Grace Episcopal Church Alexandria, a toxic church where it’s okay to bully, lie, sue members, engage in smear campaigns, try to drag the dying into court, refer to members as “domestic terrorists,” and where clergy commit perjury. Member giving is NOT confidential. For years, parish cash management, financial controls and governance were shambolic. Worst of all, the parish also appears to protect and welcome an individual known to have boundary issues with children.
Posted below is the full text of the article written by Dee Parsons, publisher of The Wartburg Watch (TWW), on my experience with shunning at Grace Episcopal Church. It is used per standard TWW reprint/reuse permissions
When Affirming Churches Become Shunning Churches: Allegations of Mistreatment By Grace Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
Due to unexpected developments, I have decided to place this blog post back in the active file. Eric Bonetti is my friend and I stand with him.(1/25/18)
I have been praying for an opportunity like this for years. I have always contended that abuse of church members happens in all theological realms within Christianity. Of course, we know about the child sex abuse scandal of the Catholic church. TWW has written about abuses in the NeoCalvinist churches, Acts 29 churches, Sovereign Grace Ministry churches, 9 Marks churches, the Southern Baptist Convention churches, those churches aligned with the Prosperity Gospel, etc.
Our critics have often condemned us for not exposing issues within Progressive churches. We did write about the horrible mess regarding the divorce of Tony Jones and Julie McMahon and the custody battle for the children. It was obvious that I supported Julie in her cause, raising money to support her. We have also written about the abuse of John Yoder in the Mennonite community.
I know that progressives, moderates and conservatives disagree on lots of theology. However, all three groups are equally capable of making up theology to justify bad behavior. At this point, it is not a theological argument. It has become a game of rationalization. You know the old saw. “Did God really say….?”
Here’s the deal for me. That spiritual™ wife stuff was absolute codswallop! And anyone who played that game ought to be ashamed of themselves. Emergents are not the only ones who can call out baloney.
Grace Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
It should not come as a surprise that this church is progressive and affirming. Eric and his partner Mike, were the first same sex couple married in this church. This post is not going to be a debate on liberal versus conservative theology. Instead, it is going to be an incredible look at how those outside of evangelicalism can be abusive to the point of shunning.
Eric was very patient with this overwhelmed blogger, giving me space over a number of weeks to try to organize my thoughts on this while at the same time dealing with (and continuing to deal with) some child sex abuse stories out of Memphis along with some kind notes and requests from readers that I have yet to respond to.
Eric is theologically astute when it comes to church polity which made our conversations most interesting. He acknowledged that we might not agree on some things but that he respected this blog’s focus on abuse. That, folks, made me happy since that is our hill to die on. At the same time, Eric was humble, saying he knows he made some mistakes in his responses but he was so hurt by the events that it was hard to stay calm. I reassured him that anyone who has been abused acts and feels in similar fashion. This is about abuse, not how *nice* a victim is when they are abused. This is also when I knew I was dealing with an introspective and thoughtful person.
Yes, there has been bad behavior on my side of the fence. No doubt about it.
He started a blog called Grace Episcopal Survivors andhave read all 84 posts on his blog seeking to fully understand his trials. In so doing, I realized that Eric has summarized his abuse in a way that will be recognizable to readers of this website. It is so well done that I am going to permanently link to it on our blog. I have done my best to summarize a well documented journey. I hope I have done it justice.
I would suggest that Episcopalians and others who are members of denominations which have hierarchies pay particular attention to his thoughts on the failure of the diocese system. He knows his canon law. Recently, there have been some people on social media who have been discussing how they have found a home in the Episcopal church after leaving an abusive church in evangelicalism. Let this be a warning that even liberal churches can abuse.
Note to the inevitable lawyers for the church and the diocese:
Put the word allegation in front of everything. None of this has been proven in a court of law. However, in reading Eric’s blog posts and in speaking with him, I have come to the conclusion that he is telling the truth and I believe him. I write this post in the interest in bringing positive change to Grace Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. I believe that Eric has done the same with his writings.
