not least because Amy was the well-liked director of religious education at All Souls. This passage from the book gives a small sample of the ugliness:
To the board of trustees, Amy insisted that her husband ought to be forced to take a leave of absence. Hearing this demand, Church shouted to [associate minister John] Buehrens that “someone had to control that woman.” (p. 192)
The conflict went well beyond staff. The church’s scholar-in-residence, Louis Pojman, passed out copies of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) ethical guidelines, which even at that time prohibited sexual practices which endangered the integrity or professional effectiveness of a minister (pp. 194-195). The congregation became divided, and in a recall vote 136 people voted to remove him as minister, while 370 voted to affirm him as minister (p0. 206-207). “Several hundred” people eventually left All Souls (p. 211); I note in passing that surely their departure represented an endangerment of Forrest Church’s professional effectiveness.
And the conflict spread beyond the walls of All Souls. John Buehrens was running for president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and while campaigning he was asked about Church’s lack of sexual discretion. The New York newspapers picked up the story, not just the tabloid scandal sheets, but even the New York Times. Finally the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer picked up the story, running it under the typically lurid headline “Preacher’s Love Triangle Sparks Unholy Scandal in the Pulpit” (p. 212). Yes, it turns out that some of those stories in the National Enquirer are actually based on fact.
Cryer displays an obvious bias in favor of Forrest Church; this is understandable given that Cryer has been a member of All Souls since 1994, so Forrest Church was his minister, his pastor. Nevertheless, Cryer is objective enough to point out that Church made serious mistakes and did damage to the congregation and to the people around him: those several hundred people who left All Souls; the serious damage to Church’s wife and family, particularly his son. Cryer also points out how Church damaged the larger cause of liberal religion, by allowing religious conservatives and others to mock him, and liberal religion (e.g., pp. 202-203).
Perhaps most damning, Cryer indicates that Church never really felt any real remorse, as in the following passage where Lee Barker is getting ready to represent Church in an ethics hearing before the UUMA:
Previously, Barker had been worried that his “client” [i.e., Church] would seem anything but humble during his interview. He needed to project that he had “learned his lesson.” Barker’s advice: “Don’t defend what you did. Because he was kind of in the mood of ‘Well, you know, it wasn’t so bad.’ I remember going to a restaurant before we went into the meeting and saying, ‘I’m just going to kick you in the shins if you don’t appear chastened enough.’ He was able to pull it together, but I actually remember having to interrupt him with kicks a couple of times.”
Church got off with a “slap on the wrist” from the UUMA (p. 218). And denominational headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) apparently did even less: even though Church himself “admitted that he had broken the letter of the denomination’s ethical code,” Cryer does not report any action taken by the UUA against Church (pp. 214-215).
Cryer also documents two other serious weaknesses that Church had. First, there’s Church’s long-standing alcoholism, and the “ego and hubris” (p. 247) that allowed Church to remain in denial about his addiction for a long time. Second, there’s Church’s workaholism that led him to do things like write three books in one summer, at the expense of time spent with Amy and their children. While it would be difficult to prove a causal connection between the alcoholism, the workaholism, and the adultery, Cryer allows us to infer that there was some kind of connection.
At the same time, Cryer points out Church’s many strengths. When Church was called to All Souls, average attendance was about a hundred (p. 111), and by the time he left there were several times that number. Church could be an excellent pastor, with the ability to touch the lives of people in need. Church’s sermons and books have provided inspiration to many people, and he was a charismatic, well-known, and media-friendly public advocate for liberal religion.
At the end of the book, Cryer attempts to show how Church repaired some of the damage he caused to his congregation (it was not clear to me to what extent Church repaired any damage he caused to his family), and how Church finally confronts his own death with something that can be called grace. As a Universalist myself, I want to believe the upbeat tone of these last three chapters: knowing too well all the stupid things I have done in my life, knowing that I have the potential to do things that are even more stupid, I want to believe that we can all be redeemed. But these last chapters read more like hagiography than biography, and I think we’ll have to wait for a more objective book to assess what happened in Church’s life after the sexual misconduct.
