Monday, September 7, 2020

#ChurchToo: Close the Loopholes in 2021


Sir Isaac Newton  famously invented calculus during a pandemic, which has often been trotted out as a kind of pandemic-shaming -- I mean, what are YOU inventing during this pandemic? -- but having had to try to calculate the volumes created by shapes being spun around axes, Crusty has always seen this as more of a sign of the dangers of pandemic boredom.  Who knows what this pandemic may inflict on

And let's not forget the awesome album
Fiona Apple dropped

us like the 1665-1666 pandemic?  Thankfully, TSwift dropped the awesome Folklore, which already shows us that this pandemic will not have the same legacy as the Great Plague.

So what did Crusty invent during lockdown?  Hardly anything rising to the level of "Folklore", but I did finally complete a project I had been working on.

Crusty revised Title IV to include accountability for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment for lay persons and clergy serving from other churches on the basis of full communion agreements.

This has only been, oh, 15 years or so in the making.

A quick review!

1.      In the mid-2000s, the Episcopal Church was working on revisions of Title III, Canons which cover ministry, and Title IV, the clergy disciplinary process.  The 2003 and 2006 Conventions dealt with the bulk of the Title III revisions, while the 2009 General Convention handled the bulk of the Title IV revisions.

Crusty was Assistant Deputy to the Presiding Bishop for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations at the time, which, even though I was a Deputy, sadly, did not come with a badge.  As such, our office was consulted on the Title III canons which relate to receiving clergy from other churches.  The Deputy (I was but a lowly Assistant Deputy) and I both had several conversations with folks on the then-Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons working on the Title III revisions.

Among our discussions, I raised the question of accountability for misconduct by clergy serving from other churches under ecumenical agreements, and whether that

I mean even Deputy Fife
got a badge.

would be part of the Title IV discussions that were just starting.

Nothing ever came out of those discussions.  There was no mention of accountability for clergy serving from other churches in the Title IV revisions presented to the 2009 General Convention.

On the other hand, there had been provision for including lay persons in the initial drafts of those Title IV revisions -- yet these provisions were removed in the draft form and were never made it to the floor of General Convention.   Title IV still only concerns clergy.

2.  In 2017, the President of the House of Deputies appointed a Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation, part of an effort for the Episcopal Church to address long standing failures around accountability for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.  The Special Committee issued its report, along with a number of resolutions.  I discussed this Report and these resolutions in a blog post just before General Convention 2018, and specifically endorsed the proposals in the report to make lay persons and clergy from ecumenical partners serving under full communion agreements accountable for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.

The Special Commission's proposals were not acted on by 2018 General Convention with regard to lay persons and clergy from ecumenical partners serving under full communion agreements.   We still are limited in our options.

We essentially have one recourse when it comes to lay persons and misconduct: Civil and/or criminal actions.

We essentially have two recourses when it comes to clergy from other denominations serving under full communion agreements for misconduct: Civil and/or criminal actions, and reporting them to the disciplinary process in their own communion.

3.    So why have these efforts failed?

The main objection that I have heard basically boils down to this: "Uh, we can't do that.  It's, like, complicated, or something."

The answer to this objection is quite succinct:  "Of course we can.  We have legislated on all sorts of really complex and complicated matters.  We just need to have the will to do so, and do the necessary work."

In another sense, perhaps it's no wonder it's never happened, because, of course, the church talks endless about justice but all too often is much less willing to, you know, actually DO anything to bring about that justice. 

To dig a little deeper, we need to acknowledge there are more fundamental issues which will need to be addressed in moving towards accountability for sexual misconduct and harassment for lay persons and clergy from ecumenical partners.

--That this not be a tool or instrument to harass or oppress lay persons.  We know this can happen because we already have a tool for lay discipline: refusing Communion to persons living an "evil life," and we have already seen this tool abused.

"If the priest knows that a person who is living a notoriously evil life intends to come to Communion, the priest shall speak to that person privately, and tell him that he may not come to the Holy Table until he has given clear proof of repentance and amendment of life."

And I say we know this can happen, because there are examples precisely of this disciplinary rubric on p. 409 of the Book of Common Prayer to be used to oppress, harass, and demean lay persons: specifically in refusing Holy Communion to persons who were openly LGBT persons.

This is a real concern, and why there needs to be a careful, nuanced, approach which addresses it.

This is why I am suggesting discipline of lay persons be limited only to sexual misconduct and sexual harassment: matters which are defined by civil and criminal law and in the Constitution and Canons.

Yes, there is always a danger that the disciplinary process could be abused.  But you know what?  When Title IV was overhauled in 1994, it allowed for confidential charges to be brought by single individuals.  At the time, some clergy objected, concerned this would be used by disgruntled parishioners to retaliate against clergy, or that baseless charges would could ruin a clergyperson's reputation.  But you know what?  We built in due process and safeguards, and in my nearly 30 years of active engagement in the church every incidence of baseless charges being brought to be vindictive (and I do know of these situations) have never gone anywhere and the system has worked.

We didn't decline to hold clergypeople accountable because of concerns about potential misuse of the disciplinary process, and we should not use the same excuse for lay persons.  We absolutely must build in proper safeguards and due process.

