Some time ago, my family and I had a bad experience with the rector of our supposedly affirming, welcoming Episcopal parish. While the details are not germane to this blog, and we have moved past the specifics of that situation, I learned a great deal from my experiences.
Foremost, I learned just how hard it is to address abusive clergy behavior in mainline, liberal denominations. We talk a good game, but the reality is that there are few limits on clergy behavior, and even fewer ways to obtain redress of one’s grievances. Only the most tenacious can take on an abusive member of the clergy, and doing so takes a tremendous toll in terms of time, money, and stress. In short, the cure all too often is worse than the disease.
There’s another wrinkle to all of this, which is that one of the reasons abusive clergy flourish in mainline denominations is that the stereotype is that only our evangelical brothers and sisters suffer from these issues. Hierarchies have ways to address these issues, the argument goes, and so it is primarily community churches that face these challenges.
Yet all too often, it is this very stereotype that provides cover to abusive clergy. In an inversion of logic, abusive clergy will say, “Well, if these complaints were true, someone would have complained long ago,” But the reality is that the family system, incorporated into the structure of many progressive denominations, provides a powerful disincentive against rocking the boat. Those who do so instinctively know that they face a two-fold risk: Denominational officials will turn a blind eye or dismiss complaints of misconduct out of hand, while local clergy and laity will ostracize and exclude the person who complains. Moreover, denominational officials all too often use the same faulty logic. Because there have been no previous complaints, they contend, your present complaint is inherently suspect.
This blog is an attempt to explore these issues, to share my observations, and to perhaps engage in further conversation about the cancer of abusive behavior in mainline denominations.
One important note: While my experiences with abusive clergy — and I’ve now dealt with three clergy bullies — inform my writing, at the same time this blog is not an effort to discuss the behavior of any specific clergyperson. Thus, nothing here should be construed as a comment about a specific person, unless I identify that person by name.
If you or someone you know has experienced abusive behavior in church, I am certainly willing to listen and perhaps assist in any way I can. My contact information is on the “contact me” page of the site.