Friday, April 10, 2009

SEXUAL ETHICS IN THE PEWS

Perusing Robin’s ever-indignant “emerson avenger” blogsite, I ran into an open letter dated March 26, 2009, from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville to the two candidates for the leadership of the UUA entire. It was about clergy sexual misconduct, as follows. “We also know that, just as with other types of abuse, silence is a large part of the pattern and that silence often endangers more victims, impeding both justice and healing. So, even though it is a difficult topic, it must be broached for the truth to come out and progress to be made.” I’ve decided to respond to this.

A report at the UUA website recall, “A call for justice was voiced by UUMA chapters in the southeast and the Pacific northwest in 1984 and 1985 as they articulated their concerns about the effects of clergy sexual misconduct on congregations and ministry.”

It also says: “The interfaith "cloud of witnesses" who have educated, motivated and inspired us include many professional clergy, caregivers, and lay leaders. Marie Fortune (founder/director of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence) and Heather Block (author of Advocates Training Manual: Advocating for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by a Church Leader/Caregiver, Mennonite Central Committee, Canada, 1996) defined our work as "giving voice to the voiceless," called our attention to power and authority issues, and clarified many fiduciary responsibilities.”

I have never been sexually abused by clergy, UU or other. I “vas dere Chollie” when this issue surfaced and was a clergy member of the PNWD Ministers’ Association. I know what the PNWD case was but not the SE case. I also know a lot of cases that were never defined or prosecuted or even made public. Some of them because they involved consent and most, I think, because of confusion about what they were at all.

The PNWD case involved an ordained man, acting as a trained counselor, who repeatedly and systematically took his female adult counselees into bed, often their own. No one among the clergy had the slightest suspicion that this was happening until one of the women blew the whistle. I don’t know what sort of supervision he had from the counseling community or even what specific training he had had. He was not a handsome man but he was warm and popular. It was a big city church and that church was nearly financially broken when the lawsuits were paid and the bill came for “re-counseling” the women. The hearts of some of the more idealistic clergy also broke, but it was a tolerant community. A minister who had proven to be a predatory gay had been removed from active service, but was tolerated at meetings if he attended.

I was serving in Montana at this time and knew about the case of a divorced Presbyterian minister who had been “romancing” a cluster of members of his congregation. Each, thinking she was either engaged or about to be engaged to this man, allowed intimate relations. When one of the women, through being indiscrete with a friend in spite of cautions, discovered there were several “fiancees”, she did not sue -- rightly thinking she had been a fool. Instead one Sunday she arranged for all the women to wear bright red and sit together in a front pew. He got the message and soon left.

When I read over the UUA and UUMA responses to the problem (posted at the UUA website), I see two major blind spots, maybe more. The first one is over-reliance on experts, like Marie Fortune and specifically Marie Fortune, who denominational officials hoped would shield them from accusations of incompetence and guide them in a situation where, indeed, no one knew quite what to do. But Fortune and company were almost entirely focused on victims, rather than perpetrators. The idea was that unwanted sex was the result of a power gradient which allowed a “big person” to prey on a “little person.” So the strategy was to blame power and build up the defenses of the vulnerable, plus restoring their self-worth.

The second was to see sexual events and acts apart from the whole webwork of social relationships that constitute a congregation and a denomination. The problem was seen as about defenseless women and children and situations that were defined as “equal” were supposed to be all right, as though there ever any human relationship that is truly equal. One person is always more needy, more uninformed, more confused than the other, even if both are forty-year-old economically secure professionals, even if the sex is gay, even if the sex is consensual. The difference may be slight but it IS there. None of the participants in the more equal relationships wanted to define themselves as sex victims, especially the clergy. Perhaps this is why no one pursued the question of sexually predatory laity.

The economy of power, sex and secrets has been the stuff of novels from the very beginning of institutional religion, regardless of whether it is Christian or Buddhist. (The latter were having similar problems at this time, having accommodated a flood of female and young supplicants.) Institutions, such as schools, have always wrestled with the problem, as we are esp. aware in the context of residential Native American and Aboriginal schools or Catholic parishes. Maybe this is because institutions define the hierarchical relationship that they feel is at the core of abuse. Anyway, the missionary impulse is always a dangerous one, inviting abuse.

