Monday, March 19, 2018

Zig Zagging and God’s Love at United Lutheran Seminary

In’s article, Seminary blows its chance to show us what Christianity could look like, about the firing of United Lutheran Seminary’s President Theresa Latini, columnist Ronnie Polaneczky makes a valid point about the true nature of Christianity. Christianity, she claims, “is supposed to bravely and compassionately zig when humanity’s more base instincts, like fear or survival, make others zag.” This is a claim I support; my faith has instilled in me a different way of reacting to and understanding fear (of “the other” as well as, fear to act on their behalf) and survival (or what I would call protection of the ego.) Zigging through life in ways that are bravely compassionate is now my new favorite way of explaining what it looks like to be a Christian. 

I don’t think it’s what Christianity could look like – setting aside fear of otherness, setting aside the fears that come with acting on the behalf of others, and setting aside a need to protect one’s ego over the needs of others is what Christianity looks like. Polaneczky is right that the seminary (my alma mater) failed to zig in a Christian manner; they absolutely blew it, but not exactly the way her article suggests. You see, as Christians, we are primarily called to zig for those who are oppressed, abused, and outcast by society. We are called to bravely and compassionately act and speak on behalf of the vulnerable even and especially when doing so means putting ourselves at risk.  

There are a few things about the crisis that took place of which I have no doubt.  

I’m sure that Dr. Latini is hurting as a result of the ways in which information about her past was disseminated and I’m sorry that she is hurting. However, as President of ULS, she held a position of power which required her to fill a very public role. One of the criteria candidates for this position needed to satisfy was that they were affirming of LGBTQ+ persons. Her past included a pertinent piece of information on this exact thing, but she chose to only share this with one other person.  

This one other person, the Rev. Elise Brown, Chairperson for the Board of Trustees, failed to consider this information as being pertinent enough to share it with anyone else for 8 months. Less than halfway through those 8 months, Latini was appointed president. When Rev. Brown did finally share it with the rest of the board, they failed to consider the possibility that LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff might have some strong, negative, reactions including feelings of mistrust, PTSD-like anxiety, and fear – not of the other – but as the other. Then, in responding to the strong, negative reactions, they zagged all over the place. By calling unsafe spaces “safe” – ZAG. By placing the onus of confidentiality on subordinates – ZAG. By offering “apologies” that sounded a lot more like defending egos than “I’m sorry” – ZAG.  

All these people considered themselves to be Christians and to be allies and advocates for LGBTQ+ people.   Have no doubt, the people in power, who held control over all the information, and who made all the decisions: members of the Board of Trustees and Dr. Latini are not the victims here. Allies and advocates don’t get to be victims, because in order to be an ally or to advocate for others one needs to have authority, power, knowledge, and/or some kind of privilege the person or people in need of allies and advocacy doesn’t have. Allies and advocates don’t get to automatically decide what’s best just because they’re allies and advocates. One doesn’t get extra credits for being an ally and advocating for others doesn’t earn you cookies or salvation. 

“The way the school allowed the pain to fester for weeks, without a formal acknowledgment to students and staff that mistakes were made, only poured gas on the fire.” According to Polaneczky, “Latini took the brunt of the burns, culminating in her termination.” Yes, the board splashed flammable liquids all over the place and yes, I’m sure there were people who called Dr. Latini a Nazi, but the vision of what Christianity looks like was not blown by her being fired. It would not have been an act of brave or compassionate zigging had she remained. Courageous, compassionate zigging was her responsibility to enact as President of United Lutheran Seminary. It was the Board of Trustees responsibility to bravely and compassionately ensure that the person who held that position was capable of zigging – for the students, faculty, and staff. And in this circumstance, specifically for those who are LGBTQ+. 

Even vague suggestions that LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff overreacted (aka: awful accusations, cruel assumptions, and jarring reactions) or that their lack of humble, Christ-like, forgiveness turned Latini into a victim causing her to be fired – ZAG ZAG ZAG!   “Where was God in all of this? Where was grace, understanding, and forgiveness? Where was plain old Christian decency?” asks Polaneczky. “What an opportunity United Lutheran has squandered to show the rest of the world how God’s love can heal our wounded world — one tender, humble, transparent, and courageous conversation at a time.” 

