When Affirming Churches Become Shunning Churches: Allegations of Mistreatment by Grace Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

“If you're horrible to me, I'm going to write a song about it, and you won't like it. That's how I operate.”  ― Taylor Swift link
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Rector Bob Malm

I have been praying for an opportunity like this for years. I have always contended that abuse of church members happens in all theological realms within Christianity. Of course, we know about the child sex abuse scandal of the Catholic church. TWW has written about abuses in the NeoCalvinist churches, Acts 29 churches, Sovereign Grace Ministry churches, 9 Marks churches, the Southern Baptist Convention churches, those churches aligned with the Prosperity Gospel, etc.

Our critics have often condemned us for not exposing issues within Progressive churches. We did write about the horrible mess regarding the divorce of Tony Jones and Julie McMahon and the custody battle for the children. It was obvious that I supported Julie in her cause, raising money to support her. We have also written about the abuse of John Yoder in the Mennonite community.

In this post What Tony Jones Should Learn From Stanley Hauerwas About Marriage, I critiqued the Progressive community when it came to their own allegiance to celebrity leaders.

I know that progressives, moderates and conservatives disagree on lots of theology. However, all three groups are equally capable of making up theology to justify bad behavior. At this point, it is not a theological argument. It has become a game of rationalization. You know the old saw. "Did God really say….?"

Here's the deal for me. That spiritual™ wife stuff was absolute codswallop! And anyone who played that game ought to be ashamed of themselves. Emergents are not the only ones who can call out baloney.

Grace Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

It takes a lot of trust to approach a blogger that you do not know personally and yet that is exactly what Eric Bonetti did. We had a couple of conversations about his trials and abuse in Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA as well as with The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

It should not come as a surprise that this church is progressive and affirming. Eric and his partner Mike, were the first same sex couple married in this church. This post is not going to be a debate on liberal versus conservative theology. Instead, it is going to be an incredible look at how those outside of evangelicalism can be abusive to the point of shunning.

Eric was very patient with this overwhelmed blogger, giving me space over a number of weeks to try to organize my thoughts on this while at the same time dealing with (and continuing to deal with) some child sex abuse stories out of Memphis along with some kind notes and requests from readers that I have yet to respond to.

Eric is theologically astute when it comes to church polity which made our conversations most interesting. He acknowledged that we might not agree on some things but that he respected this blog's focus on abuse. That, folks, made me happy since that is our hill to die on. At the same time, Eric was humble, saying he knows he made some mistakes in his responses but he was so hurt by the events that it was hard to stay calm. I reassured him that anyone who has been abused acts and feels in similar fashion. This is about abuse, not how *nice* a victim is when they are abused. This is also when I knew I was dealing with an introspective and thoughtful person.

Yes, there has been bad behavior on my side of the fence. No doubt about it. 

He started a blog called Grace Episcopal Survivors and have read all 84 posts on his blog seeking to fully understand his trials. In so doing, I realized that Eric has summarized his abuse in a way that will be recognizable to readers of this website. It is so well done that I am going to permanently link to it on our blog. I have done my best to summarize a well documented journey. I hope I have done it justice.

I would suggest that Episcopalians and others who are members of denominations which have hierarchies pay particular attention to his thoughts on the failure of the diocese system. He knows his canon law. Recently, there have been some people on social media who have been discussing how they have found a home in the Episcopal church after leaving an abusive church in evangelicalism. Let this be a warning that even liberal churches can abuse.

Note to the inevitable lawyers for the church and the diocese:

Put the word allegation in front of everything. None of this has been proven in a court of law. However, in reading Eric's blog posts and in speaking with him, I have come to the conclusion that he is telling the truth and I believe him. I write this post in the interest in bringing positive change to Grace Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. I believe that Eric has done the same with his writings.

I apologize to Eric, in advance, in having to shorten his thoughtful analysis of many of the situations that he describes. However, it's enough to get us started and we have a weekend to see what questions are raised. Eric, thank you for  trusting me to tell your story. 

It is all about money and poor behavior on the part of the pastor.

The two main issues that surround this entire debacle are financial mismanagement on the part of the church and the bullying behavior exhibited by Pastor Bob Malm towards Eric and members of his family.

Eric was the junior warden at the church. He also spent much time dealing with serious infrastructure issues in the outdated building such as an old heating and cooling system, electrical problems, serious leaks in the plumbing, etc. Since he is handy at repairs, he handled much of this himself, including ripping out moldy walls, etc. He was also kind to the church staff, baking them his wonderful chocolate chip cookies (I want the recipe) and showing concern for the well being of the pastor when he fractured his spine and needed to be put in a halo brace.

As Eric spent more and more time at the church, he became increasingly aware of the financial situation.

In the meantime, my understanding of just how shoddy parish business practices were deepened. Not only was Charlotte, the parish administrator, a hoarder, but she had no filing system. Just the mounds of paper in her office. As a result, bills often got paid late.

Even more troubling, bank reconciliations were few and far between. A friend of mine who works for BB&T, the parish's bank, complained to me that deposits were frequently different than what was on the deposit ticket. There was no preventive maintenance schedule, no meaningful saving for future capital expenditures, a chaotic and improperly deployed church management database, and rapidly declining revenue at a time of increasing expenses.

Meanwhile, Bob refused to comply with written parish policy requiring that members of the executive committee receive full financial reports, including those of the school. Instead Bob said, "Well, I see them." Hardly reassuring, given that one parish employees was overpaid for many months before it was discovered. But since only Bob and the parish administrator saw line items for payroll, there was no way anyone else could spot the issue. That particular employee, hardly overpaid, was forced to repay the funds. Meanwhile, my belief is it's highly unlikely that the parish administrator made an error when calling setting up payroll for this person, since the church uses ADP for payroll. Instead, my belief is that, when negotiating the salary for this person, Bob exceeded the amount approved by the vestry, but figured no one would ever find out. So when a subsequent parish administrator alerted Bob to the issue, Bob's only choice was to throw the employee under the bus.

Most alarming were the results of an analysis I did of parish revenue and expenses. In it, I correlated several factors, including membership levels, pledges versus actuals, and timing of revenue versus end of year results. What I learned is that, while total giving had held relatively steady, the number of pledging units had dropped sharply in recent years, In addition, recent budgets had been largely fictional. One year, estimates of revenue were exaggerated, while the following year estimates of expenses were facially too low. Yes, one can hope that one's expenses will decline, but the combination of an aging facility, already too-low expenditures for maintenance, and across-the-board increases for staff and clergy (regardless of work performance), are a perfect storm in the making.

The long and short of it? Assuming current cost structures, the parish was set to become insolvent in the summer of 2016. (The vestry subsequently kicked the can down the road yet again by further cutting maintenance of the physical plant. This is almost always a disaster, as deferred maintenance is much more costly than preventive maintenance.)

He believed that a financial audit was needed. 

Internal controls were not adequate to prevent one parish employee being overpaid for many months.

The vestry does not receive full financial reports, including those of the school, which is not a separate entity. Thus, while school board members appear to have done an excellent job in all aspects of their work, vestry members are not, at present, fulfilling their legal obligations to the parish and diocese. "I had someone in place that I trusted," doesn't cut it, legally or ethically.

We have repeated instances of the bank statements not being reconciled on a timely basis.

More than $1200 in loose cash, as well as stale checks, were uncovered from the former parish administrator's offices after her departure. This, despite the fact that written parish policy forbids staff from counting offerings.

I personally observed the previous parish administrator and her daughter shredding documents late at night prior to end of the parish administrator's tenure with the church.

For many years, personnel and accounting files have been virtually nonexistent, instead just sitting around in heaps.

There have been multiple instances of facially inaccurate financial reports.

Bob Malm assured vestry members that there was no evidence of fraud following the departure of the previous parish administrator. With the prior year's audit left undone (it had been started the summer before, but work stopped when the parish administrator allegedly failed to provide needed information), such a representation is, at a minimum, risky.

Vestry members have not seen audit opinion letters in many years, and Jeff Aaron was not at all cooperative when I asked about the status of the audit.

There is evidence of multiple instances of misuse of funds, including the memorial donations made by my family and the time when the parish administrator told me that she had misapplied my pledge payments to another account. Really? I'm supposed to believe that all year long she was posting payments to the wrong account and never noticed?

BB&T, the church's bank, has complained repeatedly about our deposits being "off," or not matching the deposit ticket. Given that the counters are all well-educated, I find it difficult to believe that they are the source of this issue.

Bob Malm was not at all surprised when I told him of BB&T's complaints about the deposits.

Dee's "professional" analysis of the finances? They sound screwed up. So why the hullabaloo when Eric brought it up?

Your two humble and adorable blog queens hold MBAs. We can tell you that this is one church that needs an audit and some smart people  to get their financial affairs in order. It is too darn bad they didn't trust Eric who actually cared about the church. It is probably obvious, at this point, to regular TWW readers that Eric was going to receive blow back if the church was not run by and open, kind and scrupulous individual.

And he was not pleased which makes Dee wonder why… If the pastor had been sick and been away for a long time, it would make lots of sense that things would be in disarray. Why didn't he just get the financial stuff together unless there was something he didn't want people to see? Does anyone have any other ideas why he would get so mad over something as mundane as financial accountability?

The shunning behavior begins.

A member of the church attacked a family member

Mike, Eric's partner, works for the intelligence community and this note came from a church member.

Comment: Eric, does Mike know you're doing this? When I file a restraining order against you, it will affect his security clearance. Are you sure you want that? Kirk

Similarly, how am I supposed to feel when Bob explicitly singles out Mike as part of his campaign of harassment and retaliation? In that situation, matters that I might well have ignored utterly were they only addressed to me will, naturally enough, result in a vehement, bare-knuckles brawl. Bob, I always knew you were a bully, but you have broken even those boundaries.

Pastor Bob Malm breached Eric's expectation of confidentiality.

Episcopal priests are required to maintain the confidences of others. Per Title IV, Canon 4.1 (a), all clergy must protect and preserve confidences entrusted to them. Additionally, there are specific provisions in the canons that further restrict the ability of priests to share information entrusted to them.

Despite these strictures, my priest, Bob Malm, is known to have divulged confidential matters, as follows:

  • At least twice to Jeff Aaron, the director of parish operations at Grace Church.
  • At least once to Amy Medrick, parish administrator at Grace Church.
  • At least twice to Jeff Chiow , 2016 junior warden at Grace Church.
  • At least once to my father, Frank Bonetti.

Eric asked the poignant question: Is this what Jesus would do?

  • The church refused to allow flowers to be displayed even though Eric gave money for that to occur.
  • They denied him entrance into the building by changing the pass codes given to the members.
  • They removed him from the parish directory.
  • They deleted him from the parish mailings.
  • They refused to pray for him during church when he was in the hospital last year.(Can you imagine?)

Bob appeared to tell Eric to "move along" and leave the parish.

This was not true. At this point, Eric was still planning to stay at the church but it appeared that the pastor wanted him gone. Note the immediate removal of Eric from email lists which seems to prove one Eric's previous allegations directly above this.

From: Bob Malm <  bob.malm@gracealex.org>  
Date: July 15, 2015 at 3:03:13 PM EDT  
To: Eric Bonetti 
Cc:  leslie.steffensen@gracealex.org  
Subject:  new parish?  

Eric… Recently I asked Leslie if she had been in touch with you before and/or after she was away last week. She told me she spoke to you while at St. Thomas  a while back for a meeting she attended…she said you spoke to her about finding a new parish and transferring from Grace Church…and she also told me she exchanged e mails with you this week and you mentioned attending St. Paul’s K. St…..I will inform both Mike Jones and Barry Joyner that you will not continue to serve at Grace as either a LEM nor a Trustee of the Trust…and I will ask that you be removed from their e mail lists…..when you(and Mike) find a parish and are ready to transfer, please ask them to send us a L.O.T. Thank you for your service to Grace in the past. May God bless you as you join a new faith community. Bob   

The church refused to accept his donation to display flowers and and instead allegedly used the money for other purposes (shades of Mars Hill!) saying he was no longer a member.

After hiring an attorney, his funds were eventually returned.

Dear Mr. Bonetti,

Grace Church will not accept any contributions (for any designation) including pledge, flowers, Trust, etc. from you and / or Mike Smith. Your Vanco Accounts are closed. We have refunded the funds you have previously given. You and Mike Smith have not been active members at Grace Church for many months.

Eric, a church canon guru, pointed out that they could not revoke his membership, even if he didn't attend for a short period of time.

Good night! I would want a break after all of this nonsense.

Active membership in the Episcopal Church is specified in the canons, and per those definitions, I remain an active member. Neither you, nor Bob, nor Amy, nor the vestry may redefine membership. Moreover, the matter is a red herring–whether one is an active member or an inactive member, nothing allows a parish to terminate a parishioner's membership.That is true even if a parishioner is excommunicated.

Eric believed that Bob autocratic behavior could lead to potential danger when it came to the protection of children at the church.

I am so glad that Eric showed concern for the vulnerable children in his church! How many would think of this?

To this mix comes his autocratic approach to parish governance. For example, written parish policy specifically forbids renting the facility to for-profit groups, yet Bob in 2014 unilaterally approved the school's signing of a contract with Steve and Kate's Camp, a for-profit operation. The contract was signed before the vestry even knew about it, and the summer camp is not in any way compliant with diocesan sexual misconduct policies. Indeed, children roam the building with few restrictions and very limited supervision, and in few, if any, cases are there two unrelated adults with each child at all times. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

The final straw: A church representative told Eric's prospective employer that he is untrustworthy! Unbelievable!

