You can follow the link and read the whole thing, but, in essence, the invitation is for those who have been sexually harassed, abused and exploited in the church, to "share reflections" of their experience.
This session is scheduled for Wednesday, July 4th from 5:15 - 7 PM (Central Time). It's an open session, so everyone is invited to attend. If you're not there, you can watch the live web cast.
So, this is good, right? The church being "open" and "transparent" about all the wrongs that have been perpetrated on women (and men, but mostly women) in the church.
"In the church" is a polite way of saying, "by deacons, priests and bishops".
So, not to put too fine a point on it, that means, sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation by those who are ordained. Meaning, specifically, deacons, priests and bishops.
This includes the process known as "Title IV" by which clergy charged with "misconduct" or "boundary violation" are brought to an ecclesiastical trial by a jury of their fellow Christians - laity and ordained. In too many instances, the "process" has only served to compound the abuse.
Oh, let me count the ways.
First of all, the process "invites" those who are vulnerable to make themselves vulnerable once again by "sharing" their stories with the rest of the church.
We are also assured that "the letters (from those who have been sexually harassed/abused/exploited) will be responded to" by a bishop reader.
The letter will be "pastoral in nature, offering respect and appreciation to the individual who has willingly become vulnerable in the sharing process, express regret for the wounding at the hands of the Church, and offer hope for healing".
The intent of this is to be the first step in a "therapeutic process"- for the women and for the church.
You will note that it is the bishops who determine what part of whose story will be shared publicly. And, as the House of Bishops is predominently male, the voices that give sound to the women's stories will be predominently male.
I'm sorry. Wait. No, I'm not. This may be "therapeutic" for the House of Bishops and even some "in the church" but it is callously indifferent to the needs of those who have been deeply wounded by those who are ordained.
Here are some alternative ideas: Why not share letters from bishops confessing to ways they have mishandled and failed to respond to situations that they were aware of?
What if they made themselves vulnerable and confessed all the ways in which they have failed these women (and men) and the church?
What if, after reading all of the stories - "pastorally, listening deeply"- the bishops publicly expressed and demonstrated real remorse for all the the harm done?
What if they offered sincere apologies and enumerated the ways in which they plan to remedy the women who have been harmed and bring justice to them so that there can be reconciliation and peace? (No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace.)
Here's the thing: I know for a natural born fact that many of the bishops in the House of Bishops - including the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies - HAVE, in fact, heard many of these stories before.
They've heard them and they've done nothing - or worse, done something and made it worse.
So, what's this all about, really?
Well, I've come to understand that my many years "in the church" have turned me into a bona fide skeptic. I approach everything that the institutional church says or does or promises with a hermeneutic of suspicion.
I can't help but think that this has little to do with being pastoral or therapeutic for women who have been sexually abused.
I've come to recognize a smoke screen when I see one. And, in this case "in the church," that has absolutely nothing to do with a pot of incense.
I think this "invitation" has more to do with distracting everyone from the allegations made against Bishop Stacey Sauls when he was part of the administration at 815*. (Also, see here, here, and here.)
Why have we not heard of all of the "changes in the policy and culture" of 815 which was promised by Presiding Bishop Curry on April4, 2016? **
Inquiring minds want to know. Because it sure looks like someone has been working extra hard to obfuscate what is really going on. It should be noted that we haven't heard a peep from 815 about this for over a year.
To echo the kids who are working to end gun violence, I call BS.
Yes, of course, there are legal constraints around personnel issues so certain specifics can not be discussed publicly, but if we can't at least talk about what happened at our church center and what was done to remedy the situation, how are we supposed to talk about what is happening at other levels of our beloved church?
And, why are we requiring those who have suffered because they told the truth and weren't believed bear the burden of truth-telling again? Where is the remedy for them? Where is the justice for them?
So, here's my advice to those who WILL write those letters:
Make sure you stipulate that the reading of your letter includes the part about how the priest (or bishop or deacon) who harmed you has not even so much as been reprimanded for what he did because you were not believed. Or, it happened a while ago was "so much water under the bridge". Or, "it is Christian to forgive."
For good measure, name the name of the person who harmed you and the bishop who re-harmed you.
Oh, and if you are a clergy woman, make sure you include how you haven't been able to get a full time position - or, in some of the stories I've heard, ANY position "in the church" - since you told your bishop your story. In that diocese or any other diocese.
And, make sure to stipulate that they must tell the part about how there has to be justice before there can be either reconciliation or peace.