As a former UU minister, a celibate seventy-year-old female who has served in both the US and Canada, in both small fellowships (who normally have no minister) and small congregations, I see the landscape rather differently. Religion and congregations with ministers are about power. The minister is the focus of the power -- those who control the minister control the resources of their congregation. They have a certain underground status, access to normally undisclosed information, and influence on the ministers’ actions. This is particularly true of illicit relationships, because another huge source of power in a hierarchical institution is secrets: being able to blackmail, to attach information seekers to oneself, to influence events.

I see this same complex of forces of status/sex/secrets/power on the Blackfeet Reservation -- have watched it for fifty years. From the outside, the most seemingly powerless people can be the ones who own the game. (Call it bone game, stick game.) Fritz Perls used to say that the underdog always wins. A black female supervisor told me that being black is a huge advantage because “we’ve always seen the whites from their evil underside” and because public sympathy in liberal circles in automatically on the side of minorities.

The most common game is probably Eric Berne’s NIGYSOB. “Now I’ve Got You, You SOB!” in which a person seems to be inviting the victim closer and closer, until there is enough evidence to suddenly turn on them. “Why don’t you, yes but” is a good game as well. The weak one describes a problem, the strong one suggests cures, the weak one has a reason why it won’t work, the strong one tries another answer, the weak one has a reason why that won’t work either, and on it goes, until the weak one is finally able to convince everyone that the strong one has no clue what they are doing and are actually powerless. (Kids are great at this.) The game of “chaos” in which the poorer chess player simply turns over the table is kind of a beginner’s tactic.

The point is that ministers, esp. now that females and older second-career people are common, may also be scared, dislocated, lonely, or confused. Predators -- who may be laity or may be colleagues -- are happy for the opportunities. Where’s the book and the workshops for that? When I was in the ministry, on two different occasions men I hardly knew bluntly asked me for sex. Could I have sued them for that? If they had used force, of course, I could have simply gone to the criminal law. Should a female minister do that? What tough old cop wouldn’t laugh?

12 comments:

Robin Edgar said...

:Religion and congregations with ministers are about power. The minister is the focus of the power -- those who control the minister control the resources of their congregation.

Needless to say, especially within Unitarian*Universalism where congregational polity makes U*U churches highly independent, those who control the resources of their congregation control the minister. . . Right Mary? If a U*U minister displeases those who control the resources of the congregation, i.e. the Board of the church and perhaps also some well-heeled "pillars of the church", the minister can be fired or pressured into resigning.

:They have a certain underground status, access to normally undisclosed information, and influence on the ministers’ actions.

Indeed they do, I doubt very much that Rev. Ray Drennan would have dared to label me as "psychotic", trash my monotheistic religious beliefs as being nothing but "silliness and fantasy", and falsely and maliciously label Creation Day as a "cult" (i.e. "normally undisclosed information" as it were) if he did not feel that he had the "moral support" of the Board and other influential members of the Unitarian Church of Montreal who were whispering such things behind my back more than a year before he was selected as the minister of the church. . . In light of how the Board of the church, to say nothing of the UUA and MFC, responded to my complaint Rev. Ray Drennan quite evidently did have that support. No doubt a similar "social dynamic" can and does take place in some cases of clergy sexual misconduct as well.

:This is particularly true of illicit relationships, because another huge source of power in a hierarchical institution is secrets: being able to blackmail, to attach information seekers to oneself, to influence events.

To be honest I sometimes wonder if one of the reasons that so little is done about clergy sexual misconduct in the UUA is because U*U ministers have various types of "dirt" on each other and use it to "blackmail" their colleagues into inaction when they are accused of misconduct themselves. . . When one knows that UUA President Bill Sinkford is himself suspected of being guilty of clergy sexual misconduct one can't help but consider the possibility that maybe just maybe his suspected or actual clergy sexual misconduct goes a long way to explaining why so little was done about clergy sexual misconduct, or indeed non-sexual misconduct, during his eight year term as President of the UUA. The very reason that Nashville U*Us wrote that Open Letter is because the UUA failed miserably to live up to the promise of the apparently less than sincere "apology" that it delivered to victims of U*U clergy sexual misconduct at the 2000 UUA GA in Nashville almost a decade ago now.

prairie mary said...

