The Park Street Church Debacle: The Boston Globe Wasn’t the Problem. The Church Leadership Simply Doesn’t Get ‘Tov.’

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“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”  Ronald Reagan

Why PSC and CHBC

Some of TWW’s regular readers wonder why I focus so much on the mess at PSC. I have been at this for 15 years. Early on, I focused pretty exclusively on the sexual abuse of children and adults in so-called “evangelical” churches. I quickly learned that the way the church dealt with abuse was the problem. In other words, they covered it up, and DARVO’d the victim and those that cared about them. DARVO is now so well known that the medical world and even Wikipedia recognize this acronym: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim, and Offender. Two churches that played influential roles in the development of my faith are Chapel Hill Bible Church (CHBC) and Park Street Church (PSC.) Both churches developed serious problems surrounding the senior pastors and the changing of the churches’ ethos (some might say polity). Both churches have experienced upheavals, which have led to some investigation.

In the case of CHBC, CRACE led the investigation. Unfortunately, church leaders decided not to release the full report, which extends to today. This led to the resignation of some leaders, and a number of attendees chose to walk out. This resulted in a decline in church income, which may lead to the laying off (or firing) of some employees who are most likely expected to sign NDAs

PSC appears to be following in the footsteps of CHBC. Sure, there are differences, but we see an investigation about to happen. Some have expressed concerns about the organization that will perform it, along with the church’s declining income and people leaving. I’ve decided this was an opportunity to watch both entities deal with serious conflict, declining income, and attendees.

So, I’ll be watching both churches to see if they turn around or continue to decline.

The Boston Globe gets involved.

Some readers may remember that the Boston Globe was instrumental in discovering the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, for which they earned a Pulitzer. There was a great movie written about their investigation called Spotlight, which won an Academy Award for Best Picture. When the Globe calls, people know it’s serious. The reporter Danny McCloud wrote Controversy roils Park Street Church. Congregants are criticizing its leadership and questioning its direction.

Mark Booker was interviewed.

  • We’re working through some real conflict, which again is not new,
  • “Not new at Park Street, not in the church. It’s part and parcel of what church life looks like and means.”

Booker believes that this is just a personality conflict with Micahel Balboni.

To hear Booker tell it, the bedrock of the divisiveness can be traced to friction between him and Michael Balboni, a former associate minister who was fired last year.

However, my link to Dr. Balboni’s letter was necessary since the reporter linked it.

But a 17-page letter Balboni sent to the church community last Julyclaims Booker fostered a toxic culture and muzzled dissent among staff, denigrated congregants and ministers, failed to protect pastoral confidentiality, did not keep his word, and was highly controlling.

…Specifically, Balboni alleged Booker pressured him on multiple occasions to give up information Balboni received “within protected spiritual care conversations,” in violation of pastoral ethics and state law.

Pastor Booker claimed Dr. Balboni questioned his character, hinting that this led to his firing. Dr. Balboni’s letter expanded on the number of concerning issues behind his disagreement.

Balboni shifted from critiquing Booker’s leadership style to critiquing his character and integrity.

The misgiving of the five pastors was mentioned.

Last month, five Park Street ministers signed a letter to church staff, elders, and deaconsregarding Booker saying that “when many on staff were asked to support the senior minister in writing, the majority of the ministerial staff, including us, could not in good conscience sign a letter of affirmation

I was willing to go on record, so he quoted me. I stressed Dr. Balboni’s letter, which I think was the most important point I got across.

Dee Parsons, who attended Park Street during the 1970s and now blogs about churches, has written extensively about the current unrest at Park Street. Parsons suggests that at least some of the current friction may be born out of differing theological philosophies. She notes that Booker, before taking on his current role at Park Street, was trained in an Anglican tradition, which tends to be much more hierarchical than Congregationalism.

…“The pastor speaks and it gets done,” she said of the Anglican tradition. Congregationalism, she said, is “very much a shared experience.”

For me, Pastor Booker’s following quote is concerning. It sounds a bit like Christianese. Speaking about the famous annual meeting that blew up:

“We’re on the cusp of something that could be very beautiful, but it could also be easily broken.”

People are hurting. One should not predict something “beautiful” amid such pain unless one thinks that the aching of the wounded is beautiful.

The church staff was forbidden to speak with the Boston Globe.

It is my understanding that staff members were fearful they might lose their jobs if they spoke to McCloud at the Globe. I will have more to say about this at the end. It speaks volumes…

From: Jason Abraham
Date: February 29, 2024 at 11:01:38 AM EST
To: Staff-
Cc: Mike Ahearn
Subject: Boston Globe Inquiry
Dear All,
As per previous communication from our Administrator, Mike Ahearn regarding press inquiries, please note that members of the staff are not authorized to speak to the press about the church. Please let Mike or me know if you receive any inquiries and direct them to us for comment.

Blessings,
Jason

Overall, I believe that the Globe article was a net negative for PSC leadership, as it should have been.