Polaneczky might well have seen Latini’s firing as squandered opportunity, but on behalf of those of us (queer, cis, and het folk) who zigged our hearts out for the LGBTQ+ students of ULS, allow me to answer those questions she couldn’t.  

God was there in the crisis and hasn’t left. God’s grace, understanding, and forgiveness is always present, waiting for us to repent. Christianity isn’t about decency; it’s about faith in God who lived for us, died for us, and was resurrected for us. It’s about how that faith makes us accountable to and for one another so that we can live in relationship with God and each other.  

 What occurred at ULS happened because there were breakdowns in accountability by the people who were in charge. Yes, as Christians, we are supposed to forgive, but that doesn’t negate their responsibility to be accountable for those breakdowns. A lot of people were hurt by this, including Dr. Latini, and some gaping wounds have been left in Philadelphia and Gettysburg. But, God’s love will heal those wounds – have no doubt.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Struggle is Real

to strive to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance.
have difficulty handling or coping with
to engage in conflict
a conflict or contest
a determined effort under difficulties
a very difficult task

I’ve been keeping up with the story of Rob Porter since it first broke, but I’m only now feeling capable of writing about it. Anger over so many of this administration’s decisions and choices hasn’t stolen my voice; it’s flooded my system with too many words making it that much harder to put them in order. In the past, I’ve been able to translate my anger into energy to fuel my writing on domestic violence and abuse and other issues, but recently it’s become frustratingly difficult to do that. It’s taken me 15 minutes just to find the right words to write this paragraph.

I can blame the PTSD I now suffer as a survivor of domestic violence and abuse (DVA), but I am tired of this excuse – I’m tired of this mental health disorder that drowns me with its overload of emotions and how it leaves me gasping and grasping for words. But then, what words could possibly describe the wrongness of ignoring/dismissing/overlooking/whatever-you-want-to-call-it the abusive history of a man like Rob Porter when filling a position of power in the White House?

In an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, writes, “Telling others about the abuse takes strength. Talking to family, friends, clergy, counselors and, later, the FBI, I would often find myself struggling to find the words to convey an adequate picture of the situation.” Conveying an adequate picture of a situation of abuse might seem like an easy task. One would think that if a woman simply told a person in authority that their husband/boyfriend/lover controlled them, verbally assaulted them, beat them, threatened them, terrorized them, gave them a black eye, and had photographic evidence it would be enough. Except, it usually isn’t.

See, this is what it boils down to for me: the realities of my capabilities, strengths, struggles, limitations, and the realities and who I am now, as a result of having been a victim of DVA, are rendered meaningless each and every time an abuser gets appointed, promoted, chosen, and/or defended. It’s as if the people in charge looked me straight in the eye and said: what happened to you doesn’t matter, you don’t matter, and we don’t care if you matter or not. It’s as if those same people then turned towards my abuser and said, what you did to her doesn’t matter because you matter way more than she does. It’s no longer about the horrors of the abuse I went through; it’s the horror of realizing how easy it is for others to dismiss the abusive and violent behavior of my abuser.

But, I do matter. Victims and survivors of abuse matter. What’s more, abusive, violent behavior also matters. It matters if a person - any person – is abusive towards another. Violent, abusive behavior draws a pretty clear picture of a person. So why is it such a struggle for people to hear and properly process these definitive words?

Finding the words, the right ones, that make something click in the hearts and minds of the hearer/reader; the ones that paint so vivid a picture that they are drawn into it; the ones that reach them, change them, and call them to action – finding those words – is a constant, exhausting struggle. Words have always been my weapon of choice for defending myself and others. Words form my story – a story others have tried to silence and I have fought to tell anyway. Words, specifically my word and the word of witnesses to my abuse, are the only evidence I have for the abusive situation I was in. Words have meaning, they have power, and they should matter.

My words should matter. The words of Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby’s (Porter’s other ex-wife/victim) should have mattered. Their words should have detonated metaphorical fireworks under the bottoms of anyone and everyone involved in Rob Porter working in the White House. Their words should have been red flags smacking so hard upside the heads of those in authority that people like Chief of Staff, John Kelly, should still be dizzy from the impact. Their words should have mattered the moment they struggled free from the lips of these two survivors. No, it’s not enough to say that at least someone in the FBI thought that their words were worth keeping Porter from getting security clearances. Holderness and Willoughby’s words were whispered to an administration with a proclivity towards selective hearing a year ago when they should have been as loud as sirens screaming, “WARNING! DANGER! RUN! CATASTROPHIC FAILURE IMMINENT!”

