Showing posts with label bullying. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bullying. Show all posts

Friday, August 23, 2019

An Example of a Church Far More Courageous than Grace Church or the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

Here’s a real-life example of just how thoroughly broken Grace Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia are.

In this letter, Swansboro Methodist Church speaks out about against a member’s effort to “fat shame” another member. The incident allegedly occurred in a bathroom in the church.

The approach of Swansboro Methodist is the polar opposite of that of the Diocese of Virginia, which decrees that such matters are not “of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” then ignores the canonical requirement of a pastoral response. A “pastoral response” is exactly what the letter from the Methodist church reflects.

Indeed, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia ignores efforts by Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal Alexandria to drag a dying woman into court, as well as Episcopal priest Bob Malm’s readily verifiable perjury. Apropos the latter, it says it will only get involved if a priest is convicted of criminal charges. This, despite the fact that church canons specifically forbid clergy from engaging in fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

No wonder the Episcopal Church is collapsing. And with ethics like that, good riddance.

And for those of you who’d like to see the original video, here it is:

Bishop Susan Goff, Sven vanBaars, Mary Thorpe, Melissa Hollerith, Bob Malm, Jeff Chiow, Alison Campbell, Lisa Medley, Jan Spence and others: This is exactly the sort of thing that goes on behind the scenes at Grace. You know it. I know it. 

You just don’t have the integrity to admit it, or that you are a part of those issues.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Bob Malm’s “Tell”

In poker, there’s something called a “tell.” A tell is  a behavior or expression that gives another player away. And there are several tells that serve as dead giveaways when dealing with Bob Malm. So, for whatever church is unlucky enough to have Bob in the future, here are a couple behaviors to watch out for.

First is the classic narcissistic rage, when Bob shouts and bellows in an effort to shut down criticism that threatens his ego. I’ve seen it several times, including:
  • When Bob flew off the handle during a vestry meeting at Lee Meeks.
  • When I criticized Bob for his indifference to disaffected parishioners leaving Grace Church.
  • During Bob Malm’s tantrum along Russell Road when he drove up to me while I was protesting.
You’ll also notice that Bob deploys a less dramatic version of this tell when he’s feeling emotionally insecure. In those cases, he ramps up the volume and uses a harsh, threatening tone with the other person. I’ve heard this numerous times in his conversations with his wife, Leslie, and a few times when he’s felt threatened by me, including at the infamous personnel committee meeting where he went off on me.

Another of Dysfunctional Bob’s tells: He prefaces moments where he says something he doesn’t really believe with, “Well.” As in his response to my criticism of Bob’s shambolic approach to parish management during our meeting with Bishop Shannon, where Bob replied by saying, “Well, I’m sorry,” but offered no commitment to improving, nor any explanation for his feckless nonfeasance. Needless to say, he wasn’t sorry in the least. He simply wanted to end that part of the conversation and move on.

Another tell: Bob not only ignores church conflict, but appears to actually encourage it with his nasty comments, like referring to Jan Spence as an “asshole,” or his claims that Lisa Doelp is a “spy.” (He once claimed his kids caught Lisa going through their bedroom furniture in the rectory. Somehow, I very much doubt his story is true.) That said, look for Bob trying to have his cake and eat it too as when, on Kyle Babin’s last day as music director, Bob gave him a hug and apologized for the bullying he experienced at Grace church. But if Bob really had an issue with bullying, he would simply have called people on their behavior.

Of course, Bob’s tells are part of a second-tier defensive strategy. Like any good narcissist, Bob does his utmost to keep both accountability and criticism at bay. This he does through flattery and superficial charm, as well as by controlling the composition of the vestry’s executive committee. If you watch closely, he typically chooses someone as senior warden who either is a non-entity, indifferent to their vestry responsibilities, or blindly loyal. And in cases where Bob can manage all three, even better.

Grace Church, you’ve been played. But future churches with the foresight to look for the warning signs can take action early on to keep Bob from manipulating them. Look for Bob’s “tells.”

Forewarned is forearmed!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Grace Episcopal Alexandria: Lessons from a Toxic Church

Growing up, I had preconceived notions about toxic churches. But after my experiences with Grace Episcopal church in Alexandria, I now know that many of my ideas were nothing but stereotypes. As such, these ideas had a kernel of truth, but they missed the larger point. Indeed, I had so little understanding of what really goes on in a toxic church that I was a member of one and never knew it.

