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Thursday, January 09, 2020

Flatline: An exchange with the presumptive president of IntegrityUSA

He prefers to be called "Ronnie".

He doesn't pay attention to detail.

He cloaks his lack of transparency behind a thin veil of religiosity.

He never - EVER - directly answers questions. Instead, he quotes scripture.

That's what I've learned thus far about Ronnie Ward, the presumptive president of IntegrityUSA.

It doesn't bode well. That is, of course, if your hope is that Ronnie has come to resuscitate and revive the once noble but now moribund justice organization known as IntegrityUSA.

I'm going to document my letter to him and then my response to his response below. However, I understand that the total effect of all of this will be "the cry of one in the wilderness".

That's because the "election," such as it is without a contender, will be conducted by members of the Stakeholder's Council.

And, not only will the Treasurer of IntegrityUSA not release the number (not names, number) of actual members of Integrity and the number of active Integrity chapters, he also will not release the names of - much less how many - members there are of the Stakeholder's Council.

So, we have no idea who will be voting for Ronnie Ward.

Even so, it seems important to know something about this man, especially since, by his own admission, he's only known about and been a member of Integrity for the past several months.

It looks like he hasn't been an Episcopalian for very long, either. About 3-4 years ago, he was a Unitarian. Which is fine. It just doesn't give him much of a base of knowledge about the unique attributes and peculiarities of The Episcopal Church. Not if you're going to assume leadership in what was once a premiere justice organization of The Episcopal Church.

He - our boy Ronnie - has refused to answer any questions on Social Media. So, Ronnie has set up a private email in which he promises to answer our questions. (Here's his email:  Except, that's pretty much a sham operation too, as you'll see below.

Before I let you get into the weeds of our exchange, I do want to bring to your attention a very important matter which recently surfaced. This needs to be documented somewhere that's easily accessible and not hidden in the comments of FaceBook.

I only pray that those of you who are members of the Stakeholder's Council will read this. Or if you know who they are, that you will share this information with them.

It seems that, in 2011, Ronnie Ward was living in Norwich, CT where, among other things, he was a member of the Democratic Town Committee.

The Registrar of Voters was a woman named  Joann Merolla-Martin. It appears Ronnie got into a bit of a public scuffle with her over his alleged repeated absenteeism and public attacks.

Those are very serious concerns, given that the previous President of Integrity was on an unannounced LOA for most of the first year of her tenure and a few - well, most notably one - of the board members has attacked those who disagree with him, using homophobic slurs such as "pissy old queens" and "bitter old dykes".

The news article is: "Norwich Registrar defends bid to oust Ward"

Please note that I was able to access the article the first time I clicked on it. After that, it was hidden behind the paywall. In essence, the article says:
"The decision by Norwich Democratic leaders to consider removing Ron Ward from the party was based on a pattern of behavior that included personal attacks and a history of absences from monthly committee meetings, Registrar of Voters JoAnn Merolla-Martin said Tuesday."
Here's a link to the article saved in Google. Fingers crossed that it works. 

One of the members of Integrity recently decided to follow up and contacted Ms. Joann Merolla-Martin to check into the veracity of the newspaper article.

There is a screenshot of her statement above, along with another screenshot below of her permission to share this information publically, but here's what her message says:
“Ron Ward was a member of our Democratic Town Committee, a political organization with elected members with the purpose of nominating, supporting and electing Democratic candidates. I was the Registrar of Voters at the time. Mr Ward was a very divisive individual who seemed to thrive on creating chaos amongst the members. Several members of the committee sought to have him removed from the party but the process was eventually dropped. Looking back we likely should not have begun the process, but given his combative nature it did seem to be the right course of action at the time. He made every issue into an argument, attacked everyone who sought to seek office and appeared to collect information so that he could use it as a wedge issue. After that year we didn't see him again. I hope this helps. Good luck to you”
" . .  a very divisive fellow."

" . . . seemed to thrive on creating chaos amongst the members."

" . . . given his combative nature . . ."

" . . . made every issue into an argument, attacked everyone who sought to seek office and appeared to collect information so that he could use it as a wedge issue."

"After that year we didn't see him again."

"Good luck to you."

I'm just going to leave that there for you to consider, especially after you check out his credentials which he himself has published on his LINKEDIN page.

In fairness, I'm also going to leave this rebuttal editorial "End Ward Witchhunt" which doesn't do much, in my opinion, to counter the claims. It merely complains about the process (Hmm . . . where have we heard THAT technique before?).

It's especially compelling to me that, 9 years later, Ms. Merolla-Martin continues to stick with her claims. This is especially so since Ronnie has not darkened the door of the Town Hall of Norwich, CT since.

I hope the board that embraces him knows what they're getting into. 

