Tag Archives: clergy misconduct

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

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

Online petition regarding clergy sexual misconduct

The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville’s “Safety Net” has started an online petition at Change.org, asking that all candidates for the UUA Board and for Moderator to open up a conversation about clergy sexual misconduct in U.S. Unitarian Universalist congregations:

We, the undersigned, are asking the candidates for UUA Moderator and Board of Trustees to publicly indicate their willingness to start a new national conversation on clergy misconduct in the UUA, and to ensure that survivors of misconduct have a real voice in that conversation. We ask them to commit to using the powers of the Board to take ownership of the recommendations of the Safe Congregation Panel, to update them as needed, and to hold the staff accountable for implementing them fully. And we ask them to investigate the accountability relationship between the Board and Ministerial Fellowship Committee, with an eye toward balancing the need to protect institutional interests with a pastoral responsibility to care for victims of misconduct.

I signed it. You bet I did. They provide a space for comments when you “sign,” and here’s what I wrote: “As someone who has served as both parish minister and religious educator in congregations suffering from past clergy sexual misconduct, I have seen the effects such misconduct has on both adults and legal minors. I have also seen first hand a high level of denial about the seriousness of clergy sexual misconduct on the part of UUA leaders. It’s way past time the UUA addressed this more fully.”

Mind you, I have my doubts whether such petitions effect much change. I also have grave doubts about whether the culture at the UUA, or in many local congregations, is going to change; Unitarian Universalists have a tendency to want to solve other people’s problems before trying to address their own problems; we’re great at sending money overseas or working on immigration problems here in the U.S., but we’ve been very unwilling to tackle problems that occur in our own homes and hearts, problems like domestic violence, racism, classism, the overconsumption that goes with upper middle class lifestyles, and so on.

But in spite of my doubts, I signed the petition. It’s easy for me to sign this petition; I’m a minister, I have a vested interest in cleaning up my profession. Now it would be nice if lots of respectable laypeople, good solid institutionalists — people who are pillars of our local congregations, people of impeccable morals — it would be good if many such people also signed the petition.

Top ten best things about liberal religion in 2011, pt. 5

The new year is getting close, and to finish this top ten list before the end of the old year, I’m going to have to

6. I’m not sure this has really been happening, but it seems to me there has been decreasing tolerance within Unitarian Universalism for anti-Christian bias. You know what I mean by anti-Christian bias: the willingness to explore any major world’s religion except Christianity; a fear of acknowledging that we once came out of Christianity; a willful blindness towards our Christian past and the associated refusal to use certain words (“God,” “worship,” “Jesus,” etc.) that remind of us whence we came.

We Unitarian Universalists have good reason to be anti-Christian: from our beginnings we got called heretics by other Christians, and a hundred years ago we got kicked out of various Christian clubs like the National Council of Churches, and in the middle of the twentieth century the Neo-Orthodox dismissed us. Even today, a scholar like Gary Dorrien can’t quite keep the scorn out of his authorial voice when he writes about nineteenth century Unitarians in his histories. So we got in the habit of thinking: Hey, if the Christians don’t want us in their club, why should we want anything to do with Christianity?

Yet though we have grown into something that is no longer a Christian denomination but something else (we’re not quite sure what), we still carry grew out of the fertile ground of the Radical Reformation, and of the English free church movement, and of American freethinking Christians. The roots of our commitment to social justice, the roots of our use of reason in religion, the roots of our belief that love is the most powerful force in the universe, all go back to that fertile ground.

Thus I have been pleased to see what I believe is a growing respect both for our Christian past, and for those among us who still claim the name “Christian.” Maybe we have gotten so far from Christianity, maybe we are so obviously no longer a Christian sect, that we can relax a little bit.

5. We have definitely made some real progress in preventing clergy sexual misconduct this year. Most of this progress has been made by the UU Ministers Association (UUMA), which is remarkable in of itself: ministers have generally been woefully bad at policing themselves when it comes to sexual misconduct. But the UUMA has begun to make some real progress.