So, what did I think constituted a toxic church? My answer probably would be consistent with that of most liberal Episcopalians. Conservative, fundamentalist churches that excluded people, that held to complementarianism, that had rigid doctrinal positions, and had theologies of cheap grace, in which you uttered a magic phrase about turning your life over to Jesus, and bingo! Everything suddenly is right in the world.

Factoring into this was the notion that abusive churches often claim to have all the answers.

But during my time at Grace, I came to understand that liberal, ostensibly inclusive churches often claim to have all the answers too. The packaging may be nicer, but they can be every bit as bad as the most vigorous Pentecostal church, and then some.

Often, this tilt toward abuse is marked by a charismatic, but narcissistic, leader.  This person may appear charming and hyper-confident, but the focus is on them, versus God. Yes, their sermons may be wonderful and cogent, but if you listen closely, they almost always include some reference to themselves. Oftentimes this will take the form of subtle references to something they think makes them special, like the sports they played in school or some leadership position they have held.

Another clue: A rector or other leader who avoids dealing with conflict. This allow them to duck criticism, which narcissists avoid at all costs. And it allows ample opportunity for the narcissist to play people against each other—a favorite pastime of narcissists everywhere. But it is the whims of this “leader” that become the answer set in stone—the hallmark of abusive churches.

Having explored the relationship between narcissism and abuse, let’s explore a few other myths before we go further:
  • Abusive churches are not necessarily unwelcoming. Indeed, many are extraordinarily friendly.
  • Being in an abusive church isn’t necessarily an unhappy experience; it certainly is possible to be happy in an abusive church. In fact, most members enjoy their experiences with an abusive church. So they often are happy places—just unhealthy.
  • Abusive churches often are not collapsing, but may be holding their own or even thriving.
So how do you spot an abusive church? Look for one where boundaries are not clear, or have been eroded.  For example, most psychologically healthy people would not urge another person to commit suicide. Yet, that is exactly what one teenager at Grace Church did to me, with zero recognition of the underlying irony. Same goes for calling people “sickos,” “sick,” “twisted,” and all the other verbal BS that pours forth at Grace Church. (For the record, one of the worst offenders is Bob Malm, with a close second being immediate members of his family.

Also, if there is a sense of betrayal if people criticize church leadership, that is a sign of trouble. In my case, members of Grace Church will actually flip me off as they roll past, oblivious to the irony, especially when I am protesting the church’s behavior toward my terminally ill mother.

Another sign: Conditional friendships. If your church loves you when you are patching the leaky basement, but defriends you on Facebook when you leave the church and criticize it, you’re not dealing with a church—you’ve got a religious fraternity/sorority on your hands.

Yet another symptom: Lack of accountability. If your clergy person is “out of town” any time he or she feels like it, there’s an issue. Same for lack of servant leadership. If you’ve never heard your priest ask, “What can I do to help?,” be wary. Better yet, run.

Still another warning that a church is abusive is members who feel it is their place to discipline other members. Altar guild not talking to you because you ordered the wrong flowers or made a change it didn’t like? If so, that’s hardly the stuff of Christ, and if members are honest, they know it. This sort of emphasis on power and control tells you this is a church that has lost its way. Hopefully you won’t lose your way as you run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.

Financial reporting also is a warning sign. If, for example, even vestry members don’t see line item details, particularly for church payroll, you should be very, very suspicious. Why can’t you see that information? It’s your donations that pay those salaries.

Another clue: Look for people who instinctively know that things will come unglued when an abusive leader leaves. The observer may not recognize that the situation is abusive, but any church whose health hinges on a single person is not healthy.

Finally, abusive churches, which are masters of double-speak, often hide behind empty claims of exceptionalism and triumphalism. If you hear about how your church practices “true religion,” or is a “special place,” be wary. And if attendance is dwindling but your church claims to be a slice of paradise, ask why people are leaving such a wonderful place.

And yes, I have observed all these behaviors and phenomena at Grace Church under Bob Malm. So yes, Grace Church is abusive.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Bob’s Tantrum Proves What I’ve Said All Along—He’s a Bully!

Consider, for a moment, Bob Malm’s claim that this entire situation is a fabrication on my part. Leaving aside the copious written documentation, and the abysmal conduct of Dysfunctional Bob and Sugarland Chiow in court, Dysfunctional Bob’s recent tantrum proves my underlying point.