Yet here I am, struggling with words. I am struggling to find words that will finally open the ears of those who don’t want to hear. I am struggling with adequately describing the destructive nature of domestic violence and abuse. I am struggling with finding words that will give people sufficient knowledge to make educated, intelligent, and good decisions. I am struggling to find the right words to present a clear explanation as to how dangerous domestic abusers are and can be – not just to the people with whom they are in relationships, but to any and everyone around them. I am struggling to find the words that will convince those in authority that abusers are manipulators, have narcissistic tendencies, often look great on paper as well as in public, and should not be placed or allowed to remain in positions of power.

The struggle is real and, as Colbie Holderness reminded me, it’s not just my struggle; it’s the struggle of at least one in every three women worldwide. I, and other survivors like me, shouldn’t have to spend our time struggling to find the words to describe the abuse that happened to us.

To get help, learn more about domestic violence and abuse, or get involved visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at

 Click here to read more statistics on domestic violence and abuse.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Reconcile or Leave

This is Part 3 in a series of articles about Sexual Harassment and the Church. To view other articles in this series, please click on the links at the bottom of the page.

Why don’t you just leave?

While trying to leave her abusive husband, Beth (not her real name) struggled with how her congregation might respond. “One thing that was advised to me was leaving the church. I actually ending up checking with (a clergy friend) and he agreed with the assessment” she told me as we commiserated over our shared experience of domestic violence. “Churches are sometimes too concerned with reconciliation to really handle these kinds of abuse situations well.”

In 2015, the ELCA completed its final version of a Social Message on Gender Based Violence, which includes the issue of domestic violence and abuse. The message talks about the church’s complicity in the victimization of women at the hands of their romantic partners, but it never says that those abusive partners are just as likely to be pastors as any other profession.

It also mentions reconciliation. In Beth’s case, the reconciliation she mentioned referred to churches who want to “fix” marriages by reconciling the relationship between spouses – even when one of them is an abuser. The social message, on the other hand, talks about being reconciled to God i.e., asking God for forgiveness for how the church has perpetuated violence and abuse towards women. Regardless of the distinction, I can’t help but remember my bishop asking me if there was “any chance of reconciliation” with my abuser, who is also an ordained pastor.

The church and those who represent it are in the business of forgiveness, so pushing the idea of reconciliation in relationships appears reasonable and dutiful. However, when one person in the relationship is abusive, the victim of that abuse is often forced to be reconciled to remaining a victim. The suggestion of reconciliation becomes an expectation that a victim has to stay in the abuse – constantly forgiving in order to be “reconciled.”

The other option/expectation granted to women who find themselves in abusive relationships is to leave. Asking women in abusive situations why they don’t leave may sound like a logical, reasonable question, but in reality it places full responsibility for the abuse on their shoulders alone. If a victim doesn’t leave then: it must not be that bad, the so-called victim must like it, or the victim must have made it all up. This option/expectation also assumes that victims have the resources to leave when, at best, their resources are usually limited and their choices are all scary.

Leaving isn’t impossible, but the consequences of doing so are manifold and have an impact on virtually every aspect of a victim’s life – emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, financially, and relationally. This isn’t just the case in married relationships. Imagine being a clergywoman who is being sexually harassed by a co-pastor in a new call. You’ve received little to no support from church authorities and the harassment is getting worse. You’ve only been at that congregation for a short time: more than 6 months, but less than 2 years. You have a spouse who has just found work in the same town and loves it. Your children have become acclimated to their new schools and are making friends. You’ve finally unpacked all the boxes. Now ask yourself, “why don’t I just leave?”

Despite the fact that Pastor W didn’t have another call to go to, she had made a choice to leave the congregation she had been serving for over 10 years. The congregation offered her a generous severance package equalling one week’s pay for each year she had served them. She spent her last days as their pastor attending her synod’s annual assembly, where pastors and representatives from each congregation gather to do church business.

