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Accountability and power

Discussion in 'Full and Part Time Ministry' started by Paidiske, May 25, 2019.

  1. Paidiske

    Paidiske Clara bonam audax Supporter

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    So this post is sparked by a specific incident, but it reflects on themes which have been recurring a lot for me lately.

    The specific incident is that our parish is revising our (extremely dated) privacy policy, and one of the things we need to include, which was not explicitly included before, is a clear complaints process for people to follow if they feel we have breached their privacy. My feeling is that I should not be part of that process, because the likelihood is that I will have been involved in any breach of privacy; and I shouldn't be policing or responding to complaints about my own mistakes!

    But what has surprised me is that not everyone involved in the policy review agrees with me, or even sees the issue.

    My fundamental assumptions are:

    - Humans inevitably get things wrong, make mistakes, and mishandle power (even in churches).
    - We should acknowledge upfront that this is possible and put in place robust and transparent systems and policies to prevent it..
    - We should have in place robust and transparent systems of accountability for when these things occur.

    To my mind, if you're not doing those things, in any area of ministry, that's dangerous. It runs the risk of people protecting their own power and control rather than acting and responding appropriately. At the extreme end of this avoidance of accountability, we see the clergy sexual abuse crises, but there are countless smaller instances played out over all sorts of churches (and other organisations) every day.

    Because of this, I think it is good and necessary that there should be avenues for people to complain about me (or those in various roles more generally) to others who can hold us accountable in various ways; but it is surprising, and even distressing, to me to realise how many churches and powerful Christians within churches don't seem to see the issue or the need for structures and processes which provide that kind of oversight and accountability.

    So I guess I'm wondering, how much are churches having these conversations? How aware are you of processes for accountability and oversight in your own churches, and do you think they are robust enough? Do you really feel safe somewhere if you don't know how things will be handled if someone is exploitative or abusive or inappropriate? (Am I the only one surprised or disturbed that this isn't just a no-brainer for us all now?)
     
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  2. Michael Collum

    Michael Collum Everything began with a voice, use yours Supporter

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    The one common practice that may be affected be an up to date privacy policy is the common practice for churches to gossip amongst one another about people who have visited their church.
     
  3. Robin Mauro

    Robin Mauro Active Member

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    I love everything you wrote. How humble and Christlike. Yes, the Bible teaches transparency, and it protects the church too. I take issue also that many churches today are not transparent with where the money goes either. Hang in there brother. Satan is coming against you because he likes things to be hidden and murky. He can get away with a lot in that darkness. As Jesus said , "Have I done anything in secret?" No, he didn't! Praise be to God!
     
  4. archer75

    archer75 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    The fundamental assumptions in the OP sound good to me, of course.

    1) At least in the dominant Christian confessions in US culture, I would guess that the attitude of the OP is quite uncommon. ,That doesn't mean I think everyone in ministry is just a paranoid power-abuser, but this idea of proactively making sure that there are procedures in place to keep you, the person in ministry, from dealing with complaints about yourself...I just don't think that happens too much. Some, surely.

    2) I am interested to follow this because so many parishes (in our communion, at least, and I suppose many Anglican ones, too) have the rector / priest as the primary celebrant and also a main administrator. Or the priest's wife as a de facto or de jure administrator / manager. It seems to me that that combining of roles is dangerous (although certainly not intended to be dangerous). After all, many will feel that an "attack" on the parish priest is an attack on their piety.

    In the OC (at least in the Russian tradition, probably elsewhere), we do this thing where, when the bishop comes to be the primary celebrant, the laity (and the other clergy?) vest him before he does anything liturgical. The idea, as I understand it, is that the bishop can't do anything without the laity (well, nothing liturgical, of course he can say his personal prayers or whatever else). I haven't managed to attend one of these, but I rather like the idea. No idea whether Anglicans do anything of the kind.

    But I bring that up because it reminds me how much of our piety is invested in or feels invested in the very person of the priest (or bishop). If people don't even know or especially like the bishop, they all behave extra respectfully. I suppose it's an opportunity to feel the connection to the wider church, since the bishop represents us to the jurisdiction, and represents the jurisdiction to us.

    And similarly...when the bishop is there as primary celebrant, and the personality of the parish priest is temporarily "extinguished," people kiss that same priest's hand with extra fervor. I suppose to show that, despite his position being taken by the bishop for the present service, they feel that their primary relationship is with the priest, etc. Something like that.

    So it seems to me that:

    a) yes, everything said in the OP should be so

    b) it may be difficult at times to get even laypeople to agree fully to that, because (even if they have the best intentions) it is hard to set up prcedures for someone to "take aim" at a person whom you feel to represent your piety in some way

    c) of course, actual misdeeds (and I don't mean just sexual abuse) by someone in ministry are ALSO a major threat to the piety and spiritual health of the congregation. But, sad as it is to say it, it often feels easier to stick our heads in the sand.

