Wednesday, January 24, 2018

#ChurchToo

The President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop recently released a letter to the church, reflecting on the current broader movement to address issues of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.  Throughout the fall and winter we have seen the #MeToo movement, where women have shared their experiences on social media, along with the accompanying #ChurchToo movement.  The PB and PHOD write:

"As our societies have been forced into fresh recognition that women in all walks of life have suffered unspoken trauma at the hands of male aggressors and harassers, we have become
We already wear black in church, so we have a head start.
convinced that the Episcopal Church must work even harder to create a church that is not simply safe, but holy, humane and decent. We must commit to treating every person as a child of God, deserving of dignity and respect. We must also commit to ending the systemic sexism, misogyny and misuse of power that plague the church just as they corrupt our culture, institutions and governments."


This is to be commended.  We certainly need a church that is not only safe (which it isn't, BTW, in many contexts), but holy, humane, and decent.  We need to commit to ending systemic sexism, misogyny, and misuse of power.  Crusty has written several times on this blog about issues of sexism,  sexual misconduct, and systemic coverup of misconduct in the church, including at the highest levels.  How are we to commit to this?  The next paragraph is in many ways the crux of the letter:

"Our church must examine its history and come to a fuller understanding of how it has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse through the years. When facts dictate, we must confess and repent of those times when the church, its ministers or its members have been antagonistic or unresponsive to people—women, children and men—who have been sexually exploited or abused. And we must acknowledge that in our church and in our culture, the sexual exploitation of women is part of the same unjust system that also causes gender gaps in pay, promotion, health and empowerment."

This paragraph, frankly, terrifies Crusty.  Not because of what it is calling for the church to do -- Crusty is all for that -- but the way in which this is proposed.  Inviting people into an open conversation around an incredibly sensitive and emotional issue which exposes some of the church's deepest and darkest sins without any parameters is an invitation to a potentially pastoral damaging situation.

--Yes, we must "examine our history."  How?  Who will do the examining?  Most importantly, perhaps, how do we do that in a climate that can create a space for persons to share their experiences of abuse and misconduct?  This is not an academic exercise.  It is also not history. These are sins the church has committed and continues to commit against real, live persons, and is happening somewhere, right now, as I type this.

--"When facts dictate."  Does this mean some kind of forensic investigation of claims of abuse or misconduct before a conversation can take place?  What do we do about people who are no longer living?  What do we do about people in authority who aided, abetted, and covered up abuse?  One of the key aspects of a process of examination is to trust and believe the stories people bring forward, given that false accusations are exceedingly rare; here we have an evidentiary standard introduced without explanation or clarification, as part of this invitation this "examination."

One can only look at the morass the Church of England has created with its handling of the case of Bishop George Bell.  In its haste to make it look like it was doing something, the Church of England has donwplayed its own failures in addressing issues of abuse in the very real present in order publicly to name someone who has been dead for 60 years as an abuser.  Then, when its own commission set up to look at the matter expressed concerns with how this was handled, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to walk back any concerns.  God forbid "examining our history" should prevent us from doing something about what is happening right now.

Look, sorry if you think Crusty may be over-parsing the words here, but maybe be careful when you  release letters on incredibly important but sensitive matters.  What in God's name does "when facts dictate" mean?  Who decides what the facts are?  Will this just reinforce the power dynamic that has allowed coverups to continue?

--"Unjust system that causes gender gaps in pay, promotion, health, and empowerment."

Yeah, Crusty blogged all about that a few months ago.  We already know this: women are less likely than men to be Rectors or bishops; women get paid less for the same work; we have all these numbers crunched by Church Pension Group and have know this for years.  Years.  Anyone who's been paying attention has knows this.  What, exactly, are we going to do about it?  Crusty noted some real, tangible things we could do, things as simple as dioceses enacting mandatory, instead of recommended, compensation formulas in dioceses.  And you know what?  We only have numbers on gender and pay imbalances for female clergy, which means that situation of female lay employees, who are discriminated against in terms of pay disparity and being considered for leadership positions in comparison to male lay employees, does not have corresponding factual data.  Acknowledging unjust systems is easy; doing something about them is what matters.


"We believe that each of us has a role to play in our collective repentance. And so, today, we invite you to join us in an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer on February 14 devoted to meditating on the ways in which we in the church have failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment and to consider, as part of our Lenten disciplines, how we can redouble our work to be communities of safety that stand against the spiritual and physical violence of sexual exploitation and abuse."