I apologize to Eric, in advance, in having to shorten his thoughtful analysis of many of the situations that he describes. However, it’s enough to get us started and we have a weekend to see what questions are raised. Eric, thank you for trusting me to tell your story.
It is all about money and poor behavior on the part of the pastor.
The two main issues that surround this entire debacle are financial mismanagement on the part of the church and the bullying behavior exhibited by Pastor Bob Malm towards Eric and members of his family.
Eric was the junior warden at the church. He also spent much time dealing with serious infrastructure issues in the outdated building such as an old heating and cooling system, electrical problems, serious leaks in the plumbing, etc. Since he is handy at repairs, he handled much of this himself, including ripping out moldy walls, etc. He was also kind to the church staff, baking them his wonderful chocolate chip cookies (I want the recipe) and showing concern for the well being of the pastor when he fractured his spine and needed to be put in a halo brace.
As Eric spent more and more time at the church, he became increasingly aware of the financial situation.
In the meantime, my understanding of just how shoddy parish business practices were deepened. Not only was Charlotte, the parish administrator, a hoarder, but she had no filing system. Just the mounds of paper in her office. As a result, bills often got paid late.
Even more troubling, bank reconciliations were few and far between. A friend of mine who works for BB&T, the parish’s bank, complained to me that deposits were frequently different than what was on the deposit ticket. There was no preventive maintenance schedule, no meaningful saving for future capital expenditures, a chaotic and improperly deployed church management database, and rapidly declining revenue at a time of increasing expenses.
Meanwhile, Bob refused to comply with written parish policy requiring that members of the executive committee receive full financial reports, including those of the school. Instead Bob said, “Well, I see them.” Hardly reassuring, given that one parish employee was overpaid for many months before it was discovered. But since only Bob and the parish administrator saw line items for payroll, there was no way anyone else could spot the issue. That particular employee, hardly overpaid, was forced to repay the funds. Meanwhile, my belief is it’s highly unlikely that the parish administrator made an error when calling setting up payroll for this person, since the church uses ADP for payroll. Instead, my belief is that, when negotiating the salary for this person, Bob exceeded the amount approved by the vestry, but figured no one would ever find out. So when a subsequent parish administrator alerted Bob to the issue, Bob’s only choice was to throw the employee under the bus.
Most alarming were the results of an analysis I did of parish revenue and expenses. In it, I correlated several factors, including membership levels, pledges versus actuals, and timing of revenue versus end of year results. What I learned is that, while total giving had held relatively steady, the number of pledging units had dropped sharply in recent years, In addition, recent budgets had been largely fictional. One year, estimates of revenue were exaggerated, while the following year estimates of expenses were facially too low. Yes, one can hope that one’s expenses will decline, but the combination of an aging facility, already too-low expenditures for maintenance, and across-the-board increases for staff and clergy (regardless of work performance), are a perfect storm in the making.
The long and short of it? Assuming current cost structures, the parish was set to become insolvent in the summer of 2016. (The vestry subsequently kicked the can down the road yet again by further cutting maintenance of the physical plant. This is almost always a disaster, as deferred maintenance is much more costly than preventive maintenance.)
He believed that a financial audit was needed.
Internal controls were not adequate to prevent one parish employee being overpaid for many months.
The vestry does not receive full financial reports, including those of the school, which is not a separate entity. Thus, while school board members appear to have done an excellent job in all aspects of their work, vestry members are not, at present, fulfilling their legal obligations to the parish and diocese. “I had someone in place that I trusted,” doesn’t cut it, legally or ethically.
We have repeated instances of the bank statements not being reconciled on a timely basis.
More than $1200 in loose cash, as well as stale checks, were uncovered from the former parish administrator’s offices after her departure. This, despite the fact that written parish policy forbids staff from counting offerings.
I personally observed the previous parish administrator and her daughter shredding documents late at night prior to end of the parish administrator’s tenure with the church.
For many years, personnel and accounting files have been virtually nonexistent, instead just sitting around in heaps.
There have been multiple instances of facially inaccurate financial reports.
Bob Malm assured vestry members that there was no evidence of fraud following the departure of the previous parish administrator. With the prior year’s audit left undone (it had been started the summer before, but work stopped when the parish administrator allegedly failed to provide needed information), such a representation is, at a minimum, risky.