Mark Booker was “disheartened” by the Globe article.

I have highlighted some parts of the post that I found interesting.

March 20, 2024

Dear Park Street Community,

Like many of you, I was disheartened to read the Boston Globe article about Park Street Church that was published this week.

At the same time, I want to remind all of us that God is here and among us and nothing comes to us that does not pass through his hand. He is working even now amid these trials to humble and refine us, and he continues to invite us to trust, to remain faithfully on the way of the cross, the way of love. That includes yielding to the vicinage council process laid out by our Elders in the email from last Friday, which I am eager to do to help promote clarity, healing, and trust within our church.

As we yield, the repair and healing that our community desperately needs can occur. We serve a God who delights in mending the broken, in bringing healing, in transforming the desert into pools of water (Ps 107.35). May God’s miraculous and magnificent river of life-giving grace and healing power—about which we heard from Walter this past Sunday—flow even more among us in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Also, as we heal and repair, let’s not forget that the mission of God continues to advance through us, as we heard about on Sunday from Simon, Earle, and Maria. God has not put us on this prominent street corner merely to have a steeple that points to the heavens. Rather, he has put us here to be a community whose love and service would point to the heavens, bearing witness to the power, forgiveness, grace, and love made known to the world in Jesus Christ. The city that we love has now read of our brokenness. In a way, our present lowliness sets the stage for our gracious and healing God to receive great glory. As Paul writes in 2 Cor 4.7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” May God’s surpassing power, compassion, care, and healing be made known in our city through jars of clay like us.

Look to Jesus. Keep running with endurance the race marked out for us. And remember these words from the Apostle Paul, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4.16-17).

I am praying for you all and encourage you to keep praying for our community: for protection, for healing, for grace, for courage. I also covet your prayers for our family in this difficult season.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

The Vicinage Council’s Intervention is limited: It cannot correct or rebuke and has no authority.

This is the new investigation that the church leadership has arranged. It is conducted by the Vicinage Council, which is part of the CCCC. This is the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (4Cs), which is the denomination of which PSC is a member. It is a Christian Conciliation group within that denomination. It is essentially a peacemaking group.

Christian Conciliation
Jesus said, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25).  Conflict within the church family has become a serious problem in many local congregations today.  Church members and pastors alike say, “If we can just get past this conflict, then we can get on with the Lord’s business!”  What they don’t realize is that the conflict itself IS the Lord’s business. If a local church does not learn to live out the reconciliation of the gospel within her own church body, then her witness to the world is compromised — sometimes fatally.  When invited, the CCCC Ministry of Conference Care can come alongside a local CCCC church to assist in Christian conciliation, leading the church back toward biblical peace and unity.

A reader tried to find out more about this group, which he found here. Talk about being “disheartened.” This group cannot correct, reprimand, or scold, etc. They can’t do much of anything since they have no authority. They try to get people to make nice.

  • Through Vicinage Councils, Congregational churches actively seek advice from one another to aid in discerning the work of the Spirit among them.”
  • Councils have no authority whatsoever–properly so-called. Yet, there is a moral and spiritual weight in their decisions, growing out of the facts – that when good men, the representatives of Christian churches, meet, and in the fear of God and with invocation of the wisdom of the Spirit, prayerfully investigate a point, and deliberately make up their minds concerning it, there is great inherent probability that they will be right” (quote from 1874)
  • Under purposes of the Vicinage Council: “council and advice for churches facing challenges such as conflict or division, for which they seek clarity”
  • The historic practice of Vicinage Councils called for the purpose of correction or rebuking is no longer in use.”

Are things worse than they seem?

The following was a note from a reader who helped me look at what to expect from the Vicinage Council.

Former Park Streeter here. I want to thank you for all of your coverage of this debacle at PSC. It’s been very illuminating and you’ve done a really good job at dissecting all of the information coming out of this conflict. I’m not part of the church anymore (because I moved) but I still know people who are. From what I’ve heard, it’s much worse than is public. This is even much bigger than Mark Booker, the “coup” has already happened and the leadership are solidifying their power and agenda, as we can see from the petition and Michael’s letter. You may have seen this email already, but it’s the latest in the shameful ostracization of any dissenting voice within the church. They are presenting this as an external investigation, but  I wonder if the narrative will be controlled and how impartial the 4C’s council really is. PSC has built a house of cards, but I don’t think it will last much longer. The congregation has no idea what’s really going on behind closed doors. Hopefully the truth will come out soon.”

Here are the points from his note that jumped at me.

  • He believes that a coup has already taken place. I have thought this since I was given a copy of Mark’s letter during the holidays.
  • The leadership is solidifying their control and agenda.
  • Michael Balboni’s letter is essential in documenting what was going on behind the scenes.
  • There seems to be an ostracization of dissenting voices.
  • The congregation has little idea of what is going on behind the curtain.
  • In the end, the truth needs to be revealed.