At this point, Eric obtained legal representation.

 A company, conducting a background check of me for employment purposes, contacted the church. This made sense, as my volunteer work as junior warden covered a period of extended unemployment. Leslie Steffensen was among those interviewed, and she allegedly said of me, "I'm not sure I would trust him with money. There were lots of questions about his work done for the church." And before you ask, yes, I have the transcript in writing.

The church threatened to sue him for financial losses and slander.

Eric and some of his family left comments about the church on Google. They are still on Google Reviews under the name of the church. In case the church is not aware of this, a similar lawsuit instituted by a church against our good friend, Julie Anne Smith who also writes a blog was a total loss for the church which had to pay all of Julie Anne's expenses. The lawyers can read about it here. Eric was also aware of this lawsuit. Eric's understanding of the law is spot on.

A few weeks ago, I received an message from Jeff Chiow, Grace Episcopal's current junior warden and an attorney, suggesting that the church and church school have suffered financial losses as a result of my online comments, and that they may sue to recover damages.

(In a later post Eric mentions Julie Anne's lawsuit and defines slander

Under the law, slander is:

  • A untrue statement.
  • Made knowing that it is untrue.
  • With the intent to injure the reputation of another.

In addition, if someone is a public figure, one must show actual malice. Persons can be general public figures — like Donald Trump — or limited purpose public figures. In Bob's case, he's clearly the latter. Specifically, truthful comments about his conduct as a priest are privileged, while comments about his personal life are not.

Another factor is whether the matter discussed is an appropriate topic of public discourse. In the case of Beaverton Grace Bible Church, the blog publisher was sued by the church for allegedly saying that the church was "cult-like" and "creepy." The court dismissed the church's lawsuit, noting that the matter was, indeed, appropriate public discourse.

Eric offered to settle a potential lawsuit against the church merely for an agreement for the priest to stop harassing him.

By the way I am really glad that Eric obtained legal help. Whatever happened to "turn the other cheek?"  It appears the priest is willing to waste church funds that could be used to repair the building or get a financial advisor.

Through my attorney, we have offered to settle the matter in exchange for nothing more than a written assurance that Bob and others will not interfere with the practice of my faith, or engage in further disparagement.

Bob, acting through Jeff Chiow, rejected those terms, which supports the conclusion that Bob continues to think it is okay for him to engage in harassment and bullying.

Eric explored the issue of pastors who bully.

He links to a fascinating article titled Is Your Pastor a Serial Bully? This is such a good post, I will see if I can do a reprint of it next week.

Indeed, one of the best ways to determine whether clergy misconduct has occurred is to ask the question, "Whose needs are being met here?" If the answer is that the clergy person's needs are being met, by definition you have misconduct. The role of the clergy is always to serve their parishioners and communities. When their needs take priority — whether sexual, emotional, financial, or even just in terms of leave and benefits — when the clergy's needs take precedence, you are in trouble. (Note that I am NOT saying that clergy should not engage in self care. What I am saying is that clergy should not place their needs and desires ahead of those they serve and their ordination vows.)

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia showed little concern for Eric's well documented situation. Episcopalians-pay attention!

Eric also appealed to The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to help out in this situation, claiming a Title IV violation in his treatment by the church. Their lack of response demonstrates why having denominational accountability is no guarantee of protection for the little guy. 

Unfortunately his Title IV complaint against the diocese of Virginia was just rejected in November 2016. If you are interested in his breakdown on the requirements of Title IV and how the Diocese of Virginia failed in meeting those, here is a link to the post with the chart. It is very well done.

Here are some of his thoughts on the matter.

The Title IV training materials are very clear: All persons should know who to contact, even if their concern only is that "something doesn't seem right." Moreover, persons filing a complaint should know that they will be "listened to with care and respect, and that there is a process in place to care for all involved,"

Once a matter gets to the reference panel in a disciplinary proceeding, there are several options available, including:

  • Pastoral response only; no further action required.
  • Investigation.
  • Conciliation.
  • Referral to the bishop diocesan for possible agreement on terms and conditions of discipline.

In the instant case, the reference panel has decided to violate the canons by issuing a Notice of Dismissal, which is not one of the options available under the canons. In its "decision," the reference panel alleges that one or more complainants have obstructed the process by engaging in dishonest or disingenuous tactics. Yet the diocese makes no mention of its own dishonesty in ignoring and misrepresenting the canons, for nothing permits the diocese to "dismiss" a case at the reference panel.

Truly, the Episcopal Church is morally bankrupt. Any church that has so little regard for its canon laws is nothing more but the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Wild West. The diocese of Virginia argues for the rule of law, yet considers itself to be above church law. It wants to have absolute control, while we as laity are to sit in respectful silence when it ignores church canons.

One of the things both amusing and offensive about the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia's decision to violate church canons by dismissing my family's Title IV complaint is that it claimed that one or more complainants has engaged in duplicity. Yet duplicity is the very word that best describes the diocese's whole approach to this issue.

First, what is duplicity? One dictionary defines it thusly: "deceitfulness in speech or conduct, as by speaking or acting in two different ways to different people concerning the same matter; double-dealing."

Second, Title IV, the church disciplinary canons, are intended to, in their own words, "support…members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected." Title IV is very clear, as well, that a pastoral response is required "whenever any report is made to the intake officer." (Canon 8.1)

The Diocese allegedly never ONCE met once briefly with him and the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry refused to become involved.

At Eric's insistence, he had one brief meeting with Caroline Parkinson, the intake officer for Title IV. Once again, he was told to find a new church. They love gay marriage but they do not love a man trying to make a difference. Is it all about "stands" and nothing about relationships?
(Ed. note: I apologize for misunderstanding something. I have corrected this portion to reflect the events-  12/3/16)

He gets what real friendship is about and challenges those who shunned him.

That said, I am grateful for those parishioners who have remained friends. No doubt, some of my comments and criticisms have put you in a difficult place. Your love and affection are therefore all the more touching. 

For those who have turned your backs on me, I wish you well. One's true friends stick with you. Those who aren't true friends move on, and it's no loss. I'd also point out that bullies like Bob Malm, Leslie Steffensen, Lisa Medley, and Alison Campbell, only hold sway because bystanders ignore their actions. Thus, if you see someone bullying another human being and ignore it, you not only ignore your baptismal covenant to resist injustice and oppression, you step into the shoes of the bully and become equally culpable.

At the same time, I've been delighted to discover a few true Christians among my friends. Christ no doubt disagreed with the behavior of many around him, yet he welcomed them nonetheless. Similarly, I have a number of friends who no doubt have had to swallow hard, but have had the courage to remain friends.

I am deeply grateful for the love and support of these friends.

Eric discussed his view of the diocese hierarchy and makes a devastating observation about pointy hats.

 Why even have a hierarchy if you can't address abusive behavior by clergy? If the only purpose of a bishop is to show up once a year wearing a pointy hat, and murmuring, "Interesting, tell me more," at coffee hour, then the diocese is a really bad investment, and I'm better off in a congregational church, for a congregational polity aligns with the reality you've established in Diva. Otherwise, the funds we send to  Richmond do nothing but serve to maintain a bunch of fat cats hanging out in a big old antebellum mansion called Mayo House.

Why bother?

Here is a synopsis of the problems that he saw at Grace Episcopal Church.

I think our regular readers will see similarities to many evangelical churches.

Notably, staying at any job for 25+ years is not a good sign. Unfortunately, Bob has the golden handcuffs on and cannot leave even if he wants to. 

It's easy to get used to bad clergy behavior, Far too many parishes realize, when a priest leaves, that they have been making excuses, versus setting expectations. "Don't worry–it will be someone else's turn next." Wait and see.

You've been ill-served by the decision to tear down the rectory. A 900K+ asset, yes, it probably needed about $200K in work. But you've lost the underlying asset and related equity, while shoveling more than $500k into Bob's rather seedy personal residence. So, you've lost more than $1 million, with absolutely nothing to show for it. And unless we see a big upturn in real estate prices, Bob will be lucky to break even when he sells his house.

Time to wake up and smell the coffee. Bob is telling you that pledges have "held relatively steady," while actually declining 8 percent over the past year. If your retirement funds declined by 8 percent a year, would you view them as steady?

You'd be well-served to insist that the vestry elect its own officers, as required by church canons. A thumbs-up from an incoming vestry is not the same thing as an election, and you would eliminate Bob's ability to manipulate the structure of the vestry to meet his own objectives. He reports to the vestry, not the other way around.

It's God you worship, not Bob. Bob's job is to help you grow in the knowledge and love of God. It is not your job to subsidize Bob and his trips to Mattapoisett, Jekyll Island, etc. He works for you, not the other way around, and it is not disloyal, unfair, or mean-spirited to hold him accountable

When looking at Bob's behavior, ask yourself how it stacks up to jobs at for-profits. At what other job can you misinform you boss about personnel matters? Take vacation whenever you want? Yell at your boss aka vestry members? Again, Bob works for you. Not the other way around.

Here are his thoughts about ethics in the Episcopal Church-Looking at standards expected at for-profit companies and then at those expected by the church in this matter.

So, my decades in the Episcopal Church have, taken as a whole, been wonderful. But I now better understand just how shallow ethics in the church can be, and just how much leeway a priest who engages in misconduct gets. It's interesting to note, too, how vociferously the Diocese of Virginia trots out the canons when it suits it (witness the litigation with the "Anglicans"), and how, with equal alacrity, it can ignore its canons. It's also interesting how the system works to try to silence its critics, versus engaging with them. Jesus welcomed sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes; the Episcopal Church rejects those who do nothing more than rock the boat.

In most for-profits (companies), Sarbanes-Oxley and Gramm-Rudman provide for strict standards of liability. Corporate officers who deliberately supply false information about material aspects of business operations may be personally liable, even to the point of criminal prosecution. In addition, these statutory schemes provide that intentional destruction of business records may result in criminal liability, while retaliation for exercising federal rights may similarly result in criminal penalties.

In The Episcopal Church, however, priests are held to none of these standards. They may destroy evidence at will, retaliate at will against anyone who alerts the larger church to possible misconduct, and they may do so without fear of penalty. Thus, Episcopal clergy are held to a standard that is not higher, not equivalent, but much lower than the ethical standards applied to for-profit organizations.

I have seen firsthand destruction of parish business records under questionable circumstances, and retaliation against parishioners for exercising their legal rights. Yet The Episcopal Church does not appear to have any issue, or see any moral challenge, with these situations.

How does that work? And how does it engender trust in The Episcopal Church? 

The answer to both questions is, "It doesn't."

The liberal and inclusive label of the Episcopal church does not stand up to scrutiny.

In the interests of the narrative, I am allowing the political illustration to stand.

While we claim to be liberal and inclusive, the reality is that our clergy are, by and large, allowed to do whatever they please.

Like little Donald Trumps, their dog collars are the free pass to engaging in any sort of behavior they wish. And if you complain, you are the jerk.

How exactly does that fit with Jesus' teachings?


His final take on the Episcopal Church of today is convicting for those with open hearts.

The church is broken.

It's ironic. For far too long, imbecilic members and past members of The Episcopal Church have argued about marriage equality. But one need not reach that touchstone. Rather, one need only look at whether The Episcopal Church and its clergy respect the baptismal covenant.

Much like the constitutions of a number of progressive European nation-states, these commitments sound great on paper. Right up until you ask the question, "I may have a complaint about these issues. How do I proceed?"

At that point, you are on your own. The Episcopal Church talks a good game, but the reality is you are left to your own devices if you challenge bullying Episcopal clergy. At that point, you get the label of "chronic malcontent," and no one cares whether your concerns may be legitimate. They care only that you have crossed paths with a priest, and that means your point of view is nothing more than yet another disagreeable perspective to be discarded and rejected as unwelcome. You are a troublemaker, and that is that. Yes, the church might see what it can do to shut you up, but it is not because the church cares abut you. It just wants you to go away. It does not want to actually address the underlying issues.

Until The Episcopal Church walks away from the notion that critics are enemies, it is on the path to death. I hope only that it survives long enough to outlive me, for I do not wish to witness the demise of a church that I once loved tremendously.

Unfortunately, The Episcopal Church is broken indeed. The few signs I have seen that suggest otherwise are too little, too late. It may well be that it is time for The Episcopal Church, and its policy of sinecured mini-monarch clergy persons, to disappear, having outlived any positive role in the body of Christ.

The church is not morally relevant and it is time for it to die.

Churches should be role models, setting examples for for-profits and other non-profits for the ethical use of funds. Yet my experience is that The Episcopal Church opposes any suggestion that it even hold to the same standards as for-profit organizations. Employees at publicly traded corporations are required to report possible misconduct, and are protected if they do so. Employees and volunteers in The Episcopal Church are discouraged from reporting possible wrongdoing, and penalized if they do report their concerns. And the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia actively supports and sides with clergy who, like Bob Malm, engage in retaliation for complaining about questionable business practices.

It's amusing, too–the diocese was rabid during the recent property recovery litigation in its demands that vestry members at the Falls Church and other dissident parishes act as fiduciaries. This means acting in the best interest of the diocese and larger Episcopal Church by setting aside personal self interest in favor of the objective best interests of the larger organization. But having insisted that church volunteers are fiduciaries, the diocese has concluded that employees of the church are under no such constraints, and the parish and diocese have made very clear that they do not want parishioners to raise concerns about questionable governance practices in the church. Indeed, Bishop Shannon has personally endorsed the notion that there is nothing wrong with clergy retaliation, and such behavior does not violate church canons.