One day away from her last official day of work, she found herself in a conversation with the man who had been her bishop (let’s call him Bishop A). Another bishop (Bishop B) had just been elected and Bishop A was about to retire. Their conversation had turned to the generous severance package her congregation had agreed to give her. Her excitement quickly turned to shock as Bishop A explained that he already knew their plans and had instructed them to take a “love” offering for her instead. He then added, “and W, you and your red hair have always made me hot.”

Pastor W had no choice but to accept the new severance package which only equaled a third of what she had been expecting. She kept quiet about what Bishop A had said and done with the exception of some family, a few close friends, and her new bishop. Time passed while she waited for word from Bishop B’s office of a potential new call. Instead, she heard through the grapevine, that as many as 6 different congregations had requested her by name, but were never given her paperwork. Needing an income, she eventually contracted work as a pastor of a church in another denomination.

It was during this time when she was contacted about joining in a lawsuit against Bishop A who had done the same things to associate pastors he had worked with prior to being elected bishop. Not being a litigious person, Pastor W didn’t want to add her name to the suit, but was subpoenaed and testified as a witness against the Bishop A. The plaintiffs won the court case against him, but 2 days later he was given a new commission by his national church. In other words, as Pastor W put it, “he can say that you’re hot, screw you out of money, and he still wins.”

Pastor W left her denomination and now serves as the senior pastor of a church where she is the first female pastor they have ever had. She’s had to develop techniques for dealing with the sexism she’s faced, ranging from subtle to overt, ever since. Coming to the realization that she’s not going to solve the misogyny problems of the congregation has given her a better sense of control. It’s also left her asking what she’s teaching her 15 year old daughter who has told her, “There are so many men that give you ‘manswers’ and so many men that allow it; I know it would be easier for you if you were a man.”

Some women choose to leave ministry altogether, but making that choice is not an easy one.

The question of the message we send our daughters factors into Pastor A’s story as well. An ordained Presbyterian minister, she has served congregations in 2 other denominations, worked as a hospital chaplain, and has experienced some form of misogyny in every setting. Currently struggling with deciding if she will remain in ministry she wonders what her choice will say to her 14 and 18 year old daughters. But, it’s not just the impact on her daughters she worries about. “What do I owe to other clergy women coming up behind me?” is just another of the many questions women in ministry wrestle with – especially when they have experienced sexual harassment by men in the church.

When clergywomen have to constantly focus on protecting themselves from sexual harassment and abuse it doesn’t just impact them; it affects their families, their congregations, and the overall public view of christianity. Thankfully, faith in God is not the same as trust in the church. “There are ordination vows Presbyterians take and one of them is submitting myself to the discipline of the church” Pastor A explains. “I am unwilling to do this because I no longer trust the Church as an institution.  It feels like if I act as a pastor, by my clothing and title I’m communicating that the church is trustworthy.”

Leaving isn’t impossible, but the notion of allowing an abuser to stay should be inconceivable. Leaving isn’t impossible, but it should never be the only option left available to a victim. Leaving isn’t impossible, but when a victim chooses to leave it shouldn’t eradicate all the potential possibilities and opportunities she could have.

“Why don’t you just leave?” is the wrong question to be asking. Instead, the question should be, what is the church willing to do to regain the trust of women like Beth, Pastor W, Pastor A, myself, and other clergywomen who have been victims of clergy misconduct.

Part 1 A Sign of Opposition and a Sword
Part 2 The Church's Casting Couch

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


This is Part 2 in a series of articles about Sexual Harassment and the Church. To view other articles in this series, please click on the links at the bottom of the page.
As women in professions ranging from everything from government, to entertainment, to tech industries to blue collar workers come forward with serious claims of terrible behavior by men in power, one field where women are still silent about their abuse is the church.
The stories of women being harassed and forced into unwanted sexual encounters in order to “make it” in Hollywood shouldn’t surprise us. We even have a term for it: the “casting couch”. We shouldn’t be surprised by all the allegations currently being made about those in the entertainment industry – even the most talented ones, or about politicians – even the politicians we voted for and support. The same should go for clergy. None of this should surprise us, but it should horrify us.
All of the women I spoke with wanted me to share their stories, but most asked that I not give their names or any identifying details of what had happened to them. These women have spent time on the church’s version of the “casting couch.” They are women who have served the church as paid and unpaid laity, seminarian students and ordained clergy and all of them have experienced some form of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and abuse by clergy and church leadership.
Their fears of being outed are legitimate and aren’t any different from those in other professions, white or blue collar.