Final thoughts from me

  • The Vicinage council seems to be very limited in what they can do. They appear to be a “peacemaking ” organization. This means they will not be able to enforce anything. So, I don’t have much hope for the outcome.
  • Pastor Booker said, ” I’m saddened for how this coverage likely adds to the pain many of us feel during this challenging time, as well as how it could cause damage to our witness to Jesus in this city.” Leaders in most churches jump up and down, attempting to attract attention to their church. What they seldom think about is what if that attention is not favorable. Whose fault is it if the attention is negative? The media? Did Pastor Booker take any of the blame? He blamed Michael Balboni when he spoke with the reporter. This does not bode well for the future.
  • Even the reporter found Michael’s letter concerning. Yet the church leadership is silent about the allegations in the letter. They push the tedious idea of a “personality difference.” Anyone who reads that letter can see it runs much deeper.
  • Pastor Booker still refuses to openly discuss his academic qualifications. Given what has happened at the church, he seems to be in over his head. Did he get enought training for this job?
  • Will the Vicinage Council openly discuss the letter as well as the concern for transparency regarding Mark Booker’s actual academic achievement?
  • The church is not a democracy. If one-third of the members disagree, a natural leader would find a way to bring peace. Jesus went after one lost sheep. The church seems willing to forget 1/3 of the sheep and alienate those who were not “loyal to the cause, whatever that looks like…” It is time to take a Dale Carnegie course.
  • IMO, there was a way to have stopped this whole cart from rolling over the cliff. Mark Booker could have done more to keep Michael Balboni around. Yes, it would have been hard for Pastor Booker. However, a real leader can spot another leader and learn to get him on the team. It is so very easy to fire someone.

Most importantly:

Where is the buck stops here kind of leadership? It is a game to pretend that everyone is “unified.” That tactic places the blame on everyone, covering for those who should be strong enough to stand up and take the consequences. Jesus was a real leader. He took a motley group of fishermen and assorted others and began changing the world. I’m sure He rolled His beautiful eyes at some of the antics of his disciples. Somehow, he kept them together for three years before the Cross  and for the rest of their lives after the Cross. He didn’t fire the Sons of Thunder when they Him wanted to call down fire from heaven because they couldn’t get a hotel room due to discrimination.

It’s time to build a Church Called Tov. Is there a leader at PSC who gets what that involves? It involves humility and lots of love. It has nothing to do with coalescing the power structure.

Tragically, in recent years, Christians have gotten used to revelations of abuses of many kinds in our most respected churches.

We need a better way. The sad truth is that churches of all shapes and sizes are susceptible to abuses of power, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. Abuses occur most frequently when Christians neglect to create a culture that resists abuse and promotes healing, safety, and spiritual growth.

How do we keep these devastating events from repeating themselves? We need a map to get us from where we are today to where we ought to be as the body of Christ. That map is in a mysterious and beautiful little Hebrew word in Scripture that we translate “good,” the word tov.


Comments

The Park Street Church Debacle: The Boston Globe Wasn’t the Problem. The Church Leadership Simply Doesn’t Get ‘Tov.’ — 59 Comments

  1. “It sounds a bit like Christianese.” wrote Dee regarding the following:

    *Speaking about the famous annual meeting that blew up: “We’re on the cusp of something that could be very beautiful, but it could also be easily broken.”*

    It sounds a lot like incoherent garble. Perhaps Mr. Booker was given a Content-Free Sentence Generator by a politician. I recall other statements from him involving cusps of something.

    I’m an older Southern church lady; I understand about using words that mean nothing while the Murderer Smile conveys the real message. It’s not a good practice for anyone, but it’s especially bad for people who are supposed to be spiritual leaders.

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  2. …Specifically, Balboni alleged Booker pressured him on multiple occasions to give up information Balboni received “within protected spiritual care conversations,” in violation of pastoral ethics and state law…

    It’s time for the Attorney General’s office look into how Booker repeatedly forced ministers to give up protected spiritual care conversation information in violation of State law.

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  3. Just ONCE, I would love for a church leader, when disheartened by unflattering media coverage, to say, “You know what? We really did behave that badly, and are desperately sorry.”

    The problem is your sins, not the exposure of your sins. Especially in cases of alleged abuse.

    As far as being on the cusp of something beautiful – I’d agree with Booker that repentance is a beautiful thing. It’s at the heart of the gospel. God’s kindness leads us to repentance.

    The problem is, I haven’t seen anything looking remotely like repentance coming from PSC leaders. As leaders, they should be leading the way in being the most eager to repent. The NT calls church leaders to a higher standard.

    In fact, in this letter from Moderator Jason Abraham announcing the Vicinage Council investigation, PSC leaders just double down.

    https://mailchi.mp/parkstreet.org/letter_from_board_of_elders_2023_03_15

    “We are not taking this step [of the Vicinage Council investigation] because we question our prior determination or the Senior Minister’s qualification.”

    That’s the whole problem! You have far too much confidence in your own decisions.

