The mystery of the misattributed hymn

One of my favorite hymns about peace begins:

Years are coming — speed them onward!
When the sword shall gather rust,
And the helmet, lance, and falchion,
Sleep at last in silent dust!

This hymn has mostly been reprinted in Universalist and Unitarian Universalist hymnals, and it is usually attributed to the Universalist minister Adin Ballou, who founded the utopian Hopedale community in Milford, Massachusetts, in 1842. Ballou and the members of the Hopedale community were believers in women’s rights and abolition and temperance and education and pacifism. Recently, while I was researching family history, I discovered that my mother’s great-grandparents Nathan Chapman and Hepzibah Whipple left the utopian Rogerenes of Ledyard, Conn., to join the nearby utopian Hopedale community in Massachusetts; and their daughter Jeannette was married in Hopedale to her husband Richard Congdon by none other than Rev. Adin Ballou; and though by the time of this marriage the Hopedale community had gone bankrupt, the spirit of the community lived on in the Hopedale Unitarian church of which Ballou was the minister.

Not only did this family history help explain why I’m a feminist, pacifist, educator, and utopian dreamer, but I decided it must explain why I like this hymn so much.

Except that Adin Ballou didn’t write this hymn.

Continue reading “The mystery of the misattributed hymn”

Make yourself look good on camera

With the shelter-in-place order, any socializing we do is on camera. Plus many of us have to use videoconferencing for work. As long as we’re going to be spending lots of time on camera, we might as well look our best. So here are some tips for making yourself look good on your laptop’s (or your phone’s) crappy little web camera.

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, have your laptop or phone sitting on something stable. Ideally, you want to move the camera as little as possible, for two reasons. First, if you’re in a videoconference, you want to focus attention on your face, and if you move the camera around that’s going to be a distraction. Second, unless you have a really fast internet connection you probably want to save bandwidth; if you have a stable backdrop, that will be less information you’re sending out, and so you’re less likely to have degraded audio or video.

Second of all, don’t place your camera too low. If your camera is too far below your face, people will be looking up your nose, and if you’re middle-aged they can see all those incipient jowls that you’ve been trying to hide. In other words, don’t do this:

Camera placed too low, and only one source of lighting

Boy, do I look ugly in the photo above! Don’t make yourself look ugly. Place your computer or phone so that the camera is about at the level of your chin. However, don’t place your camera too high; there’s a psychological disadvantage to giving your viewers the impression that they are higher or taller than you.

In addition, learn about the Rule of Thirds. Imagine that your screen is divided in thirds both horizontally and vertically, sort of like a tic-tac-toe board. Have your eyes placed so that they’re about a third of the way from the top of the screen. Move so that your head is NOT in the center of the frame, but about a third of the way to one side (I like to move to my left, so that my right hand, my dominant hand, can make gestures in the space to my right). Setting up your camera using the Rule of Thirds will make you look more professional, because that’s what we’re used to seeing in movies and on television.

Use the Rule of Thirds to place yourself in the frame of the camera

Now let’s take a look at lighting. In movies and television, they use what’s called “three point lighting.” That just means that they use three light sources to light someone’s head. First, you set up the “key light,” which is the most important light. If you’re at home and on a videoconference during the day, your key light is most likely determined by the nearest window — in that case, try to sit so that the light from the nearest window is coming towards you at about a 30 degree angle — and you want diffuse daylight, so make sure there’s a curtain or something to give diffuse light. At night, sit so that the strongest light in the room becomes your key light.

With only the key light, your head will look a little one dimensional or washed out; and if you have any wrinkles or blemishes, they will tend to stand out. Therefore, you need to set up another light, called the “fill light,” which will fill in the stark shadows cast by the key light. The fill light should be less bright than the key light. The drawing below shows where the key light and the fill light come from:

Diagram of three point lighting

Then if you want really professional lighting, you’ll add what’s called a “back light.” This comes from the same side as the key light, and it lights up the back edge of your head. By lighting up that back edge of your head, it makes you look that much more three dimensional. However, it’s super time consuming to set up a back light, so I don’t bother when I’m on a videoconference.