Crusty repeats his concern noted above: inviting people into a sensitive, complex discussion without any parameters is an invitation to a potentially, even unintentionally, opening a Pandora's box.  It would be helpful to have a litany of repentance, for instance, to shape these kinds of meditations.  Suggestions for what specific elements could be in a Lenten discipline.  COD, frankly, is terrified at the potential of well-meaning but poorly equipped clergy and lay leaders making difficult situations more fraught, including the potential for triggering and re-traumatizing those who have experienced abuse.

"Neither of us professes to have all of the wisdom necessary to change the culture of our church and the society in which it ministers, and at this summer’s General Convention, we want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future."

Thank Goodness, General Convention will solve the problem!  While these issues will clearly need to be discussed at General Convention, and while there are ways in which Convention can speak for the church and take action, addressing issues of sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, sexism, and misogyny are ones which must be addressed at the diocesan and parish level, as well as in other church related organizations (given the abuse experienced at church camps and church schools, for example).

The PB and PHOD are to be commended for their letter.  The church has been a both a source of sexual misconduct and abuse and an enabler, and we must acknowledge and atone for these sins.  Notably absent in this letter are mentions of the need for restorative justice, which is a key element of repentance and atonement.  We can be acknowledge a wrong, and be sorry for it, but what are we going to do to atone for it?  This is where the church, and our society, or instance, has repeatedly failed in matters of racial reconciliation, with a reluctance if not outright refusal to consider elements of restorative justice.  We can barely enforce requirements for anti-racism training, for God's sake.  Just like there are real, tangible ways the church can address matters of pay imbalance, there are real, tangible steps the church can take here to try to amend our systems.  Hey, here's a few:

We could re-examine Title IV.  Title IV was re-designed in the 1990s specifically with regards to matters of sexual misconduct.  Do we need to look at our current processes again?  

--For instance, currently Intake Officers have tremendous leeway in whether to dismiss complaints.  Granted there is an appeal process for when a complaint is dismissed, but do we really want to treat allegations of sexual misconduct with the same appeal process as allegations of rubrical violations?

--What about amending statutes of limitations for coverups of sexual misconduct in our disciplinary process?  As ways to empower restorative justice, some states amended their statutes of limitations to be able to hold persons accountable for sexual abuse.

--What about lay persons?  There is no accountability for sexual abuse, misogyny, or misconduct by lay persons other than firing them and having recourse to civil and/or criminal legal systems.  Initial revisions to Title IV in the 2000s included accountability for lay persons, but this was stripped from the final version. 

--Insist that clergy follow through on their legal obligations as mandatory reporters with clear training and clear consequences for failure to report.  I was giving a Title IV training once and gave a case study which involved mandatory reporting and a clergy person flat out said that they would decide whether to report something like what was outlined or not, mandatory reporting be damned.  

Again, Crusty wants to thank the PHOD and PB for their letter; if the church is not willing to address its own sins in this area, it doesn't deserve to exist.  But COD also, frankly, is deeply concerned at the invitation to conversation without leadership, guidelines, or parameters.  Crusty is also worried about whether this is all talk, and whether there will be any kind of
All too often the church's reaction on issues of sexual abuse.
substantive followup or followthrough.  Our history here is not terribly good.  At the same time we were revising Title IV in the 1990s to reflect issues of sexual misconduct, Presiding Bishop Browning was covering up sexual misconduct of minors by a fellow bishop, and, when this came to light, was never called to account for his actions and died feted by the church.  Several years ago we had one of our bishops murder someone while intoxicated, with people in the church having had numerous warning signs of alcohol abuse, but we have not significantly examined our broader complicity in alcohol and substance abuse. FFS, at one church event Crusty attended  hard alcohol was available at a social gathering.


Here are some real, tangible, appropriate ways we can incarnate what the PB and PHOD are calling the church to in their letter:

        •       Provide more resources for the church in shaping this conversation, perhaps beginning with a litany of repentance for Ash Wednesday.
        •       Look again at Title IV as well as other ways in which we handle reporting of sexual misconduct and harassment, including follow-up. In many ways it is the follow-up on reporting, as well as the receiving of the reports, which is essential, especially for women who have had the courage to come forward, and put themselves and their futures at risk.
        •       All clergy must uphold the law as mandated reporters with clear consequences for failure to do so.
        •       There must be a sustained, ongoing, systemic conversation, something like South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission.  Many women have stories to tell; the church has many sins over covering up or dismissing abuse.  This will take years, involve considerable discussion, organization, planning, and commitment of financial resources and personnel.  
     •       Male clergy need to acknowledge and name their inherent privilege they have in our system.  All those with power and authority in the system must use that power not to preserve or defend our systems, but to diversify and reform them. [FWIW, the three instances where Crusty made the call on hiring for senior leadership positions, he stated that preference would be given to women and people of color, and all three hires were women, including a woman of color.] 
     •       Listen to women in the sexist system that is our church. Listen, and act upon their requests. Don't just "examine our history."