    Other observations:

    “Since the outcome of the Vicinage Council is highly relevant to the intended topic of the Special Meeting, the date of the Special Meeting will be postponed until the Vicinage Council has completed its work and the Board has had an opportunity to assess its determinations.”

    So the petitioners’ repeated requests for a Special Meeting, for MONTHS, have been denied all over again – even after a Special Meeting was promised on April 7. So much for letting your “yes” be “yes.”

    Why?

    “Holding another likely divisive meeting on the heels of our Annual Meeting may be simply more than many in our body can take.”

    Here’s a thought. Maybe people who can take it would be there, and people who can’t or don’t want to, won’t? In any case, reneging on an agreement just looks really bad.

    “… The Vicinage Council… will also provide its determination as to whether the conduct of the… former Associate Minister, and other ministers has been appropriate and aligned with Biblical standards for their calling to pastoral ministry.”

    Anyone else seeing red flags here?

    I don’t know how to conduct investigations into spiritual abuse. I leave that to the experts. But are alleged victims to be interrogated the exact same way as alleged abusers are?

    Speaking of being qualified for pastoral ministry, has it ever even occurred to Booker or any of the elders, just how much the petitioners really, truly love Park Street Church? How much they are weeping, praying, fasting for the Spirit-filled flourishing of their beloved church body – to the point of emotional numbness and exhaustion?

    All I’ve seen, in all the communications so far, is that the petitioners are viewed as a pesky, divisive bunch. If it hadn’t been for the “disheartening” media coverage, would PSC leaders have even had to grudgingly acknowledge that another investigation was needed here?

    The language of Jason Abraham’s letter makes it seem as though this investigation is really independent. But it seems to me, the Vicinage Council (VC) is going to do a quickie investigation and the elders are going to tell the congregation how to interpret the findings, just like they did with VOCA.

    PSC leaders should instead have an open Town Hall BEFORE the VC begins their investigation, and come ready to honestly answer some tough questions from the congregation. Such as:

    – How was Rev. Dr. Ronald E. Hamilton chosen to chair the VC? (Nothing against him, I don’t know the man, but congregants need more than the typical, “Ron loves the Lord, loves the church, loves missions, loves coffee, loves the following sports teams,” etc.)

    – Is Rev. Hamilton trauma-informed, and does he have expertise in responding well to abuse?

    – Is Rev. Hamilton choosing the members of the VC, and will they also have expertise in responding well to abuse?

    – Do members of the VC know the difference between spiritual abuse and church conflict? Are they qualified to discern such matters?

    – How can congregants be reassured that the VC is not receiving any pressure to use this process to amplify the elders’ previous decisions? Especially since PSC is getting PR guidance, and is driven by image repair (thus the gag order given to staff not to speak to the Globe)?

    – Who is writing the final report, and who gets to see it?

    – When will PSC leaders be honest about what the VOCA process was actually like for the staff being interviewed, especially since 5 ministers disagreed with how 2 elders described VOCA’s conclusions?

    Christian “peacemaking” can look like breaking down subordinates until they take the party line. That’s what Judy Dabler did at RZIM.

    Mark Booker may be more silver-tongued than the crass Mark Driscoll, but this is the same vibe I’m seeing from PSC leaders these days:

    “There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus, and by God’s grace, it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done. You either get on the bus or you get run over by the bus. Those are the two options.”

    Speaking of answering honest questions, it’s well past time for leaders to be honest about Booker’s ed creds & how Church of the Cross was planted.

    Lord, have mercy.

    The Balbonis and the petitioners have invested so much in speaking out, in longing for their church to be healthy and to flourish. They understandably want to see this process (whatever it involves, and however long it takes) to its conclusion. They really do love their church.

    I continue to pray for Park Street Church, for all involved here.

    But there are other healthy, thriving, Spirit-filled churches in Boston doing Kingdom work…

    “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…”

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  4. The Boston Globe is a leftist rag IMHO. My late mom thought it was the Oracle of God, but then, she thought Boston was the center of the universe, so there you go. 😀

    I agree with everything else in your post, Dee, but, as an Ex-Bostonian happily transplanted to NC, I just had to weigh in with my opinion on the Globe.

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  5. Elizabeth Klein:
    “… The Vicinage Council… will also provide its determination as to whether the conduct of the… former Associate Minister, and other ministers has been appropriate and aligned with Biblical standards for their calling to pastoral ministry.”

    Anyone else seeing red flags here?

    I don’t know how to conduct investigations into spiritual abuse. I leave that to the experts. But are alleged victims to be interrogated the exact same way as alleged abusers are?

    You’re onto something here. How convenient would it be for the council to find that not only is Mark in clear but actually it is Michael and the other staff who are spiritually disqualified for not falling in line? My guess is that is the idea: clear Mark’s name and cast out those who had problems with him. It would also be convenient that this “independent” council would be the ones saying they should be fired, not Mark.