Now here are some examples of what I look like with these different lights. Here I am with just the key light — it’s adequate, but pretty stark:

Continue reading “Make yourself look good on camera”

Further adventures in livestreaming

The shelter-in-place order has made livestreaming our church’s worship services a little more complex. We just had a tech rehearsal with worship leaders and tech support people each in their own locations, using Zoom as our basic platform. We have learned a lot since we livestreamed last week! Here’s a summary of what is currently working for us:

(1) Before the rehearsal, whoever owns the Zoom account needs to log in to their Zoom account and go over the settings carefully (see the screenshot below to see where to find “Settings” when logged in to Zoom). The critical settings you need to be aware of are as follows:
(a) Do not allow “Join before host.” This is to prevent someone from hijacking the feed with inappropriate screensharing before you take control.
(b) UNtick “Participant video: Start meetings with participant video on.” You want participant videos off, partly to prevent distraction, but also to prevent trolls from putting inappropriate content on their video feed. (Zoom will allow participants to start their video feed again, so you’ll also need someone to monitor participant videos during the service; see below.)
(c) Tick “Mute participants upon entry.”
(d) Tick “Allow co-hosts,” for two reasons: First, you’re going to need 2-3 people to manage the video feeds; second, make all worship leaders co-hosts because that puts them at the top of the participant list so you can more easily find them when switching back and forth between worship leaders and musicians.
(e) Tick “Allow host to put attendee on hold.” Just in case.
(f) Under “Screen sharing,” make sure you select the option where only allow host(s) can share screens. This prevents so-called “Zoombombing,” where trolls put up inappropriate images on your Zoom feed.
(g) Tick “Disable desktop/screen for users.”
(e) Tick “Allow users to select original sound in their client settings.” This improves the audio quality of musicians enormously.

(2) Well before the service starts, make sure you have email addresses for all co-hosts and worship leaders. Cell phone numbers would be a good idea too. If something fails, it’s nice to have a backup communication method besides private chat within Zoom.

(3) Start the Zoom call at least 15 minutes before the stated start time for the worship service, and make sure your co-host(s) who are managing participants also log in early. You want to have at least two hosts managing participants before the stated start time, when you’ll have your big influx of participants log in. Have your worship leaders log in early as well, and assign them co-host status so they appear at the top of the participants list.

(4) During the worship service, you’ll want people in the following tech roles:
(a) One host to “Spotlight video” of whichever worship leader or musician is on.
(b) One or two hosts to manage the participants. If you have a really small service (say, 30 or fewer participants logged in), you might be able to combine this role with the previous role.
(c) One or two people to work on audience engagement; these people will be monitoring the chat. Specific tasks might include monitoring chat for joys and sorrows (we’re going to allow joys and sorrows in chat); pasting hymn/song lyrics into chat at the appropriate moment; watching for newcomers to the service and perhaps greeting them privately in chat; generally monitoring behavior.
(d) Optional: we’ll also have a few knowledgable people monitoring audio and video quality, and providing feedback and/or advice as needed.

(5) Send out a script ahead of time. Our script, which was the basic order of service, proved to be inadequate. The primary worship leader (the senior minister in our case) is going to send out a full script, and our music director is going to insert cues for the host who’s in charge of switching the video feeds.

(6) We did a brief postmortem to talk about what worked and what didn’t work, and of course we’re doing email follow-up as well.

One final point: While putting on a worship service is always a team effort, it becomes even more of a team effort when you’re livestreaming (especially when everyone has to watch from home), because the tech crew becomes an integral part of the worship team. I consider this a major benefit of livestreaming services: in these times, when we’re all feeling a little isolated and scared, being a part of a team effort can be quite comforting.

