21 February 2019

Trustworthy, part one: the cost of betrayal

This isn't one of the QL issues I mentioned
below. In this March 1998 issue, we covered 
financial betrayals.
Money is hardly a full and adequate way of costing out harm, but it does have a snappy convenience. When Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends was sued in 2015 for having had a sexual abuser in its employ, the amount demanded was $4 million. Just for perspective, its budget for that year was $1.2 million, and its assets (2013, actual) about $3.17 million.

As far as I know, the final settlement in that case was never made public. In a larger sense, the "final settlement" demanded by God's grace and justice will never be measured in dollars, but sometimes it is satisfying to know that money is involved: almost nothing slices through pious misdirection or sophistry like cold cash. But it's also true that cash doesn't cut deeply enough.

We're in a season of exposure for all sorts of betrayals, particularly sexual and psychological. With Paul Manafort in the news again, I ran into Maya Gurantz's article Kompromat: Or, Revelations from the Unpublished Portions of Andrea Manafort’s Hacked Texts. The author manages to be extremely pointed and amazingly merciful all at the same time in her dissection of multiple layers of betrayal ... not least, the theft of the raw material (the daughters' private texts) behind the article.

My biggest concern is when it's the church who betrays. There, too, we have plenty of new material coming into public view. Today, Pope Francis has opened a global leadership conference on abuse, challenging participants not to be content with "simple and predictable condemnations." Meanwhile, the Southern Baptist Convention is reeling from recent revelations published in two Texas newspapers, and powerful voices are calling for a new reckoning of the links between sexist theology and patterns of abuse.

Our own brush with the cost of betrayal -- that $4 million lawsuit -- had swift consequences for all of us on the Northwest Yearly Meeting program staff. An improved abuse policy meant that every program and field staff member, and every church staffer and ministry volunteer throughout the yearly meeting, had to comply with training and background-check requirements.

Somewhere else I mentioned the sadness I felt when I heard there had been harassment going on even in my earliest Friends community, Canadian Yearly Meeting. Later, in the 1990's, I was confronted by church-related betrayals in the first year of my administration at Friends United Meeting. I was asked to be part of an ad hoc group investigating charges of sexual harassment at a Friends school. Around the same time, one of the Mennonite periodicals (much to the consternation of some readers) directly addressed abuse by church leaders, and that gave us the idea of devoting the May 1994 issue of Quaker Life to that same topic among Friends. We mentioned the school case without naming the student whose experience of abuse was described; however, she wrote a letter to the editor, published in July. Her words could have been written yesterday:
Judy [the cover story's author] referred to three (pseudonymous) women, Alice, Bonnie, and Carol, who had been sexually perpetrated by Quakers or in Quaker organizations. The article was true and good. I know, because I am Alice. I was molested by the headmaster of a well known Friends school in the early 1960's. The devastating emotional impact of this has become apparent only in the last few years. I need good therapy but I can't afford it, so I contacted the school and asked if they could help. I didn't ask for much, I just wanted to be able to pay for weekly therapy for two years or so. I assumed that some fund had been set up because the episodes of sexual molestation, (not just mine) were known to the school's administration, faculty, and board of directors at the time. My request was met with silence and total denial of responsibility. I was devastated, re-traumatized.

Does anyone have any suggestions about what I should do? It seems that protection for the institution and the "pillar of the community" (the perpetrator) take much bigger precedence. If one is not part of the solution to help end sexual abuse and to help victims and instead protects the perpetrator, then one becomes part of the problem and thus a co-perpetrator. I wish Quaker Life well and thank you for addressing this widespread and terrible problem.
Later, when several cases hit close to home -- among Friends I knew personally, in our Indiana county -- I was at least a little better prepared. I remember being impressed by West Richmond Friends' approval in 1998 of a "bill of rights" compiled by Joshua Brown and given to every member and attender. Still, conversations with other denominational executives at gatherings such as the U.S. Church Leaders and American Bible Society meetings, reminded me constantly that perpetrators continued to wreck lives and churches. Lawsuits and insurance payouts gave these (mostly) men some solid incentive to come up with "policies" ... but we never seemed to go deeper to ask whether the roots of these problems were in our theology -- particularly our theology of leadership.

Last weekend we attended a quarterly gathering of our new Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends. As part of the business agenda, we worked through a draft abuse prevention policy. We also reviewed and approved a policy to deal with comments on candidates for being recorded as Friends ministers. This was not jolly work; we began the discussions of these policies with silent worship to acknowledge the betrayals that made these kinds of policies imperative.

As we went slowly through the abuse prevention document, trying to identify unintended loopholes and other potential problems, I reflected that this was a very different kind of devotional exercise. It wasn't pious in any conventional sense, but it was the work of building faithfulness. That's why I said at one point, "I'm daring to believe that we're starting to build a trustworthy church."

Interestingly, the majority of our pastors are women. The sample is very small (five churches so far, and our male leadership minority really seems beyond reproach!), so I am not asserting anything definitively, but I'm simply going to suggest gently that some underlying theological influences might be working in our favor.

In part two, I'll look at some of the information I've started to glean from last December's survey.

Diana Butler Bass tweets about sin and shame.

This list of articles by Myriam Renaud includes three interesting pieces on the political behavior of white American evangelicals.

Clint Schnekloth: All activism is pastoral ministry. (How protesting and hospital visitation are similar.)

This evening, a Falcon 9 rocket sent an Israeli moon lander on its way, and Japan's Hayabusa 2 operated its impact collector on asteroid Ryugu. A lot for one day! David Brin reviews our recent space milestones.

While we're at it ... Ultima Thule has an unexpected flattened shape.

Larkin Poe, "Trouble in Mind."


David H. Finke said...

Johan, I suddenly feel much much older, in realizing from your blog that the "school case" we worked on together was a quarter-century ago. We both got to know "Alice" and her husband, and with the help of one of her former classmates realized how insideous it is when we discover wrong-doing by Quaker Leaders who are widely regarded as "beyond reproach." It was sobering to me, in working with you, to accept that we can never assume that a person's reputation should outweigh what are demonstrable facts, for which they must be held accountable.

I just want to give public acclaim to you for the doggedness with which you leaned on those in leadership of the yearly meeting under whose care the offending school was held. I came, also, to respect those in the YM hierarchy who faced the facts unflinchingly, and pressed on for redress., The board of the school was, to me, disappointing in taking no action until their attorney said they had no other choice.

Recent years seem to have made it somewhat easier for victims to come forth with their story, and presumably be believed at least enough to start an honest investigation. But you, Johan, were at the forefront, and I want to give you a big hug, although several thousand miles away.

"Never tire of doing good". I think you have that lesson down pat.

Thy Friend, —DHF

PS: By the way, a few years ago I got a letter from "Alice's" husband saying that she had passed on, but they continued in their gratitude for the support they found with you and colleagues.

Johan Maurer said...

David! I can't remember all the details, but I think it was you who recruited me into "Alice's" support group. Thanks so much for sending these thoughts. Thanks to her trust and persistence, we had a crash course in the realities of abuse, which Friends and the whole world would soon be hearing much more about.

On another subject ... In reading David Blight's biography of Frederick Douglass, I'm learning a bit more about the place of Oberlin, Ohio, in the anti-slavery movement. I hope that someday I can see the College's collection for myself.