    By the way, if you want to know what the leader of the council is thinking heading into this, here is a tweet from Feb 25 calling for “radical forgiveness” at PSC. Is he really impartial?
    https://twitter.com/ronham1946

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  6. A little perspective is in order regarding what ‘Anglican’ is and isn’t. It is liturgically and ecclesiastically hierarchical, but not authoritarian – at the parish level, it functions pretty much like a congregational church. The rector speaks…but the laity may well, as is their right, yawn. Booker is associated with the ‘Anglican’ Church in North America, but is in fact not Anglican – it is not in communion with Canterbury or the Anglican communion. It is Anglican in style, and its early leadership was comprised of expatriate Episcopal clergy – and it’s the Episcopal Church that is in communion with Canterbury. The irony? ACNA has bishops, Biblical Greek, episcopoi, which makes it lower-case e episcopal. All of this is highly elastic at the level of pewsitters, as most of us have good friends in the other camp, and we fellowship frequently. None of this would be the case but for the ambition and greed of certain professional clergy, which is the whole point of Dee’s blog.

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  7. We had dinner with old friends in Boston who had been active at Park Street for some time. They were very familiar with the present situation but reminded us that authoritarian leadership at PSC goes back some years. Dr. Paul Toms (who presided in the late 70s/80s) was not exactly Mr. Rogers. We agreed that one of the cross-denominational evils of the present Church is “clericalism”, the term popularized by Pope Francis who is battling exactly that condition in the Roman church. “Clericalism” takes various forms but at its heart, it elevates the clergy above the laity and creates theologies and power structures to maintain that elevation and separation. In deconstructing clericalism, we can see the continued dominance of the male clergy, their unwillingness to be held accountable for their actions, and in many cases the roots of the sexual and spiritual abuse crises of many parishes. One can analyze the current PSC troubles and find major threads of clericalism running through despite protestations of congregational governance. They suggest that solutions, if they are to be had, will come from new-found humility all round as well as confession, repentance, and permanent repudiation of the essence of clericalism on the part of the leadership. I am thankful my LCMS parish exhibits no such tendencies, with a pastoral team truly devoted to servant-leadership and personal humility.

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  8. D4v1d,

    I appreciate your perspective, and might offer some additional thoughts based on my experience with Anglicanism. While I think it’s true that pastors generally have more authority than in congregational churches, I think this is highly dependent on the church context. Anglican priests can hold more power formally, but in healthy churches that power is checked by effective vestries and active laity. Whatever the church polity, I think the main determinant is whether the pastor will humble himself or herself and submit to the judgment of others.

    Another big difference is that Anglican priests are accountable to Bishops, who hold the authority to initiate disciplinary proceedings and generally hold priests accountable. But at PSC, we can see that there is absolutely no outside authority who can hold Mark accountable, unless he voluntarily submits to them. In this sense, the congregational setting allows for more authoritarianism than the “hierarchical” structure of Anglicanism. Of course, the hierarchy is only as good as the Bishops in charge, and they can be pretty rotten and fail to do their jobs. But I think it’s important to recognize that each form of church polity has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to checking the power of senior ministers and holding them accountable.

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  9. janiceg:
    My heart aches for all of us who have been hurt and deeply wounded by leaderships lack of transperacy regarding the spiritual abusive issues that were raised by MB 17 page letter.And the aftermath of failing to do an independent investigation in the very beginning.

    I’m so terribly sorry, JaniceG. Really and truly.

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  10. Observant Outsider:

    By the way, if you want to know what the leader of the council is thinking heading into this, here is a tweet from Feb 25 calling for “radical forgiveness” at PSC. Is he really impartial?
    https://twitter.com/ronham1946

    Yeah, I saw that.

    I don’t disagree with what Hamilton said, in principle. Indeed, Jesus is a radical forgiver, and calls us to be the same.

    The problem with his tweet is the context.

    Use of the Park Street hashtag & tweeting that the very day of the grueling Annual Meeting tends to imply that truth and confession are simply unnecessary for healing and reconciliation at PSC, and that forgiveness is contrary to justice.

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  11. Elizabeth Klein:
    Use of the Park Street hashtag & tweeting that the very day of the grueling Annual Meeting tends to imply that truth and confession are simply unnecessary for healing and reconciliation at PSC, and that forgiveness is contrary to justice.

    Rachael Denhollander: “I have found it very interesting, to be honest, that every single Christian publication or speaker that has mentioned my [victim impact] statement has only ever focused on the aspect of forgiveness. Very few, if any of them, have recognized what else came with that statement, which was a swift and intentional pursuit of God’s justice. Both of those are biblical concepts. Both of those represent Christ. We do not do well when we focus on only one of them.”

    CT: Your impact statement also included a call to repentance. How do you define repentance?

    Rachael Denhollander: “Repentance is a full and complete acknowledgment of the depravity of what someone has done in comparison with God’s holy standard. And I do believe that entails an acknowledgment of that, and a going in the opposite direction. It means that you have repented to those you have harmed and seek to restore those you have hurt.”