Copyright free hymns

For me, the biggest stumbling block for livestreaming worship services has always been copyright issues.

Especially troublesome are hymns.

Many of the most popular hymn tunes are protected by copyright. Even if a tune is in the public domain, the arrangement may be copyrighted (and it can be difficult to find out if the arrangement is, in fact, copyrighted). Even if the arrangement is copyrighted, some people will claim copyright for their typesetting of the hymn. If a hymn is protected in any way under copyright, you’re not supposed to photocopy or project or electronically disseminate the printed version of the hymn; if any part of the music is protected under copyright, you’re not supposed to broadcast audio of it. No, not even if you own hymnals with the hymn: owning a hymnal just allows you to use the hymn in an in-person event such as an in-person worship service.

The solution to this problem: copyright free hymns.

For the past few years, I’ve been collecting copyright free hymns and spiritual songs. I have huge disorganized files (both electronic and hard copy) of public domain tunes and texts and arrangements. I’ve pulled many songs from the great early African American collections, including Slave Songs of the U.S. (1868), the Fisk Jubilee Singers songbook (1873), and Cabin and Plantation Songs, assembled by the Hampton Institute (1901). Although most of the hymns I’ve found are Christian, I’ve also found some good hymns and songs with Buddhist, Jewish, Neo-Pagan, Ethical Culture, or secular content. All the hymns I’ve found would be suitable for use in a Unitarian Universalist worship service; indeed, many of them are public domain versions of hymns in our current hymnal that are protected by copyright in some way.

I’ve just put 24 of these copyright free hymns and spiritual songs in a Google Drive folder here.

I’ll put a list of the songs currently in the folder below the fold. And I’ll be adding more copyright free hymns and spiritual songs as I find time to produce fair copies of the versions I have.

A thumbnail view of a copyright free hymn
Continue reading “Copyright free hymns”

Adventures in livestreaming

In Santa Clara County, gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned, and if you have gatherings smaller than that you have to keep people 6 feet apart. So guess what? We’re livestreaming our Sunday services!

It’s been fun figuring out how to livestream our services, and I thought I’d share some of the highlights.

Last Sunday, Ann and Dox set up the simplest livestreaming system possible: Ann mounted her iPhone on a tripod, logged into Zoom, and that was our livestream. As you’d expect, audio was mediocre, but it wasn’t terrible. And we avoided copyright issues by only giving access to the livestream to our members and friends (and NOT recording the stream). Ann’s system worked, showing that anyone with a smart phone can livestream their Sunday services. This Sunday, we’ll continue with that simplest livestreaming system possible.

What if you want to go a step up in quality over what the smartphone can provide? Well, I tried setting up with a pretty good quality webcam attached to my laptop, but the audio was so poor it wasn’t worth pursuing. So the next step up means having about $2,000 worth of hardware on hand.

So this Sunday, in addition to Ann’s system, we’re going to add a livestreaming option that will take that next step up in quality. We’ll have a prosumer camcorder (worth $1200) mounted on a tripod ($130), with a wireless omnidirectional mic with the receiver attached to the camcorder and the mic set up right in front of the preacher ($400; thanks, Dox, for lending us this mic). The audio and video feed from the camcorder will get run through a Magewell USB Capture HDMI ($300) directly into my laptop, where I’ll be pushing it into Zoom.

Since we plan to handle joys and sorrows through the Zoom chat feature, Greg will be sitting 6 feet away from me with a second laptop; he’ll be managing the participants as they log in to Zoom, and then scanning the chat for joys and sorrows. We’ll have a third volunteer, Carmela, whom people can call on her phone for support if they have a hard time logging in to Zoom.

As you’d expect, we did a dry run this afternoon, with several people logged into a test Zoom meeting. Our testers uncovered all kinds of problems. The shotgun mic we had provided inadequate sound, and that’s when Dox lent us his wireless omni mic. The internet connection was unstable, so we wired my laptop directly into the wifi mesh using an Ethernet cable. The camera angle we had originally was not so good, so we moved both the camera and the pulpit.