The Episcopal Church surely has become morally bankrupt when it can look someone in the eye and say that there is nothing wrong with clergy bullying their parishioners in retaliation for complaining about questionable business practices. In short, corporate America is miles further ahead when it comes to business ethics, and there is no reason to treat The Episcopal Church as holding any special moral authority when it so ardently opposes such standards in its own operations.

Sad to say, The Episcopal Church is stuck in its own early 1960's, Madmen-era time warp where it can do whatever it wants, because the paradigm is boardroom politics at their worst.

I was so very proud of the church for its stances on immigration, women's rights, and marriage equality, that it's hard to believe I am saying this. But the Episcopal Church has lost sight of its ethical compass, and outlived its moral relevance.  It is, I fear, time for the Episcopal Church to die.

What extraordinary observations! We have much to discuss over the weekend.

I wonder if Eric has ever seen this video? I hope it makes him smile. 

Comments

When Affirming Churches Become Shunning Churches: Allegations of Mistreatment by Grace Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia — 169 Comments

  1. It’s gotten to the point I feel like shunning any church with “grace” in the name. 🙁

  2. Guess not first . . . 🙂

    “At that point, you are on your own. The Episcopal Church talks a good game, but the reality is you are left to your own devices if you challenge bullying Episcopal clergy. At that point, you get the label of “chronic malcontent,” and no one cares whether your concerns may be legitimate. They care only that you have crossed paths with a priest, and that means your point of view is nothing more than yet another disagreeable perspective to be discarded and rejected as unwelcome. You are a troublemaker, and that is that. Yes, the church might see what it can do to shut you up, but it is not because the church cares abut you. It just wants you to go away. It does not want to actually address the underlying issues.”

    Yep, this is EXACTLY how an abusive church treats its members.

  3. Dave A A wrote:

    It’s gotten to the point I feel like shunning any church with “grace” in the name.

    I’m with you on that one.

    We will include my former extremely abusive, authoritarian, nut case church — Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley. A 9 Marxist/John MacArthur-ite/Complementarian-Patriarchy promoting/Young Earth Creation promoting [sorry fellas the earth is older than 6,000 years and my grandma a Presbyterian worked on the teams of Nobel Prize-winning researchers and had a university degree in science].

  4. I know a woman college professor, also gay, also in a long-term relationship, who left the Episcopal Church she loved in Silicon Valley (California) because of serious problems. She had gone to seminary to become a parish priest and then she was denounced by another Episcopal priest from the pulpit and not given the position.

    She was heartbroken. And one of The Dones.

  5. The threats leveled against Eric and his partner are astounding, but not at all surprising. They were threatened with a restraining order? And a threat to his partner’s government security clearance for his job? That’s low.

    But these churches are low.

    My former church – Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley – did something very similar to me that they did to Eric. I was in and out of the hospital with a severe lung condition, acutely ill, and I hadn’t been to church in more than five weeks due to illness. Not only did my church GBFSV NOT pray for me, they didn’t visit me, and didn’t ask what they could do for me.

    The one Sunday I returned briefly, still ill, the chairman of the elder board demanded meetings from me to “discipline” me for the accusations of a nutcase woman church member who is a Dyslexic with short-term memory problems, working memory problems, and auditory memory problems. I was told that I was “in sin” for her genetically inherited memory problems, where she couldn’t remember entire events!

    What next, blame me for somebody’s Diabetes or cancer?

    They have medical doctors for this kind of thing who know what they’re doing, not quacks with no medical training [my ex-pastor has a fake Ph.D. from a diploma mill in Independence, Missouri].

  6. Maybe I’m stereotyping here, but I’m really starting to think there’s something very wrong with Silicon Valley and the mindset of a lot of people there. There seems to be a correlation between STEM jobs/majors and misogynistic/authoritarian beliefs and behavior patterns. The whole “brogrammer” stereotype, for one. And Silicon Valley is also a major hub for the manosphere, neoreactionary (neo-monarchist) and alt-right (hipster white nationalist) movements. That’s not to say it’s just a right-wing problem; there are a lot of BernieBros and tech-savvy “tankies” but those guys have a lot of issues too! They seem out of touch with reality and humanity.

    Women who work there are reporting an increasingly hostile environment.

    I studied in a STEM field at a community college, but didn’t end up getting a job in it (I work retail now). But maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. There just seems to be a lot of creepiness in that crowd these days. Of my classmates (almost all of whom were male), at least three (!) of them are now into Pepe the Frog and all that stuff.

  7. I totally agree that this type of abuse happens “in all theological realms within Christianity”. At the risk of being charged with over-spiritualizing the problem, I believe it does nevertheless, come down simply to a spiritual problem.

    Jesus is the head of the Church, not only universally but locally as well. Therefore anyone who becomes the head of a church, be it the Senior Pastor, Priest, Rector, or some similar clerical title or office, puts themselves into a situation of power that no human was designed to handle.

    So there may be many who enter the “ministry” (sorry but I must put that in quotes), as good-hearted, sweet, loving people, wanting truly to make a difference in people’s lives, but end up becoming very twisted, authoritarian bullies, who will throw anyone under the bus for the sake of protecting themselves and their institution.

    They become warped because they are standing in a position that belongs only to Jesus and Jesus undertakes this position as a servant. Jesus forbade His followers from organizing themselves into a hierarchical system in Matthew 20:25-26, sometimes called the “most unpreached-from verse” in the Bible.

    I concede that there are pastors out there that haven’t succumbed to the warping effects of the role, but not in any of the five churches I was a member of for over about a 30 year span. I’ve also seen and heard too many horror stories from friends and family in other churches and in my own encounters with other churches.

    And when I held a department head position for 10 years I felt myself becoming slowly twisted and beginning to value the wrong things and put them ahead of God’s people, even though it was only a tiny podunk church.

    Right now during the Christmas season some friends are going through a horribly hurtful time in the megachurch they’ve served faithfully at for over twenty years. Of course, this is at the hands of the husband and wife team of Senior Pastors.

  8. Well, this is all very interesting to see how the same power systems and group dynamics play out in a denomination that ought to be set up to resist them.

    Until The Episcopal Church walks away from the notion that critics are enemies, it is on the path to death.

    It seems that those members with the gift of discernment are always persona non grata. The body is missing an important part and does not function well without it but would rather suffer loss. Eric seems to have had the very qualities the church needed in overseeing how the finances were managed and could probably have moved the church organization to a healthier footing. But, “no thanks,” says the church, “I have no need of you.”

    They refused to pray for him during church when he was in the hospital last year.(Can you imagine?)

    Yes, I can imagine. I lost my sister at the same time my former church began shunning me and I received not a prayer, nor even so much as a sympathy card.

    Have churches always operated this way? Is this behavior more prevalent now for some reason? Maybe God does not work through hierarchical organizations. Maybe he is calling us out of them.

  9. Eric also appealed to The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to help out in this situation, claiming a Title IV violation in his treatment by the church. Their lack of response demonstrates why having denominational accountability is no guarantee of protection for the little guy.

    I can identify with Eric’s experience and the reports of financial mismanagement sounded very familiar. Similar to Eric’s experience my former church was not Calvinist nor conservative but unfortunately had way too much power in the hands of the pastor.

    They dropped maintenance and repair from the budget many years ago and started to raid other designated funds to pay for a staff that was too large for the size of the congregation. This continues to be done while claiming to the congregation a balanced budget. I appealed to the district headquarters only to have them break confidence in my communications and were unwilling to intervene.

    I found the “higher ups” to be a hindrance. Instead of an investigation the denomination provided the pastor nearly complete control with little to no oversight and only enforced the notion of supremacy of the leadership, i.e. pastors. It amazed me when I came to the realization that people who for decades held major positions of responsibility in the church had no credibility within the denomination, the only voice that registered was the thirty year old pastor.

    I agree, having “correct doctrine” is not a safe harbor nor is a denominational structure, both proved irrelevant in my case. I also found the ethics of business people in my community were far superior to that of the church I left, both in financial terms and how they treated people.

  10. siteseer wrote:

    It seems that those members with the gift of discernment are always persona non grata. The body is missing an important part and does not function well without it but would rather suffer loss.

    Can one part of the body say to any other part we don’t need you? Unfortunately “we don’t need you” is often said in an authoritarian church. When the head of the church is a pastor instead of Christ, the only acceptable parts are those who do not question and all parts are interchangeable or disposable.

  11. MidwesternEasterner wrote:

    There seems to be a correlation between STEM jobs/majors and misogynistic/authoritarian beliefs and behavior patterns.

    There is a certain kind of rigidity that some of them have here (in Silicon Valley), black or white, incapable of mystery, need-to-follow-the-rules, approval, group-think that I found troubling about the ones that I went to church with at Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley, which included some of the pastors/elders.

    Many people were deceived by the bizarre teachings/Thought Reform/cultic system at that church, including elite Stanford University students — both undergraduates and graduate students. My ex-church started a Bible Study at the elite, private Stanford University no doubt to rope in those with potentially high earning potential and bypassed carrying The Gospel to the poorer, more liberal, state university (San Jose State University). Stanford students (most of whom are Asian) in the Bible Study invite their friends to the Bible Study. It becomes a sure-fire way to keep students because of their friends.

    Likewise, U.C.L.A. engineering graduates who moved up to Silicon Valley for tech jobs (most of whom are Asian) invited their friends who moved to Silicon Valley to Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley.

    How do you easily leave a toxic church where all of your friends from Stanford and U.C.L.A. go to church? How do you rock the boat?

    Psychologist/Cult Expert/Thought Reform Expert/Best-selling author Steve Hassan writes about the BITE Model about how authoritarian groups exercise Thought Reform over people. It’s certainly what Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley and many other authoritarian churches/cults do.
    https://www.freedomofmind.com/Info/BITE/bitemodel.php

  12. Bill M wrote:

    Can one part of the body say to any other part we don’t need you? Unfortunately “we don’t need you” is often said in an authoritarian church. When the head of the church is a pastor instead of Christ, the only acceptable parts are those who do not question and all parts are interchangeable or disposable.

    I don’t believe a lot of these people are part of the body, which is why they seek to take control over others. I even believe that some of these pastors went into ministry specifically to take money from gullible Christians.

    I was a member of a former church that imploded due to money issues. The pastors actually took very good care of the church, but a group of members wanted to turn it into a megachurch by going deep into debt. They character assassinated several of the pastors and a deacon in their quest to be a commercial church. It broke that church completely.

    It’s always the same two problems in abusive church situations–power and money. Sexual abuse is always about power, and many of these other abusive situations are a result of money to be had.

    I’ll be praying for Eric, Michael, and their church.

  13. I am sorry that this has happened in this church and to these people. I was aware of this situation from having run into it on line while researching hours and hours and more hours before, during and after becoming an Episcopalian. I hope this gets resolved, and I hope that the people involved survive all this as well as possible. But I am not surprised. During confirmation classes they told us that it is extremely difficult for a parish to get rid of a priest for anything less than public immoral sexual conduct. Since TEC permits and even celebrates some forms of sexual behavior that some other churches would call immoral I wonder what a pastor could actually do that would get him removed by the Bishop, but I did not ask at the time. Anyhow, they were specific that mismanagement of church affairs was not going to get a priest removed, but sex might. I do respect that they told us that up front.

  14. From the post, a quote from a previous post: “Whose needs are being met here?”

    – probably the central question with regard to who is embraced (at times, criminal predators), and who is shunned (at times, whistle blowers or those with critical thinking, i.e., discernment). This seems to be the only way these policies in practice make sense – which in case study after case study appear to actually be contrary to Jesus’ teaching about what is His Church.

    Enter the milieu of a narcissistic leader, then pony up if you want in on the action.

  15. Bill M wrote:

    people who for decades held major positions of responsibility in the church had no credibility within the denomination, the only voice that registered was the thirty year old pastor

    The Cultural Revolution… the Khmer Rouge, Brown Shirts, etc., … personality cult, youth mobilized to purge experienced and intellectual populace…

  16. okrapod wrote:

    Anyhow, they were specific that mismanagement of church affairs was not going to get a priest removed, but sex might. I do respect that they told us that up front.

    That is interesting. I am curious to know what they mean by the phrase “public immoral sexual conduct.” Does it mean if it was private immoral sexual conduct, the priest would get a pass?

  17. ishy wrote:

    It’s always the same two problems in abusive church situations–power and money. Sexual abuse is always about power, and many of these other abusive situations are a result of money to be had.
    I’ll be praying for Eric, Michael, and their church.

    Thank you for your comment.

  18. Bill M wrote:

    agree, having “correct doctrine” is not a safe harbor nor is a denominational structure, both proved irrelevant in my case. I also found the ethics of business people in my community were far superior to that of the church I left, both in financial terms and how they treated people.

    That was an awesome comment. Thank you for also discussing how they raided other accounts and didn’t provide for building and maintenance.

  19. siteseer wrote:

    Yes, I can imagine. I lost my sister at the same time my former church began shunning me and I received not a prayer, nor even so much as a sympathy card.

    This behavior on the part of churches makes me sick.

  20. Flathead wrote:

    They become warped because they are standing in a position that belongs only to Jesus and Jesus undertakes this position as a servant. Jesus forbade His followers from organizing themselves into a hierarchical system in Matthew 20:25-26, sometimes called the “most unpreached-from verse” in the Bible.

