Friday, October 19, 2018

Grace Church: Corrupt Organization?

A family member of mine works professionally in the study of corrupt organizations. This means that he studies organizations on behalf of the government that either were formed for an illegal or corrupt purpose — like the Cosa Nostra — or have become a corrupt organization. The latter may be independent groups, like a bank that launders money, or parts of a larger organization, like the local chapter of a nonprofit that has been turned from charitable purposes to unethical or illegal purposes.

That raises the question: Is Grace Episcopal Church a corrupt organization? While I will leave it to the reader to form her or his own conclusions, there are some startling similarities between the traits of a corrupt organization and Grace Episcopal Church, aka St. Dysfunction.

For example, corrupt organizations often:
  • Are built around one central, charismatic figure, even when, on paper, offering allegiance to a larger organization or principle. In Grace’s case, I believe this would be Bob Malm.
  • Have broken lines of authority, in which boards and other persons or entitities have little real power. In Grace’s case, Bob Malm appoints the executive committee in violation of church canons. By controlling the executive committee, Bob ensures there is little independent oversight of his conduct. Moreover, Bob de facto claims the right to, for example, terminate membership in the parish in contravention of church canons.
  • Operates to the benefit of a small, select group of people, or one person. In Grace’s case, Bob Malm’s outrageously generous compensation package, which consumes about 20 percent of all church revenue, is an issue. Further, within the parish there is a real awareness of who’s “in” and who’s not, with some even going so far as to refer to an “A list,” “B list,” etc., — the very thing Jesus would have deplored.
  • Are quick to exact revenge on anyone who questions the organization, whether through shunning, legal maneuvers, or illegal conduct. In Grace’s case, Bob instructed staff to exclude us, engaged in smear campaigns, and even went so far as to try to drag my mother, dying of COPD, into court.
  • Act in ways counter to their professed values, while seeing no disconnect between the two. In Grace’s case, shunning, bullying, mobbing, and bullying a dying woman stand in marked contrast to the church’s purported values of compassion, humility, and kindness. Similarly, Bob Malm’s sermons ask questions like, “Will our children have faith?,” while he seemingly evinces very few real Christian values, and his wife and adult children even fewer such mores.
  • Engage in showy expressions of triumphalism. In Grace’s case, just listen to Bob Malm’s ludicrous video, made during a joint event with the local Methodist church, about how what makes Grace “so amazing” is how it cares for everyone. Hate to spring it on you, folks, but that should be normative for a church, and I doubt if you asked Mom she’d say that Grace Church or Bob Malm have shown any care for her.
  • Make claims about how members are participants are part of a special group. In Grace’s case, Bob Malm even talks about “taking a part of Grace with you,” but as with triumphalism, there is nothing special about the parish, at least not in a positive way.
  • Appeal to the senses via showy displays of weaponry, clothing, or belongings. In Grace’s case, the extravagant altar flower arrangements, the showy altarware, and at one time impressive vestments all operate to impress and create a sense of exceptionalism.
So, if you are thinking about pledging this year, or are sizing up Grace Episcopal Church as a possible church home, be alert to the possibility that all that glitters may not be gold. Or highly polished brass, for that matter. And ask yourself if you really want to subside a clergy compensation package of almost 200K a year, and more than a month’s annual vacation, at a time when the church is running a deficit.