It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun. In fact, I had a blast, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow! I’ve wanted to do livestreaming for a long time, partly so we can reach people who are traveling or who are ill or shut in, and partly because I love helping produce video. If COVID-19 is a cloud, this has definitely been the silver lining for me.

Coming soon: Adventures in online learning — Highlights of how we’re setting up online Sunday school.

Update: Sunday, March 15, 6:26 p.m.: Problem One: Livestreaming with our second option went pretty well … during the second service. During the first service, the audio committee tried to set up the regular wireless mics we use during the service (so they could record the service, and broadcast it on campus), but their wireless mics caused interference with our livestreaming set-up meaning audio quality was poor. That problem was solved for the second service by switching to wired mics for the sound board. Then our audio was fine, except that we had turned on the wrong audio compression setting in Zoom and while voice was great, piano sounded terrible.

Problem two: Ann’s Zoom feed went well, with decent audio and video. But we had a LOT more participants this time, and she had a hard time muting everyone. Next week, we’ll probably have to get her a cohost.

Successes: We had about 35 log-ins at the 9:30 service, and about 70 log-ins at the 11:00 service. Assuming there were 1.5 humans per log-in, we probably served 150 people; that’s pretty close to our usual Sunday service participation. We had a bit of a “social hour” after each service, and Amy got to chat with anyone who stuck around in the Zoom conferences. Amy preached a killer sermon, perfect for the times. And we had a couple of people log in who now live beyond driving distance, and who said how pleased they were to be able to finally “attend” a UUCPA service again.

Unitarian Universalist naming ceremonies

So what’s the difference between baptisms, christenings, and child dedications? (Historical info about these ceremonies: here, here, here, and here.)

Baptism ceremonies use some formula that gives a name to the child in the name of, variously, God the Father (alone); Lord Jesus (alone): or God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit )together); at least one Unitarian baptism ceremony used the trinitarian formula. A baptism ceremony may be generally understood to be in the Protestant tradition where there are just two ordinances observed by a Protestant Christian church, that of the Lord’s Supper (i.e., communion) and baptism.

Dedication ceremonies prior to the late twentieth century use some formula that dedicate the child to God the Father, or to the example of Jesus. From the late twentieth century on, dedication ceremonies may dedicate the child to a moral life, a higher purpose, etc.

Christening ceremonies give a child its “Christian” name. In some cases, a christening ceremony is understood as the same as a baptism. In other cases, for example in the Western Unitarian Conference, a christening is significantly different from a baptism; a christening may simply name the child, or may dedicate the child’s life to “to virtue, to truth, to love, to duty, to the service of God and humanity,” etc.

Ministers and academic theologians will want to make clear distinctions between baptism, christening, and dedication of children. Baptism, it may be argued, is a Christian rite for which various justifications can be provided from the Christian scriptures; an explication of baptism will most likely get into the theology of original sin. Christening is also a Christian rite, it may be argued, distinguished from baptism in that it is a simple naming ritual, giving a child its Christian name; and distinguished from baptism in that there is no specific example of christening found in the Christian scriptures. Dedication, it may be argued, originally came from a rejection of the necessity of infant baptism (on whatever theological ground), so that the ceremony is simply a dedication of the child’s life to God, higher purpose, or what-have-you. — These academic distinctions could be (and have been) argued at great length.