In New York Time’s article, We Asked Women in Blue-Collar Workplaces About Harassment. Here Are Their Stories, it is the fear of not being able to work that keeps women from reporting harassment. “‘Regardless of who you work for, you will run into the same people over and over again who will not want to work with you just because you reported harassment,’ Concetta Defa, a construction worker in Utah, wrote. ‘In most cases women become unemployable because of it.’ That fear is one reason many experts in the field believe that sexual harassment is underreported — and remains rampant — in blue-collar workplaces.”

Pastor G found out too late that the senior pastor she was going to be working with had been investigated for sexual misconduct with another female pastor. While the story of what happened sounds a lot like sexual coercion and assault on his part, he wasn’t even sanctioned for committing adultery though he was married. 
Despite the fact that church officials had neglected to share this pertinent information with her before she accepted her call, members of the congregation were not so silent once she began working there. The lewd public displays of sexual behavior were well known in the community as other people in the area informed her they had left the church because “of all the sex stuff.”
Pastor G willingly admits that the gossip she heard was hear-say. While her own encounters with the senior pastor involved inappropriate sexual statements and bullying tactics, she did not see the blatantly lewd behavior first-hand. What she was told about the sexual misconduct case and his wild behavior came from third parties, but perhaps that’s part of the problem. When a pastor is accused of sexual misconduct and the allegations are substantial enough to warrant an investigation just how far should secrecy go and who is this confidentiality really meant to protect?
In the case of Pastor G and her congregation, disclosure that their senior pastor had been/was being investigated for sexual misconduct might have meant that allegations by other victims could have been investigated and a clearer, more complete picture of a predator could have been seen. 
When she reported her own experiences along with another witness, she was warned that she was not to discuss any of it with anybody and that they would never be able to place her in another call if she ever talked about it. She was told, just to keep your head down and keep quiet.
The phrase: “You’ll never work in Hollywood again” has serious meaning to all women. It doesn’t have to be spoken out loud to be said. It doesn’t matter that spokespeople for individuals, different organizations, and institutions deny sexual harassment or make claims to the contrary. Sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in the workplace are deeply ingrained in our patriarchal culture. 
Women who get harassed at work – regardless of the field – have lived with some form or another of imposed silence because they have had to in order to work and to survive. As one pastor told me, “Yeah. I've got friends with worse stories than mine but they're interviewing for jobs so [they’re] not able to share either. The veil of silence the church imposes is real. You cry foul, you’re labeled a troublemaker.”
Why have women stayed quiet? HR departments, unions, bishop’s offices, etc. might claim that they are there to support individuals within an organization, but ultimately the onus is on them to protect the organization. Yes, there are many examples, especially within the church, of confronting the issue and caring for victims (stayed tuned for that article), but there are still too many that don’t.
“Yeah” says “L” The silencing is so hurtful.” L and I have been corresponding for almost a year now. Since I’ve known her, she has fearfully struggled with going public about any of her story. When I messaged her the link to Part One of these articles she responded: “Christine, thanks for the article.  I just sent you an email.  A friend of mine tried to reach out to Bishop Eaton (the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA) about my situation.  I sent you her request and the formal reply. I am sure that she doesn’t want her name attached to this.  Of course, none of us do.  If you tell my story, you can say that an intern was fired and publicly blamed after being molested by her supervising pastor.  A pastor who had been accused of sexual harassment by his previous intern.”
In the emails L references, her friend reached out to the ELCA because she saw a situation of sexual misconduct being handled inappropriately by a synodical bishop. In that initial contact, the fact that L was still being victimized was made clear: “As a life-long Lutheran I am in a spiritual crisis watching our Church allow one man (Synod Bishop) to have all this power over a tragic situation. Watching the victim continue to be re-victimized by the Bishop and others is heartbreaking & extremely upsetting.”
Herfriend was contacted by the Assistant to the Presiding Bishop for Governance who stated that, “The ELCA's governing documents do not give the presiding bishop any authority to intervene. Bishop Eaton also does not supervise synod bishops.” The bishop’s assistant offered the name of the person in the ELCA  to whom reports of sexual misconduct could be made (who was already aware of the situation), then added that a copy of their correspondence had been sent to L’s bishop.
Perhaps the reason why L and I bonded was the hope we had both shared that eventually someone from within our denomination’s hierarchical structure would stand up for us. Perhaps we bonded because it often felt intentional when our hope was shattered.
Why would someone on the staff of the presiding bishop copy that email to the person who was being accused of victimizing L? Why wouldn’t that person have investigated further before responding the way she did? Couldn’t she have spoken to the ELCA contact on misconduct about the situation herself? Why is there no recourse for a person who has experienced wrongdoing by their bishop?
L learned about the church’s casting couch the hard way. Her internship ended prematurely when her supervisor-pastor forced her onto his couch then blamed her for his misconduct. He lost his position, but so did she. Unable to finish internship she’s also been unable to finish the process needed to be ordained.
We women chose to go into the field of ordained ministry in order to, as the hymn goes, tell the story of Jesus and his love. Sexual harassment, abuse, assault and the responses of those in positions of power to victims should not be an impediment to telling that story.
Yeah, the silencing is indeed hurtful.