Robin is quite right on all counts.

But don't just blame the minister. Parishioners collude.

Prairie Mary

Robin Edgar said...

Thank you for that very public validation of the concerns that I have shared here Mary. I really do try to be right in what I say. If I think that I may be wrong about something I usually hold my tongue, or state clearly that I might be mistaken about what I am suggesting.

My comment in no way blames only the minister. Au contraire, I think that I made it abundantly clear that not only the Board and congregation of the Unitarian Church of Montreal actively or passively colluded with Rev. Ray Drennan's insulting and defamatory attack on me, which arose from his "fundamentalist atheist" intolerance and bigotry, but tghey UUA and MFC effectively colluded in it as well thanks to their negligent and effectively complicit response to my complain about Rev. Ray Drennan's intolerant and abusive clergy misconduct. In fact, as I am sure you are very aware, the collusion of parishioners, professional colleagues aka other *fellowshipped* U*U ministers, as well as UUA officials and administrators, many of whom are *fellowshipped* U*U ministers themselves, as is clear in terms of the Ministerial *Fellowship* Committee handling complaints about U*U clergy misconduct of all kinds, is a serious problem. Collusion, be it active support for the transgressive minister and active oppression of the victim, or simply sheep-like passive acceptance of the minister's transgressive behavior and the further victimization of the victim by other U*Us, including U*U clergy. . . is a serious part of the overall problem of clergy misconduct of all kinds. Active or passive collusion of U*U parishioners and U*U clergy is very common and it always adds further insult and injury to the original injustices and abuses initial clergy misconduct, whatever it may be.

I am acutely aware of the collusion of U*U parishioners, as some of my U*UTube videos of my peaceful public protest in front of the Unitarian Church of Montreal should make clear. I have repeatedly spoken about the collusion of DIM Thinking, i.e. Denial, (Willful) Ignorance and Minimization of unethical behavior, of Unitarian*Universalists in their negligent and effectively complicit (to say nothing of unjustly punitive. . .) responses to my own complaints about clergy misconduct, and other people's complaints about clergy misconduct.

You said that I am "quite right on all points" I would just like to confirm that this includes my point about my "educated guess" aka "sneaking suspicion" that one of the reasons that so little is done about clergy sexual misconduct in the UUA is because U*U ministers have various types of "dirt" on each other and use it to "blackmail" their colleagues into inaction when they are accused of misconduct themselves. If you could confirm that and shed more light on that situation it would be most appreciated not only by me but by other victims of U*U clergy misconduct including, indeed perhaps especially, victims of clergy sexual misconduct.

BTW You might want to browse through the "good cop" of the U*U World's blog devoted to UUA (mis) handling of clergy sexual misconduct. Although it is no longer active, because its author was "discouraged" by some UUA administrator's negative responses to it, it is well worth reading. Comments are no longer being accepted since the author has left the blog dormant but you might want to pick up where uugrrl left off on her 'Speaking Truth To Power' blog by commenting on some of her blog posts in your own blog posts here. I intend to do what I can to make the UUA's ongoing mishandling of all forms of clergy misconduct a UUA Presidential campaign issue. You could be an important voice in that ongoing struggle for justice, equity and compassion within the U*U World if you dare to choose that fate. ;-)

Thank you for your helpful input so far,

Robin Edgar
aka
The Emerson Avenger

Robin Edgar said...

:The point is that ministers, esp. now that females and older second-career people are common, may also be scared, dislocated, lonely, or confused.

That may well be true in some cases but allow me to point out that female U*U ministers, and older second-career people (female or otherwise), are perfectly capable of engaging in various forms of clergy misconduct, including clergy sexual misconduct. I know of one case of a lesbian U*U minister making unwanted sexual advances to a female parishioner and U*U minister Rev. Mack Mitchell was in his 50's when he invited some young Tibetan girls to his parish and forcibly raped them.

:Predators -- who may be laity or may be colleagues -- are happy for the opportunities. Where’s the book and the workshops for that?