In common practice, in religion as it was actually lived out, none of these terms appears to have had a precise definition. Nineteenth century Universalists appeared to have maintained some distinction between the terms “baptism” and “dedication”; roughly speaking, a dedication was used by those who did not feel that children needed to be baptized, either because they found no justification for baptism in the Christian scriptures, or because their theology of salvation held that baptism was not required, or for some other reason. Nineteenth century Unitarians tended to use the terms “christening” and “baptism” somewhat interchangeably, although sometimes there appears to have been some slight distinction between the two, with “baptism” perhaps indicating a slightly more conservative theology. In the twentieth century, “christening” and “dedication” seem to appear more frequently among both the Unitarians and Universalists; however, “baptism” also appears as a synonym for “christening” or “dedication,” sometimes coupled with one of the other terms, e.g., “christening or baptism.” Into the mid-twentieth century, there appears to have been increasing preference for the terms “christening” and “dedication”; by the end of the twentieth century, the dominant term was “dedication,” while “christening” and “baptism” had fallen out of widespread use.

Today, in the first quarter of the twenty-first century, I feel that these three terms have definite connotations within Unitarian Universalism. “Dedication” has become the default term for mainstream Unitarian Universalism; the term is typically interpreted as meaning that we dedicate children to some higher purpose; and the term connotes adherence to mainstream Unitarian Universalist values. “Christening” is being used less and less frequently, but when it is used it seems to appear with a naming ceremony related to late twentieth century liberal Protestantism; thus the term “christening” connotes a respect for recent tradition, and a desire to carry that liberal Christian tradition on. “Baptism” is perhaps used more frequently than “christening” these days among Unitarian Universalists; partly due to the influence of liturgical renewal movements among liberal Christians who are reclaiming the rite of baptism, and partly due to the near obliteration of the term “christening.”

However, in our increasingly multicultural society in which fewer and fewer people have been raised in any kind of religious community, these fine distinctions between “baptism,” “christening,” and “dedication” are lost on many people. I would venture to guess that only half of younger Unitarian Universalists — those who are at an age where they have having babies — have a strong sense of what a child dedication is, or why they might want one for their child; they may be more aware of what a baptism is, but they probably associate baptism with some stereotype of creepy conservative Christians. Furthermore, in many regions popular culture and popular religion provide alternatives like gender-reveal parties, or do-it-yourself ceremonies, all of which, for many families, fill the need for some kind of ceremony to recognize and welcome babies.

Here in Silicon Valley, I’m seeing fewer and fewer families who know what a child dedication ceremony is, or see any need for their family to have such a ceremony. Perhaps more families would want a child dedication ceremony if they knew what it was, but with the information overload facing all families with children, getting through to them on this trivial point is going to be difficult.

Perhaps one way to get through to busy, non-religious, multicultural Unitarian Universalist families is to start calling this ceremony by a more understandable name. Calling it a “child dedication” is actually somewhat meaningless unless you already know something about the history of baptism and why we’d want to reject the notion of baptism. Maybe it would help to start calling it a “naming ceremony” — a straightforward, non-technical name that accurately describes what is going to happen at the ceremony, and informs the parent of the age at which you probably want to have that ceremony for your child.

(While we’re at it, can we please start calling “gender-reveal” parties by a different name? What’s actually being revealed at a “gender-reveal” party is the biological sex of the child; children don’t develop a strong sense of their own gender identity until about age three. I know, I know, we can’t call them “sex reveal” parties, that sounds nasty. But there must be some other name we can use that doesn’t confuse gender identity with biological sex.)

Update: edited and revised 9:57 p.m. Pacific time, Feb. 28.

I don’t do Lent, but…

I don’t do Lent — I guess I’m too deeply rooted in the New England Puritan tradition to feel comfortable with such a practice — but I really like what some liberal Christians have come up with for this year’s Lenten season.

These liberal Christians have issued “A Call to Prayer, Fasting, and Repentance Leading to Action” for this Lenten season. It’s a strongly-worded statement that includes phrases like these:

“We reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership….
“We reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God….
“We strongly deplore the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees, who are being made into cultural and political targets….
“We reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life….”

You can read more at their Web site, ReclaimingJesus.org, and if you’re a liberal Christian, or in sympathy with their aims and practices, you can sign the pledge and join this season of national prayer and fasting.

