Why I won’t be wearing a safety pin

Another social media maelstrom, this time over the wearing of safety pins: Straight white people are wearing safety pins as a symbol that they are allies to people of color, BGLQQT people, Hispanic people, other marginalized or oppressed groups. Some people like the idea, some hate it.

I don’t have a strong opinion about whether anyone should wear a safety pin or not, but I know I won’t be wearing one, and here’s why:

A significant part of my career as a minister has been cleaning up after clergy sexual misconduct. This has turned out to be a complicated business: there are more than a few misconducting ministers who have a lot of power in Unitarian Universalism, and these ministers have a lot of friends. They have gotten very good at shutting down victims of ministerial misconduct, and shutting down those of us who stand by those victims.

Often these misconducting ministers, and their friends, talk about how they want to end ministerial misconduct. Then they’ll say that we have to do it the right way — we can’t rush, we can’t do any damage to those talented ministers who committed misconduct. In the end, this means they will resist any change in the status quo with all the force at their disposal, all the while talking as if they want real change.

Thus I have learned to pay little attention to what people say. Instead, I watch for those who stand up to sexual misconduct even when it is inconvenient, those who do something even when they think no one is looking.

As a corollary, I also assume that no one should trust me. Just because I’ve done a little bit of work on clergy misconduct, I do not expect victims of clergy misconduct, or anyone else fighting this battle, to claim me as an ally. It’s too easy to tell stories about yourself and make yourself into a hero; therefore anything I say about myself can be discounted. If you see me doing the work, then you can count me as an ally — but only for just as long as I’m doing the work.

As an example of what I mean, I had a conversation with a powerful UU minister this past summer. This person said that they were staunch advocates of cleaning up clergy sexual misconduct. Yet it quickly became clear that they knew little or nothing about how one actually cleans up after clergy misconduct; and it quickly became clear that they were allied with some ministers who have actively resisted change, that they had been mentored by older ministers who have been documented as having committed misconduct. This minister said they were a staunch ally to those of us working to end clergy misconduct; I believe they honestly thought they were helping end clergy misconduct; but their words and their deeds were not aligned.

That’s why I won’t be wearing a safety pin. I don’t want to be one of those well-meaning white people who have convinced themselves they’re anti-racists when they’re not. I don’t want to be one of those well-meaning straight people who think they’re fighting homophobia, but they’re not. I’m not looking to set up false expectations for myself; I already know I fall short, and I’m sure I fall short by a much greater distance than I’d like to think.

I’m not going to judge you if you wear a safety pin; we’re all doing the best we can, and me trying to judge you is just another way of falling short myself. But for my part, I’d rather be judged on what I do; that’s a course of action that won’t be particularly comfortable, but I suspect the lack of comfort will do me good.