    In my dim sense of liturgical Chrstianity, there is such a rich and weighty heritage...and at the same time, it all feels like it's about to blow away at any moment. We in the OC are fond of saying that we take on faith that the Church cannot be destroyed and will be here until the end of the world. I'm not sure if the AC tends to say the same thing. But even if you do and even saying that is right...that doesn't mean that a lot of the things we like will be here even next year. There is no guarantee about our vestments or this rubric or that or this beautiful service or even the fact of parishes having established places of worship...and no guarantee that Christianity remains a world religion. We quote St. Ignatius and say that "where is bishop is, there is the Church" - but then that means that our belief that the Church will always be in the world is fulfilled by one bishop and a handful of laity off in a mountain village somewhere, with Christianity literally forgotten by the rest of the world.

    This whole "thing" that we in European-flavored societies take for granted, that there are churches around, is painfully not guaranteed. For us in the OC, or in my jurisdiction, the Orthodox Church in America, there is literally no guarantee from God or from any accountant, that the jurisdiction will continue to be financially healthy enough to support its bishops. That there won't come a time when literally every bishop is checking groceries for a living, and every parish meets in someone's garage or living room.

    Maybe that would be good for our humility, I don't know. But I say it because I think the very notion of the clergy as figures who can make mistakes and be held accountable for them is scary to people for exactly that reason, even if it's felt unconsciously: none of this is guaranteed. Even if we are still here in thirty years, no one says we will have the same comforts of ritual in a special place. If everything is concentrated in this one person, or largely concentrated in that person, then that person needs to be protected. Of course, it could be objected that there is a priesthood of all believers, that the laity are important. But in my neck of the woods, there is no question that the ordained clergy are in an especially visible position. The very position that gives them authority to abuse also makes people want to protect them.
     
  5. Carl Emerson

    Carl Emerson Well-Known Member

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    Can you refer me to the verse please...
     
  6. Robin Mauro

    Robin Mauro Active Member

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    John 18:20
     
  7. Paidiske

    Paidiske Clara bonam audax Supporter

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    @archer75, that's a very thoughtful post, thank you.

    And yes, I think a lot of this is intensified in small churches, with one staff member who does everything from the pastoral visiting, to the administration, to the preaching and teaching, to the liturgical leadership, to the mission and outreach work, to the legal compliance stuff... because everything tends to revolve around that person (what one colleague of mine described as a ministry of being "a knot in the net," holding everything together).

    The sense of fragility or insecurity is an interesting aspect, in particular; and as we in "the west" deal with the death throes of Christendom it's a very real set of issues. I hadn't connected it to this, though, so I'm grateful for your insight.
     
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  8. truefiction1

    truefiction1 Fool

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    If I had a problem with the priest, I'd tell him, and if he didn't address the concern (if important), then I'd bring it up at parish council. If the council failed to address the concern (through coercion/manipulation of the priest who presided over councils, combined with sheepish characters of council members), then I'd bring the concern to the Archbishop. If the Archbishop failed to address the concern, then I'd bring it to God. Then God will fix everything.
     
  9. tall73

    tall73 Sophia7's husband Supporter

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    I agree with going to the priest first. I think this is in accordance with the following:

    Matthew 187:15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

    The next step per this passage is to take one or two more. This keeps it from spreading in the church unnecessarily, so that if it is resolved and no fault is found on the part of the priest, the parties can reconcile with as little damage as possible. Also it fulfills this:


    17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. 20 Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.

    Then once two or three witnesses have agreed and the matter is not resolved, they can bring it to the church. If the church then finds fault, per this passage they should rebuke the priest before all.


    Spelling out these Scriptures as part of the policy would allow the membership to understand that there is authority greater than a church policy which instructs us on how to resolve such issues.

    And to avoid the ability of the leadership to shut down the process if they are trying to hide something, make it plain in the policy that the next steps are important if the issue is not resolved.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2019
  10. Paidiske

    Paidiske Clara bonam audax Supporter

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    Well, to be fair, if a church breaches your privacy (publishing your name without permission, for example) you may not know who is responsible for having done so. Which is, I guess, part of why a complaint process is important for this type of issue in the first place.
     
  11. Carl Emerson

    Carl Emerson Well-Known Member

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    It is interesting that you obviously have a good understanding of institutional protocol.
    It is sad that the 'church' has become an institution required to comply to regulatory demands.
    I am not sure that this will serve the Body of Christ well in the future when regulatory demands become more and more severe as for example in China today.

    There is little debate about what format would better serve the Church in the future - For example is a public organisation the best and most biblical choice? This I personally doubt.

    It wouldn't be such an issue if Governments were sympathetic with Christian values but these days this is quite rare and likely to become even less so.

    I don't mean to hijack your thread, we can move this comment to a new thread if you want.
     