As for me, though I won’t be signing their pledge, I’m in sympathy with their aims. I can feel the viciousness in the air these days, and I do feel we’re all complicit in promoting that viciousness — yes, even us religious liberals, who are (in my opinion) too ready to badmouth people we disagree with, too willing to pick fights even with potential allies, too proud of our own self-proclaimed virtuosity. I’ll cop to all those vices. Maybe I’ll do a day of fasting myself, like the old New England Puritans, a day to reign in pride and engage in a little spiritual humility.

Mindfulness meditation is not religiously neutral

Recently I read a blog post by Amod Lee on mindfulness meditation and whether it might be problematic for Christians. Lee notes that some Christian groups have mounted legal challenges to teaching mindfulness meditation in public schools, on the basis that mindfulness meditation is a religious practice, not a secular technique. Lee goes on to say that he is “not particularly interested in the particular American legal issues involved,” but rather wants to consider this issue “as a philosopher, a Buddhist, and a practitioner of mindfulness meditation.” Coming from that perspective, Lee argues that mindfulness meditation could be problematic for Christians:

“A key element to mindfulness practice is disidentification: one notices one’s thoughts and emotions as they surface, and observes them from a distance. In so doing, one comes to observe one’s mind, one’s self, as a divided entity, reducible into parts. One takes an approach which Augustine would have associated with his Manichean foes: where the soul is not one thing but the battleground for a struggle between good and evil intentions.

“That doesn’t mean one can’t practise mindfulness meditation as a Christian — or even that mindfulness meditation must mean one ceases to believe in an immortal soul. But the mindfulness approach, which explicitly comes out of Buddhist non-self, is explicitly in tension with the unified immortal essence postulated by most Christians. I think Christians would do well to at least be cautious around it.”

I found this argument helpful for me personally: I meditated for years, and finally stopped because I hated it. In the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I never like meditation because I felt all the meditation techniques I was taught pushed me towards a negation of the self. By contrast, when I learned meditative techniques of self-inquiry while studying transcendental phenomenology in Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations, I found those techniques deepened my self-understanding without negating the self. Husserl’s technique led me to an understanding of intersubjectivity — that is, awareness of the self as a node in an intersubjective web of many selves — and eventually this led me to a sense that awareness of intersubjectivity is a highly desirable spiritual outcome. Similarly, meditative practices of observing non-human organisms, inspired in part by Henry Thoreau’s journals, also led me an awareness of my (non-negated) self as part of a web of intersubjective selves, many of which are non-human selves. Rather than negating the self, my own spiritual exploration led me to understand my connection with other selves, an outcome I find personally more rewarding.

My personal spiritual exploration leads me to expand on Lee’s conclusion: mindfulness meditation carries distinctly Buddhist content that people other than traditional Christians might also be cautious of, and even actively dislike. It is, in short, not a neutral practice.

(One last note: I’ve been to Unitarian Universalist worship services and workshops where the minister or workshop leader leads some kind of mindfulness meditation exercise with the unspoken assumption that everyone present will want to do mindfulness meditation. It would be wise for Unitarian Universalists to realize that mindfulness meditation is a practice borrowed from another tradition, to be careful that we do not misappropriate it, and if we do use it to remember that some Unitarian Universalists will find it distasteful or unpleasant.)

Religious attendance may be down, but income is up

Over the past decade, our congregation has seen flat attendance, slowly declining membership — but a modest increase in income when corrected for inflation. Turns out we’re not alone:

“A new nationally representative study from the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy finds that revenue is not necessarily declining along with attendance….

“‘We’re not hiding the fact that there are many congregations experiencing decline, or that it’s a major success to be simply maintaining,’ said David P. King, director of the Lake Institute and a co-director of the study. ‘But despite a narrative of decline for religiosity in America, there’s a wide diversity of what’s happening. A decline in participation does not necessarily equate with (a decline) in finances.’ Or as the study succinctly states: ‘Among congregations that are declining in attendance, there is not necessarily an automatic corresponding decline in revenue.’ “

Article.
National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices study.