Until that more objective biography is written, Being Alive and Having To Die remains an excellent case study of a prominent instance of sexual misconduct by a liberal religious clergyperson. We watch the rise of a charismatic man, a public intellectual and a gifted minister, who is dogged by addiction to alcohol and work, who neglects his family and and displays “emotional naivete,” and who eventually winds up committing serious sexual misconduct. We watch with something of horror as the situation explodes, hurting many people. And we watch as people struggle to deal with a difficult situation. This is an excellent book for anyone who is trying to better understand how clergy misconduct happens.
Being Alive and Having To Die can be pre-ordered online from the independent cooperative Seminary Coop Bookstore. Friends don’t let friends buy from Amazombie — buy from an independent bookstore instead!
Updated 10/21: Several typos fixed; factual error corrected and citation added regarding All Souls attendance. Thanks to Scott Wells for the link to the New York Times article.
32 thoughts on “A portrait of the minister as a misconductor”
Man, I wish I got a free copy. Great, thoughtful, well-written review…
I had no idea… didn’t reach me on the west coast – or I don’t care about who is sleeping with who. Sure, ministers shouldn’t sleep with their congregants, but they do – so do we discount them totally because of that?
I thought UUA forbid this kind of talk about another UU Minister?
Anyways, thanks for raising (again) the issue of sexual ethics. I don’t think any UU’s been able to write a coherent theology/ethics, although in practice I think we do quite well (owl), but trying to put this into a coherent theology seems beyond all the writers I’ve read.
Thanks for this in depth exploration of Church’s misconduct. In the mental health world, we say that the biggest risk for psychotherapist/client sexual abuse is narcissism in the therapist. I recently heard from my professor of pastoral care in seminary that when a minister begins to believe the larger than life stories about his/her effectiveness as a minister, then, at this point, looms the greatest risk for sexual misconduct. Both arenas seem to suggest, using different terminology, that ego-inflation heightens risk. Your discussion of Church reinforces this idea. Whatever happened to the cultivation of the virtue of humility among pastors or therapists or among us all? It seems that humility in the context of a virtue ethics might go a long way toward reducing sexual misconduct/abuse.
Jacqueline @ 2 — You write: “Sure, ministers shouldn’t sleep with their congregants, but they do – so do we discount them totally because of that?”
Nobody is discounting Forrest Church — he is one of the foremost Unitarian Universalist spokespeople of the past three decades. And Cryer does a nice job of balancing Church’s misconduct against his gifts as a minister, intellectual, and pastor. I’d reframe the question somewhat: Can we acknowledge that gifted people sometimes make really big mistakes, and can we come face to face with both the good and bad results of our leaders’ actions?
Bill @ 3 — You write: “I thought UUA forbid this kind of talk about another UU Minister?”
You’re thinking of the Code of Conduct established the UU Ministers Association, an organization which is closely linked to, but independent of, the Unitarian Universalist Association. The relevant passage reads as follows:
“I will not speak scornfully or in derogation of any colleague in public. In any private conversation concerning a colleague, I will speak responsibly and temperately. I will not solicit or encourage negative comments about a colleague or their ministry.”
How have I kept this in mind while writing the above book review? I trust I don’t sound scornful or derogatory, and instead sound responsible and temperate. I certainly haven’t solicited negative comments, and I hope instead to encourage an honest and balanced assessment of a complex person.
And in this case, I’m talking about a book that is being published by a well-known publishing house with national distribution. Ignoring the serious issues raised by this book seems to me more hurtful and damaging to the profession of ministry than talking about these issues openly, honestly, and with compassion for all involved.
Roy @ 4 — You raise an excellent question: what has happened to the cultivation of humility in the Unitarian Universalist ministry? (For that matter, what has happened to the cultivation of humility throughout American society? — a quick look at sports figures and the presidential candidates reveals only mock humility — but I digress.)