    Great comment!

  21. Velour wrote:

    My former church – Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley – did something very similar to me that they did to Eric. I was in and out of the hospital with a severe lung condition, acutely ill, and I hadn’t been to church in more than five weeks due to illness. Not only did my church GBFSV NOT pray for me, they didn’t visit me, and didn’t ask what they could do for me.

    This is sickening.

  22. @ Velour:
    PS I know a group of pastors and elders who continued to deny something happened even though one of them confessed it did on tape. The ruled the taping of the conversation unreasonable (albeit legal) and so they continued to deny that the even happened. We still have the recording, BTW.

  23. dee wrote:

    I am curious to know what they mean by the phrase “public immoral sexual conduct.” Does it mean if it was private immoral sexual conduct, the priest would get a pass?

    I did not put that in quotes in my comment because that is my terminology, not theirs. I do not recall that they were discussing some line item in some code of conduct but rather discussing how hard it is for a congregation to get rid of a priest. The RCC has a position regarding what they call ‘scandal’ and perhaps they, or perhaps I but not they, were thinking about the issue in those terms. Sorry I can’t be more specific.

  24. Thank you all for your insightful and kind comments.

    To answer one question on this thread, the Episcopal Church, like much of Christianity, is obsessed with sexual mores. Priests can and will be disciplined for having an affair, including be defrocked, but bullying is okay, at least in this diocese.

    How do I know that? Because during the intake phase of a Title IV case such as mine, the intake officer must assume all matters complained of to be true, and to ask the questions:

    – Would the matter, if true, constitute a violation of the canons?
    – Is the matter actionable?
    – Is it weighty and material to the ministry of the church?

    If the matter meets this throng-pronged test, it moves up the ladder to the reference panel. If not, the matter may be dismissed, assuming that the bishop diocesan approves.

    Since Bishop Johnston repeatedly has dismissed my complaints, it follows that deliberate misuse of funds, willful failure to safeguard church assets, and shunning are not even arguably violations of the canons in the view of the diocese of Virginia.

  25. “At the same time, Eric was humble, saying he knows he made some mistakes in his responses but he was so hurt by the events that it was hard to stay calm. I reassured him that anyone who has been abused acts and feels in similar fashion. This is about abuse, not how *nice* a victim is when they are abused..”

    Amen and Amen. This is the whistle blower problem. The victims are expected to pass a higher bar on behavior than the abusers in so many instances.

  26. This was particularly well done. It’s no longer any surprise when an acquaintance who is a CPA or finance person and who was asked to serve on their church’s finance or administrative team tells me that they quit the volunteer position in disgust because of staff interference and/or misdeeds.

  27. Eric Bonetti wrote:

    Priests can and will be disciplined for having an affair, including be defrocked, but bullying is okay, at least in this diocese.

    That does seem to be true in my experience. Looking back on the last decades in my prior denomination I note that one pastor was removed for sexual indiscretion and another for embezzling. Of all the other moral failures such as bullying that were more destructive and more prevalent, no pastor was removed even when churches imploded.

  28. Dee Holmes (fka mirele) wrote:

    Am I the only one who thinks attending a church isn’t worth the heartache? Seriously, so many churches seem to be all about praying, paying and obeying.

    I’m with you. It took me a lot of years to get there, a lot of years thinking it must be me, or that I just needed to find “the right church,” before my eyes were finally opened all the way.

  29. Lydia wrote:

    The victims are expected to pass a higher bar on behavior than the abusers in so many instances.

    Sorry to quibble, it appears not to be a “higher bar” but a barrier for victims. For years I noticed that no matter how dissent was framed, there was always a reason found to dismiss it.

  30. This brings to mind another experience I had. When I was a little girl, my family attended a church for a short time when we lived in the northeast. That beautiful old church always held a special place in my heart. Recently I looked it up online and was disappointed to find that it no longer exists. It seems it went through this same trajectory where the maintenance was ignored and it fell into disrepair. The church passed into secular hands and was used for various purposes until it finally had to be torn down. A similar church, designed by the same architect, still stands and is well known, on the historic register. It made me sad to think this asset was abused and neglected this way. So short-sighted.

  31. @ dee:

    I was just trying to clarify, Dee, not take exception. I am not at my best in written language. Or maybe I am and if so that is pitiful. Or whatever. Love you folks and what you do. In the very best of southernese, bless your hearts. You all are good people. And strong. And brave. And thorough.

  32. Eric Bonetti wrote:

    To answer one question on this thread, the Episcopal Church, like much of Christianity, is obsessed with sexual mores. Priests can and will be disciplined for having an affair, including be defrocked, but bullying is okay, at least in this diocese.

    It (Christianity) really is (obsessed with sexual mores). I’ve been a recent advocate of a responsible and pragmatic re-think of human sexuality by the church universal. Shortly after the turn of the century I realized that the standard church (small ‘c’ intentional) dogma is not working and that it is at the root of more problems than it allegedly solves.

  33. @ okrapod:
    I am so sorry. I just wanted you to know that I was the one who added the quotes. There is a better way for me to do that. I know you are not trying to take exception. I think you are wonderful-kind and loving!!!

  34. @ dee:
    Said line inspired by TWW great post(s), where what has been confusing and confounding at times, comes into focus; back atcha.

  35. dee wrote:

    @ Velour:
    PS I know a group of pastors and elders who continued to deny something happened even though one of them confessed it did on tape. The ruled the taping of the conversation unreasonable (albeit legal) and so they continued to deny that the even happened. We still have the recording, BTW.

    I am not surprised by this type of behavior.

  36. I heard about one church that was upstairs holding a vote on whether to purchase air conditioning units for the church while the already purchased units were downstairs!

  37. Muff Potter wrote:

    Eric Bonetti wrote:

    To answer one question on this thread, the Episcopal Church, like much of Christianity, is obsessed with sexual mores. Priests can and will be disciplined for having an affair, including be defrocked, but bullying is okay, at least in this diocese.

    It (Christianity) really is (obsessed with sexual mores). I’ve been a recent advocate of a responsible and pragmatic re-think of human sexuality by the church universal. Shortly after the turn of the century I realized that the standard church (small ‘c’ intentional) dogma is not working and that it is at the root of more problems than it allegedly solves.

    I agree that pragmatism is important.

    There are a LOT of closeted gay clergy in conservative churches such as the RCC. Banning ordination of gays doesn’t accomplish anything other than just forcing them into the closet. Once in the closet, they are more susceptible to manipulation or blackmail. According to many reports, the former Abp. John Nienstedt, a closeted gay man, was so keen on keeping his secret that he agreed to cover up the abuse of young boys. The abusive priests had threatened to out him if he did anything about it. I doubt he’s the only one.

    The solution, I think, would be to encourage openness and pragmatism. If a prospective candidate says he’s gay, and that he would change if he could (but doesn’t believe he can, at least not yet), maybe that should be enough. Better that than more Nienstedts.

  38. I feel so badly for Eric and Mike. I hope that things will get better for them.

    It is interesting how we come to expect the best of certain groups or churches who are viewed as the good and tolerant guys by the opinion shapers in our culture because these groups and churches hold the acceptable opinions.

    Jesus pretty much showed this is not how human nature works. Still, it’s a shock to our system when it happens.

    Also, 500 years ago the Reformation showed us the downside of authoritative, heirarchical churches.

    I still wish these guys well.

  39. I haven’t read the article yet. I can’t get past the first sentence.

    “I have been praying for an opportunity like this for years. I have always contended that abuse of church members happens in all theological realms within Christianity.”

    I don’t understand praying for an opportunity like this. Wow. That doesn’t feel very … healthy? Christian?

    Care to explain?

  40. juulie downs wrote:

    I don’t understand praying for an opportunity like this. Wow. That doesn’t feel very … healthy? Christian?

    It’s really quite simple if one considers that I have good intentions in writing this blog. This blog exists to expose abuse as well as other unsettling trends with Christianity.

    Due to our experience, we know that abuse is happening in all Christian church groups. Much of it is covered up by leadership. Other times, the person wants to speak of the abuse but doesn’t know whom to trust to accurately portray their trials. I merely prayed to be a voice for those who have been abused in progressive churches as well as evangelical and conservative churches. And I believe that such a prayer is very Christian indeed.

    It has been my hope that someone who was involved in a progressive church who experienced abuse would feel comfortable to speak with me, who tends to write about conservative evangelical abuse. I am so glad that Eric sought me out. I have enjoyed my conversations with him and hope one day to meet him when I travel up to DC.

    Never forget that Jesus spent his time dealing with those outside the normal power structures of his day. My pastor, Pete Briscoe, called it seeking out the lost, the let down and the looking. Jesus knew of the burdens that were being placed on these folks by the religious leaders of the day. He sought them out. He didn’t go to the church leaders. He went down to the fishing boats and recruited his disciples. He reached out to women, prostitutes, and despised tax collectors. His gospels tell their stories.

    Was it healthy for Jesus to seek out the hurting instead of the strong and those who had it all together? Would it have been easier if Jesus imagined that everything was hunky dory with the religious set? I have been at this game for over 7 years. I know the hurting are out there. I want to meet them, support them, and tell their stories.

    I think you probably get my drift. I am sorry that you would think that my hope to find the hurting, wherever they are, should cause my faith or my emotional state to be in question.

  41. @ juulie downs: A quick thought before I go to bed. Why don't you, and anyone else who read my answer to you, join me in praying that God would bring those hurting and abused to those of use who want to bring comfort to those who have been wounded? It worked this time for me. God brought me Eric. Imagine how many people out their are looking for people to put their arms around them, listen to their stories, believe them and bring them hope?!

  42. @ MidwesternEasterner:
    “Spotlight” touched on this as a broad problem with the historical culture of secrecy around “all” celibacy in the RCC. The former priest and then psychotherapist, Richard Sipes, did a lot of research about it.

  43. dee wrote:

    @ juulie downs: A quick thought before I go to bed. Why don’t you, and anyone else who read my answer to you, join me in praying that God would bring those hurting and abused to those of use who want to bring comfort to those who have been wounded? It worked this time for me. God brought me Eric. Imagine how many people out their are looking for people to put their arms around them, listen to their stories, believe them and bring them hope?!

    Amen!

    I know what you meant by the first sentence. And I agree with it. I too know that spiritual abuse is happening in other denominations. As the Body of Christ, it’s important that we support them, make them feel safe and welcome to tell their stories.

  44. Velour wrote:

    As the Body of Christ, it’s important that we support them, make them feel safe and welcome to tell their stories.

    It is definitely a Christian work of mercy to offer a safe place for wounded people, yes

    I’m adding my prayers for good to come from this work

  45. juulie downs wrote:

    I haven’t read the article yet. I can’t get past the first sentence.

    “I have been praying for an opportunity like this for years. I have always contended that abuse of church members happens in all theological realms within Christianity.”

    I think it’s just the way it’s worded. Dee’s been praying she could be of help to those already in situations like this in progressive churches and she got that opportunity. Obviously no one rejoices that the situation is happening.

  46. Not good what Eric went through. I think this is a textbook case & warning call to denominational churches. I’ve heard of this stuff as my parents were on the vestry of a church that had a smaller scale version of this issue. eventually they left for another Anglican Church.
    Is it time for the espicopal church to die? For what it’s worth, I don’t think Eric would find things any better in a congregational Church.
    His call for reform should be heeded.

  47. Dee Holmes (fka mirele) wrote:

    Am I the only one who thinks attending a church isn’t worth the heartache? Seriously, so many churches seem to be all about praying, paying and obeying.

    Nope, no church heartache for me. Sunday is coffee, news, housework, fun with the family. My wife still attends, but not as much as she used to. I saw a bumper sticker once “stay home Sunday! Save 10 percent!”

  48. Jack wrote:

    I don’t think Eric would find things any better in a congregational Church.

    My nemesis was a church that became authoritarian so while I understand the dynamics in a congregational would be different I’m genuinely curious how the same outcome occurs. Is the problem that people in a congregational church are still sucked into institutional church? Do people lose sight of their real purpose and instead protect the institution, regardless of structure?

  49. Abby Johnson who wrote Unplanned about her leaving Planned Parenthood, was told by a SBC that as long as she worked there she could not be a member but she was welcome to attend. When she publicly left PP the Episcopal Church that she had been attending (or possibly joined) told her she was no longer welcome. She ended up becoming Catholic.

  50. Bill M wrote:

    I’m genuinely curious how the same outcome occurs. Is the problem that people in a congregational church are still sucked into institutional church? Do people lose sight of their real purpose and instead protect the institution, regardless of structure?

    I don’t think people see it as institution or not. I think the manipulators see it as power or money to be had, and others are just too naive to believe church people could be that manipulative.

  51. @ Godith:

    I have not read the book, but the wiki article says that after she went public she felt unwelcome in the Episcopal parish where they were members. I dare say she did. There is much intense opinion on several issues in a lot of places.

    At our Episcopal parish the rector is pro-life but his brother works for planned parenthood, and they grew up Methodist, or so the story goes. This is a divisive issue. Anyhow, at our parish, the rector has stated (I heard in as part of a homily) that no political discussion or agitation would be permitted as part of any official church function. Period. So, we are as close to a politics free zone as anywhere else in my life or experience. I think that is necessary because otherwise it would just be terrible what with all the differences of opinion. If that breaks down then we well could fall apart at least to some extent.