I should also note that the article about absenteeism and public attacks was posted by the Rev Robert "Bob" Solon. It should be duly noted that Ronnie's response to Rev Bob's posting was to immediately attack Rev Bob.

Yes, Ronnie attacked the person who posted a news article about him making public attacks.

He was pretty hysterical. 

Alas, if you click on the link to Ronnie's response, you'll find that his post has been deleted. Probably a smart thing. It was far from meeting the board's ironic standard of being "kind".

Oh, and I should also note that Rev Bob has been blocked on FB by Ronnie.

So, wait. You know what this means, right? It means that yes, Rev Bob can not see anything that Ronnie posts. But it also means that Ronnie can't see anything that Rev. Bob posts. 

I am not making any of this up.

So, that should be enough toxicity for anyone's gullet. However, I am going to publish my letter to him but not his response to me  - which, I notice in a second letter that just arrived, he's already changed his mind. Now, he says, he WILL respond, in written form, to my questions.

At least, I think that's what he's saying. 

Film at eleven (but don't hold your breath).

So, what I hoped to achieve with this letter to Ronnie is not only to secure some answers to questions I know I and others have but also to let him know the identity of at least one of the long-term members of Integrity, and to know WHAT he's walking into.

Ready? Got the popcorn? All settled on your sofa? Nice warm comforter and the beverage of your choice nearby. Here we go:
Hi, Ron (or is it Ronnie?)

I'm Elizabeth Kaeton. Not Liz. Not Betty. Elizabeth. With a 'z'. She/Her/Hers. In formal situations, you may address me as the Reverend Dr. Kaeton. (pronounced KAY-ton). In informal church settings - especially where children are present - you may call me Reverend Elizabeth. In places where male clergy are called "Father," although I detest it, you may call me "Mother". In a personal conversation, you may call me what God calls me: Elizabeth.

I understand you have read my blog post "Integrity is Dead" ( ) so you know how I feel about the current level of incompetence and moral corruption that is the state of the present leadership of Integrity. (It has been read by over 2,000 unique readers in 8 days.)

You may not know that I have been a member of Integrity since 1977. I have served in various capacities on the Board of Integrity for 15 years and was an active member before that.  I served five years as Canon Missioner to The Oasis (a ministry of the DioNwk with LGBTQ people) under Jack Spong (I presently serve on that board).  I was also President of the Episcopal Women's Caucus for 10 years. I have served on my diocesan Standing Committee, one term as President. I have attended the past two Lambeth Conferences. I have attended General Convention since 1985 and have been a deputy 4 times, where I served several times on the legislative teams for Integrity and the EWC. I have also served on the Urban and Social Justice Committee of General Convention. I have served as a reader for GOEs. Presently, I am serving on the national board of RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) and volunteer as a Planned Parenthood crisis intervention counselor. I am a Hospice Chaplain and I am studying to become certified as a Hospice Doula.

I have been an Episcopal priest since 1986, which gives you a sense of how much of my ordained ministry has been dedicated to serving the LGBTQ community through The Episcopal Church in general and IntegrityUSA in particular.

This is all to say that I have a vested interest in Integrity's integrity which I believe is presently seriously compromised.

I promised Louie that I would do my best to make things right - to hold people accountable and responsible - even if that meant helping Integrity "sunset" as an organization as we have done to two major independent justice organizations in The Episcopal Church: ECPC (Episcopal Church Publishing Company - on whose board I served) and EWC (The Episcopal Women's Caucus).

I want you to know these things so you will know the place in me which gives rise to these questions.

Anyone who knows me (which includes your dean and the director of Anglican studies) knows that I do not entertain fools gladly. I have zero tolerance for BS and, after 30+ years in the church, I can smell mendacity a mile away; as Big Daddy says in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof": mendacity smells like death.

I want you to know these things before you answer so you will know that the effort put into your answers will not be in vain; rather, they will be carefully and respectfully read.

I have five questions for you which you no doubt asked yourself or worked out with your spiritual director as part of your discernment process before accepting the nomination. They are:

1. Knowing what you know - at least from a reliable source like myself and other vocal, disgruntled, deeply, painfully hurt members of Integrity - about the current state of this organization, why do you seek to be its President? Please, be specific.

a. What specific needs do you see Integrity has at this time?
b. What specific strengths do you feel Integrity has?
c. What specific skill sets and experience do you bring to the position which match/serve those needs and empower those strengths?
d. What one experience have you had in the past which you feel prepares you to lead Integrity at this moment in its history?
e. What is your vision for Integrity?
f. Given the fact that the last president spent almost the entirety of her first elected year on medical leave, how is your health? (I understand that you are not required to answer that question. A general answer will suffice but you may choose to decline to answer entirely. I simply feel compelled to ask, given our most recent experience.)
g. Who nominated you? What is your relationship to this person?
h. How long have you been a member of Integrity?