As we move forward in this discussion, we need to say, loud and clear:  Time is up.  The church will no longer be a place through sins of omission and commission with regards to sexual abuse and misconduct.  

7 comments:

  1. If they don't know - they have not been paying attention.

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  2. Grateful for this letter? Actually, I'm really sick and tired of baking cakes for the church and being expected to be grateful for the crumbs I receive. On my knees.

    I wanted to hear words like "zero tolerance". I wanted to hear the words "re-examine Title IV process". I wanted to hear an acknowledgement of the pain and terror women feel when they tell their stories - YET AGAIN - and risk not being believed - YET AGAIN.

    I wanted to hear that the PB and PHOD - whom I respect, admire and love - will work directly with the HOB (the major culprit in silencing and coverups) along with members from women's organizations in TEC like EWC, ECW, Daughters of the King, Altar Guild, etc., etc., to determine a way forward as well as to develop safeguards and educational tools. These are things which would then be given to General Convention for full endorsement. Kicking the can to GC is just one of the things which left me shaking my head at this letter.

    I understand some women are organizing a march to disrupt GC and take over a HOB meeting in order to tell their stories. I don't have a whole lotta money but I've already made one contribution to this cause. I hope they are able to embarrass the HOB and GC into action. I don't know what else will work.

    I have more to say but I'll end by saying that I do appreciate your post and the way it draws attention to the hollowness and insensitivity and vapidness of the letter from the PB and PHOD. Thank you.

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  3. I wanted to hear all those things, too, Elizabeth, which is why I felt the need to point out, like you do in your reply, that there are real, tangible steps can be taken.

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  4. I'm a bit confused at the inclusion of the George Bell issue in this. First you say that the women are always to be believed and man always guilty, and then you bring up Bell, where guilt is not proven or assured. Which way is it? Is every man that any woman accuses to be fired and excommunicated, no investigation needed or not?

    And is your policy of not hiring any man if there's a woman around any better than not hiring a woman if there's a man around? Isn't that the reason Maryland got the drunken killer bishop? They decided they wanted to elect a woman (Our first woman bishop, YAY!)to be inclusive, even if she was a drunk? Wouldn't a sober man have been better? Whenever someone says that banning/blaming all men is the answer, I have my doubts, and I am a woman--who knows one or two other women who have lied to get revenge or a good divorce settlement. Some say it's practically a requirement in divorce court whenever children are involved.

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    1. "Wouldn't a sober man have been better?" Actually, the question was and is: wouldn't a sober person have been better?

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  5. Chris, the inclusion of the Bishop Bell mention was to note that if one is to enter into a discussion of addressing issues of past abuse, we should be clear about what the parameters to investigations before officially looking into matters from the past. This is part of the can of worms that the Church of England opened.

    And you misrepresent my comments about hiring. I said nothing about banning or blaming men, I stated that in those particular searches, if candidates were equal, preference would be given to persons from under-represented demographics. I was not part of the process that elected the bishop in Maryland and cannot comment on that.

    Sadly, I have known difficult divorce situations when women have not acted honestly or honorably, when men have not acted honestly or honorably, and some when neither have acted honorably or honestly. I do not think it is particular to either gender.

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  6. I know that this issue is complicated and messy. I'm amazed at churches that are even willing to state that they believe in collective repentance. I come from a mormon background, so I want to bring up something you may not know about. There is a similar movement to the #Churchtoo movement relating to LDS worthiness interviews. Mormon children as young as seven are taken alone into a soundproof room by clergy, sometimes without parental knowledge, and occasionally against stated parental non-consent, and asked questions to determine their worthiness before God and their religious community. These questions can become sexually explicit. There are stories of harm done to children and a petition at protectldschildren.org. There will be a press conference on Tuesday, Feb 6, 2018,10:00am in the Southwest Multi Service Center on 6400 High Star Drive Houston, TX 77074. It will be streamed live on Facebook. There will also be a march in Salt Lake City to the LDS Church Office Building on March 30. Everyone who wants to come is welcome!

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