Episcopal Inaction Over Bullying: Time for General Convention to Act

Bullying hurts the entire church

In 2015, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark issued a wonderful report on the scourge of bullying, as well as a framework to address it. While many Episcopal dioceses, parishes, and other entities have lauded the work, far too few have actually done anything to implement its recommendations, including a proposed mechanism to address building when it occurs in churches.

As someone who has been bullied in Episcopal churches by both clergy and laity, I find this tremendously disappointing.

So, before we go further, let’s look at the report, “Fostering Respect in Church Settings: Collaborating to Reduce Bullying within our Church Community,” and its findings and recommendations. 

  • The report rightly calls bullying “abuse,” further noting “[b]ullying also leads to reputational damage for the wider church, the individual congregation and for the clergyperson or layperson that is the subject of bullying.”
  • “A person who is bullied may suffer emotionally, psychologically, physically, socially and spiritually. The impact of bullying can be life long and affect the person, their relationships and their capacity for ministry.”
  • The report notes the importance of parishes establishing normative standards for behavior, adding, “The behavior of clergy, lay leaders and those with pastoral responsibilities is as important as any formal policy.”
  • Importantly, the report notes that there is, at present, no definition of bullying within the Episcopal canons.
  • The report recommends a formal response in cases in which local efforts are not effective in resolving incidents of bullying. In such cases, elected parish officials are encouraged to contact a diocesan intake officer. That is highly problematic, because my experience suggests that intake officers are unwilling to address bullying. Thus, reporting matters to an intake officer only makes things worse, as the victim of bullying gets a “Notice of Dismissal,” and the bully is allowed to ratchet up his or her efforts.

What Can We Do?

Ideally, General Convention would address the matter church wide by specifically including bullying as one of the behaviors within the purview of Title IV when it meets in 2018. Additionally, including the topic of bullying in the Title IV training materials now under development would be helpful.

Meanwhile, dioceses and parishes can adopt the model policies and procedures developed by the Diocese of Newark. Equally importantly, church leaders at every level can make clear, through their words and example, that bullying is an egregious violation of the baptismal covenant.

The Diocese of Newark materials are here.

About Eric Bonetti

I'm a cradle Episcopalian, living in Northern Virginia. My interests include writing, policy, sports, cooking, volunteer work, good food and wine, and teaching kids' cooking classes. I retired in 2017 and now just work for fun. I'm also a regular contributor to Episcopal Cafe, and have been published at HuffPo and other major sites and publications.
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