And I’d suggest that we can read this book for some answers to this question. In one revealing passage in the book, in his first years at All Souls, while he was still in his twenties, Church is taken to task by lay leaders for the poor quality of his sermons, and he’s told to spend more time on them. But he was already spending twenty hours a week writing sermons at that time. This is an example of how congregations can set impossibly high expectations for ministers. In this example, I feel that Church was in a sense humiliated by the congregational system — so we have humiliation used as a disciplinary tool, rather than an environment that cultivated humility — and if he had adopted an attitude of humility, he was going to get even more emotionally chewed up.
So right away, Church’s workaholic tendencies were hooked by the way the congregation was set up. Humility was not something that was going to be valued in that congregational setting, and he would have had to have been a very exceptional person to have been able to cultivate humility as a virtue.
In any case, thanks for bringing up humility — it offers a powerful way to think through the issues raised by this book.
Perhaps the core values that form the foundation of the Our Whole Lives curriculum series would serve as a coherent theology (or philosophy for those working in non-religious settings).
Here’s the full text of the program values as printed on the UCC web site:
Every person is entitled to dignity and self-worth, and to his or her own attitudes and beliefs about sexuality.
** Sexual health
Knowledge about human sexuality is helpful, not harmful. Every individual has the right to accurate information about sexuality and to have her or his questions answered.
Healthy sexual relationships are:
— consensual (both people consent)
— nonexploitative (equal in terms of power, neither person is pressuring or forcing the other into activities or behaviors)
— mutually pleasurable (both receive pleasure)
— safe (no or low risk of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and emotional pain)
— developmentally appropriate (appropriate to the age and maturity of persons involved)
— based on mutual expectations and caring
— respectful (including the values of honesty and keeping commitments made to others).
Sexual intercourse is only one of the many valid ways of expressing sexual feelings with a partner. It is healthier for young adolescents to postpone sexual intercourse.
We are called to enrich our lives by expressing sexuality in ways that enhance human wholeness and fulfillment and express love, commitment, delight and pleasure.
All persons have the right and obligation to make responsible sexual choices.
** Justice and inclusivity
We need to avoid double standards. Women and men of all ages, people of different races, backgrounds, income levels, physical and mental abilities, and sexual orientations must have equal value and rights.
Sexual relationships should never be coercive or exploitative.
Being romantically and sexually attracted to both genders (bisexual), the same gender (homosexual) or the other gender (heterosexual) are all natural in the range of human sexual experience.
The problem isn’t that we don’t have a coherent theology surrounding human sexuality. We do have one and it isn’t an “anything goes – do whatever you want” theology.
The problem is that most UU adults haven’t done the discernment and reflection on sexuality in our congregations. The UU minister Rev. Debra Haffner did a report for the UUA Board back in August 2010:
“Toward a Sexually Healthy and Responsible Unitarian Universalist Association”
On page 19 of this report, Rev. Haffner reports that 68% of UU congregations are using OWL at some age/grade level — pretty good.
When explores what age ranges actually have a chance to explore theology and sexuality, one sees a different pattern:
Grades 7-9 OWL – 66%
Grades 10-12 OWL – 42%
Grades 4-6 OWL – 30%
Grades K-1 OWL – 16%
Adult OWL – 11%
Parent Program – 6%
Young Adult – 5%
Most UU adults haven’t had the opportunity to discuss sexuality and values in UU context. The theology is there — it’s just that most of our adults haven’t explored it.
@Steve: The self-worth clause at the opening seems at odds with the rest of your statement. Glaringly so… and that’s why we need some theological work here.
Bill Baar wrote:
Another way of saying the self-worth text “seems at odds” would be to say it’s in tension with the rest of the values.
As Unitarian Universalists, we should be used to this. In our Principles statements, our first principle is in tension with our seventh principle. Likewise, our first source exists in tension with our fifth source.