Anyone who would climb in his vehicle, drive over, climb over, and start screaming and threatening not only thinks that this behavior will somehow get him what he wants, but also has profound challenges when it comes to conflict resolution, and a near-zero understanding of the Christian faith. Moreover, Bob’s antics, including screaming at neighbors, make me wonder whether he is mentally ill. Certainly, anyone capable of such conduct also is someone who should be considered dangerous.

Yes, Bob does a credible imitation of the kindly, caring priest, but that’s the act. As I have said many times, the real Bob Malm in his whole Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde routine is vile, vicious, and vindictive.

Of course, Grace parishioners will do their best to avoid this inconvenient truth, as it would involve revisiting conclusions they reached long ago about their own faith community. But the reality is simple: Bob Malm is a bully. Bob Malm is toxic.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Another Lie By Bob Malm

Here’s another lie by Bob Malm. In this email, sent to parishioner Easter Thompson, Bob Malm tells her that no one who knows Grace Church takes me seriously. That’s an interesting and false claim; discussion below the break.

  • On the one hand, Bob’s email tries to throw shade on my concerns by essentially saying that no one in the know agrees. Yet those concerns repeatedly have been experienced by others, including those “in the know.” For example, the Rev. Anne Turner, who once served as Bob’s assistant rector, has provided pastoral care to a member of the altar guild who allegedly was bullied by Linda Waskowiscz. During her time at Grace, Anne also experienced outbursts from the church office staff. Thus, bullying within the church and by office staff is well-substantiated, and has been experienced by someone intimately familiar with the parish.
  • On the other hand, Bob’s statement also contradicts his later assertions that people are “terrorized” by me. If no one takes me seriously, how are they terrorized?
The third aspect, of course, is that this illustrates the crux of Bob ‘s bullying. Not only does he play people against each other, but his comments are decidedly contrary to the values set forth in the gospels, and inappropriate as a pastoral matter. (Screen caps from “Ten Signs Your Church is Bullying You,” found here.)

Indeed, dismissing concerns from church members is itself a form of bullying.

Or, put another way, the more Bob tries to brush off my concerns, the more he proves that they are warranted, including that Bob himself is toxic, and that his behavior is inappropriate. Meanwhile, the fact that parishioners like Easter Thompson can receive emails like the one in question and not see anything wrong with Bob’s conduct makes clear that the church has become toxic at every level. (Easter’s comments also are noteworthy in that she’s never said anything directly to me, despite the fact that she has my contact information. Triangulation, anyone? And how she sees any connection between writing generally on church abuse and Grace Church is beyond me. Perhaps it’s time for Easter to reduce her consumption of alcohol.)

Lastly, as I have stated in previous posts, no agreement to “follow the bishop’s....directives,” was made in Fredericksburg. That is a bold-faced lie — and nonsensical, as well, for I was not a member of the diocese of Virginia by the time Bob wrote this email.

Monday, January 28, 2019

See for Yourself: Mike’s Title IV Disciplinary Complaint Against Bob Malm

Here’s a good one: Mike’s Title IV disciplinary complaint against Bob Malm, after Dysfunctional Bob removed Mike from church membership rolls in order to get at me. Also attached is the church directory from that fall, Mike Jones’ email confirming Bob’s role in these matters, and Bob Malm’s email announcing his decision to force Mike out of the church.

True to form, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia declined to do anything.

Any priest who would try to force a parishioner out of the church who had been received into The Episcopal Church 15 months earlier is trailer park trash. And yes, that means Bob Malm aka Dysfunctional Bob.

Any attorney who would support Bob in those efforts is trailer park trash. And yes, that means Jeff Chiow aka Sugarland Chiow.

Any vestry that would support Bob and Jeff in these efforts is trailer park trash. And yes, that means the Grace Church vestry.

Meanwhile, Bob will be pleased to know he got his wish. Mike has renounced the Christian faith. No interest in what he terms Bob Malm’s “invisible friend,” or winding up the sort of person that Bob Malm is.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Newsflash: Grace Church is #Clueless

In all of this, one of the amusing things is that neither Bob Malm, not Jeff Chiow, nor David Crosby,  nor the Grace Church vestry, nor church members, get it. That’s right, #clueless.

Newsflash: The problem you have is not negative reviews of your sad church. Nor will efforts to make negative reviews go away succeed. In fact, the more you attempt the latter, the worse you make things for yourself. For example, Bob Malm’s campaign of innuendo about “dysfunction” and “health” is now a laughing stock in some circles, and will be for a long time to come. The fact that, as a church, you buy into his silliness just adds to the amusement.