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  12. Elizabeth Klein: Just ONCE, I would love for a church leader, when disheartened by unflattering media coverage, to say, “You know what? We really did behave that badly, and are desperately sorry.”

    The problem is your sins, not the exposure of your sins. Especially in cases of alleged abuse.

    Quoting the post: Pastor Booker said, ” I’m saddened for how this coverage likely adds to the pain many of us feel during this challenging time, as well as how it could cause damage to our witness to Jesus in this city.”

    This is what you and so many outside church leadership understand that leaders like Pastor Booker do not.

    It helps, not harms, the witness of the church when there is exposure of wrongdoing *if* the exposure is followed by genuine acknowledgement of the wrongdoing and appropriate action.

    The witness of the church *is* harmed when the world reads an article like this and smells cover-up. Then they can say to themselves, “See. They operate just like our companies, universities, and politicians do. They are not offering anything different, let alone better, than what I encounter every day. They clearly don’t believe all that stuff they preach about confessing sins and finding forgiveness.”

    In Spotlight, there was a scene where the editor said that documenting a story about a priest sexually abusing kids would play for a day or two and not change anything. The bigger story was about the *systematic cover-up* of multiple priests abusing multiple children with the knowledge of the church hierarchy.

    And very ironically in the story, the character that enacted what repentance is supposed to look like was an editor at the Globe. Years before he had been given information that would have broken the story if he had followed up on it. When he realized what he’d done, he acknowledged his role and walked out his change of heart but fighting for the investigation to go forward.

    When church leaders cannot acknowledge sin and when other leaders circle the wagons and go into PR mode, *that’s* when the church loses its witness.

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  13. Stavros49: Clericalism” takes various forms but at its heart, it elevates the clergy above the laity and creates theologies and power structures to maintain that elevation and separation. In deconstructing clericalism, we can see the continued dominance of the male clergy, their unwillingness to be held accountable for their actions, and in many cases the roots of the sexual and spiritual abuse crises of many parishes.

    Seeking Truth: But at PSC, we can see that there is absolutely no outside authority who can hold Mark accountable, unless he voluntarily submits to them.

    In “A Church Called Tov”, they quote the Willow Creek Governance Review written after Bill Hybels patterns were revealed by a secular paper and the church had to face what had happened.

    “Unfortunately, it is difficult for any board to hold a Senior Pastor accountable more than he or she is willing to submit.”

    Pretty much sums it up.

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  14. Seeking Truth: Another big difference is that Anglican priests are accountable to Bishops, who hold the authority to initiate disciplinary proceedings and generally hold priests accountable. But at PSC, we can see that there is absolutely no outside authority who can hold Mark accountable, unless he voluntarily submits to them. In this sense, the congregational setting allows for more authoritarianism than the “hierarchical” structure of Anglicanism. Of course, the hierarchy is only as good as the Bishops in charge, and they can be pretty rotten and fail to do their jobs. But I think it’s important to recognize that each form of church polity has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to checking the power of senior ministers and holding them accountable.

    Sounds better on paper than it appears in practice given the history of how the hierarchy of Roman Catholic Church has handled abuse allegations and the current debacles in ACNA and the PCA church currently in the news.

    “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and right, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.” Eccl 5:8

    Two things I think various church polities have in common when it comes to just handling of abuse allegations: 1. The accused perpetrator is someone who is connected to the people making the decisions in a way the victims are not and

    2. The “default” appears to be to “protect the reputation of the church” by cover-up of the sins. The lack of justice for and care of the victims is viewed as acceptable collateral damage.

    Then as soon as the cover-up is exposed, the reputation of the church is damaged exponentially beyond any damage that would have occurred if the truth had been acknowledged in the first place.

    I don’t see why this is so hard for church leaders to see unless it is simply the case that their reasoning is dulled by drinking the wine of power.

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  15. As the former Senior Minister, Gordon Hugenberger often taught Park Street Church that King Saul’s name literally meant: “You asked for it!”

    The Israelites rejected the LORD God as King and desperately asked for an earthly king like Saul, who turned out to be a king who just did whatever he wanted, rather than be: repentant, not vengeful, or “a man after God’s own heart.”

    “Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.

    Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.
    For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.

    Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
    so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.

    Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
    Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

    Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
    Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

    Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.
    Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

    Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
    Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

    Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.

    Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness…”

    (Psalm 51:1-14)

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  16. Watcher: “It’s time for the Attorney General’s office look into how Booker repeatedly forced ministers to give up protected spiritual care conversation information in violation of State law.”

    For the most part, the state really, really does not want to get involved in Church politics/fights and frankly, church attenders/members, if they give it some thought, really, really don’t want the state to get involved either.

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  17. Stavros49: permanent repudiation of the essence of clericalism on the part of the leadership

    The thought occurs that B. Franklin’s answer to the question “is it a monarchy or republic?”, “a republic, if you can keep it” applies to congregational governance — the congregation needs to jealously protect against creeping authoritarianism as an ongoing agenda, a permanent obligation to be vigilant.