Good question. Chances are pretty good that it doesn't exist. I would be the first to acknowledge that there are predators of various kinds, including sexual predators, in the U*U laity, in fact I could name a few. One who jumps off the page is a "pillar of the church" of an unmentionable U*U church in Massachusett's who was convicted of forcibly raping preteen girls at a time when he was "sixty something" and they were "ten something" if that. . . I suppose that the UUA's Safe Congregations Program addresses these issues to some extent but, like many other U*U policies and "guidelines", the letter and the spirit of the UUA's Safe Congregations policies are probably disregarded and left unimplemented and unenforced in too many cases.

:When I was in the ministry, on two different occasions men I hardly knew bluntly asked me for sex. Could I have sued them for that?

Probably not but, in theory, you could have taken other action if they persisted in their demands if or when you rejected them.

:If they had used force, of course, I could have simply gone to the criminal law.

Of course.

:Should a female minister do that?

Why not?

:What tough old cop wouldn’t laugh?

At what? Blunt demands for sex or rape?

Robin Edgar said...

Hi again Mary,

Since posting my previous comments here I have been bestowed the unique honour and privilege of being accused of the crime of blasphemous libel by the Peter Morales UUA administration, just over 2 years ago in June of 2012.

UUA Moderator Jim Key delivered a second UUA apology to victims of UU clergy sexual misconduct last Friday morning while delivering his Moderator's report to during the 2014 UUA GA in Providence, Rhode Island. I would be interested in knowing what you think of Jim Key's apology, which I consider to be more than a little bit problematic. You may read a transcript here and the same blog post provides a link to a video that records his apology.

http://www.uucrucible.org/2014/board-apology/

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Robin, why mess around with reforming this denomination when it would be so much easier to go elsewhere -- or start your own perfect denomination?

Prairie Mary

Robin Edgar said...

How about just letting us know what you think about Jim Key's apology, like I asked you to?

Especially this rather questionable paragraph. . .

Let me put this in the proper context. I’m speaking of incidents of UU clergy, albeit a small number, ignoring professional ethics and boundaries, who preyed on vulnerable congregants. There were no incidents of abuse of children or elders in my investigations.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

I have no thoughts. I have other concerns.

Prairie Mary

Robin Edgar said...

You have NO thoughts, and apparently little or NO concern(s) about that well-documented fact that, in the problematic (and indeed quite *questionable*) UUA apology to victims of UU clergy sexual misconduct that he delivered during his UUA Moderator's Report at the 2014 UUA GA in Providence, Rhode Island, UUA Moderator Jim Key minimized UU clergy sexual misconduct as being limited to only "a small number" of UUA ministers, when you know and I know that some hundreds of "less than perfect" UUA ministers are guilty of engaging in one form of clergy sexual misconduct or another and, worse than *that* deception, Jim Key went on to *pretend* that he was unaware of ANY children being sexually abused by ANY "less than perfect" pedophile UUA "pastors"?

How UUtterly *thoughtless* of you Mary.

I had sincerely hoped for better from you.

How disillUUsioning your public refusal to be a "brave soul" and "walk towards trouble" by Truthfully answering my question(s) is.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Robin, I stepped out of the ministry in 1988. Though I'm retired in good standing, I am more post-UU than UU. I haven't kept up with the scandals and rumors. Clearly your hopes are dashed. This is a "hook-up" culture. One doesn't have to participate.

I WOULD like to know about your original vision and whether you've had more of them. I do not discount visions.

Prairie Mary

Robin Edgar said...

I never had a "vision" in the sense of what some might call "hallucinations" or "psychotic experience". I had a mystical experience of feeling the presence of God accompanied by an onslaught of "meaningful coincidences" aka synchronicity. This combination of experiences provided information that has proven to be quite reliable, in fact things that I was sensitized to in 1992 are now being confirmed by actual events.

UUA Moderator Jim Key claimed that his investigations of UU clergy sexual misconduct found NO evidence of UU clergy abusing children. How many cases of UU ministers sexually molesting girls and-or boys who can be properly described as children (let's say 17 years old and younger) are you aware of?

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

I know of NO improper conduct towards children or adolescents among UU clergy and if I did, I would not fool around with the Internet or the UUA. I'd go straight to the law.

Tell me more about the mystical experience.

Prairie Mary