Vestry members have not seen audit opinion letters in many years, and Jeff Aaron was not at all cooperative when I asked about the status of the audit.
There is evidence of multiple instances of misuse of funds, including the memorial donations made by my family and the time when the parish administrator told me that she had misapplied my pledge payments to another account. Really? I’m supposed to believe that all year long she was posting payments to the wrong account and never noticed?
BB&T, the church’s bank, has complained repeatedly about our deposits being “off,” or not matching the deposit ticket. Given that the counters are all well-educated, I find it difficult to believe that they are the source of this issue.
Bob Malm was not at all surprised when I told him of BB&T’s complaints about the deposits.
Dee’s “professional” analysis of the finances? They sound screwed up. So why the hullabaloo when Eric brought it up?
Your two humble and adorable blog queens hold MBAs. We can tell you that this is one church that needs an audit and some smart people to get their financial affairs in order. It is too darn bad they didn’t trust Eric who actually cared about the church. It is probably obvious, at this point, to regular TWW readers that Eric was going to receive blow back if the church was not run by an open, kind and scrupulous individual.
And he was not pleased which makes Dee wonder why… If the pastor had been sick and been away for a long time, it would make lots of sense that things would be in disarray. Why didn’t he just get the financial stuff together unless there was something he didn’t want people to see? Does anyone have any other ideas why he would get so mad over something as mundane as financial accountability?
The shunning behavior begins.
A member of the church attacked a family member
Mike, Eric’s partner, works for the intelligence community and this note came from a church member.
Comment: Eric, does Mike know you’re doing this? When I file a restraining order against you, it will affect his security clearance. Are you sure you want that? Kirk
Similarly, how am I supposed to feel when Bob explicitly singles out Mike as part of his campaign of harassment and retaliation? In that situation, matters that I might well have ignored utterly were they only addressed to me will, naturally enough, result in a vehement, bare-knuckles brawl. Bob, I always knew you were a bully, but you have broken even those boundaries.
Pastor Bob Malm breached Eric’s expectation of confidentiality.
Episcopal priests are required to maintain the confidences of others. Per Title IV, Canon 4.1 (a), all clergy must protect and preserve confidences entrusted to them. Additionally, there are specific provisions in the canons that further restrict the ability of priests to share information entrusted to them.
Despite these strictures, my priest, Bob Malm, is known to have divulged confidential matters, as follows:
At least twice to Jeff Aaron, the director of parish operations at Grace Church.
At least once to Amy Medrick, parish administrator at Grace Church.
At least twice to Jeff Chiow, 2016 junior warden at Grace Church.
At least once to my father, Frank Bonetti.
Eric asked the poignant question: Is this what Jesus would do?
The church refused to allow flowers to be displayed even though Eric gave money for that to occur.
They denied him entrance into the building by changing the pass codes given to the members.
They removed him from the parish directory.
They deleted him from the parish mailings.
They refused to pray for him during church when he was in the hospital last year.(Can you imagine?)
Bob appeared to tell Eric to “move along” and leave the parish.
This was not true. At this point, Eric was still planning to stay at the church but it appeared that the pastor wanted him gone. Note the immediate removal of Eric from email lists which seems to prove one Eric’s previous allegations directly above this.
Eric… Recently I asked Leslie if she had been in touch with you before and/or after she was away last week. She told me she spoke to you while at St. Thomas a while back for a meeting she attended…she said you spoke to her about finding a new parish and transferring from Grace Church…and she also told me she exchanged e mails with you this week and you mentioned attending St. Paul’s K. St…..I will inform both Mike Jones and Barry Joyner that you will not continue to serve at Grace as either a LEM nor a Trustee of the Trust…and I will ask that you be removed from their e mail lists…..when you(and Mike) find a parish and are ready to transfer, please ask them to send us a L.O.T. Thank you for your service to Grace in the past. May God bless you as you join a new faith community. Bob
The church refused to accept his donation to display flowers and and instead allegedly used the money for other purposes (shades of Mars Hill!) saying he was no longer a member.
