Transparency, part two

A follow up on yesterday’s post on transparency:

If we want to maintain trust in clergy, we have to be able to name names when clergy have been proven to engage in misconduct. By naming names, we demonstrate that we are willing to hold ministers accountable for their actions. If we don’t name names, if we keep secrets, then we cannot maintain trust.

The Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association hosts the Berry Street lecture, an annual lecture given by a respected minister. In 2016, Gail Seavey gave the Berry Street lecture, and she named names. She named Forrest Church as a minister who engaged in sexual misconduct. She called out Bill Schulz, who told her she was a “new Puritan” for speaking out against Church’s sexual misconduct. And she named David Maynard, who engaged in sexual misconduct over many years at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville.

You won’t find Gail Seavey’s Berry Street Lecture on the UUMA website, though. Nor will you find Deborah Pope-Lance’s Berry Street lecture on clergy misconduct. As I heard the story, the UUMA wouldn’t post the texts of those two lectures unless there were revisions made, and those two women refused to make revisions. Fortunately, you can read Gail Seavey’s Berry Street lecture on Deborah’s website.

It’s hard to name names. Clergy who have engaged in misconduct have been known to threaten lawsuits if someone named their name. Sure, they probably wouldn’t prevail in court, because if what you say is true then it’s not slander or libel — but the mere threat of a law suit is enough to silence someone like me. I don’t have the money to hire a lawyer to defend me. In other words, someone like me can’t afford to name names of misconducting clergy, as long as they are still alive and able to sue me.

We need the kind of transparency that Gail Seavey’s Berry Street lecture provides. When a clergyperson has been proven to have committed misconduct, we need to be open about that fact. But when the UUMA refused to place Gail Seavey’s unrevised Berry Street Lecture on their website, that’s not promoting transparency, that’s keeping secrets. When the Unitarian Universalist Association refuses to post lists of clergy who have been disciplined for misconduct, that’s not promoting transparency, that’s keeping secrets.

Transparency equals trust. We need to build trust.

Transparency

The Rabbinical Assembly, which credentials rabbis in the Conservative movement, has begun posting a publicly available list of “Rabbis Expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly.” Included on the list are all eight rabbis expelled since 2004, along with an apologetic note reading, “Please note the RA began posting this information in 2021 and this list does not reflect decisions prior to 2004.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was equally transparent about ministers who have been expelled from fellowship? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the web page of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and click on a link that would lead to a list of all the Unitarian Universalist ministers from 2004 on who have been expelled or suspended from fellowship with the UUA?

Religion News Service, where I learned about this story, interviewed the head of the Rabbinical Assembly, and he told why they adopted this new policy:

“‘An important part of preserving the safety of anyone who comes into a religious institution is trust in the integrity of their clergy,’ said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, chief executive of the Rabbinical Assembly and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm. ‘When we have rabbis who fail to meet our ethical standards and have been expelled or suspended, it’s important to be transparent about that.'”

If we Unitarian Universalists want to preserve safety and maintain trust in our institutions, we should follow the Rabbinical Assembly’s lead. But our denominational leadership — including the UUA Board, UUA staff, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee — haven’t been willing to provide this level of transparency.

(Footnote for goyim: “Conservative” in this context doesn’t mean what most Unitarian Universalists mean when they say “conservative.” The Conservatives ordain both women and LGBT people as rabbis, use critical-scientific methods, and are open to a variety of opinions on religious matters. And when it comes to this new policy of transparency around clergy misconduct, Conservative Jews may be said to be far more progressive than Unitarian Universalists.)

Bullying and abusive conduct by ministers: what’s it look like?

Recent events have raised my interest in bullying and abusive conduct my ministers. What does it look like? How can we know the difference between ministerial grouchiness or a minister occasionally losing their temper, and outright bullying and abusive behavior?

First of all, we want to look for patterns of behavior. Every minister I’ve known has lost their temper at least once; ministers are human beings, and human beings lose their tempers. Of course it would be best if we ministers never lost our tempers, but losing your temper once in awhile is not the same as a pattern of abusive behavior. So we’re looking for a pattern of behavior that happens over time.

Second, we want to look at power differentials. If, for example, there were three ministers on the staff of a large congregation, the senior minister has power over the junior ministers, and it’s much easier for the senior minister to bully the junior ministers; similarly, most of the time (not all of the time) the minister has more power than a non-ordained congregant. Determining power differentials is not always easy, though, and we can’t just default to a position that says ministers always have more power than congregants. For example, other types of power differentials make it possible for a male congregant to bully a female minister, or for a white congregant to act abusively towards a non-white minister. Even white male cis-gender ministers can be bullied or treated abusively by congregants who are in an entrenched power position within their congregation; in fact, because the minister is an employee, the minister’s lay leader supervisors have the potential for bullying or abusive behavior towards the minister. So we want to look for power differentials, though in themselves they won’t be diagnostic.