    I have thought long and hard about what to do if that happens, because I will not sign on the dotted line for some things. If we abandon our local position of actual tolerance in action by just keeping quiet about hot issues, then I will have to make some choices. Not a pleasant thought.

    I understand that she became a Catholic. I almost became a Catholic but did not for other reasons. I may have to revisit the issue if it comes to that, or not.

  52. okrapod wrote:

    I have not read the book, but the wiki article says that after she went public she felt unwelcome in the Episcopal parish where they were members. I dare say she did. There is much intense opinion on several issues in a lot of places.

    Although this comes perilously close to the politics we’re supposed to avoid here, take this article as an example of how divided things can get.

    http://religionnews.com/2016/11/16/bursting-my-personal-bubble-in-a-church-full-of-trump-supporters/

    I think we’re in an era of extreme divisiveness right now. Some of it is necessary–i.e., not support church leaders who hide child abuse, but some of it we’ve got to work through openly or it’s just going to keep getting worse and worse.

  53. juulie downs wrote:

    I haven’t read the article yet. I can’t get past the first sentence.
    “I have been praying for an opportunity like this for years. I have always contended that abuse of church members happens in all theological realms within Christianity.”
    I don’t understand praying for an opportunity like this. Wow. That doesn’t feel very … healthy? Christian?
    Care to explain?

    My plain ole country girl translation/opinion on the staement: da DEEBS don’t play favorites. They are not “out to get” any particular group(s). They will work to expose evil in “churches” with no bias towards any religion/denomination.
    DEEBS have been accused many time of having a vendetta against certain groups of people while letting others slide.

  54. juulie downs wrote:

    I haven’t read the article yet. I can’t get past the first sentence.

    …Care to explain?

    Your comment was fairly brief, so I don’t know much about the thinking behind it; for that matter, I don’t even know whether you’re still following the thread. But I do have a couple of observations:

     I wouldn’t, personally, encourage commenting on a thread where you haven’t read the article. (Though I do concede that your comment was at least a question to the author.)
     I’ll assume that you genuinely want some explanation from Deebs… but in that case, the obvious first step would have been to read the article.

  55. Godith wrote:

    Abby Johnson who wrote Unplanned about her leaving Planned Parenthood, was told by a SBC that as long as she worked there she could not be a member but she was welcome to attend. When she publicly left PP the Episcopal Church that she had been attending (or possibly joined) told her she was no longer welcome.

    Thanks Godith, I checked out the story, I was not aware of that tidbit. While it is one incident involving one church it does fit my experience with some who boast of their tolerance, they are not tolerant but simply agree with those they “tolerate”. Should you disagree with their dogma they can be every bit as vengeful as the intolerant groups they condemn.

  56. Bill M wrote:

    Should you disagree with their dogma they can be every bit as vengeful as the intolerant groups they condemn.

    In the case of leaders at Eric’s former church, it may be they appear tolerant only of people who agree with them.

  57. siteseer wrote:

    juulie downs wrote:

    I haven’t read the article yet. I can’t get past the first sentence.

    “I have been praying for an opportunity like this for years. I have always contended that abuse of church members happens in all theological realms within Christianity.”

    I think it’s just the way it’s worded. Dee’s been praying she could be of help to those already in situations like this in progressive churches and she got that opportunity. Obviously no one rejoices that the situation is happening.

    Yes, I see. And thank you to Dee for the responses above also. I think it IS just the wording. It felt like she was thankful that someone was hurt, and had been praying for that. I guess I over-reacted.

    Of course, abuse happens in every group. Sin is an equal opportunity oppression!

  58. I was brought up in a charismatic church with an ex-episcopal priest as the pastor. He was ordained and then got very interested in the charismatic movement in the mid 60’s. I was told that the bishop of the local diocese objected to this and the way this priest wanted to bring this movement into the local parish. He was booted out and ended up starting his own independent church is the wealthiest part of the state. He would bring out the robes twice a year. We followed advent and had an episcopal style communion once a month with real wine. There was an episcopal flavor in the church. So going against the prevailing winds can certainly get a priest booted out. This was not in Virginia but Arizona and it was 50 years ago. Their has been some significant change in mindset over that period of time.

  59. Bill M wrote:

    Should you disagree with their dogma they can be every bit as vengeful as the intolerant groups they condemn.

    Ya’ got that right Bill. There’s a whole list of progressive blogs on patheos in which the denizens will descend on you like piranha if you so much as even dare and critique one of their cherished Orwellian memes.

  60. Jack wrote:

    Dee Holmes (fka mirele) wrote:
    Am I the only one who thinks attending a church isn’t worth the heartache? Seriously, so many churches seem to be all about praying, paying and obeying.
    Nope, no church heartache for me. Sunday is coffee, news, housework, fun with the family. My wife still attends, but not as much as she used to. I saw a bumper sticker once “stay home Sunday! Save 10 percent!”

    Agreed.

  61. juulie downs wrote:

    I think it IS just the wording. It felt like she was thankful that someone was hurt, and had been praying for that. I guess I over-reacted.

    The second sentence explains the first sentence.

  62. Bill M wrote:

    I’m genuinely curious how the same outcome occurs. Is the problem that people in a congregational church are still sucked into institutional church? Do people lose sight of their real purpose and instead protect the institution, regardless of structure?

    Congregational churches are mostly independent if my understanding is correct. In our neck of the woods nearly all of them are reformed leaning and fundamentalist. Eric an his partner would find no acceptance there. and they are still prone to the cult of personality pastors, etc. Perhaps even more so with zero accountability.

  63. The UCC is congregational, if I remember correctly. A lot of the original parishes founded by Pilgrims in New England are now part of UCC.

  64. juulie downs wrote:

    It felt like she was thankful that someone was hurt, and had been praying for that.

    It was just a bit different. I know someone has been hurt in every church denomination out there. I prayed they would find me because I want to help them tell their story,

  65. Can anyone DO anything about the situation at Grace Episcopal? Could we send hundreds of postcards to denounce what they are doing? What would move them to apologize?

  66. when people abandon Churches with problems, unfortunately they leave behind groups of people who don’t have the choice to ‘abandon’ that church …. I speak of the children who are nourished by the Word, of the elderly for whom ‘Church’ is a lifeline/support system, of the mentally disabled who are cared for in that Church ….

    better for the sake of the more helpless ones to stay and speak up for those who are abused and belittled, to fight the good fight for the sake of those who have need of advocacy.

    In a healthy environment, each member is respected in the same way as the next member …. no favoritism or jostling for position. There would be an emphasis on serving and on helping, rather than controlling. But because we are ALL experiencing the weaknesses of our human natures, we know that there are times when some of us fall into the clutches of pride and sin:
    walking AWAY from what affects US personally is one thing, but having been a part of a faith community and walking away from the vulnerable people who are still at risk in that community is another thing. Best to stay, and speak FOR them. And in doing so, illustrate that there is a need for folks to re-think what they are doing both morally and ethically.

    Getting ‘thrown out’? Being ‘shunned’? That is not in your own control. And the shame is on the ones who unfairly treat you this way.

    But if you are still a ‘member’ and are experiencing ‘abuse’, think about the ones who have no voice, and work loudly and actively on THEIR BEHALF for as long as you can ….. you might make a difference. I’d say there is real fertile ground for making a difference anytime a Christian person stands up for another who is in trouble and puts himself/herself at risk in the process…… this is the CLASSIC role of a Christian person in defense of those less fortunate than himself/herself. Stay, speak, stand up, don’t abandon others to a bad situation …. are we uncomfortable thinking we could do this? Good. Our Christianity brings us the peace of Christ, not earthly peace. Big difference.

  67. I would like to give a counter view to the one above. Sometimes you have to leave, because the stress of being in an unhealthy church is harming you and your family in many ways (spiritual, physical, mental, financial, etc.).

    I’ve had to drop picketing Driscoll for my own sanity. The last month has been difficult and I have to take care of myself right now because I have to also help take care of my mother. People who leave toxic churches have to think about this. They have themselves and their families to think about. Attempting to guilt people into staying when they’re already in emotional, physical and spiritual distress is not, in my opinion, helpful at all.

    I don’t think Jesus is asking us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of a church body, particularly if that body is dysfunctional.

  68. Dee Holmes (fka mirele) wrote:

    I would like to give a counter view to the one above. Sometimes you have to leave, because the stress of being in an unhealthy church is harming you and your family in many ways (spiritual, physical, mental, financial, etc.).

    I’ve had to drop picketing Driscoll for my own sanity. The last month has been difficult and I have to take care of myself right now because I have to also help take care of my mother. People who leave toxic churches have to think about this. They have themselves and their families to think about. Attempting to guilt people into staying when they’re already in emotional, physical and spiritual distress is not, in my opinion, helpful at all.

    I don’t think Jesus is asking us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of a church body, particularly if that body is dysfunctional.

    You certainly have the gravitas to speak on this topic. I hear you and I honor the work that you did for as long as you did it …. it took a commitment and a courage well beyond what many of us could muster in an attempt to highlight the dangers of another Driscoll monstrosity arising among peoples unaware.

    I don’t think anyone else could have explained your point of view better to me than you did, and I needed to hear it and to grateful for being able to listen and ‘get it’. You have been ‘there’ and you knew when it was time to stop and move on. That is something that tells me you are aware of your own reality in your decision=making and that you honored your need to save you strength to fight another day in some other arena. God Bless you for what you have shown us that is possible for one person to do in the Church. I honor your efforts. And I respect your decision to give up the work at the time that was right for you to do so. Well done, Mirielle.

  69. Dee Holmes (fka mirele) wrote:

    Sometimes you have to leave, because the stress of being in an unhealthy church is harming you and your family in many ways (spiritual, physical, mental, financial, etc.).

    My family has a bad history of heart disease and I am not an exception. The stress of dealing with authoritarian church leaders was literally killing me and at the same time I was making no difference. Regardless of my protests, by staying I was only signaling my acceptance. I fought the good fight but eventually found the blessed door and found freedom.

    If stuck in a similar situation, no hope for change, I strongly recommend leaving and I encourage as many who will listen to do the same.

  70. Bill M wrote:

    Regardless of my protests, by staying I was only signaling my acceptance. I fought the good fight but eventually found the blessed door and found freedom.

    thank you for sharing this …. I suppose fighting the good fight is not something that is an endless exercise, but I would say that your standing up was a ‘no’ rather than an acceptance of the evil you were fighting 🙂

    I’m glad you got out in time to save your health.

  71. Christiane wrote:

    Best to stay, and speak FOR them.

    There are exceptions but for most cases I know of, the premise of your argument is faulty. It is not possible to speak when you are not given a voice and were you to force the issue you will be labeled divisive. Once labeled divisive even those you purportedly “speak for” will join in throwing you out or sit idly by.

    Also the idea of staying presupposes that someone has a clear head about what is transpiring. On the contrary, I found that I could sense things were wrong but within the pressure cooker I found it hard to articulate. Even when I could coherently identify some of the problems I saw I was NOT heard. Let me emphasize, not heard at all. Finally it was only when I left that I was able to think clearly. It has now been two years and I am beginning to get it sorted out.

  72. Dee Holmes (fka mirele) wrote:

    I would like to give a counter view to the one above. Sometimes you have to leave, because the stress of being in an unhealthy church is harming you and your family in many ways (spiritual, physical, mental, financial, etc.).

    Yes! and because you realize you are just beating your head against a brick wall and nothing is going to change. And when you continue attending, you are lending support to something you don’t agree with.

  73. siteseer wrote:

    And when you continue attending, you are lending support to something you don’t agree with.

    Just a few days ago I was sitting in a community Christmas concert sponsored by a local non-profit. Looking around the audience I saw quite a number of people who still attended the church that I left, I felt a degree of sadness. On the way home I mentioned this to my wife and she pointed out that there were even more people in the audience who had also left that same church. Still it is sad but maybe it informs the discussion at hand.

  74. Dee,

    I agree with you. When your time, talent, and treasure are going to support causes you don’t believe in, it’s time to move on.

    I give in order to support my faith. I don’t give so that Bob will have another week on the beach, or so that he can bully people, then try to charm his way out of things by saying that it’s the “vinegar in [him],” — an excuse I doubt he would accept from me at this juncture.

    Any priest who deliberately sets out to hurt family members due to a disagreement with me is scum. It’s one thing to come after me, and another to come after those I love. Anyone who does the latter gets zero respect from me.

  75. Dee Holmes (fka mirele) wrote:

    They have themselves and their families to think about. Attempting to guilt people into staying when they’re already in emotional, physical and spiritual distress is not, in my opinion, helpful at all.

    I don’t think Jesus is asking us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of a church body, particularly if that body is dysfunctional.

    Much agreement.
    Your (generic ‘your’) family is the most precious thing you’ll ever have in this present world. Oh yeah, there’s a clobber-beat-down-verse for that one too (it’s in red letters in the book). My reaction? — it would have about as much chance of getting through TWW’s customs as a mule from Colombia through LAX with a kilo of blow.

  76. Bill M wrote:

    It is not possible to speak when you are not given a voice and were you to force the issue you will be labeled divisive. Once labeled divisive even those you purportedly “speak for” will join in throwing you out or sit idly by.
    Also the idea of staying presupposes that someone has a clear head about what is transpiring. On the contrary, I found that I could sense things were wrong but within the pressure cooker I found it hard to articulate. Even when I could coherently identify some of the problems I saw I was NOT heard. Let me emphasize, not heard at all. Finally it was only when I left that I was able to think clearly.