    I have read that in US politics, elections are more performative than substantive in that the two dominant parties substantially control ballot access and the range of actual policy outcomes on offer is extremely limited. The consent of the governed is shaped, or even “manufactured”, by the powerful. I think we see an echo of that in this story.

    It’s hard to imagine how truly representative governance could be restored in US (and one might argue that it never really was truly representative in the past — Howard Zinn, for example, argued that it has been an oligarchy from inception), and the situation at PSC may have evolved to this “representative in appearance, hierarchical in substance” state. Can that be reversed?

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  18. My original ordination was with the 4C’s. I later changed it to the United Church of Christ, also a congregational denomination so perhaps I can shed some light on the Vicinage Council. The UCC is broken down into regional conferences (as is the CCCC). Each conference is governed by a Conference Minister and each Conference has a Committee on Ministry (which I believe would be the same as what this blog has been referring to as the Vicinage Council). The Committee on Ministry (made up of clergy & lay people) is responsible for sponsoring candidates for ordination, ordinations, and dealing with conflict and other problems within area UCC churches. If a grievance is reported against a minister a smaller group is sent to the church to do an investigation. While I cannot speak for the CCCC I believe the UCC does a good job (through Conference and National offices) of training these committees. While the committee does not have the power to remove a minister (only the church can do that) they can revoke the ministers’ credentials if the minister is UCC ordained. Hiding or lying about credentials would be serious enough to warrant the threat of revocation. In the case of PSC, Booker is not CCCC ordained so they have no power over him, only the church does. And PSC has a history of self ordaining ministers so the CCCC has never had any real say in how PSC conducts its business. I can’t speak to how well trained these investigators will be but a better trained outside investigative group will have no power either. Either type of investigation is totally dependent on the openness of leadership to share what is found (which they don’t seem willing to do) or a small group going rogue and sharing the findings with the Globe or CT.

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  19. Eyewitness,

    I think you’re absolutely right. I certainly don’t want to suggest that a hierarchical church polity is necessarily more effective at preventing abuse than congregationalism. My main point is that hierarchical churches are not automatically more prone to authoritarian pastoral leadership. In fact, Scot McKnight in episode 199 of his Kingdom Roots podcast noted that in his experience, congregational churches might be more prone to developing a culture of secrecy which allows for authoritarian leadership to develop. Ideally, the congregation should have enough knowledge to effectively exercise their duty to hold the pastor accountable. But often, a small inner circle is able to effectively control the information that gets to the congregation, and once a culture of secrecy develops, it is easy for the pastor and his inner circle to exercise authoritarian leadership.

    I think this is precisely what has happened at PSC, where the Bylaws formally give power to the congregation to overturn any decision of the Board of Elders at a special meeting. In practice, this authority has been eliminated by the Moderator through legalistic wrangling, suppressing vital information, and negotiating in bad faith to ensure the meeting never happens. And even if it does, it will be on his terms and will reveal only what he chooses to reveal. These inner circles obviously exist at the diocese and presbytery level in other churches, so there is no guarantee a hierarchical church would fare much better. I just think it is important to note the ways the dynamics you very rightly point out can play out differently in every church context depending on its governance structure.

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  20. christine,

    I just assumed he walked in with a different ordination. All these posts seem to lean that way-so I could be wrong about that. However, if he was ordained after he got to PSC I would bet it was not with the 4 C’s. They would have required seeing educational credentials. But, again I could be wrong. Sorry. Did not mean to lead people down an incorrect path.

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  21. Eyewitness: Quoting the post: Pastor Booker said, ” I’m saddened for how this coverage likely adds to the pain many of us feel during this challenging time, as well as how it could cause damage to our witness to Jesus in this city.”

    … It helps, not harms, the witness of the church when there is exposure of wrongdoing *if* the exposure is followed by genuine acknowledgement of the wrongdoing and appropriate action.

    The witness of the church *is* harmed when the world reads an article like this and smells cover-up. Then they can say to themselves, “See. They operate just like our companies, universities, and politicians do. They are not offering anything different, let alone better, than what I encounter every day. They clearly don’t believe all that stuff they preach about confessing sins and finding forgiveness.”

    … When church leaders cannot acknowledge sin and when other leaders circle the wagons and go into PR mode, *that’s* when the church loses its witness.

    EXACTLY.

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  22. “The city that we love has now read of our s̶i̶n̶s̶ ̶a̶g̶a̶i̶n̶s̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶h̶u̶r̶c̶h̶ ̶ brokenness.”