2. Tell me about your education and work experience (I am going from the information you have posted on LinkedIn.

a. I see you have a JD. I see that you are not a member of the Bar in CT or NY. Are you an officer of the court? Which state holds your license? What kind of law have you practiced? If you are not licensed to practice law, I'm curious: why not? How have you applied what you learned from your JD?

b. I see you have a Master's Degree in Education (PK-12). What did you learn from teaching elementary school that prepared you for where you are now? Other than being an EFM mentor and diocesan EFM coordinator, how have you used this degree?

c. I see you have an MA in Religious Studies. What did you learn there that prepared you for where you are now? How have you used this degree? What are the direct applications?

d. I see you are enrolled in the M.Div program at EDS@Union. Are you also an aspirant/postulate for Holy Orders? In which diocese? What are your vocational goals? 

3. I have read of the 2011 saga of your experiences in Norwich, CT. While I am deeply distressed about the two issues of concern at that time - absenteeism and personal attacks, both of which apparently were not mere allegations but documented evidence - I am less concerned about that (everyone makes mistakes) and more concerned about what you learned from that experience. How have you applied those lessons to be a better person?

4. Yes or no: Do you have any direct experience with

a. Fundraising?
b. Membership campaigns?
c. Board development?
d. Conflict resolution?
e. Reconciliation of disaffected community members?
f. Coalition building?

If so, please give concrete examples of your direct experience.

5.. You must know that part of the moral corruption and incompetence of the board has led to

a. The Integrity membership not knowing the number or identity of the voting members of the Stakeholder's Council (We also have no idea of how many members or the number of active chapters in Integrity). So, we have absolutely no idea whether or not this will be a sham election. Indeed, we have no reason to feel confident that it will be a valid election.

b. The Treasurer of the Board of Integrity refused to certify the membership of one person who was nominated to run for President, which led to the board disqualifying him because he would not sign a required form. Thus, you are the presumptive next president of Integrity.

Given this and the fact that, save one member of the board, all the board members were NOT elected but appointed - one, in fact, illicitly in direct violation of the bylaws:

(a) How does it make you feel knowing that, forever in the history of Integrity, the validity of your election will always be clouded with doubt in a way that has never happened to any other previous President of Integrity?

(b) What will you do to provide members a sense of confidence in the validity of your election?

I have other questions but they can rest for now. I am anxious to hear your responses because I think they have the potential to ease the minds of many members of Integrity and begin the process of healing and reconciliation.

One last thing: I need you to know that I love this organization. I have gladly given most of the best years of my ordained ministry in its service and I remain forever a grateful debtor for all Integrity has done for me and other Queer Episcopalians.

I hope you can do a good job as President. I am praying that you can do a good job as President. You and I may have different ways to define "good job" but, that's not what's important.  Either way, this position is going to call on every single skill and talent and strength you have learned or developed or experienced in the full quota of your life.

I pray you feel called to do this work, because if God has given you the will to do these things, God will also provide you the gifts of grace to accomplish them. If you are doing this for some other reason, well, I suppose that will be its own reward and I will pray for you all the more intentionally.

God bless. Thank you for your time.

(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
Okay, so I've given it quite a lot of thought and prayer and I'm not going to compromise my integrity for the total lack of integrity of this man. I'm not going to publish his letter to me as he requested.

In an email that he solicited, I am under no obligation to respond to his request.

I think, if I publish my response to him, you'll learn all you need to know, anyway.

So, here goes:
Dear Ronnie,

First, it's KAEton. Not KEAton. It would appear that attention to detail is not exactly your forte.
Second, I will be publishing my letter to you on my blog so I do not feel compelled to honor your request not to "publish, quote or paraphrase this email I'm sending to you."  You have done nothing to earn my trust. (NOTE: As I indicated, I will abide by his request.)

Your response confuses me and makes me sad.

First, you have not said ANYTHING that anyone would consider "confidential".  You have simply refused to answer my questions - as you have everyone else - by hiding behind a cloak of religiosity. That lacks integrity, which should hold you in good stead with a board that is sorely lacking in any integrity. They have kept secret the absence of the president and near-dissolution of the last elected board as well as the number (not identity, number) of members and active chapters; they have ignored legal requests like the one for "books and records" and the petition to change the bylaws signed by more than 10% of the estimated membership, and they have made up bylaws to suit themselves through a misapplication of a portion of Robert's Rules.

The complaints being filed with the Attorney General and the IRS will no doubt keep you and them busy through most of 2020.