    This was my reality as well. No one should tell people to stay unless they have walked in that man’s shoes. It is a decision between a man/woman and God whether or not they stay in a situation to change it or move on. Some times you help people the most by not continuing to support the dysfunction.

  77. Dee Holmes (fka mirele) wrote:

    Attempting to guilt people into staying when they’re already in emotional, physical and spiritual distress is not, in my opinion, helpful at all.

    It is very difficult to leave, if someone feels the need to try and do something before coming to that point I understand, I did the same thing and I know a few in the midst of such misery. But it is a very unique decision for each person. I fear for those mustering the courage to leave. If someone is loaded down with the notion they should first confront abusive leaders they may never be able to escape.

  78. It sounds like the situation within some evangelical faith communities is so tightly enmeshed that the healthy and respectful boundaries between individuals have broken down badly …..

    I had taken it that abusive situations have shown up in all faith communities because of human error, pride, and sin in people attempting to control one another;
    but suppose there are OTHER FACTORS that also contribute ….. isolation from the local community, being taught to be fearful …

    Given: that the seeds of abuse are found in the weaknesses of our human nature;

    question: are there certain soils where these seeds of abuse will grow and thrive more readily

    finally, an ‘autonomous’ Church that is run by a pastor and his hand-picked staff begins to tend towards ‘cultic’ behaviors …. why is there difficulty among reasonable people in calling the pastor to account before the congregation, since he is not accountable to a ‘higher up’ in any hierarchy?

    about a million more questions, but it’s late

    except … an EPISCOPAL minister directly appointing someone to harass a member’s family???? Or is it like what is happening in our politics now …. that some ‘misinformation’ is spread about by higher-up political minions, and hearing it, people retaliate in vicious ways, attacking because they believed the ‘faux news’???

    ?

    I do agree with DEE that so much of what is at the heart of abuse will be found across the board in religious settings, as it is in corporations and companies and families …… human nature being what it is;
    but I am also thinking that the ONE EFFECTIVE RESTRAINT is that people are openly taught to have respect for each and every person, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, social status, etc. simply because that person is a human being made in the Imago Dei and bearing a God-given soul. Without that affirmation of ‘respect’, the dignity of persons in that community can be attacked openly.

  79. Christiane wrote:

    but I am also thinking that the ONE EFFECTIVE RESTRAINT is that people are openly taught to have respect for each and every person, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, social status, etc. simply because that person is a human being made in the Imago Dei and bearing a God-given soul. Without that affirmation of ‘respect’, the dignity of persons in that community can be attacked openly.

    That is somewhere in the category of a noble philosophical and theological position, but it breaks down in actual circumstances.

    For example, in the present circumstance in my denomination and elsewhere right now about gay marriage, there are those on each side of the issue who feel that no compromise can be made in any way because they consider it to be a basic issue either of adherence to scripture on the one hand or of human rights on the other hand. Sweetness and light and kum-ba-ya will not solve this as long as both sides believe that they are required by God himself to hold the line either way. Both sides will be wanting to exemplify to their own children what a true believer does when some true belief is challenged, and both sides have the responsibility under the idea of stewardship to throw the money only in some plate that they believer to be on the side of the angels as the old saying goes.

    When one goes out to war people get hurt. That is inevitable. Minimizing the damage to the helpless is one thing, but people do not rally to the cause of the non-helpless noncombatant who wants to sit out the battle because they don’t believe in the cause or else because they want somebody else to do the fighting while they sit on their front porch sipping tea and try to look pious.

    Should there be a better way? Certainly. But in the ‘real world’ I don’t see it happening unless people are willing to abandon their causes, and personally I think that some causes cannot be abandoned. You want to know one of my causes? I think that the theological position that ‘Jesus is only one way of many’ and not ‘the only way’ must be rejected without compromise. We can argue the details, but we must not abandon the field on that one. Would I back off of that for the sake of peace? No. For the sake of the noncombatants who do not care? No. For the sake of the children or the old folks? No, them least of all. That is just an illustration for the purposes of illustration only.

  80. The desire to be “the boss” and control others has no ideology/politcal/religous boundaries… and is fundamentally opposed, IMHO, the core of Christianity..

  81. Bill M wrote:

    Finally it was only when I left that I was able to think clearly. It has now been two years and I am beginning to get it sorted out.

    That one is impossible to get across to people.

    I find the same problem within in any deceptive and manipulative environment which hides evil or wrong doing or manipulates those who dare question. It is hard to think clearly and maintain reason when in it. I have found that many in that situation have a hard time coming to grips with what they supported for so long. They think it is worth saving or, It can’t all be bad… there are good people here…. and so forth. That they can help make it right….when it’s really the system that lends to corruption.

  82. I do think that pack up and go is a necessary path sometimes. I resigned my last job at age 69, packed up and hit the bricks, even though I had no desire to retire. I had to get away from that job and the associated problems before I went slap crazy, and since I was working for the federal gov there was no reason to just stay and complain and make myself miserable about it.

    In fact, the day before I did the ‘I am out of here’ thing I had been sitting in church aimlessly flipping through the hymn book while trying to get through one more service that made me want to scream and I thought the following about the job: Do I enjoy it? No. Do I think that I am accomplishing anything on the job? No. Will I starve if I quit? No. Am I about to cut loose either on the job or at this church or both and just cause havoc, and will I be sorry if I do that? Yes and yes. So quit already. Just quit. Go be sweet and slip a little praise and thanks where due and just quit. So I did. I quit both the job and that church. Both decisions were necessary for me. And all worked out well enough all around.

    Could I have raised a ruckus at work? Yes. Would anything have been better? No, not better enough to salvage a bad situation, though I do think that administration would have been understanding but helpless. Could I have raised a ruckus at church? No, there was nothing to ruckus about, just mediocre and lukewarm religion as a front for a social club setting.

    There is no shame in leaving if that is the best choice. If I am not for me, who will be for me? If I am only for me, what am I?

  83. @ okrapod:

    Yes – Jesus, He is the “ONLY Way.”
    WE, you and me, His Sheep, His Ambassordors, are in agreement… 😉

    “…and personally I think that some causes cannot be abandoned.
    You want to know one of my causes?
    I think that the theological position that
    ‘Jesus is only one way of many’
    and not ‘the only way’
    must be rejected without compromise.
    We can argue the details,
    but we must not abandon the field on that one.”

  84. Lydia wrote:

    I find the same problem within in any deceptive and manipulative environment which hides evil or wrong doing or manipulates those who dare question. It is hard to think clearly and maintain reason when in it.

    Because when it reaches that point, the whole environment is one big Gaslighting party where War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and Two Plus Two Equals Five is Party-Line TRUTH.

  85. @ okrapod:

    Absoulutly…
    “I do think that pack up and go is a necessary path sometimes.”

    I did NOT leave “Today’s Abusive Religious System” voluntarrily.

    I left kicking and screaming. Lost lots of friends, family, finances…
    I did NOT want to go. I wanted Jesus to fix it.

    Today, over 20 years later, after much darkness…
    After much pain, tears, and spiritual abuse…
    After shaking my fist at God…

    I’m thankful that…

    He, Jesus, Never left me…

    And, He, Jesus, had a better idea…

    Turned out – Leaving “The System” had a benefit…

    I had NO place to “GO.”

    But – To “GO” to – The “ONE” Shepherd – The “ONE” Leader – The “ONE” Teacher…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  86. Bill M wrote:

    at the same time I was making no difference

    This is the key to me. Stay if you CAN make a difference (and can handle it). Leave if you can’t.

    Sometimes leaving, withdrawing both support and funds, is the only way to make the point.

  87. Good comment.

    It is only now that I understand, probably not fully, the extent to which Bob manipulates other people. On the surface, of course, everything is sweetness and sunshine, but right behind the scenes is something very different. And it’s only with stepping away that you realize just how unhealthy things really are.

    It’s also true that the social connections make it hard to parse the underlying issues.

    In the case of Grace Church, people are very friendly, which is not uncommon in abusive churches. So, Leslie Steffensen is right–you will be warmly welcomed. And you’ll make many wonderful friends.

    It’s what happens when people feel like you are out of line that is troubling.

    What’s particularly troubling is that Bob is willing to ignore truly bad behavior; he has not tried to toss out the two married couples that allegedly were in an openly adulterous relationship, nor the parishioner who allegedly stole a bunch of IT equipment from the church, nor the parishioner who allegedly has boundary issues with little girls. But heaven help you if you commit the sin of lese majesty–criticize Bob and he’ll instruct staff, clergy, and lay leaders to shun you.

    Of course, that’s my warning to anyone who’s considering joining an Episcopal parish in the diocese of Virginia. Unless the diocese changes course, you are one falling out with your rector away from being separated from your investment of time, talent and treasure in the church. Clergy have a defined benefit plan that provides a secure retirement, even if they behave badly or leave the denomination. But laity have no such right in practice.

    Forewarned is forearmed.

    Lydia wrote:

    Bill M wrote:
    Finally it was only when I left that I was able to think clearly. It has now been two years and I am beginning to get it sorted out.
    That one is impossible to get across to people.
    I find the same problem within in any deceptive and manipulative environment which hides evil or wrong doing or manipulates those who dare question. It is hard to think clearly and maintain reason when in it. I have found that many in that situation have a hard time coming to grips with what they supported for so long. They think it is worth saving or, It can’t all be bad… there are good people here…. and so forth. That they can help make it right….when it’s really the system that lends to corruption.

  88. Eric Bonetti wrote:

    It is only now that I understand, probably not fully, the extent to which Bob manipulates other people. On the surface, of course, everything is sweetness and sunshine, but right behind the scenes is something very different.

    “For the Devil himself can transform himself to appear as an Angel of Light.”
    — some Rabbi from Tarsus

    Historically, deception has always been the favorite tactic of evil, NOT direct frontal assault. The Slick Deceiver, not the Fanatic Persecutor.

  89. b>@ A. Amos Love:
    Where you went is where the church should have led you in the first place.
    However, then they couldn’t control you so see……everything worked out!

    On Christ the Solid Rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.

  90. okrapod wrote:

    Sweetness and light and kum-ba-ya will not solve this as long as both sides believe that they are required by God himself to hold the line either way.

    true, this

    I think any true instances of ‘kumbaya’ for Christian people began at the moment of the Incarnation of Our Lord, when, in His great mercy, He assumed our humanity
    . . . . in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I find a meaningful expression of our true unity coming together in Christ:

    ” We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate lord makes His followers the brothers and sisters of all humanity. The “philanthropy” of God (Titus 3:4) revealed in the Incarnation is the ground of Christian love toward all on earth that bear the name of human. The form of Christ incarnate makes the Church into the body of Christ. All the sorrows of humanity falls upon that form, and only through that form can they be borne. The earthly form of Christ is the form that died on the cross. The image of God is the image of Christ crucified. It is to this image that the life of the disciples must be conformed: in other words, they must be conformed to His death (Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:4). The Christian life is a life of crucifixion.”
    (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

  91. @ Eric Bonetti:
    Eric: If you are still reading, is there anything people here can do to help your case? It’s nice for people to be able to share their troubles here that were somewhat like yours, but I think we should try to do something tangible? Any thoughts? A postcard campaign? People showing up at the church? Protests? Dave (Eagle) of wonderingeagle is good at that. 🙂

  92. dee wrote:

    juulie downs wrote:

    It felt like she was thankful that someone was hurt, and had been praying for that.

    It was just a bit different. I know someone has been hurt in every church denomination out there. I prayed they would find me because I want to help them tell their story,

    Thanks for re-wording this in this reply. After I posted, and then thought about it, of course I knew you wouldn’t be praying for someone to be hurt. But my dander got up a little, and I just spewed.

    I really do appreciate the work you do, and the spirit in which it is done. You are a light in the darkness, reflecting the light of Christ in a beautiful way!

  93. Eric, I believe you. I know of someone else who was bullied in an Episcopal Church after she raised questions about finances. Your church’s officials seem to be running scared, hoping for a financial miracle. The behavior you describe, however, sounds far more serious than what my friend found in her church. Because you held an official position, check with qualified legal counsel about whether you could be found legally liable if you do not report, to the appropriate authorities, your concerns about what sound like serious financial improprieties. Don’t decide to do this on your own! Be sure to follow competent legal advice!

  94. Hi Mimseis. Thanks so much for your advice.

    Yes, I’m represented by excellent legal counsel. What I find truly disappointing, however, is that both Bom Malm and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia thus far appear entirely unconcerned. Which begs the even more troubling question, “Why?”

    If church is not a safe place to insist that our funds be treated with respect, then it is time to quit giving.

    And to Bob and those who come to his defense, I again ask the question, “On what planet is it okay to show such utter disregard for the funds entrusted to you?”

    @ mimesis:

  95. Dee, you have been wonderful. No matter how all this plays out, I will always be grateful for your kindness.

    dee wrote:

    @ juulie downs: A quick thought before I go to bed. Why don’t you, and anyone else who read my answer to you, join me in praying that God would bring those hurting and abused to those of use who want to bring comfort to those who have been wounded? It worked this time for me. God brought me Eric. Imagine how many people out their are looking for people to put their arms around them, listen to their stories, believe them and bring them hope?!

  96. FYI, everyone, the original message here appears to be from someone in Bob’s family, possibly Leslie Malm.

    True to form, I have received messages from Leslie telling me that I’m a liar, saying that I’m being hateful, and that I should “let go and let God.” To which I replied that Bob’s conduct in the matter has nothing to do with God.