Third, we want to look for certain kinds of behaviors. Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical Christian whistleblower, posted on his blog the charges against Mark Driscoll, an evangelical megachurch pastor who was forced out his position as senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle due to bullying and abusive behavior. These charges, which you can read here, catalogue a number of bullying and abusive behaviors Driscoll allegedly engaged in. I’ll quote from some of these formal charges to show you what bullying and abuse can look like:

“Pastor Mark exhibits anger and ungraceful ways of dealing with those with whom he disagrees and who disagree with him… by putting people down, caricaturing, and dismissing.
“Pastor Mark … has created a culture of fear instead of a culture of candor and safety….
“Pastor Mark is verbally abusive to people who challenge him, disagree with him, or question him.
“Pastor Mark uses words to demean, attack or disparage others.”

I’ll also quote from one piece of evidence used to support the charges, so you can get a sense of the specific sorts of alleged behavior that’s considered abusive or bullying:

“Mark’s response to that elder was bullying, with some elders present recalling language to the effect of: ‘I don’t give a shit what you think. I’m trying to be nice to you guys by asking your opinion. In reality, we don’t need your vote to make this decision. This is what we’re doing.'”

It’s fairly clear that this kind of behavior should be characterized as bullying and abusive. But it’s wise to remember that there will be a continuum of potentially bullying and abusive behavior, and there won’t necessarily be a bright shining line between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior. In my historical researches of local congregations, I’ve uncovered a number of instances of behavior that aren’t easily categorized. In one example I researched, from the 1960s, a male minister was shouting at a female Director of Religious Education (DRE). There was a clear power differential here: male full-time supervisor and minister shouting at a part-time female DRE and employee. But while it may have a pattern of behavior, I couldn’t document that for sure. Obviously the minister should not have shouted at the DRE, but since I couldn’t document a pattern of behavior, I couldn’t be sure whether this was a momentary lapse on the part of the minister, or verbal abuse.

Which leads me to one final suggestion:

Fourth, we want to look at whether the congregation openly addresses momentary lapses of civility, or whether a lapse of civility remains hidden, secret, unaddressed. We are all human — ministers, too — and being human means we will make mistakes; we will do things like shout at people. Bullying and abuse in congregations — whether by ministers or by lay leaders, or by white people, or by whomever — is a pattern of behavior. If a congregation directly confronts lapses in behavior when they happen, I think it’s much less likely that the congregation is going to fall into a pattern of bullying or abusive behavior. But if people look away even once, I think that’s going to open up the possibility of establishing a pattern of behavior.

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.

A history of UU clergy sexual misconduct

Loré Stevens won the Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society’s History Research Prize for Future Leaders this year. The title of her paper was “‘Strong at the Broken Places’: A History of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, 1992-2019.” Some of my readers will remember that during the time from 1992 to 2019, instances of clergy misconduct were uncovered at the Nashville UU congregation.

Now Deborah Pope-Lance has gotten permission to host this paper on her Web site, here — you’ll have to scroll down past some other papers and essays on clergy sexual misconduct to find the link.

Highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to know more about the history of U.S. Unitarian Universalism in the past 25 years, or for anyone interested in the recent history of feminism in religion. If you think Unitarian Universalism has made lots of progress in becoming a feminist movement, you’ll be depressed by this paper. On the other hand, if you’re one of those who (like me) has been incredibly frustrated at how little attention has been paid to the intertwined issues of sexism, patriarchy, and clergy misconduct with Unitarian Universalism, you’ll be relieved to read this exposé of the abuse of power by male clergy and how influential and powerful people within Unitarian Universalism have covered it up.

I’d even say I was delighted to read this paper, not because I’m delighted by clergy misconduct, but because I’m delighted that this subject is finally getting the attention it deserves from historians and others. Thank you, Loré Stevens. Thank you, UUHHS. Thank you, Deborah Pope-Lance for hosting this paper online.

Power and sexual harrassment

Under the headline “The Role Power Plays in Sexual Harassment” (Tuesday, Feb. 6, page A13) Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal reports on a series of five studies published in 2017 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Bernstein also interviews a number of psychologists to explore the question: What makes some men abuse their positions of power to sexually harass women?

According to Bernstein, psychologists are finding that men who exploit their power to harass women “typically share specific personality traits. Their power amplifies proclivities they already have.” Those traits include:
— men who felt powerless in the past are “most likely to pursue an inappropriate workplace attraction or exhibit harassment behavior”
— men who have so-called “hostile masculinity” tend to “find power over women to be a turn-on”; these men are often narcissists
— men with what’s known as “impersonal sexuality prefer sex without intimacy or close connection”; these men often have multiple sex partners; their lack of intimacy with sexual partners may go back to experiences of abuse as children
— men with sexist attitudes are also likely to harass or assault women

Bernstein quotes Dr. Neil Malamuth, professor of psychology and communication at the University of California, Los Angeles: “It’s not automatic; it’s not that power corrupts. It’s a certain type of man who uses his power in this way.”