You are the presumptive next President of Integrity. You are being "elected" in an uncontested election where the electors are not known in a system which was rigged by the Treasurer who would not disclose to one of the prospective candidates the status of his membership so the candidate would not sign his silly form stating he was a member (which the Treasurer would not confirm) and giving permission for Integrity to release that information.

It is positively Kafkaesque, by which I mean that Franz Kafka's characters overcomplicate their own lives through their fanatical, singular devotion to absurd conditions. Indeed, Kafka's character, Poseidon, is a prisoner of his own ego.

The condition of your "election"/appointment will forever cloud the authenticity of your position. I can't imagine anyone with a shred of integrity accepting a position under those conditions.

Then again, you may be just the answer to the prayers of many people that the next leader of Integrity would announce that Integrity is, in fact, dead and move to "sunset" the corporate IRS standing. I now have no doubt that you while you don't yet understand this - and may not ever understand it - you have, nevertheless, been placed in this uncontested position of leadership as the uncontested vehicle of the burial of a once-great organization of justice.

This will not be easy for you, personally or professionally. It will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects, much more damaging to you in The Episcopal Church than the unfortunate incident in which you found yourself in Connecticut.

I will continue to work to keep my promise to Louie before he died. I will continue to work toward truth-telling and transparency and responsibility of an organization I love and to which I feel deeply indebted. 

I wish you well but expect the worst. The work of IntegrityUSA remains even more fervently in my prayers.
Now, his follow up letter to me does not contain the same request not to publish his letter so I'm going to. It would appear he's changed his mind. At least, I think that's what he's saying. I welcome any honesty, no matter how tardy a guest it may be.
I will be taking the questions you posed and writing a response to be posted.  Understandable that you would post your email written to me.  I was indicating that I would not be posting your email.  I hope you can extend the courtesy to not  post, quote or paraphrase the reply that I sent to you.
Well, and that's about as much drama as I can take for today. 
Indeed, I think I've borrowed some "points" from tomorrow's total allotment of drama. 

My prayer is that this poor soul who clearly doesn't know what he's getting into will rescind his candidacy. 
I don't know what he thinks he's getting himself into but clearly, he has no idea of the reality that awaits him. 

Or, perhaps he does and that's exactly what greases his wheels and helps him to roll the way he rolls.
And, as I said, perhaps Ronnie is the answer to our prayers to help IntegrityUSA finally be allowed to be put to rest with all the dignity and respect it so richly deserves. 
If there is a Triennial Integrity Eucharist at General Convention 2021, I intend to be there. (I understand the 2018 service was a very pale shadow of its former grand self, with about 1/2 the attendance it normally enjoys). I hope it is a celebration of the Life of Integrity so we can rejoice in what once was, morn what is no more, and support what is going on in the local parish level.

That's the only way I know that resurrection will happen. 
Death first. Then, resurrection.

Good Friday before Easter Day. 

We live in sure and certain hope.


Lindy said...

Thank you, Elizabeth.

The Reverend Lisa K. Schoonmaker said...

Thank you for your unbelievable patience and endless attention to detail in addressing this troubling matter.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you both. I made a promise to Louie the day before he died to do the best I could to make the truth known. A promise is a promise. I hope Louie is smiling in heaven.

Mary Beth said...

I've been following all this with interest and great dismay. My only stake is that I'm an ally who, twice in the last few years, sent in forms and checks for membership, but received no reply. Now I know why.

Ward's manner in his Facebook posts and unwillingness to respond to direct questions is super, super, super weird and fishy. His election would be a mistake.

I suppose I'm just writing this to let you know how it looks to a concerned outsider.

Praying for you and all who are engaged here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Mary Beth. Having the perspective of a "concerned outsider" is more helpful than you could possibly know. I have to say this: Sometimes, in dealing with this board, I understand a little bit what Nancy Pelosi must feel like dealing with the GOP. The parallels are stunning. But, I'm resolved to stay with this: telling the truth, exposing the secrets, until we get to the point that we can celebrate what was, morn what is, and let something new spring up. Lord, have mercy.

Daphne/Maryland said...

Elizabeth, thank you for uour incredible service to Integrity USA. Many years ago (mid 1980s), Carol Burnside and I were the convenors of a joint Dignity/Integrity group in Tulsa Oklahoma. We participated in several national conventions of Integrity, and later attended Robert Williams installaion at Oasis. These organizations were life-giving and affirming to us at very important personal junctures. I am guilty of being someone who has "fallen away" from membership and involvement for many years now. I am nonetheless deeply saddened to read all that you have written in this and previous posts. Thank you for your commitment to Louie and to Integrity as we once knew it!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Daphne. I have lost all hope that the current leadership will change the trajectory of Integrity. It's absolutely heartbreaking.