In one example of progress, Rev. Deborah Pope-Lance was invited to give this year’s Berry Street Lecture, she spoke on clergy sexual misconduct, and hundreds of ministers sat and listened to her in rapt silence. Mind you, Deborah has been speaking out for years on the evils of clergy sexual misconduct, but it has too often seemed as though other ministers were not particularly willing to listen to her — what was remarkable was seeing so many ministers watching with apparent approval and interest.

In another example of progress, the members of the UUMA voted in June to approve a new amendment to the professional guidelines — but there was a sense that even the new amendment wasn’t strong enough, and so a committee has already drafted a new, stricter, amendment. One could be cynical and say that by telling clergy that they can’t have sexual contact with anyone they serve in their ministries, the UUMA is merely catching up with what is already the law in 27 states in the U.S. But I’m not cynical, because it would be very easy to ignore those state laws; and besides, my impressions is that the new amendment will be even stricter than those state laws.

Obviously, there is still lots of work to be done. I would love it if the Unitarian Universalist Association didn’t take quite such mushy stands on clergy sexual misconduct. I would love it if some of the Unitarian Universalists who work on legislative action would start actively pushing for laws against clergy having sex with congregants in the 23 states without such laws. But after years of very little progress in this area, I’ll take what I can get.

A portrait of the minister as a misconductor

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. Continue reading

Fewer committee meetings, more talking about life

It’s still start-up season, that time when many congregations increase their activity levels after a summer slow-down. This start-up season has been as busy as any since I started working in congregation in 1994, and more intense than any other start-up. And then in staff meeting this week, Amy, our senior minister, said she was experiencing a very busy start-up season as well.

Perhaps it is just coincidence that we’re both experiencing busy start-ups at the same time our congregation appears to be on the brink of a size transition, from a pastoral-size congregation to a program-size congregation (that is, from less than 150 average attendance to over 200 average attendance). But I don’t think it is a coincidence. Other ministers who have been in congregations in this same size transition zone have also reported feeling intensely busy; so have lay leaders.

The thing is, sometimes that feeling of intense busy-ness can lead to burnout among clergy or lay leaders. I have documented a few instances of clergy burning out to the point of leaving the ministry. (I’m half convinced that some clergy sexual misconduct can be traced to burned-out ministers in transitional congregations who engage in stupid and/or self-destructive behavior.) Because when a congregation is growing, the first impulse of most people is to do more. You do more, but all it gets you is exhaustion. And it scares newcomers away — who wants to be part of a congregation where the clergy and lay leaders look burned out?

So I’m thinking the best way to handle an intense start-up, especially in a congregation that is on the edge of a pastoral- to program-size transition, is to spend less time doing, and more time just being. Fewer committee meetings, and more time spent in small groups just talking with one another about life. Less email and more face-to-face conversations about matters of the heart. Less writing of reports and more singing. Fewer tasks and more meditation, prayer, and worship. Doesn’t that sound more pleasant?

This year’s Berry Street lecture

The text of this year’s Berry Street lecture is now up on the Web. At the Berry Street lecture this past June, Rev. Dr. Deborah Pope-Lance spoke for over an hour to some six hundred Unitarian Universalists on the topic of clergy misconduct. I found it to be a riveting lecture in June, and it is well worth reading the text of the lecture, if for no other reason than the link to the Web page that discusses whom Carly Simon might have been thinking about when she wrote the song “You’re So Vain.”

After Deborah gave the lecture in June, I was one of the many people who crowded around her, wanting to shake her hand. She shook my hand, and all I could say was “Thank you.” I meant: Thank you for telling the truth of clergy misconduct, and for doing so with grace and humor, and in such a way that rather than provoking resistance perhaps we can deal productively with the aftereffects of misconduct. And now I would add: Thank you for pointing out the role of narcissism in clergy misconduct, and thank you for pointing out how “clergy misconduct is nested in an ecology that either promotes or inhibits breakdowns in the ministerial relationships.”

But enough of this. If you weren’t at the Berry Street lecture in June, now is your chance to go read this important document.