    @ Malm family:
    Malm family wrote:

    Isn’t that exactly what your doing!@ Eric Bonetti:

  97. If you’re insulting people on the internet, you must be ugly on the inside. You are nothing but a cyber bully who didn’t get his own way! Believe it or not this man doesn’t care about anyone but himself and his vendetta against the Malm’s and the Steffensen’s. Very sad that all he has is his hatred for others.

  98. Insulting people isn’t bullying. Trying to force people out of their church IS bullying, and per the Episcopal Church canons, clergy by virtue of their ordination vows agree to, and are held to, a higher standard. And flagging bullying and related misconduct by clergy isn;t bullying. It’s calling a spade a spade.

    Clergy are always responsible for maintaining boundaries. When those boundaries are breached, they are responsible exclusively for their actions.

    Cstoddard wrote:

    If you’re insulting people on the internet, you must be ugly on the inside. You are nothing but a cyber bully who didn’t get his own way! Believe it or not this man doesn’t care about anyone but himself and his vendetta against the Malm’s and the Steffensen’s. Very sad that all he has is his hatred for others.

  99. Cstoddard wrote:

    If you’re insulting people on the internet, you must be ugly on the inside. You are nothing but a cyber bully who didn’t get his own way! Believe it or not this man doesn’t care about anyone but himself and his vendetta against the Malm’s and the Steffensen’s. Very sad that all he has is his hatred for others.

    Who are you? What is your position as a ‘stakeholder” in this dispute?

    I was shocked that basic financial transparency (which all adults should understand and this is ‘business’) weren’t followed at that church and all of the other problems.

    There is nothing wrong with a candid discussion of such matters. The church leadership failed to act like adults.

  100. Cstoddard wrote:

    If you’re insulting people on the internet, you must be ugly on the inside. You are nothing but a cyber bully who didn’t get his own way! Believe it or not this man doesn’t care about anyone but himself and his vendetta against the Malm’s and the Steffensen’s. Very sad that all he has is his hatred for others.

    Whenever people get really defensive but can’t deal in facts, then that defensiveness says there’s something being hidden. Then they lash out at the person without talking about the problem at all. People like you who come on here to attack people just convince me that there must be something to what they are saying.

  101. Bob has not bullied you once, he has not even contacted you per the bishops suggestions. There was no misuse of funds, your money was returned to you. Your email was blocked because of all the nasty emails you sent to the Church. You where not even coming to Church at this point. Bob was not warned about anything, except for contacting you. Your behavior has been outrageous to say the least. He never hurt Mike, he stopped coming to Church long before you left. Your anger is the reason you where not given the door code. This all stems from the fact that you where not asked to be Sr. Warden. When Bob started back to work after he broke his neck their where numerous complaints from several people about your behavior. How do you expect to resolve this conflict with hate and anger? My family has had enough, please stop with all this . It’s not good for you, your partner or my family. Resentments are not healthy! What can we do to reconcile this?

  102. Shauna posted on the Open Discussion thread that she does not have funds to provide a Christmas for her son Billy. (He is the minor who was abused by a church member and Dee covered the tragic story and how the church mishandled it.)
    https://www.gofundme.com/pxs5dk

    If anyone could help out, including for presents, give cards for places like WalMart, etc.
    they have some very tangible needs right now. Including the basics for living life.

    Thank you.

  103. Leslie, if you don’t think that instructing people to remove our names from the directory, to shut down our parish email, to refuse prayer requests, tto deny us access to door codes and more isn’t shunning or abusive, you are delusional. And Bob specifically included Mike in his email, so I that is BS.

    Apropos Bob’s having been warned, I expressly told him when we met to discuss his conduct at the school/wardens meeting and personnel committee meeting that a third incident would not be tolerated, so he was warned.

    And you are seriously misinformed about being senior warden, as my preference would have been to serve as junior warden.

    I am glad to have you confirm that blocking our email was done at Bob’s request. Can you describe one instance in which Mike sent anything inappropriate>

    I will post on my blog a copy of the text I received about Bob’s behavior during the personnel committee meeting so that people can see for themselves that Bob’s behavior was inappropriate,

    @ The Malm family:

  104. No Eric, you have created these problems yourself! Had you tried to get along with parishioners and staff their wouldn’t have been any complaints when Bob returned to work. Then you started in with al the ugly, nasty emails to the staff! Your attitude was the reason why you lost access to the church, had your email blocked and your money returned to you. You can’t expect to pretend nothing happened. You need to accept some responsibility for your behavior. So again the answer is no. If you let go of all your anger maybe there could be some kind of reconciliation here.

  105. @ Eric Bonetti:

    Wow Eric that is one toxic church that you belonged to. With Leslie Malm circling the wagons and being hyper protective, playing the blame game, and not being willing to have an adult conversation. No doubt they will lose more intelligent members who have basic critical thinking skills.

  106. You have no idea what you are talking about! You have only heard Eric’s side of the story. Maybe you should come and visit Grace sometime and see for yourself what a loving parish it is.

  107. @ Leslie Malm:
    LOL. Let’s try this again Leslie. Did Bob, or did he not, instruct staff to remove our names from the church directory, to deny us acccess to the building, to tamper with our donations, and more?

    Yes or no.

  108. What Part of N O do you not understand, you created this problem! Your very disturbed person!

  109. Bob hasn’t talked to you or had any contact with you Eric, and I am done with you! You sure aren’t the person you pretended to be when my husband almost died and my families lives had been turned upside down. You ingratiated yourselves into our lives and pretended that you cared. When you didn’t get what you wanted out of it everything became a problem with you. You caused problems with the volunteers, parishioners, Staff, Leslie S., Bob. and our families. Including the Bishop. You stabbed us all in the backs! You where right about one thing that you posted, you said, “that you probably had no friends left at Grace. Your right, it’s called burning bridges at both ends! I will not be contacting you again! This little chat you belong to doesn’t know the Real Eric Bonetti!

  110. Leslie, so glad to hear that “the Malm family” doesn’t include Bob. Quite reassuring. For a moment I thought Bob had violated the bishop’s direction.

    Caring is a two-way street, and even if everything you had said is true, nothing you have said warrants Bob’s behavior. Indeed, nothing in Bob’s conduct after his return from his near-fatal accident suggests any appreciation at all–yelling at me and trying to intimidate me at parish meetings is hardly consistent with even basic human respect, let alone appreciation. And before you trot our your nonsense about me allegedly causing problems, please visit my blog to see Peter Barnes’ comments about Bob’s behavior at the parish personnel committee: “It’s Bob, not you.” Or Elizabeth Legere’s comments.

    Further, If you want to argue that conflict in the parish warrants ostracism, I can name dozens of situations in which people have behaved badly, and Bob had NOT directed clergy and staff to shun the person. Like the individual in the parish who faced criminal charges for embezzlement–if allegedly being mean to parish staff warrants being shunned, why isn’t that person being shunned? You know who I mean, Leslie. I am happy to name names and provide specifics, in this and other cases.

    I’d also point out that Bob’s ordination oath as a priest requires that he be a faithful pastor to those entrusted to his care. Again, nothing authorizes him to engage in the conduct you describe in your own postings, so your arguments are silly, mean-spirited, and serve only to make you and Bob look bad.

    Meanwhile, if the price of friendship is to accept being bullied by you, Bob, and “leaders” in the parish, you can keep it. I have more respect for myself than to accept friendship on those terms.

    My question stands: Did Bob direct church staff to remove us from the church directory, to block our names from appearing in the church bulletin, and to deny us access to the church building? Yes or no.

    When you have the courage to look this issue in the eye, to quit playing games, and to deal with it head on, then you will earn my respect, and then we will have the opportunity to work towards resolution, But as long as you and Bob play games, we have nothing to discuss, and things will continue as they are now.

    That said, I do not believe in shunning someone who has behaved badly, so when you decide to behave like a Christian, you are more than welcome to contact me. And I will not take a page from Bob’s playbook and block your email.
    @ Leslie:

  111. Do not believe Eric Bonetti’s account of events as completely factual. I am a current and longtime Grace parishioner who served on the Vestry with Eric. His blog contains many misrepresentations that I can attest to with first hand knowledge of the situation. There are other things that he documents which I cannot verify, but having been attending Grace for the better part of 20 years, I can say that since his blog does contain factual inaccuracies it calls into question his entire testimony. Furthermore, I can attest to the fact that Bob has never shown me or my family any of the traits to which Eric testifies.

    Eric clearly has a vendetta and obsession with Grace and with Bob Malm that is scary for Grace and unhealthy for him. He assumes too limited responsibility for his own actions. His posts almost daily and mostly rehashes his grievances from any and every angle. Note there are no comments on his blog – I believe that is because he has received mostly comments that he doesn’t wish to share, so he doesn’t.

    Eric also omits he and his partners attempts to taunt the parish and Bob Malm.

    His blog and his testimony on this site represent his version of events, please keep that in mind.

  112. Thank you to this long time parishioner, I am done trying to reason with him. He doesn’t want a resolution! I am glad someone else has stepped forward from Grace. I am so sick of my husband and our Church being portrayed this way.

  113. As Peter B said, “Don’t take it personally — it’s Bob, not you @ Leslie:

    Feel free to publish under your real name if you’d like to discuss. And for the record, I have no “partners.”

    Meanwhile, this post is about shunning and the fact that it is wrong. The fact that Leslie Malm cannot look the issue in the eye and provide a yes or no answer speaks volumes.

    Be sure to visit my new blog, shunningepiscopalchurches.com.

  114. And for the record, as long as Bob’s shunning continues, I am not backing down. If and when that does happen — and I very much doubt that Bob has the courage to do so — I will quickly do my best to pretend both Grace Church and Bob don’t exist.

    In the meantime, the responses from Leslie and our anonymous parishioner are all too predictable.

  115. You were not shunned, you resigned from the Vestry and you stopped coming to Grace.
    Could there be other reasons that you were not given the door code after that? AND could there be other reasons the parish no longer accepts money from you ? AND could there be other reasons why you cannot send emails to Grace Church? There are and you know what they are. You are outraged and unhinged because we responded to your attempts to engage with us in a hostile manner by cutting off the channels you wanted to use to harass us after you left the parish.

    Where in all your research of the church cannons does it require a Priest and a parish to allow themselves to be harassed and menaced by a former disgruntled parishioner. This is not about shunning, its about harassment – you are harassing us.

    For the benefit of other readers of this thread – he is harassing us I think because he didn’t get his way. He felt he was owed something because of all he gave to Grace Church. And to be fair, he did give a lot of time and effort. But that didn’t earn him the ability to make demands or make him more than others. Many, many people help Grace thrive through the giving of time and effort. Specifically, he demanded a staff member be fired who wasn’t AND he wasn’t asked to be Sr. Warden AND he expected that his perspective never be questioned and it was in the usual manner of Vestry discussion. Any reader of his blog will find all the clues from his own words to confirm my theory.

    Eric, your character assassinations about Bob, Leslie, other parishioners by name, the Parish itself, the Vestry, and the Episcopal Church are just terrible and so completely false. There is no insinuation or speculation you won’t make. Your speculation on ‘why Bob is a priest’ is particularly desperate and ridiculous.

    Your blog is both frustrating and fascinating all at once. Frustrating because you can just spew your lies and indulge your anger with no regard for others or for the truth. Fascinating because you indulge yourself in this way, day after day. Your blog is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

    The good news is your ability to shock and frustrate us diminishes with every post and every new site you open. What more can you write that will shock us?

    Finally, Eric, the blog says a lot about you.

  116. Bob’s email speaks for itself. And your statement about being “unhinged,” is a statement of fact and thus legally actionable as defamation. And no, there are no reasons except that I complained about questionable HR, financial management, and financial reporting practices.

    @ A long term parishoner:

  117. @Eric Bonetti – I’ve copied in your questions from your blog to this thread. I’ll answer here as I know you don’t post dissenting comments on your blog.

    One thing to keep in mind – is that I am not interested in debating you or playing mind or word games. I am here to support my parish and Bob Malm. I am here to provide my perspective on your version of events.

    EB: Publishing, under the law, is never harassment.

    My response: I’m not a lawyer Eric and I am not trying a case – its a figure of speech. And your harassment hasn’t been limited to publishing.

    EB: Your assertions of “fact,” including your statement that I am “unbalanced,” are legally actionable in tort as defamation.

    My response: I don’t think I used there term unbalanced, and your implied threat makes you sound like a bully.

    EB: You state in your post that I have engaged in conduct that warrants shunning. I therefore ask that you publish specifics, including evidence to support your claims.

    My response: I didn’t state that you had engaged in conduct that warrants shunning. I stated you were harassing Grace Church.

    EB: You state that my actions are based on my disappointment at not being named senior warden. Please provide evidence to support your claim.

    My response: I stated that it was one of at least three things. Your own blog provides a lot of insight into your thoughts about it. Its clearly something you have spent a lot of time thinking about, analyzing and creating stories about. It is my opinion and the opinion of others and that is what I represented in my prior comment. We aren’t in a court of law.

    EB: I strongly suggest that you consult with legal counsel and ask them to review your remarks before you make any further comments. As things stand, I caution you that your remarks are defamatory.

    My response: Again, stop it, you sound like a bully.

  118. Regardless of whether you are a lawyer or not, you can be held legally liable for defamation. And taking legal action in response to defamation is not bullying; it is the legal right of the person being defamed. If you trample on other people’s rights, you should expect to be held accountable. And I am confident that Dee will be happy to share your IP address and other identifying information if needed.