If you’re looking for a statement of sexual values from the UUA and UCC that exists without acknowledging the complexity of balacing individual concerns vs. community concerns, you probably won’t find it. Finding the right balance between individual and community is a perennial problem for more than human sexuality.
I have no problem with tension and in fact I think tension a very good thing.
I have a problem thought with translating ethics into health.
For example, was Rev Church unhealthy or unethical when he had his affair?
If all you new of UU sexual ethics was Rev Haffner, it seems unhealthy would be our only choice, and that doesn’t quite fit for me.
Bill Baar wrote:
Based on what I’ve read on Rev. Haffner’s blog and coversations with her, I think you’re ignoring significant portions of her work.
The sexual values that the UUA, UCC, and UU clergy like Rev. Haffner are promoting are more than just concerns about sexual health.
For example, the values the denomination is promoting would lead us to ask other questions about Rev. Church’s sexual decisions.
Did his decisions enhance human wholeness and fulfillment and express love, commitment, delight and pleasure?
Given the potential power imbalance inherent in the roles of minister and congregant, was Rev. Church’s relationship with Carolyn Buck Luce fully consensual when it started (speaking ethically and not legally here)?
And these are just the surface questions … if we dig deeper, we can have a very rich conversation about sexuality, theology, ethics, and values that goes beyond questions about health. However, it looks like less than 15% of UU adults have had these conversations based on the OWL curriculum usage stats.
((if we dig deeper, we can have a very rich conversation about sexuality, theology, ethics, and values that goes beyond questions about health. However, it looks like less than 15% of UU adults have had these conversations based on the OWL curriculum usage stats.)))
Less than 15% have had those conversations in the context of OWL. Lots of us have had them in other contexts.
((Can we acknowledge that gifted people sometimes make really big mistakes, and can we come face to face with both the good and bad results of our leaders’ actions?))
I hope we can, but it has been my observation that most people can’t.
Steve, what I’m getting from your posts is UU practice is to restrict “sexual ethics” to kids.
CC @ 12 — You write: “I hope we can, but it has been my observation that most people can’t.”
And it’s really good to hear your slightly cynical truth-telling voice again.
This book is another partial retelling of part of a widespread era of UU “difficulties”, traumas and recoveries and restorative justice, continent wide.
the Safe Congregations-Restorative Justice work have emerged covenants and committees of Right Relationships, experiences of clergy and laity working out theological and ethical and societal knottiness Together, UUA advocates (volunteer, unpaid professionals)for individuals and congregations victimized, revision of professional guidelines …. and so on.
See the Berry St. Lectures by Rev. Dr. Deborah Pope-Lance
THIS YEAR (2011) on the challenges of After-pastoring.
Recall this began with UUWF Biennial before the GA 1990 Hollywood FL, at which Rev. Dr. Church refused to step down from delivering the Service of the Living Tradition, a high honor. Thus after much conversation, a Call to Action was presented by UUWF and Women&Religion, followed by Task Force I coalition and Task Force II appointed, which led to more than a Decade of discernment, publications, courses, circles, workshops, reaffirming
our UU Principles and Purposes, in action.
Can it be, so many UUs seem unaware of “Creating Safe Congregations: Toward an Ethic of Right Relations:
A Workbook for Unitarian Universalists” edited by Rev. Pat Hoertdorfer and Rev. Wm. Sinkford, published by the UUA in 1997? (Disclosure: I and UUWF past President Phyllis Rickter wrote Chapter 2. “We are All Responsible: A Working Paper on Leadership”)
Also see “The Safe Congregations Handbook: Nurturing Healthy Boundaries in Our Faith Communities” edited by Revs. Pat Hoertdoerfer and Frederic Muir, 2005 — Six
Can it be, so many UUs are unaware of the Collegium monograph “Edge of the Wave: Sexual Ethics” from the Feminisms section, 1990 which included analysis of Henry Ward Beecher’s era, and surveys, and “Finding Our Way”,comparative studies of some 40 denominations also having “issues”, and focussed thought within our UU values –from the UUWF ETC.