After hiring an attorney, his funds were eventually returned.
Dear Mr. Bonetti,
Grace Church will not accept any contributions (for any designation) including pledge, flowers, Trust, etc. from you and / or Mike Smith. Your Vanco Accounts are closed. We have refunded the funds you have previously given. You and Mike Smith have not been active members at Grace Church for many months.
Eric, a church canon guru, pointed out that they could not revoke his membership, even if he didn’t attend for a short period of time.
Good night! I would want a break after all of this nonsense.
Active membership in the Episcopal Church is specified in the canons, and per those definitions, I remain an active member. Neither you, nor Bob, nor Amy, nor the vestry may redefine membership. Moreover, the matter is a red herring–whether one is an active member or an inactive member, nothing allows a parish to terminate a parishioner’s membership.That is true even if a parishioner is excommunicated.
Eric believed that Bob’s autocratic behavior could lead to potential danger when it came to the protection of children at the church.
I am so glad that Eric showed concern for the vulnerable children in his church! How many would think of this?
To this mix comes his autocratic approach to parish governance. For example, written parish policy specifically forbids renting the facility to for-profit groups, yet Bob in 2014 unilaterally approved the school’s signing of a contract with Steve and Kate’s Camp, a for-profit operation. The contract was signed before the vestry even knew about it, and the summer camp is not in any way compliant with diocesan sexual misconduct policies. Indeed, children roam the building with few restrictions and very limited supervision, and in few, if any, cases are there two unrelated adults with each child at all times. This is a disaster waiting to happen.
The final straw: A church representative told Eric’s prospective employer that he is untrustworthy! Unbelievable!
At this point, Eric obtained legal representation.
A company, conducting a background check of me for employment purposes, contacted the church. This made sense, as my volunteer work as junior warden covered a period of extended unemployment. Leslie Steffensen was among those interviewed, and she allegedly said of me, “I’m not sure I would trust him with money. There were lots of questions about his work done for the church.” And before you ask, yes, I have the transcript in writing.
The church threatened to sue him for financial losses and slander.
Eric and some of his family left comments about the church on Google. They are still on Google Reviews under the name of the church. In case the church is not aware of this, a similar lawsuit instituted by a church against our good friend, Julie Anne Smith who also writes a blog was a total loss for the church which had to pay all of Julie Anne’s expenses. The lawyers can read about it here. Eric was also aware of this lawsuit. Eric’s understanding of the law is spot on.
A few weeks ago, I received an message from Jeff Chiow, Grace Episcopal’s current junior warden and an attorney, suggesting that the church and church school have suffered financial losses as a result of my online comments, and that they may sue to recover damages.
(In a later post Eric mentions Julie Anne’s lawsuit and defines slander
Under the law, slander is:
A untrue statement.
Made knowing that it is untrue.
With the intent to injure the reputation of another.
In addition, if someone is a public figure, one must show actual malice. Persons can be general public figures — like Donald Trump — or limited purpose public figures. In Bob’s case, he’s clearly the latter. Specifically, truthful comments about his conduct as a priest are privileged, while comments about his personal life are not.
Another factor is whether the matter discussed is an appropriate topic of public discourse. In the case of Beaverton Grace Bible Church, the blog publisher was sued by the church for allegedly saying that the church was “cult-like” and “creepy.” The court dismissed the church’s lawsuit, noting that the matter was, indeed, appropriate public discourse.
Eric offered to settle a potential lawsuit against the church merely for an agreement for the priest to stop harassing him.
By the way I am really glad that Eric obtained legal help. Whatever happened to “turn the other cheek?” It appears the priest is willing to waste church funds that could be used to repair the building or get a financial advisor.
Through my attorney, we have offered to settle the matter in exchange for nothing more than a written assurance that Bob and others will not interfere with the practice of my faith, or engage in further disparagement.
Bob, acting through Jeff Chiow, rejected those terms, which supports the conclusion that Bob continues to think it is okay for him to engage in harassment and bullying.
Eric explored the issue of pastors who bully.
He links to a fascinating article titled Is Your Pastor a Serial Bully?This is such a good post, I will see if I can do a reprint of it next week.