Newsflash #2: When people look at your conduct, they don’t see anything even remotely Christian, and it has nothing to do with my blogging.

Nor do the following work:
  1. Suggesting that I commit suicide.
  2. Contacting my employer and current church.
  3. Claiming that I am delusional, for there are plenty of original source materials on this blog, with many more to come, including Jeff Chiow’s inflammatory and abusive legal pleadings. 
  4. Arguing that there are two sides to every story. The conduct documented in this blog is wrong and un-Christian, no matter how you parse the issues.
  5. Lying about what has transpired.
  6. Threatening me or my family.
  7. Claiming you took Ambien, LOL. (For the record, no one’s tried that line yet, but doing so would be in keeping with Bob Malm’s usual antics.)
Newsflash #3: The reality is straightforward: The only way to have people regard your sad church as healthy is to be healthy. No shunning, no bullying, no parking lot conversations about former parishioners, no emails about your perceptions of the mental health of others, no threats, no innuendo, no lies claiming that I left on my own. When the day comes (unlikely as that is) that I and others who have criticized you can walk into Grace Church and be welcome, then you will be on the road to health. (For those of you who are still shaking your heads, Google “prodigal son.” Yeah, in the Bible.)

Until you change your behavior, Grace Church will continue its precipitous decline. People are not stupid, and they understand that sooner or later they too will experience your toxic behavior if they associate with you.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Breaking News from the Diocese of Virginia

In an announcement that already is getting considerable pick-up within The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Virginia has announced that it is terminating its efforts to find a new Bishop suffragan, and will not hold an election to fill the slot. The announcement, found here, makes clear that Bishop Shannon may leave his current position sooner rather than later. More importantly, it mentions that the diocese hopes to bring in the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center to deal with serious internal issues. This suggests to me that the diocese has finally realized, at least in part, just what a hot mess it is. (I say “in part” because my experience is that, even when +Shannon recognizes that a mistake has been made, he often doesn’t really understand the depth or breadth of the matter. So, if the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center does get involved, pay close attention to the feedback, Bishop Shannon.)

All of this comes alongside a recent email I sent to Bishop Shannon, which he did not answer. I will treat most of the contents as confidential, except to say that my conclusion, based on my long and sordid encounter with both the diocese and Bob Malm, is that the diocese is morally bankrupt and stuck in a 1950’s time warp. Specifically, the diocese is willing to defrock clergy who have an affair in secret, yet it sees no problem with Bob Malm and his campaign of retaliation after I raised concerns about governance and possible sexual harassment at Grace Episcopal Church. That stands in marked contrast with corporate America, which both requires reporting and protects those who report such issues. (Publicly traded companies are required to do so under Sarbanes-Oxley and Gramm Rudman, among other statutory and regulatory requirements). Note, as well, that I am not suggesting having an affair is okay, merely that bullying and sexual harassment are every bit as important to the ministry of the church as are the moral implications of having an affair.

As a result, we are left with a situation in which The Episcopal Church bloviates about #metoo and #churchtoo and its desire to be part of a solution to these issues, all the while being a major and clueless part of the problem.

On a more transactional level, the announcement that DioVa is seriously screwed up is hardly news. For years, I have been frustrated at the utter lack of resources coming from the diocese. For example, in 2014 I asked the diocese if it had templated development resources to suppport parishes in their stewardship efforts. Given that as much as 16% of parish income goes off to the diocese, this would seem foundational and in the best interest of all parties.Yet I was surprised to discover that, even after 200 years of existence, the diocese has no such materials. Neither is this the first time I have experienced dysfunction within the diocese, nor the first time I have heard Bishop Shannon state that the problem is his responsibility to fix. Yet if the past indeed is a precursor to the future, Bishop Shannon’s solution will be ineffectual and largely meaningless, and skewed in favor of the status quo.

Further, it is well known in church circles that roughly only half of Mayo House (diocesan headquarters) staff are actually churchgoers. I get that, as working for church can quickly erode your desire to be in church on Sunday if you are not careful. But if your reason for working for a church isn’t your faith and your desire to serve God and others, you have an issue, because most church jobs offer low pay, long hours, and no or seriously crappy benefits. In other words, if your motive isn’t your faith, you really should not be in a church job. That also speaks to +Shannon’s comments about the commitment of diocesan staff. The reality is that many are not a good fit for the job.