The loss of so much caring and accompanying; grappling
with anger and betrayal and hope and rebuilding communities; the precepts of psychological and pastoral counseling and community-building — the burying and ignoring has been hard to live with.
And here is yet one more book with a partial-view, unresearched, ill-informed coverage of One “great Spiritual leader with feet of clay”, omitting the Shared Ministry (to use the current phrase) that brought us through to our social justices foci now.
wonder about this as a collegial study group text…and as always, really appreciate you keeping this important conversation with it’s many and nuanced issues right on the front burner…
Bill Baar wrote:
Bill … it may be a common “practice” but I wouldn’t describe it as such. The word “practice” assumes more intentionality for this outcome than I think is present. I don’t think that the lower usage of adult and young adult OWL programs is that intentional.
First, many of the other “Our Whole Lives” programs for minors under the age of 18 are used less frequently than the one for grades 7-9. Parents are very aware of the need for comprehensive sexuality education when puberty hits (which is around the middle school years). The parental concern was present when the earlier “About Your Sexuality” (AYS) program was published in the early 1970s. The “market” for the OWL for grades 7-9 was already established by these parental concerns and the use of AYS before OWL was published. However, we do see less use of the programs for children (grades K-1 and grades 4-6). We also see less use of the grades 10-12 program for older high school students.
Second, adults may not be aware that “Our Whole Lives” is a comprehensive sexuality education program — they are thinking back to the sex ed class they had in school while growing up where they learned the basic facts about bodies etc. I’ve had adults ask me “well … what do adults learn about in Adult OWL … new positions?” That sort of question may suggest that the asker thinks all there is to sexuality education is body parts and lubricated friction. The question overlooks the topics of values that are woven into the excellent sexuality education program that we have sitting on the shelf today.
It also assumes that adults already have an assumed level of competency when it comes to this topic. I’ve routinely done a game from OWL 7-9 with adults where the participants are trying to guess the body part names written on an index card on their backs. It’s very common for some adults to discover that they don’t have the basic knowledge that we expect an 8th grader to have.
That may be true but it’s anecdotal evidence at best.
And these informal conversations may be different from the structured experiential learning activities and conversations in the OWL classroom. These conversations may not support the sexuality values that we’ve chosen to promote in the OWL program.
The latest version of the UUA Safe Congregations Handbook is online here:
It’s available as a free downloadable document on the web page mentioned above.
I give every participant at OWL training workshops I co-lead a copy of this resource and I mention it during the section where we talk about sexual abuse so they can use it in the congregations when they get home.
I am UCC with concern for the topic in general; I picked up this blog from a google alert on “clergy misconduct” and I appreciate the history. I especially appreciate Betty Hoskins’ comments. I too observe sadly that the experience of the past couple of decades among congregations and faith groups often remains poorly digested. Perhaps failures at coherent sexual ethics and theology have a foundational part, but this story is not primarily about sexuality per se, but about ministerial conduct and ethics. The sexual component is both damaging and sensational, but as the review and other comments note, it is part of a pattern of behaviors. Isn’t a coherent system of ecclesial accountability at least as important as a coherent theology of sexuality? This is not comment on your systems of accountability, with which I am not familiar, but simply on the focus of the responses here.
Dan, I’ve returned to your blog a couple of times in the last week to read your post and the comments. I originally felt some anxiety when I initially read your post and the thought “Is he allowed to talk about this?!” flitted through my mind. And, as you noted above, you are. I believe my initial response is connected to my own uncertainty about how to engage with colleagues about their choices related to our shared covenant and Code of Professional Practice. I continue to wrestle with these questions: what does the covenant call me to do/speak? Were I a colleague of Forrest Church’s back-in-the-day, what would I have said/done? Would it have made a difference if I knew him personally or not? As more colleagues have a greater public life through the technology available today, what changes/stays the same in how we are accountable to one another.