Indeed, one of the best ways to determine whether clergy misconduct has occurred is to ask the question, “Whose needs are being met here?” If the answer is that the clergy person’s needs are being met, by definition you have misconduct. The role of the clergy is always to serve their parishioners and communities. When their needs take priority — whether sexual, emotional, financial, or even just in terms of leave and benefits — when the clergy’s needs take precedence, you are in trouble. (Note that I am NOT saying that clergy should not engage in self care. What I am saying is that clergy should not place their needs and desires ahead of those they serve and their ordination vows.)
The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia showed little concern for Eric’s well documented situation. Episcopalians-pay attention!
Eric also appealed to The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to help out in this situation, claiming a Title IV violation in his treatment by the church. Their lack of response demonstrates why having denominational accountability is no guarantee of protection for the little guy.
Unfortunately his Title IV complaint against the diocese of Virginia was just rejected in November 2016. If you are interested in his breakdown on the requirements of Title IV and how the Diocese of Virginia failed in meeting those, here is a link to the post with the chart. It is very well done.
Here are some of his thoughts on the matter.
The Title IV training materials are very clear: All persons should know who to contact, even if their concern only is that “something doesn’t seem right.” Moreover, persons filing a complaint should know that they will be “listened to with care and respect, and that there is a process in place to care for all involved,”
Once a matter gets to the reference panel in a disciplinary proceeding, there are several options available, including:
Pastoral response only; no further action required.
Referral to the bishop diocesan for possible agreement on terms and conditions of discipline.
In the instant case, the reference panel has decided to violate the canons by issuing a Notice of Dismissal, which is not one of the options available under the canons. In its “decision,” the reference panel alleges that one or more complainants have obstructed the process by engaging in dishonest or disingenuous tactics. Yet the diocese makes no mention of its own dishonesty in ignoring and misrepresenting the canons, for nothing permits the diocese to “dismiss” a case at the reference panel.
Truly, the Episcopal Church is morally bankrupt. Any church that has so little regard for its canon laws is nothing more but the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Wild West. The diocese of Virginia argues for the rule of law, yet considers itself to be above church law. It wants to have absolute control, while we as laity are to sit in respectful silence when it ignores church canons.
One of the things both amusing and offensive about the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s decision to violate church canons by dismissing my family’s Title IV complaint is that it claimed that one or more complainants has engaged in duplicity. Yet duplicity is the very word that best describes the diocese’s whole approach to this issue.
First, what is duplicity? One dictionary defines it thusly: “deceitfulness in speech or conduct, as by speaking or acting in two different ways to different people concerning the same matter; double-dealing.”
Second, Title IV, the church disciplinary canons, are intended to, in their own words, “support…members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected.” Title IV is very clear, as well, that a pastoral response is required “whenever any report is made to the intake officer.” (Canon 8.1)
The Diocese allegedly never ONCE met once briefly with him and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry refused to become involved.
At Eric’s insistence, he had one brief meeting with Caroline Parkinson, the intake officer for Title IV. Once again, he was told to find a new church. They love gay marriage but they do not love a man trying to make a difference. Is it all about “stands” and nothing about relationships?
(Ed. note: I apologize for misunderstanding something. I have corrected this portion to reflect the events- 12/3/16)
He gets what real friendship is about and challenges those who shunned him.
That said, I am grateful for those parishioners who have remained friends. No doubt, some of my comments and criticisms have put you in a difficult place. Your love and affection are therefore all the more touching.
For those who have turned your backs on me, I wish you well. One’s true friends stick with you. Those who aren’t true friends move on, and it’s no loss. I’d also point out that bullies like Bob Malm, Leslie Steffensen, Lisa Medley, and Alison Campbell, only hold sway because bystanders ignore their actions. Thus, if you see someone bullying another human being and ignore it, you not only ignore your baptismal covenant to resist injustice and oppression, you step into the shoes of the bully and become equally culpable.
At the same time, I’ve been delighted to discover a few true Christians among my friends. Christ no doubt disagreed with the behavior of many around him, yet he welcomed them nonetheless. Similarly, I have a number of friends who no doubt have had to swallow hard, but have had the courage to remain friends.