The article also brings up the recent departure of Canon Pat Wingo. His leaving the diocese is a disappointment, as I have always had the feeling he is more committed to reconciliation and healing than is Bishop Shannon. The latter, I think, is all too willing to invoke his status as bishop, versus focusing on serving others as a priest. Yes, I get that there is a certain willingness to play the game that is needed in order to be elected bishop, but Bishop Shannon has for far too long been willing to tolerate ineptitude and bad behavior, both among diocesan staff and among clergy.

The news from the diocese also underscores one of the serious consequences of Bishop Shannon’s approach of “light-handed regulation” when it comes to diocesan governance, which is that he and other top-level leaders are all too often clueless when it comes to issues in the diocese, even when the issues are close at hand. I mean, I get that the recent litigation with the Anglicans was all-consuming, but that’s been over for quite a while, so that excuse no longer holds water. And after 11 years as bishop diocesan, are we really supposed to conclude that this is the first time that +Shannon is realizing that the diocese is screwed up? That would be hard to believe.

So what next?

In my case, I’d really like to see Bishop Shannon be a bishop in reality, not just title. That means setting expectations that Bob Malm act like a priest, instead of a bully, and stop the rhetoric and insinuations from Bob about mental illness on my part, many of which +Shannon has seen firsthand. That also means making clear with Bob Malm that appropriate behavior is not a suggestion, but rather a requirement. If Bob isn’t willing to do that, then it is time for Bob to retire. +Shannon is the bishop, and it’s okay to simply say, “That is how it’s going to be.” If +Shannon isn’t willing to do that, then he also should retire.

I’d also point out that Bishop Shannon never did follow-up on his offer to keep in touch with Mike. Yes, I get that no one here is falling over with excitement (at least with positive excitement) at the prospect of contact with the diocese, but having caused lasting harm to Mike’s spiritual journey and sense of self, the least the diocese could do is to keep in touch and offer a reassuring, non-anxious presence. Having failed to live up to that standard, the diocese is hardly in a position to complain that relationships are frayed.

Bishop Shannon also really needs to get over his notion that most issues can be solved by local vestries and wardens. Yes, I get that the bishop cannot be involved in each and every issue that comes up (nor should he or she), but it’s also true that a number of parishes here in Northern Virginia, Grace included, have rubber-stamp vestries whose role has been co-opted by the rector and serve only to provide air cover to the rector when, typically he, wishes to avoid ownership of a contentious issue.

On a larger level, this is the time for serious soul-searching on the part of the bishop and other diocesan leaders. The diocese has seriously lost its way, and the bishop would be well-advised to solicit advice and input from me and others with a negative view of the diocese. Yes, the comments may not be pleasant to hear, but that still beats blundering around clueless in the dark.

At the uppermost level, there is considerable healing that needs to occur, and, having created many of these issues, it is incumbent upon Bishop Shannon to work towards resolution. That includes making clear that all really are welcome, not just those who don’t rock the boat. And at all levels, the expectation needs to be set that bullying, shunning, and other relational aggression has no role in the life of the church.There also needs to be a meaningful way to fix the problem early on when clergy and others in positions of authority abuse that authority, including when that abuse doesn’t involve sex or jail time.

The tone and tenor come from the top—that’s a key tenet of real leadership. So Bishop Shannon, it’s time to step up to the plate and make clear that church will be a safe place for all persons, at all levels. If you don’t do so, you are squandering your spiritual and moral authority by virtue of standing idly by. And if that happens, there really is no point in having an Episcopal Church, and it is time for the church to call it quits.

The time to act is now.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

See for Yourself: Former Grace Member Had Similar Experiences

Following is a Facebook post from John Cunningham, formerly a long-time member of Grace Episcopal Church. 

Res ipsa loquitor.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

It’s Lent: Is the Irony Lost on Bob Malm?

As I get older, one of the things I increasingly appreciate is the irony of life. That includes the fact that it’s Lent, and Bob Malm seemingly is good with standing in front of a congregation, talking about introspection and repentance, all while trying to bully me and my family.

Adding to the irony is that, when we met in Fredericksburg with the bishop, Bob expressly acknowledged and agreed that he understood and was good with the fact that I was the only person in my family who was stopping blogging. Not even a year later, Bob has broken his word—even though he knew full well that most of my family is still angry with him.

Then there’s the delicious irony of Grace church’s website carrying on about how all are welcome at services this Holy Week. That’s facially dishonest—I am not welcome, and somehow I doubt any member of my family would be welcomed.

Why even celebrate Easter if, as a church, Grace, its clergy and members aren’t willing to live the Easter message?