Oh, and if the BS level gets higher than your tolerance level, don't be afraid to organize a little impromptu civil disobedience. Be like sister Rosa Parks: Sit down right in the middle of the House of Bishops and refuse to get up. Make them carry you out.
Or, make some noise: Sing "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around" at the top of your voice just like Sister Fannie Lou taught us. Let your voices ring to the rooftops of the House of Bishops.
If necessary, take to the streets - or sidewalks (no permit necessary). Carry signs. Make some noise: Sing "We Are Gentle Angry People (and we are singing for our lives)," just as Sister Holly Near taught us. Give new meaning to the song, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."
Demand justice because, if you haven't already learned it, ain't nobody gonna just hand it to you.
Keep in mind the story of the persistent Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28. Remember how the disciples - the early leaders of the Jesus Movement - tried to keep her away from Jesus because she sought healing - not for herself - but for her daughter.
Remember that even Jesus, who we remember was both fully divine and fully human, fell into the trap of cultural racism and sexism. Remember that He, too, dismissed her until she was able to demonstrate to Jesus, before God and everyone assembled, that the faith being tested was not hers, but His.
And, remember the double miracle in the story: not only was the woman's daughter healed instantly, but so was Jesus.
Resist and persist and, like the Canaanite woman, you will become the vehicle of healing for God's daughters (and sons) - "in the church".
* (Note: On December 9, 2015 the Presiding Bishop placed Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Sam McDonald, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Director of Mission, and Mr. Alex Baumgarten, Director of Public Engagement and Mission Communications, on Administrative Leave pending an investigation into formal complaints and allegations of potential violations of personnel policies of the DFMS, received from multiple members of the staff. McDonald and Baumgarten were found to have violated personnel policies; Sauls was not, was asked to resign, but sued in 2017 because he claimed his firing had "damaged his reputation" and he was unable to secure work in the church. )
ADDENDUM: If you have not been abused/harassed/exploited - or if you have and don't care to share your 'reflection' (but not facts) - or if you want to call BS because you think this is feel-good "Reconcilliation Theater" and a smokescreen to distract us from what's really going on (hint: It has more to do with the advice of lawyers than the advice of therapists), PLEASE CONSIDER WRITING TO THE HOB by May 25th and letting them know you know this is BS. I think they need to hear from us, too. Thank you.
email@example.com or mail to House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response, 815 Second Ave., New York NY 10017.
I'm posting this as an addendum with the permission of the author, of course. Perhaps it will inspire others.
DON’T TELL ME—(Published anonymously for the Episcopal HOB, 2018)
“Don’t tell me,” you said in your office at the cathedral,
even though you already knew as well as anyone
of his violent temper, his rage, his abusive manipulation
even while his wearing a collar.
“It’s not a good idea to begin your career with a law suit,” you said.
My first thought was—I don’t have a career;
I have a calling, a vocation.
And I regret not calling you all out before.
My second thought has taken more than fifteen years.
My second thought has survived disabling self-doubt, self-blame,
has been steeped in a vanishing horizon of self-esteem,
has endured loneliness, isolation, deprivation, a wilderness of despair.
When you yelled and cussed at me—yah, another one of you purple shirts,
when you yelled and cussed at me, and then offered me an apology—by letter, mind you—
not even a phone call, not even a lunch (could you not face me?),
I went on, blaming myself, again, thinking I should have done
this or that a little differently.
And you wanted me to go talk to a man
who would help me see what I was doing wrong.
I swallowed the words you threw in my face… I almost began to believe them.
But, then I heard that you had yelled and cussed, verbally abused others, many others;
You placed other yellers and cussers in positions of trust and leadership;
you refused to listen when I tried speaking with you—lost, hurting.
You cut me off; you called me names, you called me down for my ‘tone.’
(You do realize, don’t you, that it is only women of a certain age
that are criticized for their ‘tone.’)
I regret this has taken me so long;
I regret that my beloved has had to suffer, watching me suffer.
I regret not speaking out sooner so that others, even more vulnerable,
might not have to suffer the trash you dish out …
but courage sometimes only comes
with nothing more to lose.
So, this is where my second thought so many years in the making finally gets its breath:
I will not be silent when you call your red-faced tantrums ‘passionate talk.’
I will not be silent when you cut me off.
I will not be cowed when you leave me out.
I will call you out; I am calling you out:
I am telling you—I will no longer be silent.
I am ready to follow the calling of Jesus and toss the tables in this Temple
where power, access and obedient silence are the coin to purchase the sacrifice
of living flesh and blood.