Wednesday, January 24, 2018


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.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

An Important Announcement from COD: All Things Must Crust

All Things Must Crust

I was talking with someone a few weeks ago who was not particularly a fan of these General Ordination Exam blog postings, and even thought I was undermining collegiality with my fellow members of the General Board of Examining Chaplains by continuing to post them. It was a good, open, honest conversation: despite the character I play on this website, I like to
My favorite Beatle.
think I’m open to discussion and engaging with people who may hold different opinions than I do. I reminded my colleague that I abide by all the confidentiality and social media guidelines established by the Board: I do not share the questions
with anyone, I do not write a word of these postings, I do post them, but only after all persons have finished the examination. I have violated none of the established standards of confidentiality or social media guidelines. My colleague reiterated that these blog postings were not to their liking. Finally I asked,

Do you know why I started doing this?” There was a pause. “Actually, no,” the person replied.

It’s not to be mean, or difficult, or to undermine collegiality,” I said, “though I realize I have to take responsibility for the reality that I may have offended people, and I need to hear that. I started doing this back in 2012, the first year I served as an administrator. I came up with the idea to post and dissect the questions for two main reasons. (And, BTW, I have stated these reasons over the years on the blog.)

The first is that taking the GOE was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had in the church. I had no idea how to prepare, I thought some of the questions were confusing and others unfair, and, then when I got my evaluations, my evaluators said some things I thought were unacceptable, making assumptions about me I thought grossly unfounded. And I had no way to respond to any of this: I had no agency in the matter at all. Some people I didn’t know wrote an exam, other people I didn’t know evaluated it, and I was stuck with the results. I thought, at that time, if I can make this experience a little less isolating and lonely in the future for other people taking the exam, then I’d do it. Lo and behold, 18 years after I took the GOEs, I found myself in that position as academic dean at an Episcopal seminary. So I kept my promise and tried to make the exam a little less isolating, tried to create a shared sense of community among those taking the exam. That’s one reason.

The second is that the General Board is not accountable in any way, shape, or form to the broader church in any real way. Sure, we submit a report to General Convention, and sure, dioceses can vote with their feet and decide they don’t want to use the GOE. But for something that’s been around for so long and the vast majority of clergy have taken, it’s a bit shocking there’s no systems for discussion, evaluation, or feedback of the examination. If a question comes out that is confusing, or poorly written, or unfair – there’s no recourse. If an evaluator says something that is inappropriate -- there’s no recourse. If there’s a discrepancy in data – for instance, if there’s a question where there is a huge gap in pass rates between men and women, for instance – there’s no feedback loop. There’s more mutual accountability with my parish budget at monthly Vestry meetings as a simple country parson than an exam that impacts people’s lives and considered part of fitness for ordination. We had more mutual accountability when I was academic dean at the seminary. As a seminary professor, every course by every professor gets a course evaluation. Almost every event, public or private, that the seminary did, from alumni day to new student orientation, we sent out an evaluation. We don’t do don’t solicit feedback for the GOE in any way, shape, or form. I started this blog for this second reason – to try to raise issues and concerns around mutual accountability, because it’s not happening in anywhere else in any kind of tangible or transparent or recognizable way.”

That’s what I said to my colleague. These are the two reasons I started doing this, although I have not been involved the past two years. And I clearly hit a nerve, these are some of the more popular blog posts of the year.

I have concluded that it’s time to bring these postings to a close, and I will not be posting or hosting any GOE discussions. I’ve concluded that because the two reasons I started doing this six years ago, as outlined above, are no longer possible.

With regards to making the exam takers feel a little less anxious and isolated by providing a communal, shared experience: given the changing nature of the GOE, this just isn’t possible anymore. More and more people take the exam asynchronously apart from the four-day period in early January, given the changing nature of theological education, with more bivocational persons and persons trained locally and not in seminary programs. To maintain the integrity of the examination, in good conscience I cannot post anything until everyone has completed the exam, which is now often weeks after the majority of individuals have taken the exam. This is why in 2017, the postings came up to two weeks after the exam began, and almost ten days after the bulk of people completed it. Given the asynchronous way the exam is now taken, the postings can no longer function as that kind of communal experience, because of the need to safeguard the integrity of the exam process.

The second is that substantive accountability cannot be brought about by online commentary alone. Online commentary can raise awareness, but often does not bring about substantive change on its own – it has to be combined with structural engagement. This is why I agreed to be nominated for the General Board of Examining Chaplains, the group that prepares, administers, and evaluates the GOE. I agreed to be nominated because another colleague asked me, point blank, “Are you just going to complain about the GOE, or do you want to have the opportunity actually to do something?” I admitted the colleague had a point, agreed to be nominated, and was elected by the 2015 General Convention to the General Board of Examining Chaplains, and am halfway through my six-year term.

As I have said repeatedly in these postings, the exam is improving. We could list many improvements: the move to a simple proficient/non-proficient evaluation, central to a competency-based testing process; the inclusion of an evaluation rubric that both the exam taker and the evaluator receive; the move towards open resources on all questions, including electronic resources; and more. To be sure, the examination still has room to
Byzantine mosaic of Nyssa's epektasis.
We all do. I’ve been preaching regularly for over 20 years and believe me I can improve. St. Gregory of Nyssa believed that we continued to grow and develop spiritually after our deaths as our souls move into the eternal peace of God. It has improved dramatically and substantively thanks to the faithful work of the members of the Board, who, like me, take this ministry to which we have been entrusted seriously. But it, like all of us, always has room for continued improvement.