A Sign of Opposition and a Sword

This is Part 1 of a series on Sexual Harassment and the Church.

I’ve always known that pastors could be misogynists and predators. I am a daughter of a former bishop of the ELCA and a former church office manager. The latter, my mother, finally left her position at the congregation where my family were members, when she could no longer take the sexist comments and commands of our pastor (racism played a huge part in her decision as well.) This happened in the late 80’s. I was in high school and painfully aware of what my mother was experiencing. We then joined another church where the senior pastor was a woman.

My dad, already serving on synod staff became bishop in 1990. It was during that time that the ELCA was creating policy in regards to clergy sexual misconduct, specifically, but not exclusively, on what to do when a pastor was accused of sexually abusing a child. To put the timeline of events into perspective, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight division broke the story on the Catholic Church’s cover-up of priests who had sexually abused young boys on January 6, 2002. I remember overhearing stories of my dad having to confront pastors who had done seriously inappropriate things to females ranging in age from child to adult. I believe that some of those pastors had been classmates of his; some of them might have even been friends. My dad’s response -in each case- was to treat accusations of misconduct as credible, confront the accused, remove those found guilty from their pastoral office, and care for congregations involved openly and honestly.

Being their daughter gave me an insider’s perspective on the realities of how clergy (specifically male clergy) could abuse their power for personal sexual gain. My parents modeled a belief that sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault was something the church didn’t tolerate and that God opposed, but I still knew then and I still know now that clergy can be misogynists and predators.

While the dam has burst on sexual harassment and assault in the workplace spilling forth the waters of accusations from a wide range of professional women, one industry in particular, religion, seems to remain unscathed and largely unmentioned. Strangely, it’s an industry with a high profile past of sexual misconduct and cover-ups in the workplace. When the Boston Globe ran their article attention was given to the horrific way that the Catholic Church was purposefully covering up abuse and therefore allowing it to continue.

Altar boys being molested by priests who were simply moved to new parishes to molest new altar boys was turned into a skewed belief, by some, that these priests were gay, but my knowledge of clergy sexual misconduct gave me the ammunition I needed to argue back. Pedophilia, hebephilia, and ephebophilia have nothing to do with sexuality – it’s about power. After all, Protestant pastors weren’t abusing girls in their congregations because they were heterosexual. But the Globe, in outing the misconduct and cover-up, focused on stories of men who had been sexually abused when they were boys. Scandals involving clergy who have committed sexual misconduct towards girls and women have yet to be seen as equally newsworthy.

My own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), passed a resolution on making the church a safe place, free from sexual abuse and harassment at its churchwide assembly in 1989. The “Assembly called upon each synod to create policies and procedures to empower victims to report incidents of sexual abuse, provide healing for victims, and safeguard the rights of those accused.” In 1992, the ELCA’s Church Council took actions “To affirm the proposed four-year implementation of an ELCA strategy for responding to sexual abuse in this church (as contained in the document, ‘An ELCA Strategy for Responding to Sexual Abuse in the Church’)

Most church denominations have policies and procedures on clergy misconduct, and while many of those who have the authority to implement them do so well and to the best of their ability, stories of abuse, harassment, silencing, and cover-ups still happen. I was ordained in 2001 and have my own personal story of being the victim of clergy misconduct. My ex husband and I met and were married during seminary; the marriage ended 16 years later when he was arrested and sent me to the hospital. When he was welcomed back to his congregation, months before our bishop took the time to meet with me face to face, I remember telling my therapist, “No, I’m not at all surprised; I’m disappointed.” My only recourse in dealing with the way I was treated by leadership in the congregation and the Bishop’s Office came by telling my story publicly, but doing so came at a price. I was re-victimized, threatened, ostracized, blacklisted, and lied to by the very people I had believed would – as Christians – offer me the support I deserved as a victim.