From my perspective, it’s both interesting and not surprising that men who abuse power to sexually harass women share certain personality traits (and I wouldn’t want to limit this to men: there are also women who abuse their power by becoming sexual predators). In my work cleaning up congregations after sexual misconduct by religious leaders, I have sensed shared personality traits in those leaders who abuse their authority. But I’ve never had enough distance from the problem to be able to adequately articulate what those personality traits are, so this is a helpful list of personality traits to look for.

The Year in Review: Unitarian Universalism

What a wild ride we Unitarian Universalists had in 2017.

The wildest part of the year happened last spring, when Peter Morales, the first Latino president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), resigned from office, with only a few months left in his term. The events that led up to his resignation were somewhat bizarre. Two of the finalists for a senior staff position at the UUA were both members of the UUA Board, which should make us wonder just how incestuous UUA hiring is (I mean, seriously, can’t you find viable candidates outside your volunteer board? — don’t you know how bad that looks?). Then when the white male gets hired in preference to the Latina woman, social media erupts in accusations of “Racism!”

Shouting “Racism!” was not a bad response, but hardly anyone mentioned the sexism involved. Now it’s not sexism every time the man gets hired over the woman. Nor is it always sexism when the man who gets hired is an ordained minister and the woman is a layperson (for while anyone who has done feminist power analysis knows that sexism often hides behind choosing the person with the most professional credentials, on the other hand sometimes the person with more professional credentials is in fact more qualified). And it’s not always sexism when the woman has a background in “women’s work” (which was true in this case; the woman in this case is a religious educator, and works with children, in a profession that is underpaid compared to parish ministry). But it most definitely was sexism when Peter Morales said in an interview that he could not hire religious educators for senior staff positions because they were not capable of that kind of high level work.

I was astonished at the rage I felt after reading that Peter Morales thought I was incapable of working for him in a high level staff position, simply because I am a religious educator, someone who does “women’s work,” in a profession where more than 90% of my colleagues are women, many of whom are poorly-paid part-time workers. Had I been British, I would have given Peter Morales the two-finger salute; but since I’m a New Englander, that would be cultural misappropriation, so instead I looked in his general direction with withering scorn. Continue reading “The Year in Review: Unitarian Universalism”

My rant for the day: Patriarchy dies hard

Let me climb onto my soap box….

All these troubles in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA): yet another senior denominational positions is filled by a white man; the first Latino president of the UUA gets defensive about this fact and then resigns; people of color in the denomination call for a national teach-in about white supremacy; the president of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), who is a white man, holds forth online at great length, and somewhat incoherently, on hiring practices in the UUA; 130 members of the UUMA sign a petition calling on ministers to refrain from bringing lawsuits against other ministers in the middle of UUMA grievance procedures (a petition that was responding to a legal action by a UUMA member against other UUMA members to prevent ministers from talking about a colleague who allegedly committed sexual misconduct); a Unitarian Universalist minister pleads guilty to child pornography charges.

In the course of all these troubles, many Unitarian Universalists are openly addressing the problem of racism and white supremacy. This is a good thing.

And in the course of all these troubles, far fewer Unitarian Universalists seem to be talking about sexism and patriarchy. Maybe because all the candidates for UUA president are women. In a couple of weeks, we are sure to elect a woman as the next UUA president and therefore we have conquered patriarchy. Right?

Patriarchy within the UUA has not died. Nor is it in its death throes, nor is it even in the process of dying. All these years I’ve been going to political rallies and hearing people assert that all oppressions are linked. So guess what: patriarchy and white supremacy are linked. We cannot talk about one without talking about the other.

As a minister of religious education — that is to say, as someone who is doing “women’s work,” because taking care of children is not “real ministry,” it’s just “women’s ministry” — I can tell you that patriarchy is alive and well in the UUA. Sunday school enrollment has been dropping since 2005, even though demographically there are more and more children out there. Why? Sunday school enrollment has been dropping because in the UUA as a whole, and in most individual congregations, when money gets tight we pull resources away from children and youth ministry so that we adequately pay the patriarchal positions — the president of the UUA, the senior denominational positions, the parish minister.

We do this both because of patriarchy, and also because of white supremacy. In much of the U.S., non-white children are now the majority. If we adequately fund children’s ministries, we might bring more kids into our congregations. If we do that, not only are we saying that “women’s work” is important, we are also opening the doors to a lot of non-white people. Both these things are equally threatening. Patriarchy and white supremacy die hard.

I know, you’re sick of hearing me rant. OK, I’m off my soap box now. And I promise to reduce my ranting in the future, because the last thing we need is another rant from yet another white man.

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.

Portrait of a religious education program

This is a portrait of the religious education program at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA), where I am the Associate Minister of Religious Education. While I focus on religious education for children and youth in this portrait, I also look briefly at religious education for adults.

While this is way longer than the average blog post, nevertheless I thought some of you might be interested in reading this portrait — both to see what another religious education program looks like, and as an example of one approach to describing religious education programs. I wrote this portrait based on questions asked by Dr. Mark Hicks for the course “Religious education in a changing world.” Continue reading “Portrait of a religious education program”