And so I continue to ponder.
Thank you for the fodder.
On Sunday I ran into Dan Cryer, author of Forrest’s biography, and All Souls NYC, and he asked me to check out the remarks on this blog. While I think we are still too close to Forrest’s death (in 2009) to cool-headedly assess his effect on Unitarian Universalism, I share Dan’s concern that the UU clergy will trash the book without reading it. That would be a disservice to both Forrest and Dan, and to our congregation, which I joined just as the story of Forrest’s infidelity was unfolding.
In reading the book I hope you will find that Forrest had some of his most productive years after he remarried. Perhaps more importantly, his second wife, Carolyn Buck Luce, forced Forrest to confront his heavy drinking, and in dealing with it, he reconciled with many of the people whom he had injured. By the time his cancer was diagnosed, he was a man at peace, and the way he dealt with his approaching death was perhaps his greatest gift to those of us who shared his journey. (His book Love and Death is well worth your time.) That the church has continued to thrive is in no small measure due to Forrest’s thoughtful preparations.
A line from “Dead Man Walking” comes to mind. Sister Helen Prejean says (and I paraphrase) that no one should be remembered only by the worst thing they did in their life. I ask you to consider that.
I find it humorous, painfully humorous to find this “discussion” two years too late. Man I would have loved to unload on this then. But I won’t, as much. I tend to disregard UU’s in general, mainly because of the way All Souls craftily and wholly politically shamed my mother, even as she was the victim of my father’s adultery..has never been lost on me.
My father, in his career, in books written about him, needs to be shown as a human. And guess what?, Humans do horrible shit sometimes, to their loved ones, to their families and to themselves. I find it hilarious anyone who would have a problem frankly discussing another’s humanity because it might take-away from something. It should take away, or it should add to the levity of his pastoral message.
He was a total douche as a father and honestly in retrospect as a minister if you read his pre-divorce/adultery books. They read like the author is in love with his own musings, not who they reach. Then after he “fell” so harshly and finally addressed his horrible alcoholism that we all lived with as children (that shit wasn’t just his problem). Things changed, he gave up his life-crutches, his ways to numb his pain and his insecurity and he started to feel, he started to do things with transparency and purpose, not image and theatrics. And he became a real voice in the UUA. And a real father. Because he actually had perspective, something to say, and people to actually connect to beyond just the posturing bullshit.
Reading this message board, and while I am sure a few of you are real kind people, yeah it mostly all feels like posturing bullshit. Feels like the talk without the investment of the personal. Speaking of UU clergy, you should research some of the UU clergy my father slept (cheating on my mom) with before he met Carolyn. Oh wait, no that might be against your rules eh? Lol, hilarious.
I don’t have lingering anger toward my dead father. He died a great man, very proud of him and his journey. But Dan Cryer was bobbing on him way too hard…before he deserved it . Everyone knows it.
Guess what? The Rev Forrest Church should be remembered as a seriously flawed man who found the courage through love to correct himself. But the 45+ years before he found that courage can’t be washed over because it makes some gutless people nervous. He didn’t love my mom more than he loved himself, but he did find a true soulmate in Carolyn Buck Luce and she did truly provide an arena for him to face his demons and then publicly and with humility share it with everyone else.
That’s just the facts, from one of the “children.”
Frank F Church V
Rev. Dan says “I trust I don’t sound scornful or derogatory, and instead sound responsible and temperate”.
In my (untrained, amateur) opinion, this is not trash talk. I don’t see any cruelty in Dan’s words.
If the letter of the UUA code, prohibited ordained ministers from ever admitting a publicly documented case of misconduct, then I hope that a) the spirit of the code would still support an honest and complete discussion, and b) Rev. Dan would follow the spirit rather than the letter.