If I couldn’t get the justice I wanted I became determined to expose the injustice I had suffered. A vast majority of hearers validated my outrage, offered me prayers, and expressed their sorrow at how I was treated. Harvey Weinstein was still a powerful man in Hollywood and few people were familiar with the “MeToo” hashtag at that point, but the more I shared my story the more others reached out to me to share their own stories of abuse and the hurtful ways they had been treated by church authorities in the ELCA and other denominations.

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” Luke 2:34-35 

Simeon’s words to Mary seem apropos to me, especially now, as sexual harassment continues to grab headlines. Each time I hear a story of another man’s fall from the public’s grace I feel deep stabs of pain for the women who have suffered. I’ve listened for the church – any church or denomination -  to make some kind of public statement decrying the sexism and misogyny that has allowed such abuse, but those I have heard are not much more than a whisper. The loudest “Christian” voices on the subject sound the least like Jesus and as much as I want to blame conservative evangelicals for being the only ones who are trying to rationalize excuses for men who do these things, I can’t. I have heard too much evidence to the contrary and I know, for a fact, that my own personal experience of abuse, forced silence, victim-blaming, non-accountability, and retaliation is still the norm in both the secular world and in the religious world.

It’s almost Christmas as I write this; people all over the world are rushing around trying to prepare for this holiday commemorating the birth of a baby who, as Simeon put it, is meant “to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” As a woman who still believes in Jesus, I want to reclaim the Sign that generations of men have tried to tell us reads that God intended women to be objects for their use and pleasure, because that’s simply not what the Sign says. To paraphrase the words of the Sign’s own mother, “with one swoop of an arm, God scatters those that believe they are too important to have to play by the rules. God grabs seats of authority out from under the powerful and dumps them on their butts; God takes those, who have been used and tossed in the dirt, by their hand, helps them to stand upright, gives them justice, and restores their dignity. (Luke 1:51-52).

I want to reclaim that Jesus; the one who the system has forced us to oppose – the one who proclaimed clearly, in all caps, with bold font, and in larger than life print, that God places great and equal value on each of us regardless of class, color, nationality, sexuality, or gender. In the posts that follow this, I will be sharing stories of clergywomen who have shared their stories of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault with me. What their stories reveal is just how far religious authorities/institutions have come when they encounter clergy misogynists/predators and how very far behind the church still is in responding to and caring for female victims.

This story can also be found on Medium.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"holy" crap

i decided to check my email this morning before getting ready for church. i needed time to sit and drink my coffee and have a simple and easy task i could perform while my daily caffeine kicked in.

this is the first email i clicked on:

I just saw your church listed as a GAY friendly church on

To accept sexual deviancy as normal is a sin.
You put your soul in danger of eternal damnation for welcoming unrepentant homosexuals into God’s house. You blaspheme the Name of God.
Homosexuality should be criminalized. Homosexuals commit crimes against God, against nature, against the Holy Bible and against the human race.
Because of your church, I now know why God wrote:
Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Romans 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell
because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins
and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and
take away my sins and give me eternal life.

Rev Donald Spitz

i chose not to add it to my spam folder until i had a chance to add it here. now let me warn you that if you click on the link to army of god you will be taken to a home page with horrific pictures of dead babies and a "lovely" little rant as to why the murder of abortionist george tiller was justified. honestly, it is not worth looking at; just trust me and don't go there.

now what's funny about this email is that it was even sent to me in the first place. honestly, did they really believe that sending it would make me change my mind about homosexuality? did they really think that i would read this and suddenly "repent?"

it's also somewhat funny/disturbing that they found my email address at i couldn't find any church i served or belonged to on the list (although i'm pretty sure that at least one church i served was on the list at one point in time.)