--Another objection is, "We can't hold lay persons accountable."  This objection is both lazy and poor theology.  

It's lazy because we hold lay persons accountable for all sorts of things and can fire them or remove them from volunteer positions.  Of course we can hold lay persons accountable, and do in all sorts of ways.

It's poor theology because Title III clearly grounds all ministry in baptism, and we speak of the Baptismal Covenant as guiding our actions and decisions in any number of General Convention resolutions.

When I was academic dean at a seminary, we developed a Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment policy in our student handbook.  As part of my research for that, I looked into ordination and discernment manuals in various dioceses, and was struck by the fact that several dioceses that I looked at had no policies for sexual misconduct or sexual harassment as part of their ordination process.

We published our revised handbook and a bishop called me and said, "You can't do that, you can't have a sexual misconduct policy.  What if you discipline someone at the seminary but they are in the ordination process in this diocese?"

My response was, "Well, we HAVE to do this, because it's the law and sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are crimes.  And because of Title IX, which requires equal opportunity and access and forbids discrimination or harassment.  And if we did have to discipline someone, well, you'll have someone in your ordination process who has been held accountable for sexual harassment or misconduct."

But the bishop just kept saying, "You can't do that."

I must say, I just don't understand this.  Of course we can.  Now, you need to do so fairly, with a proper system in place, and inform people of the kind of conduct they are committing too and consequences of their actions.  As Rector of a church, our Personnel Handbook has a sexual misconduct and sexual harassment policy, and, by action of the Vestry, we have extended those policies to also cover all volunteers or anyone acting in any official capacity on behalf of the church.

I said to the bishop, "Of course we do it.  The seminary is its own community.  To be part of it is to agree to abide by these mutual parameters governing our common life together and to be held accountable.  Instead of saying, 'You can't do that,' I think you should be asking, 'Why doesn't this diocese want to do that?'  You hold your postulants and candidates accountable for all sorts of things as part of the ordination process, after all."

So of course we can hold lay persons accountable by basis of their baptism, with the responsibilities and commitments that make up our baptismal covenant.

There are a couple of objections on the matter of clergy serving from other churches on the basis of ecumenical agreements.

--This wasn't part of the original agreement we signed.

That's true.  But those agreements (I have drafted several of them) also say that clergy service in the other communion is always according to the polity of that communion, while we can't change our agreements already signed, we certainly have every right to change our own governance and polity.

--We do not have the right to try or judge clergy who did not agree to abide by the Constitution and Canons and subscribed to them at ordination.

This is also true, but very easily worked around.  Other than occasional (filling in for the pastor on a given Sunday) clergy service is on a contractual basis, clergy from other communion can't become Rectors, they can be assistants, interims, associates, or other positions on a contractual basis.  Since it's on a contractual basis, we include accountability for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in ever letter of agreement a clergyperson from another church signs. 

We also are not judging them: disciplinary cases would be referred back to their own communion.  But clergy service in another communion is a privilege, not a right, and we can refuse to permit service of someone who is judged to have violated that clause in their letter of agreement.  They would remain clergy in good standing in their own communion, but a letter would be sent to every bishop in the Episcopal Church and to their home communion saying they had been held accountable for sexual misconduct and/or harassment and are not permitted to serve in this church.

It is time: as part of our commitments to #ChurchToo and all the work done at the 2018 General Convention, we must close the loopholes for accountability for sexual misconduct and harassment for

Ah, to go back to 2006. "Think twice, that's my
only advice."

lay persons and clergy from other churches serving on the basis of full communion agreements.  It's been nearly 15 years, since 2006 and the previous round of Title IV revisions, that we have not shown the ability to address these issues of accountability. 

And I have to add the reason I have been advocating for this for nearly 15 years is because of stories I could tell about misconduct committed by lay persons and clergy from other churches that has been swept under the rug because of the lack of any formal procedures.

An ecumenical colleague told me about a disciplinary case with a clergy person from another communion serving under an agreement, and, as she reported the situation to the cleric's home communion, she did some digging and found the cleric had served short stints in other full communion partners, and other complaints had been made.  The cleric had basically worked their way through all that church's full communion partners, gotten bounced out of each one, charges were reported to their home communion, who never took any action.

Someone shared with me when, as a minor under 18 they reported a lay person for sexual misconduct, the bishop replied, "This is he-said, she-said thing, there's nothing I can do.  And since you have civil or criminal options available to you, I cannot discuss this with you any further without having an attorney present."

It CAN be done.  It MUST be done.  For these stories and so many others.

And, to show it can be done, here's a link to proposed revisions to Title IV.  I am not an attorney, but I have taught Constitution & Canons at the seminary level for course credit for 15 years and I did have a hand in drafting several of our ecumenical full communion agreements, and the accompanying policy manuals for exchange of clergy.  I know full well this draft is not perfect and certainly not ready to be enacted as written.  But just don't tell me it can't be done, because I came up with a proposal in an afternoon.

The question is not whether this is possible, but whether we, as a church, have the will.

Jesus spoke these kinds of choices we would be called to make:

"What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ ‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go. Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

Which kind of church will we be?

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