    Your argument also is logically fallacious. You argue in the first part that there has been no shunning, and then turn around and say that I should share some responsibility. But if there is no issue, then it follows that one cannot share in responsibility for that issue.

    Further, your argument misapprehends the relevant timeline. My public criticism of Bob’s actions came only after his email announcing that we are unwelcome. Thus, his email was not in response to any misconduct on my part.

    You state that I have engaged in harassment, which also is a legal term. Please provide a specific example.

    Lastly, as a practical matter, it is responses such as yours that drive people away from organized faith. Uncritical, ad hominem attacks on your part simply reinforce the key message behind Dee’s post. @ A long time parishioner:

  119. @ Eric Bonetti:

    I’m grateful to have had this forum to present another side to your story as you have been mostly unchecked in your character assassinations.

    Readers now have another point of view and can draw their own conclusions.

    My last word here is to reinforce that Bob Malm,and all of the other people that you continuously call out are good people.

  120. Bob never sent you an email saying you are unwelcome! You sure like to distort the truth. You started harassing Bob and the Church when he returned to work. Your timeline is not accurate and is all in your head!

  121. From: Bob Malm
    Date: July 15, 2015 at 3:03:13 PM EDT
    To: Eric Bonetti
    Cc: leslie.steffensen@gracealex.org
    Subject: new parish?
    Leslie,

    Your earlier comment was that you were going away. What happened to that?

    Do you deny that Bob sent the email below?

    And why can you not give a straight answer: Yes or no? Did Bob instruct parish staff to remove our names from the parish directory? To deny us access to the church building? To prevent our names from appearing in the church bulletin?

    Why don’t you have the integrity to answer this question truthfully?

    Three words: Bob. Malm. Shunning.

    Eric… Recently I asked Leslie if she had been in touch with you before and/or after she was away last week. She told me she spoke to you while at St. Thomas a while back for a meeting she attended…she said you spoke to her about finding a new parish and transferring from Grace Church…and she also told me she exchanged e mails with you this week and you mentioned attending St. Paul’s K. St…..I will inform both Mike Jones and Barry Joyner that you will not continue to serve at Grace as either a LEM nor a Trustee of the Trust…and I will ask that you be removed from their e mail lists…..when you(and Mike) find a parish and are ready to transfer, please ask them to send us a L.O.T. Thank you for your service to Grace in the past. May God bless you as you join a new faith community. Bob @ Leslie Malm:

  122. A long time parishioner wrote:

    @ Eric Bonetti:
    I’m grateful to have had this forum to present another side to your story as you have been mostly unchecked in your character assassinations.
    Readers now have another point of view and can draw their own conclusions.
    My last word here is to reinforce that Bob Malm,and all of the other people that you continuously call out are good people.

    Good people can’t get along and be financially transparent?

  123. And by the way, Leslie, the personnel committee was unanimous in its recommendations for dealing with the employee in question. But Bob insisted that the matter be deferred until after his July vacation — despite the fact that, for thirteen years, the employee in question had not done his or her job. How does Bob get off squandering our resources like that?

    @ Leslie Malm:

  124. I agree, Velour. Why can’t parishioners see a management audit letter? Or get an explanation as to why the parish administrator had more than $1200 hidden among the debris in her office? It’s not Bob’s money. Any reasonably prudent person would ask questions.@ Velour:

  125. Leslie Malm wrote:

    Your attitude was the reason why you lost access to the church, had your email blocked and your money returned to you. You can’t expect to pretend nothing happened.

    This answers it right here. The church, according to their own bylaws, can’t do this. But you just said they did. Then you backtracked and said Eric was never made unwelcome. The other poster said Eric resigned.

    Whether or not you feel Eric is telling the truth, you are surely not.

  126. Eric,
    No where in Bob’s letter does it say you are unwelcome. You resigned from the vestry because you didn’t get your way and that pissed you off. All because you where not asked to be Sr. Warden. Guess you thought Bob owed it to you! You are constantly distorting the truth! Everything is always all about you. Your so self absorbed! You call yourself a Christian, your behavior says otherwise!

  127. Leslie wrote:

    Eric,
    No where in Bob’s letter does it say you are unwelcome. You resigned from the vestry because you didn’t get your way and that pissed you off. All because you where not asked to be Sr. Warden. Guess you thought Bob owed it to you! You are constantly distorting the truth! Everything is always all about you. Your so self absorbed! You call yourself a Christian, your behavior says otherwise!

    I’m not Eric.

    And you yourself wrote those words I quoted, that Eric was blocked from the church. You are trying to change the story about the shunning, so is the financial situation a lie, too?

  128. His email was blocked because of all the nasty emails he wrote to staff, parishioners, and to office volunteers.The office volunteers would not give the new door code to him. They told him he would have to speak to Leslie Steffensen,the Asst. Priest. Eric had already been gone for several months at this point. Volunteers where not allowed to give out the door code. My husband and I where not in town when the door code problem arose, however I did know about the awful emails he had been writing. You can choose to believe what you want, it doesn’t really matter to me. The truth always wins in the end!

  129. @ Leslie:
    He wasn’t shunned, he left the church and then started harassing the Church as Leslie notes about the emails. She hasn’t changed her story, she is confirming that he was blocked from sending emails – not because he was being shunned, but because he was misusing the access. We don’t normally give door code access to people who aren’t attending our church. Eric wasn’t attending, it had been months. So he wasn’t given the door code.

    Whether he was officially on the books as a member or not, he is not entitled to use our channels to harass us. His access to the church, ability to send emails to the church, ability to make donations is contingent on using that access for good. When you send nasty emails, when you mock the church by sending donations for $0.02 (as in – his $0.02 cents worth), people are rightly alarmed about your intentions.

    On another note, Eric’s lengthy thesis’ on and insinuations about financial misconduct are just rubbish. We are audited every year by outside auditors and there is complete financial transparency to the parish. Eric wraps us his perspective as if its absolute when really its just his opinion. Its easy to try a case when you have no opposition.

  130. A long term parishoner wrote:

    Where in all your research of the church cannons does it require a Priest and a parish to allow themselves to be harassed and menaced by a former disgruntled parishioner. This is not about shunning, its about harassment – you are harassing us.
    For the benefit of other readers of this thread – he is harassing us I think because he didn’t get his way.

    If Eric is “harassing” and “menacing” you or your church, then call the cops. They’re paid to deal with behaviour like this.

    A long term parishoner wrote:

    Eric, your character assassinations about Bob, Leslie, other parishioners by name, the Parish itself, the Vestry, and the Episcopal Church are just terrible and so completely false.

    Specifically, what exactly has Eric said that’s false?

  131. A long term parishoner wrote:

    On another note, Eric’s lengthy thesis’ on and insinuations about financial misconduct are just rubbish. We are audited every year by outside auditors and there is complete financial transparency to the parish.

    And who are these “outside auditors”?

  132. So, I ask Leslie’s question back to both of you: What kind of Christians are you? I don’t see any love or concern for Eric in your posts. I don’t see from either of you that you tried to do something about it other than make sure Eric couldn’t come back either.

    Leslie said he was never made unwelcome, but was blocked from access from the church “after”. Never means never. That means right now, too. And your words seem pretty unwelcoming to me. They are as downright nasty as you claim Eric is being.

    BTW, Dee here usually verifies all emails, so I’m pretty sure she’s seen them. I may not know Eric, but I know Dee, and I know she verifies things. So while you might not believe Bob removed Eric from the registry, I believe that email was real. And I’ve seen the way people behave when money is being ill-spent, and this was it exactly: they get angry, and try to block the person from their lives, and tell everybody else that it was the other person’s fault. There’s enough here that the story of “Eric was just being mean and we kept him out” is not holding water.

    Did not one of you try to talk to Eric like a Christian brother? Did any of you stand up and try to welcome Eric back? Did you share the most recent financial statement with him, as a member of the parish, which legally, he still is whether you like it or not? Did you yourselves go verify the latest financial audit? Did you?

    There’s a lot of holes in the things you say. Maybe you’ve been misled that Eric left? Have you even given that a single thought? Have you tried to speak up for him for one second, to have everybody sit down and talk it out? Have you shown one ounce of Christian love to resolve the issue? Or are you just mad and attacking him for giving your church a bad name, while giving the church a bad name by the way you act yourself?

    If you haven’t tried to do the right thing and act in love, then you can’t call yourselves followers of Christ.

    What kind of Christians are you?

  133. What kind of Christian am I? Well for one, not one that questions other people’s Christianity.

    This isn’t about Christianity. Its about one person behaving badly and taking offense when others defend themselves against that behavior.

    I’m not quite sure what you are trying to infer about Dee verifying emails and verifying things. What do you mean by that?

    I’ve represented my point of view and my witness in defense of my parish, its clergy and members. If you find his Eric’s version of events more credible, I’m sorry for that, but at the very least there is an alternate version of the story now to consider and is now documented on this thread.

  134. ishy wrote:

    So, I ask Leslie’s question back to both of you: What kind of Christians are you? I don’t see any love or concern for Eric in your posts. I don’t see from either of you that you tried to do something about it other than make sure Eric couldn’t come back either.
    Leslie said he was never made unwelcome, but was blocked from access from the church “after”. Never means never. That means right now, too. And your words seem pretty unwelcoming to me. They are as downright nasty as you claim Eric is being.

    I agree.

    This group of parishioners is circling the wagons and while they seem sane to themselves, they seem immature and hateful to outsiders who are looking at their behavior.

  135. Uh, no, the parish is NOT audited. It does an AUP (Agreed-Upon Procedures) which is not intended to detect misfeasance or other major issues, and is only suited to much smaller organizations. Indeed, even the AUP was not completed in a timely manner, for when Charlotte left, she did so without having supplied information the accountants needed. That fact was not shared with the vestry.

    Moreover, it is management’s responsibility in an audit to notify the auditors of any irregularities, and something tells me that Bob has not told the auditors about the money found in Charlotte’s office, the repeated issues with bank deposits, and the parish’s inability to appropriately manage its restricted solicitations.

    Given the issues cited above, a forensic audit is both appropriate and a useful way to reassure donors that their funds are being used appropriately. The vehemence with which Bob, and now Leslie, resist acting on this suggestion makes me ask the question, “Why?” Being a faithful steward of parish resources would redound to Bob’s reputation…and no matter what conclusions one reaches about the causes of the misuse of my funds, it is indisputable that there has been a misuse of funds.

    Apropos Leslie’s assertion of harassment, I have sent Bob a total of 5 emails in the past 18 months, none of which contained inappropriate content. Mike sent two, both asking whether the vestry had approved of the decision to refuse funds we give to the church. While never got an answer, it is clear that it did not, as one vestry member did a “reply all,” asking what was going on. Res ipsa loquitor.

    On one point, Leslie is correct, and that is that I resigned from the vestry because I didn’t get what I want. And what I wanted was a top-down commitment to good governance, including honest budgets not based on unduly optimistic revenue or expenses, transparency, accountability, and aligning cost structures with the need to save for the future. And, as I told Bob and others countless times, preventive maintenance is far less expensive than deferred maintenance. Add to that the fact that the vestry continues to ignore things like most of the plumbing and HVAC lines in the building are at or beyond their expected lifespan, and the parish is headed for what likely will be a day of reckoning–and it won’t be pretty. If attempting to prevent that from happening causes offense, so be it. But the handwriting is on the wall–giving is declining, and will continue to do so until people can see that their donations–including those of their time and talent–are appreciated and treated with respect.

    On a practical level, Leslie, you do neither yourself, nor your position, nor Bob, nor the parish, nor your family, any favors with your facially inconsistent, ad hominem attacks. Even if, arguendo, everything you say is true, none of it justifies Bob’s conduct. And you still have the messy little detail of Bob going after Mike; at no point have you proffered any reasonable explanation of why he felt it necessary to include Mike in his vendetta. You of all people should know that family members are off-limits in a dispute–particularly as someone who has not always been treated kindly by parishioners.

  136. And by the way, Leslie, you are misinformed about the timing of events apropos the door code. When that occurred, it had been five weeks since I had attended services, not the “months” you assert. Moreover, given how rarely you attend, it is entirely possible that I had attended more recently than had you. A small bit of amusing irony….

  137. Tellingly, parish minutes now reflect the fact that 1) the church’s AUP has not resulted in clean financial reports and 2) problems go back at least three years. Note, too, that the church is on a cash, not accrual basis. How hard is it to have accurate financials under these circumstances?

    Here’s what the April 12, 2016 vestry (or board of directors) minutes say about the matter:

    Fr. Malm continued, commenting that Beth’s accounting cleanup task is due not only to the last 3 months from the temporary bookkeeper’s tenure, but actually back to Jeff Aaron and even Charlotte Wright’s tenure, so it’s a cleanup from more than 3 years ago. Beth is not going to focus on 2015 just yet. We will rely on the auditor to clear up some of the 2015 questions. Eventually we will see in the final management reserve numbers, what the difference is from previous years.We will see if we truly had a surplus or a small deficit in 2015.

    As the rector, Bob Malm has day-to-day responsibility for supervising parish staff. The fact that the parish couldn’t tell, four months into 2016, whether it had ended the prior year in the red or the black should be a serious concern to all parties involved.

    Source: http://www.gracealex.org/Customer-Content/gracealexandria/CMS/files/Vestry/GECVestryMinutesApril16Final.pdf