what's not funny about this (and oh, there are SO many un-funny things about this organization) is the time and energy that was wasted in just sending out this email; time and energy that could have been spent legitimately helping someone. if nothing else it could have been time spent telling someone that God loved them ~ because that's what being a christian is actually supposed to be about.

luckily, lrns, my awesome brother had also sent me pictures of my nephew being ridiculously cute and adorable to temper my temper about the email from the "reverend" spitz. then i went to church where Jesus' love wasn't just talked about but also enacted by the people there. and yes, we have a gay couple at church and what's amazing is how much of a non-issue it is to everyone. the fact they they are gay just doesn't seem to matter at all - to any of them.

i thought about replying to spitz's email, but that would be a really dumb so instead i'm going to respond to it by continuing to live a life of acceptance and love of my neighbor - as best as i can - and encourage you all to do the same.

God's peace y'all

Sunday, November 06, 2011

displaced, but not without a home

Last Saturday as I was valiantly attempting to finish a wedding/costume dress for my Meggles’ Halloween wedding a nor easter decided to reign terror down upon Connecticut.  Since I had spent more hours fighting with my sewing machine than actually sewing up to that point imagine my frustration when the power went out and I was unable to even hand stitch anything. This is what I get for volunteering myself for so much, but Meggles’ is my long lost prodigal sister and she and the short man started dating when she lived with us over 8 years ago in New Jersey. I was there standing with her in my bathroom when she read the positive pregnancy test that heralded the coming of the purple pixie. Being back in one another’s lives is a really joyful gift and while I admittedly went overboard, I was not under any duress when I jumped.

I only discovered that they wanted to get married on Halloween about a month ago which was about the time that they decided to finally do it. Eight years and 2 more kids later they finally agreed that it was about time. I wrote the ceremony, made the headpieces, boutonnieres, corsages, wedding favors, and cannibalized my wedding dress to make a black and blue renaissance themed dress. When I say that I was sewing up to the last second, well that’s not entirely true… actually I was doing her hair up until the last second.
It was amazing and totally worth it despite all the stress and they insisted that we stay with them until our power came back on at home. Living with 2 extra adults and 3 more kids under the age of 8 has been an experience. Usually I wouldn’t volunteer to put myself in any kind of position like this because I would never put anyone else in the position to volunteer themselves to have us unless they were biologically obligated. The Silent Prince is able to destroy any home within seconds. The short man walked into the bedroom we’ve been staying in  a few hours ago, took one look at the wreckage and declared, “I love it!” Let me be clear that when I say wreckage I am not even coming close to accurately describing the state of the bear cubs’ room. And the Prince has discovered how to climb up into the top bunk.

It really sucks not being able to be in my own home, surrounded by all the things that make me comfortable and allow me to do what I need to do, but this has been truly wonderful. I’ve had a boost of energy that I don’t typically have – I’ve even helped with dinner 2 nights in a row – even after a full day of stuff! It’s not exactly been a vacation, but it’s not easy to describe it in human terms any other way. I’ve been displaced before; I’ve been unable to go home for all sorts of reasons in the past. It’s rare that I’ve been in this kind of position and still felt “at home”, but that’s what it’s been.

And the best part is feeling like it’s also been true for the people whose home it actually is. Hubby went home for the night so that he could get to work tomorrow. A neighbor texted me to tell me that they were headed home because the power was restored about the same time hubby got a call from another neighbor that all our lights were on. When I shared the news with meggles and the short man there was a combined reaction of that’s awesome and but we don’t want you to leave. Hubby will return tomorrow and we’ll stay one more night then head home sometime on Friday. It’s a relief that we can return to our sense of normal and that we will be doing so with minimal stress because we’ve been here.

I’ve never believed that God causes tragedy in anyone’s life to “teach them a lesson”, but I do believe that God takes the tragedy in life and repaints the picture for us if we are willing to wait for the brush strokes. My new picture has been of a second home coming out of a nor’easter.

God's peace y'all

Saturday, September 24, 2011


well, this is embarrassing. i accidentally published my draft then was certain that i had gotten it to revert back from a published post to a draft. i then promptly forgot about it because i expected that i would get back to writing the draft - no worries.

except that my draft didn't go back to being a draft; it stayed a post without me knowing.

so if you read the post on autism and faith please forget it - that way it will be new the next time you read it.

God's peace y'all

"and vivian followed."

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