    (Matthew 23:23-29)
    “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

    25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

    27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

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  23. Elizabeth Klein,

    Elizabeth Klein,

    Mark has been meeting with Rev. Hamilton for months…laying out his case and assuring his sympathy. Has he made any effort to speak to anyone else? This sounds like the same arrangement Mark had with Steve Macchia. Mark had him act as an “objective” mediator with the Park Street Five. The meeting ended with him yelling and screaming, telling them all to shape up or ship out. It was clear why this man was chosen. I suppose the VC will be a little more cunning. But I’ll give 100 to 1 odds that Rev. Hamilton will promote “radical forgiveness” and a full pardon for his buddy Mark. Then, his primary agenda item will be “whether the conduct of the…former Associate Minister and other ministers has been appropriate and aligned with Biblical standards.” The VC won’t have the courage to offend the C.C.C.C. Vatican. They’ll ignore the real problems. Even though the PS 5 took every possible step to resolve real Biblical issues in a Biblical manner, they will be found guilty. Hiding behind the wall of confidentiality, we’ll hear something like “considerable disregard for God’s established authority,” and “calculated sowing of division.” Once again, there will be no explanation of how the actions of these Christ-loving saints rose to the level of deliberate sin and justified the VC strategy for their dismissal. The church will be divided, led by a dishonest, and unqualified pastor. But the Booker/Abraham power structure will be upheld. And for the rest of his life, Rev. Hamilton will be able to bask in his legacy as the savior of Park Street Church. “It was easy. All I had to do was attend a meeting, fire a couple of troublemakers, and I become their hero.”

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  24. BTA: Mark has been meeting with Rev. Hamilton for months…laying out his case and assuring his sympathy. Has he made any effort to speak to anyone else?

    This is shocking, but not surprising. The “sons of the world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Can you imagine a US court allowing a single person on a jury who had spent a lot of time with the defendant and not the victim, let alone if it was a bench trial and the judge had done that? James soundly condemns partiality as sin.

    Even if a person was trying to be impartial, it is sheer arrogance to think that you are so above human limitation as to be able to be unbiased in that situation. It is not very hard for someone to look good one-on-one with someone they know they have to make a good impression on. If Mark is manipulative at all, this situation would be child’s play to manipulate in his own favor. A manipulative person could strike a warm and humble posture with his “mediator,” says he wants to learn, asks for them to mentor him (which appeals to their pride), talk about how wounded he is, use lots of christianese and poof! The mediator believes he knows the man and takes on his view of the problem.

    Recently, I can’t recall where on Twitter/X, I read something to the effect of to discern a wolf, you need to ask the sheep. In other words, it’s the victims who have seen the wolf’s teeth. A wolf is not so dumb as to bare its teeth at the people he needs to protect him.

    And suppose that those who are suspicious of Mark’s leadership are wrong? Will they ever believe the findings of Dr. Hamilton in these circumstances? The only way to bring peace would be through an impartial 3rd party. The leaders have chosen to bolster their own beliefs and course of action, not to bring peace.

    Mark “laments” the damage to the witness of the church, This will add more damage. Sadly, when this happens, it’s not just the witness of one local church, it damages the credibility of the church in general. Why should any unbeliever be interested in what a church has to say about truth or justice when the standard for truth-seeking is lower even than in the secular judicial system?

    Truly appalling. I am sorry for those who love and have loved Park Street Church.

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  25. Eyewitness: A manipulative person could strike a warm and humble posture with his “mediator,” says he wants to learn, asks for them to mentor him (which appeals to their pride), talk about how wounded he is, use lots of christianese and poof! The mediator believes he knows the man and takes on his view of the problem.

    Bingo! We see it all the time on TWW where fallen pastors are restored to ministry by sympathetic dudebros who counsel them back into the pulpit, whether God wants them there or not.

    Many churches are controlled by leaders who are masters at manipulation, intimidation and domination … these are not gifts of the Holy Spirit.

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  26. If that is all true then it looks even worse for PSC leadership. They communicated this is an “independent” investigation, but if it is true Mark already has a relationship with the people on the counsel, that is at best a significant oversight and at worse, intentionally misleading the congregation.

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  27. New drama at Park Street Church today, March 31st, Easter Sunday, at the 11:00 am service.

    One congregational member tried to speak out of behalf of the Park Street Five [ministers who oppose Mark Booker’s bullying and spiritual abuse], but the audio team muted the entire service… and then cut away to a view of The Boston Common for a while to hide the situation.

    Below is the link. The relevant portion starts at 22:30.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYj3LjrYrww

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  28. “She notes that Booker, before taking on his current role at Park Street, was trained in an Anglican tradition, which tends to be much more hierarchical than Congregationalism.”

    There are a lot of people, even those who have been trained in the Anglican tradition, who do not understand it. The pastor (rector, priest) has final say over all things in the service or liturgy while the board (vestry, composed of laity) has final say over other aspects of church life. Both working together is the Anglican model rather than a truly top-down hierarchy. When a bishop is elected, he has to be elected by a majority of both lay delegates and clergy. Each are counted separately, and if both do not agree, he is not elected. In one of my former Anglican churches, the rector decided he would take over the financial aspects of the church and being generally abusive which created all sorts of problems and eventually led to the church essentially firing him.

    The clergy take vows of obedience to their bishops which complicates matters. I’m all about empowering the laity these days, and hopefully, the clergy will remember that there are limitations on their obedience vows.

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