I am deeply grateful for the love and support of these friends.
Eric discussed his view of the diocese hierarchy and makes a devastating observation about pointy hats.
Why even have a hierarchy if you can’t address abusive behavior by clergy? If the only purpose of a bishop is to show up once a year wearing a pointy hat, and murmuring, “Interesting, tell me more,” at coffee hour, then the diocese is a really bad investment, and I’m better off in a congregational church, for a congregational polity aligns with the reality you’ve established in DioVa. Otherwise, the funds we send to Richmond do nothing but serve to maintain a bunch of fat cats hanging out in a big old antebellum mansion called Mayo House.
Here is a synopsis of the problems that he saw at Grace Episcopal Church.
I think our regular readers will see similarities to many evangelical churches.
Notably, staying at any job for 25+ years is not a good sign. Unfortunately, Bob has the golden handcuffs on and cannot leave even if he wants to.
It’s easy to get used to bad clergy behavior, Far too many parishes realize, when a priest leaves, that they have been making excuses, versus setting expectations. “Don’t worry–it will be someone else’s turn next.” Wait and see.
You’ve been ill-served by the decision to tear down the rectory. A 900K+ asset, yes, it probably needed about $200K in work. But you’ve lost the underlying asset and related equity, while shoveling more than $500k into Bob’s rather seedy personal residence. So, you’ve lost more than $1 million, with absolutely nothing to show for it. And unless we see a big upturn in real estate prices, Bob will be lucky to break even when he sells his house.
Time to wake up and smell the coffee. Bob is telling you that pledges have “held relatively steady,” while actually declining 8 percent over the past year. If your retirement funds declined by 8 percent a year, would you view them as steady?
You’d be well-served to insist that the vestry elect its own officers, as required by church canons. A thumbs-up from an incoming vestry is not the same thing as an election, and you would eliminate Bob’s ability to manipulate the structure of the vestry to meet his own objectives. He reports to the vestry, not the other way around.
It’s God you worship, not Bob. Bob’s job is to help you grow in the knowledge and love of God. It is not your job to subsidize Bob and his trips to Mattapoisett, Jekyll Island, etc. He works for you, not the other way around, and it is not disloyal, unfair, or mean-spirited to hold him accountable
When looking at Bob’s behavior, ask yourself how it stacks up to jobs at for-profits. At what other job can you misinform you boss about personnel matters? Take vacation whenever you want? Yell at your boss aka vestry members? Again, Bob works for you. Not the other way around.
Here are his thoughts about ethics in the Episcopal Church-Looking at standards expected at for-profit companies and then at those expected by the church in this matter.
So, my decades in the Episcopal Church have, taken as a whole, been wonderful. But I now better understand just how shallow ethics in the church can be, and just how much leeway a priest who engages in misconduct gets. It’s interesting to note, too, how vociferously the Diocese of Virginia trots out the canons when it suits it (witness the litigation with the “Anglicans”), and how, with equal alacrity, it can ignore its canons. It’s also interesting how the system works to try to silence its critics, versus engaging with them. Jesus welcomed sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes; the Episcopal Church rejects those who do nothing more than rock the boat.
In most for-profits (companies), Sarbanes-Oxley and Gramm-Rudman provide for strict standards of liability. Corporate officers who deliberately supply false information about material aspects of business operations may be personally liable, even to the point of criminal prosecution. In addition, these statutory schemes provide that intentional destruction of business records may result in criminal liability, while retaliation for exercising federal rights may similarly result in criminal penalties.
In The Episcopal Church, however, priests are held to none of these standards. They may destroy evidence at will, retaliate at will against anyone who alerts the larger church to possible misconduct, and they may do so without fear of penalty. Thus, Episcopal clergy are held to a standard that is not higher, not equivalent, but much lower than the ethical standards applied to for-profit organizations.
I have seen firsthand destruction of parish business records under questionable circumstances, and retaliation against parishioners for exercising their legal rights. Yet The Episcopal Church does not appear to have any issue, or see any moral challenge, with these situations.
