Forrester Church, who divorced his wife in order to marry a parishioner
To have my next example of Dunning-Kruger come from the Unitarian Universalist Ministerial Association is not just unsurprising but hilarious. Here you go: https://uuma.site-ym.com/mpage/BSE2016 It may have been taken down by now. Free speech be damned.
I’m not going to name this year’s Berry Street Essay author because she will need the anonymity more than the notoriety. (Probably not her choice.) This feminist minister had been raped in the past (before becoming a minister), says she suffers from PTSD, and has been active in confessional women’s groups. She talks “health” and testimony. Somehow, evidently through a friendship contact, she was asked to deliver the Berry Street Essay at General Assembly, which is historical, prestigious, and independently commissioned. Normally the topic is broadly “religious” but this woman launched a reform movement against what she considered sexually predatory ministers. She names one minister specifically in a targeting takedown. She speaks with the fervour of a pedophile hunter. Or maybe one of those Nazi war criminal hunters.
First Unitarian Church in Portland, OR
I’ve known this man since 1975, right after the single episode of ill-advised choice for which he paid a high price. Soon after he interned in Portland he married the woman to whom he is still married with no scandal. They are a highly respected couple and he has continued his life with what I would consider a secular ministry, working with conciliation arbitrators, classes, addiction counselling. Though this Berry Street woman was educated for the ministry at Harvard, the whole lecture is very much like the kind of accusation that broke open Starr King Theological School over racist issues: in that case someone incensed that her friend was passed over for president by someone she thought was a less-qualified black woman.
When the Catholics were agonizing over pedophilia, I used to quip: “UU ministers don’t fool around with kids. They go for rich women.” And I would provide examples. But not in print. It appears that the Emerson Avenger is gaining converts. The Emerson Avenger runs a website that attacks ministers he thinks are immoral. No one I know of ever fingers lay people. Except privately.
One of my Montana fellowships was powered by what I called “the demi-mondaine.” Smart, employed, divorced, middle-aged women who seduced ministers — or anyone else with a little shine on them — and who explained candidly that the reason they became UU’s was because there were no sexual taboos. (Usually meaning divorced, which most of them were.) These were my first ministries, though I was over forty, and I was taken aback when one woman informed me — as a helpful service — which men in the four congregations would sleep with me. One man asked me frankly to go to bed with him because he wanted “to see what I had.” He was a school superintendent. I don’t think this is a denominational problem — I think it’s a cultural problem.
These women were often vengeful, esp. when they found out I wouldn’t do what they told me to do. They were like drunks who wanted everyone to get drunk with them. In every church I’ve served or joined, they have been present, sometimes in small numbers and covert.
Mary Scriver, 1998
In Canada I twice ran into laymen who propositioned me, though I am the very epitome of a tubby English teacher with spectacles. I am NOT a sexy woman. I told them, “You know, I charge a lot more to be the Temple Whore.” They were undeterred. They were after POWER. They thought ministers had power. No minister ever came on to me.
In my experience UU ministers (and other denominations as well) were vulnerable to supportive intimacy from either men or women because they felt POWERLESS. The pastor knows a lot, is held responsible for everything, and must beg a committee for any change. Being in a pulpit is having one’s hands tied behind one’s back, even for the big traditional men. Probably less so among the gay men because people don’t know the rules. Lesbian women ministers are a mystery to me because normally I run like hell. (My bad.) As soon as the UUA accepted gay/lesbian ministers, they were possibly accepting polyamorous people who did not conform to traditional marriage assumptions, attracted because the whole schtick of the denomination is accepting people according to their own personal ethics. (UU’s purport not to believe in fencing the communion.)
Of course, courting minorities who are looking for respectability means a certain level of prudery in order to guard that reputation, esp. in a time when right-wing religious people are so rigidly predatory. It seems that the UUA, in order to grow, is discarding some of their free-wheeling past, growing more cautious and guarded. The phrase “neo-Puritan” comes up. There’s a callousness to it.
My home district as a parishioner (1975-78) was the Pacific Northwest, which at that time was international, including BC, Alberta, and Alaska. The ministers were charismatic, high-achieving, and broad-minded. A few were deplorable, including a gay hustler of young men and a “counselor” whose idea was to “demonstrate” true love to troubled women in their own marital beds. When he was found out, he cost that church a LOT of money for recompense and re-counselling. Luckily, they had malpractice insurance.
A saintly senior minister had a lover who later joined my faraway congregation where she clung to the notion that since she considered herself that very respected minister’s consort-for-life, she therefore controlled me. Another guy was an active member of the Venusian church whose members disrobed and were stroked with feathers by chanting women. I don’t suppose this righteous female minister ever imagined such things. She strikes me as willfully but unknowingly unconscious, as Dunning-Kruger would predict. Therefore I have a hard time with my feelings about such a person being in a ministry that has always claimed to serve every human being.
I will say, mildly, that this person is old-fashioned and naive. It appears to me that her gripe is really about ignoring marital vows, esp. in terms of multiple repeat marriages. She says that people who are repeatedly married to parishioners should be asked to leave the ministry. She is conservative mainstream American and probably ought to return to a Christian denomination. The sexual revolution has only offended her, not enlightened her. What I don’t understand is how this rant got into the UU World, where it was linked by an endorsing editor. Has she been having coffee with the Emerson Avenger? How could the Berry Street Essay committee choose such a vengeful person?
But her worst offense was not simply failing to understand that there are many standards of sexual relationship that are far beyond her experience. She didn’t pick out the more egregious and offensive examples she knew, but rather the admired and politically potent. To those of us whose ministries included knowing what went on privately, she comes off as childish and ridiculous.
I’m even more baffled that the editor who signed off on this story — I assume it’s Elaine McArdle, a UU World editor — but there are only the initials E.M. — is living in Portland where David has been well-known and respected since 1975 — a third of a century. Why attack him now? The facts of this essay have not been checked — they are evidently gossip from therapeutic groups in Nashville about events decades earlier than this minister’s tenure.
Bill Schulz, a major UU figure, added a note saying that what she reported him saying to her was untrue, that he had never met her at the point she claims. David Maynard says that the “facts” she told about him are also untrue. I’m told that this woman checked with the head of the UUA (now voted out) and a UU lawyer. I think she would have done better to consult someone outside the UU circle. It looks like they going to have to scramble to avoid being named as co-defendants in a lawsuit as sensational as the one starring Forrester Church whom she also accuses. Luckily for this twisted sister, he’s dead since his connections were far larger than the UU context. I hope she has malpractice insurance.
Retired from ministry, living in a village in Montana, a free-lance writer on “religious” issues (U of Chicago Div School MA and Meadville/Lombard MDiv) of anthropological sorts rather than doctrinal allegiance, I see the world in broad brush terms. My sexual orientation is the most shocking of all: celibate. From where I am, the UUA, as represented by this incompletely healed wounded woman, looks to have abandoned its inclusiveness in order to imply virtue. Stumped as to where to go with theology, some have resorted to prudery. I thought we were better than that. Or at least more grown-up.