Clergy hit a new low in perceptions of ethics and honesty

Gallup has been polling people in the U.S. since 1977 about perceptions of the honesty and ethics of various professions. These Gallup polls rate the perceived honesty of professions as “very high/high,” “average,” or “very low/low” (with the obvious addition of a choice for “no opinion”).

In Gallup’s most recent poll about perceptions of the ethics and honesty of various professions, the nursing profession again tops the list, with 84% of people giving them a “very high/high” rating, 15% giving them an “average rating,” and 1% giving them a “very low/low” rating.

By contrast, only 37% of people give clergy as a profession a “very high/high” rating for honesty and ethics; 43% give an “average rating,” 15% give a “very low/low” rating, with the remainder offering “no opinion.” In their report, Gallup made a special note of the decline in the perception of clergy honesty and ethics:

“Gallup has measured Americans’ views of the clergy’s honesty and ethics 34 times beginning in 1977, and this year’s 37% very high/high rating is the lowest to date. Although the overall average positive rating is 54%, it has consistently fallen below that level since 2009. The historical high of 67% occurred in 1985. Positive views of the honesty and ethics of the clergy dropped in 2002 amid a sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, and although positive ratings rebounded somewhat in the next few years, they fell to 50% in 2009 and have been steadily declining since 2012.”

However, although the Catholic sexual abuse scandal is foremost in many people’s minds, evangelical Christian blogger Warren Throckmorton notes that there are other clergy scandals affecting some people’s perceptions of clergy. Throckmorton specifically mentions the recent accusations of clergy financial misconduct at Harvest Bible Church, an evangelical Christian megachurch near Chicago: when some whistle-blower bloggers made those accusations public, rather than addressing the accusations, Harvest Bible Church sued the bloggers for defamation. Throckmorton contrasts Harvest Bible Church with Willow Creek Church, another big evangelical Christian megachurch which recently ousted its founding pastor after credible allegations of misconduct; subsequently the entire leadership team resigned, realizing their leadership had been compromised by their poor handling of the allegations, and realizing that the church needed to get a fresh start. (Throckmorton’s most recent blog post about Harvest Bible Church, which links to the Gallup poll, is here.) We could add more examples from outside evangelical Christianity of how organized religious groups respond poorly to accusations of ethical lapses and dishonesty: the many accusations against the Church of Scientology and their opaque responses come immediately to mind.

One thing that I get from Throckmorton’s post is that poor governance goes hand in hand with decline in trust in clergy. And we should distinguish governance from polity. The hierarchical polity of the Roman Catholic Church should in theory be more effective at removing unethical clergy than our Unitarian Universalist congregational polity; more than one unethical Unitarian Universalist minister was able to continue their unethical ways because the Unitarian Universalist Association cannot prevent a local congregation from hiring whomever they want as minister. However, all too often the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy covered up clergy misconduct. The Unitarian Universalist Association, by contrast, has recommended that search committees carry out careful background checks of potential new clergy hires; in Unitarian Universalism, the failures in governance too often take place at the local level, representing the biggest weakness of congregational polity is dealing with ethics; but on the whole, despite the weakness of its polity, Unitarian Universalists have a somewhat better record of dealing with clergy misconduct than the Roman Catholic Church. Again, my point here is that no type of polity is immune from ethical lapses; the real issue is good governance practices within whatever polity a religion might have.

I suspect, therefore, that the decline in the perception of clergy honesty is linked to a wider decline in trust of organized religion — a decline that in many cases is deserved. Lay leaders and clergy, regardless of our polity, need to be scrupulously careful about maintaining good governance practices that are transparent and that strengthen accountability; and when ethical violations arise, we need to address them quickly and transparently.