I cannot speak for others, only myself, but here are some of the ways I think accountability to the church can be strengthened: by asking exam takers, Commissions on Ministry, seminary faculties, and other constituencies to evaluate the exam yearly just like we evaluate every single course at seminary; if a question has a pass/proficiency rate differs dramatically from other questions (for instance, if every other question has a pass/proficiency rate above 80% and one has a rate of 50% – that’s something to flag), to do a post-mortem on possible reasons why; to collect additional data, such as proficiency rates by gender and ethnicity (to see if, despite best intentions, there may be a gender or racial gap in the exam). When looking at mutual accountability gathering feedback is essential, as well as having systems in place to address what we might find. We do it for almost everything else in the church. For God’s sake, I’m a parish priest, and I didn’t move the placement of the announcements in the service without gathering feedback from parishioners.

Higher education has changed dramatically in the past twenty years, and one of the most important aspects has been the emphasis on measuring outcomes and gathering feedback from constituencies, largely pushed by accreditation agencies. If you ran a seminary in 1990, you had to explain what degrees you offered, how you offered them, and demonstrate you had the resources (faculty; library; financial stability) to offer them. A massive change in the late 1990s and early 2000s was to demand that you show that you were actually doing what you said you were doing, and to be able to back that up. You say you have adequate financial resources? Show me your student loan default rate. You say you are preparing your students for parish ministry? Do a survey of recent graduates and ask them how well prepared they feel. And what happens if you find out you have a high student default rate? What steps will you take to address it? And so on. Collecting data and doing surveys is
Add a question from the Bobs on Annual Reports?
pointless unless you have systems in place to process the feedback and inform how you do what you do. Has this gotten burdensome at times? To be sure. But overall it has been tremendously important in requiring seminaries to create a feedback loop to inform best practice and establish procedures and policies to address issues that might arise.
Imagine if we asked parishes to do something similar, to take any kind of step to see if what they believe they are doing they actually are doing, and what systems they have in place for changing course if need be.

The GOE has improved by leaps and bounds in the past 5-7 years, in part because the General Board has begun bringing best practices of current educational and testing methodology to the exam. An important next phase will be to bring in evaluative and feedback best practices to continue to improve the exam – and, as such, Crusty is committing himself to this process. To put it real simple: if we can improve accountability to the church in structured, institutional ways, we won’t need rambling, pop-culture referencing blog posts to shriek into the wind to hold the exam accountable.

Let me be clear: I have not been formally asked in any way to stop blogging the GOEs. If this had been demanded of me, I would not have complied. I am doing this solely on my own volition.

Let me be clear: I stand by every word I’ve written on this blog or posted by others. I engage the readers in the comments and have answered personal emails sent to me because I believe in being held accountable for what I say and do as I try to hold others accountable.

I am sorry if my words here over the years may have hurt people or been cause of offense. Really, I am. I have a thick skin and let most criticism slide off me, while at the same time having a circle of close colleagues and a peer group I check in with. At times that may make me seem insensitive to others, and not realize how much words can have an impact. I am sorry for any offense. However, while offering that apology, I also would anyone who may take offense to think long and hard about how much of their offense is reaction to hearing negative feedback. Developing standards of mutual accountability, and being willing to process critical feedback, is sadly one of those areas where the church lags behind the secular society we often presume to think we are above.

To all of you disappointed there will be no blogging of the GOEs, I am putting my hope in the
Crusty's not going anywhere, friends.
possibility of living in a world where blogging the GOEs may some day no longer necessary. My thanks to all of you who have read over the years, I am continually amazed anyone has any interest in what a verbose, rambling, expletive-laced, pop culture name-dropping blog that looks like a GeoCities website from 1996 has to say. While retiring the GOE blogging, Crusty is still going to be full of piss and vinegar on other matters and will continue to blog. And, knowing the clusterf**k dysfunction the church serves up regularly, we can all be sure there will continue to be plenty of source material.

So let me close out one more time:

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty to ride off into the sunset for good on GOE blogging.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, and special thanks to Dread Pirate Crusty for filling in for the past two years.

And despite what you may think, and what Crusty has been accused of by some people, COD is not opposed to the GOEs.  Crusty loves the fact the Episcopal Church has always had a competency-based system, ever since the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies introduced by William White.  There's never been a single standard, unlike, say, the PCUSA or ELCA or Roman Catholic Church where degrees are normative, even written into polity in some cases.  With a competency based system, we have an inherit flexibility -- should we ever choose fully to embrace it -- in how we train persons for the ordained ministry. 

So be good, people.    Remember to stay grounded in prayer, Christian discipleship is hard and the only way to make it is to develop and cultivate a life of prayer.  Exercise regularly, it's the only free and 100% effective way to avoid numerous health problems. And have at least one minor vice to show the world you're human.

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.