Another kind of misconduct

I recently received one of those emails from Sarah Lammert, the Executive Director of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC), saying that a minister has been removed from fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). This email, sent to “Congregational Board Leaders and UU Religious Professionals,” informed us that Scott McNeill “was removed from UUA Fellowship by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee on April 11, 2021 for misconduct involving bullying/abusive behavior in the workplace.”

I can’t remember hearing about any other minister removed from fellowship for bullying and abusive behavior in the workplace. I’m not able to confirm that, because apparently the MFC doesn’t maintain a comprehensive, publicly available list of who’s been removed from fellowship. But in combing through old email, here’s what I came up with:

In 2020, the MFC removed Todd Eklof from fellowship “based on the Rev. Dr. Eklof’s refusal to engage with the fellowship review process.” In 2019, Jason Shelton resigned from fellowship “due to self-reported [sexual] misconduct” (and the MFC infamously sent out Shelton’s self-excusing explanation of his resignation). In 2018, David Morris was put “on a three-year probation” due to “a complaint of child abuse.” In 2017, Ron Robinson was suspended from fellowship following his arrest on child pornography charges, with the proviso that if he were found guilty, he would be removed from fellowship (I have no email stating he was removed from fellowship, though I found news stories stating that he pleaded guilty).

Prior to 2017, the MFC sent out these notifications via U.S. Postal Service. Thinking back, I don’t remember any other removal from fellowship due to bullying and abusive behavior in the workplace. Based on my research into UU history, I’m pretty sure workplace bullying by ministers is nothing new, but in the absence of a comprehensive listing of ministers removed from fellowship I can’t be sure how many ministers were actually removed from fellowship by the MFC for bullying and abusive behavior.

So the question for me remains: Is it a new development for the MFC to discipline a minister for bullying and abusive behavior?

In a subsequent post, I’ll write about what bullying and abusive behavior by ministers looks like.

Update, 25 Feb. 2022: All of a sudden I’m getting comments on this post, from people who obviously did not read the post. It looks like I have to explain to careless readers what this post is about…. This was the first time I remembered hearing about the MFC removing someone from membership for bullying. That is all this post is about. This post is not about whether the MFC make the correct judgements in any of these cases, and if you want to argue about that you’re going to have to go somewhere else because I’m closing comments. Why am I closing comments? Simple. I don’t allow off-topic comments.

2 thoughts on “Another kind of misconduct”

  1. The lack of discipline for bullying in the past is probably due to anti-bullying language being added to the UUMA Guidelines recently.

    I think these changes happened in 2020.

  2. Steve, I believe you’re correct. In practice, the UUMA has been a conservative professional organization that has acted to protect its members from outside scrutiny; no doubt I’ll make many people angry with this statement, but when you look at the history of clergy sexual misconduct, it’s hard not to reach this conclusion. In the past few years, the UUMA has been pushed by more progressive elements inside its membership to address sexual misconduct — many of those progressives were women, and some of them were attacked by old guard male ministers for being progressive. The progressive elements have driven the UUMA to adopt a more progressive stance towards all clergy misconduct. This is good, although the UUMA is still basically a protectionist organization. I’m glad the UUMA is taking clergy misconduct more seriously, but I’m not happy that it’s still clergy who are policing themselves. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — Who will watch the watchmen?

    Given what you’ve said, Steve, it’s not the UUA who is watching the watchmen. Instead, the UUA is merely following the UUMA in the way it disciplines clergy misconduct.

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