Frank Church V, Thank you for adding to this discussion. I remember hearing about this when I was early in my career as a religious educator, and my primary response was to be furious at the mistreatment of your mother, not just by your father, but by the congregation. For reasons of my own, I have very little patience with clergy sexual misconduct, and to have the church get rid of the victim … well, it just really pissed me off! It has colored my ability to read any of your father’s writings. I think what you have written will make it easier for me to go back and read some of his later work. So, again, thank you.
Frank, thank you for being willing to say these things out loud yet again. I was in my first year of seminary when the details of the scandal began to trickle out, and it’s astonishing how little of this story I’ve ever heard. Keeping secrets like these, whether out of self-protection or some misguided sense of respect and propriety, weakens our ability to be an authentic and just community of people.
As a non believer in any theology I really don’t care about his affair. I knew him as a kind man who would help the poor and homeless. The rest shows the hiporacracy of all religion. Which is why I’m a non believer.
Several observations: The first danger sign in UUA terms is that Church by-passed the Fellowship Committee who would have inquired into things like alcoholism and so on. He went directly to the congregation which was dazzled by the reputation of his father — so that’s on THEM. Those too eager to claim anyone high status.
Several ministers, known womanizers who were friends of mine but never hit on me (maybe because we were equals?), had minister fathers who were in other denominations, notorious womanizers, never dismissed evidently because country people believe that powerful men are naturally potent. I’m saying the norm for those sons was womanizing and maybe they interpreted objections to their father’s behavior as conservative restrictions not observed by the UUA. Thus, they could be like their fathers without the criticism their fathers earned.
These comments in total above are helpful in the sense that they show that what we often define as “private” is not. Secrecy is even worse. The emotions raised by sexual issues can destroy congregations because they get displaced in confusing ways. Going back the other direction, sometimes we evade serious issues about boundaries and priorities and economics by getting all excited and distracted by something sexual.
Our obsession with growing numbers has not served us well. Popularity destroys even minimal propriety. The dark side of democracy.
We have paid almost NO attention to congregants who hit on ministers. In my experience, no fellow ministers made moves, but congregants, both male and female, attempted to get emotionally and physically intimate. Sometimes subtly and sometimes right up front. I assume this is transference left over from childhood and also a desire to draw on what they think is a minister’s power and prestige.
When I was serving as a UU circuit-rider, a minister in another denomination had been intimate with half-a-dozen women, implying to each of them that they would probably get engaged soon. They found out about each other and instead of whinging and claiming trauma, they agreed to all dress in red one Sunday and sit in a row across the front pew. The minister barely made it through the service and soon transferred. I had thought this was apocryphal until I was talking to a young man who turned out to be this minister’s son. Maybe someone ought to start a group.
I’ve been told that no president of the UUA has ever been faithful. But that was decades ago.
I had a correspondence friendship with The Rev. Dr. Forrest Church for many years. I found him to be a man of deep sorrow and remorse. Towards the end of his life, one could see his progression towards humility as he understood all the complexities of being human.
Just having found this article (years later), I’m sure no one will pay attention. I knew Church’s wife years ago, as she was a classmate of mine at seminary. [some details redacted]
I got a little annoyed by many of the comments here just dismissing the pain a minister, a man, brought upon his wife. This matters. A lot. … [some details redacted] … Ministers can’t be expected to be perfect by anyone’s definition, but loving your neighbor, or your wife, as yourself has to count for something. Women count for something. I remember in seminary that the statement “Women are human beings” proved controversial in one class. Anyway. This painful episode continues in churches, repeated and repeated, and it only adds to the thought that ministers, perched high on their collared pedestals, should step down. The damage done simply doesn’t end at their door, and lay persons should stop with the worship, and ministers should stop thinking such worship is their due – and their free ticket to glory.
Mary, thanks for your comment. I redacted a few things from your comment; this blog post still gets a lot of traffic, and thought it better to leave some details out. However, your main points are important. I found your comment that “lay persons should stop with the worship” especially important. To which I’d add: remember, people, we are NOT worshipping human clergypersons; that’s idolatry.