How does that work? And how does it engender trust in The Episcopal Church?
The answer to both questions is, “It doesn’t.”
The liberal and inclusive label of the Episcopal church does not stand up to scrutiny.
In the interests of the narrative, I am allowing the political illustration to stand.
While we claim to be liberal and inclusive, the reality is that our clergy are, by and large, allowed to do whatever they please.
Like little Donald Trumps, their dog collars are the free pass to engaging in any sort of behavior they wish. And if you complain, you are the jerk.
How exactly does that fit with Jesus’ teachings?
His final take on the Episcopal Church of today is convicting for those with open hearts.
The church is broken.
It’s ironic. For far too long, imbecilic members and past members of The Episcopal Church have argued about marriage equality. But one need not reach that touchstone. Rather, one need only look at whether The Episcopal Church and its clergy respect the baptismal covenant.
Much like the constitutions of a number of progressive European nation-states, these commitments sound great on paper. Right up until you ask the question, “I may have a complaint about these issues. How do I proceed?”
At that point, you are on your own. The Episcopal Church talks a good game, but the reality is you are left to your own devices if you challenge bullying Episcopal clergy. At that point, you get the label of “chronic malcontent,” and no one cares whether your concerns may be legitimate. They care only that you have crossed paths with a priest, and that means your point of view is nothing more than yet another disagreeable perspective to be discarded and rejected as unwelcome. You are a troublemaker, and that is that. Yes, the church might see what it can do to shut you up, but it is not because the church cares abut you. It just wants you to go away. It does not want to actually address the underlying issues.
Until The Episcopal Church walks away from the notion that critics are enemies, it is on the path to death. I hope only that it survives long enough to outlive me, for I do not wish to witness the demise of a church that I once loved tremendously.
Unfortunately, The Episcopal Church is broken indeed. The few signs I have seen that suggest otherwise are too little, too late. It may well be that it is time for The Episcopal Church, and its policy of sinecured mini-monarch clergy persons, to disappear, having outlived any positive role in the body of Christ.
The church is not morally relevant and it is time for it to die.
Churches should be role models, setting examples for for-profits and other non-profits for the ethical use of funds. Yet my experience is that The Episcopal Church opposes any suggestion that it even hold to the same standards as for-profit organizations. Employees at publicly traded corporations are required to report possible misconduct, and are protected if they do so. Employees and volunteers in The Episcopal Church are discouraged from reporting possible wrongdoing, and penalized if they do report their concerns. And the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia actively supports and sides with clergy who, like Bob Malm, engage in retaliation for complaining about questionable business practices.
It’s amusing, too–the diocese was rabid during the recent property recovery litigation in its demands that vestry members at the Falls Church and other dissident parishes act as fiduciaries. This means acting in the best interest of the diocese and larger Episcopal Church by setting aside personal self interest in favor of the objective best interests of the larger organization. But having insisted that church volunteers are fiduciaries, the diocese has concluded that employees of the church are under no such constraints, and the parish and diocese have made very clear that they do not want parishioners to raise concerns about questionable governance practices in the church. Indeed, Bishop Shannon has personally endorsed the notion that there is nothing wrong with clergy retaliation, and such behavior does not violate church canons.
The Episcopal Church surely has become morally bankrupt when it can look someone in the eye and say that there is nothing wrong with clergy bullying their parishioners in retaliation for complaining about questionable business practices. In short, corporate America is miles further ahead when it comes to business ethics, and there is no reason to treat The Episcopal Church as holding any special moral authority when it so ardently opposes such standards in its own operations.
Sad to say, The Episcopal Church is stuck in its own early 1960’s, Madmen-era time warp where it can do whatever it wants, because the paradigm is boardroom politics at their worst.
I was so very proud of the church for its stances on immigration, women’s rights, and marriage equality, that it’s hard to believe I am saying this. But the Episcopal Church has lost sight of its ethical compass, and outlived its moral relevance. It is, I fear, time for the Episcopal Church to die.
What extraordinary observations! We have much to discuss over the weekend.
I wonder if Eric has ever seen this video? I hope it makes him smile.