  12. Paidiske

    Paidiske Clara bonam audax Supporter

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    Thanks, Carl, I think your comment is fine, although I'm not sure I entirely understand it.

    Are you saying that the church should not have to see to the safety of its members in this way? If that is what you're saying, is that because you are not concerned about how things can go wrong? Or because you think informal responses will prove sufficient? Or some other reason?
     
  13. joymercy

    joymercy Well-Known Member Supporter

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    this is a really good thread idea, paidiski, so thank you for that!

    you bring up a really really good question that is very relevant to what Im dealing with as well, at the parish Ive been going to.

    as a new member i have no idea at all who is even in charge, who runs the parish, what are the names and titles and positions of the people who run things, and what to do if there is a problem or concern.

    i received no hand out or directory, there is no information and the worst things have been happening with people telling me horrible things in their office, that are just too much for me to even know how to deal with the information being given.

    i truly need to just experience jesus right now, and to take in joy, real joy, and deepen my prayer life as well as read the bible, and get to know the lives of the saints.

    I have been had lain upon me the most unfair information, stuff I never asked to know about and dont even know where to turn to deal with the weight of it.

    stuff like a man in the parish secretly bcc emails of a woman in leadership, to all kinds of other people in order to try and threaten her and ruin her name and reputation all behind her back.

    so why would i even want to belong to a parish where there are "Christians" bcc emails in order to trap someone on the staff?

    Apparently, the priest was secretly bcc'd as well!!

    I have been asked to teach, and I am seriously wondering if I'm going to be attacked secretly as well, for making any mistakes, by a crew of self appointed soul assassins?

    why would anyone at all want to volunteer to work at a place where you could be driven insane by nut jobs who have the power and position and the friends to kill your soul, just bc they have nothing else to do except to sit around and use the internet to harm other members of the body of Christ?!

    i got even more stuff laid upon my shoulders with the most ridiculous claims of this that and the other thing being done....

    i think this is all so tasteless and truly ugly, and most certainly not fair at all to do to me, a new
    convert.

    yes, you should be accountable and there should be transparency
     
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  14. Carl Emerson

    Carl Emerson Well-Known Member

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    No I was thinking of the bigger picture - In taking on an institutional framework the church is subject to Govt. regulatory demand.

    Examples, apart from the Three Self Church in China are as follows...

    Healing - There is a move in Denmark and the EU to ban attempting to heal the sick without a Medical Practicing Certificate. This would mean Healing Orders Like the Order of St Luke could no longer operate within the law.

    Confession - Priests receiving confessions can no longer keep confidences in some cases but are required to disclose by law.

    Deliverance - I understand there are legal moves afoot to make such a ministry illegal.

    Preaching - Simply reading the scriptures take on some issues is classified as discriminatory and Hate Speech.

    I am then suggesting that it may be time to look at the options for fellowship that do not require exposure to legal and regulatory demand in a political world increasingly intolerant towards biblical practices.
     
  15. Paidiske

    Paidiske Clara bonam audax Supporter

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    I can't agree with you. On the whole government regulation is good for the church, and in complying with it we demonstrate our good faith to the wider community (whom we want to trust us enough to respond to our outreach).

    There may come a time when the law asks more of us than we can give in good conscience, but I do not yet see that where I am; instead I see the law forcing us to adopt good practice where we have been negligent.
     
  16. Paidiske

    Paidiske Clara bonam audax Supporter

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    By Christendom I mean the era of the cultural domination of the west by Christianity, which has had both grace-filled and sinful aspects, both positives and negatives. The Church will continue, but its relationship to its cultural context is going through a massive seismic shift.
     
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  17. tall73

    tall73 Sophia7's husband Supporter

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    If you want to spell out roles in the church as part of the policy then they would have an idea. For instance, some churches require written correspondence to a specified individual if you wish to be added to a prayer list that is published by the church. This can be by email, or placed in the offering plate, etc. This info is included in each bulletin so that everyone is clear on who is publishing the information, how to be included etc. You may have to spell out whether you can publish only your own name or someone else's name (the latter could still get you back in the same situation).

    If you want to make a general contact for situations where they cannot discern I don't see the issue with it. In that case I also don't see an issue with it being a lay person if you are concerned about power dynamics.

    But I don't think there is a good reason to go around Jesus' and Paul's advice on how to handle issues with another person. So any attempt to spell out who to talk to and then have them talk to that person seems best. And the more you can spell out roles in advance, the less confusion.

    Though I do admit, most of the churches I have been involved in are likely smaller than your situation. But some had multiple pastors on staff, a secretary, etc.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
  18. tall73

    tall73 Sophia7's husband Supporter

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    That is a very strange situation. Why they would involve you in that I am not sure. But perhaps another location would be best for you.

    And if you are a new convert, why would they ask you to teach?
     
  19. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

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    The PCUSA has clear policies. However our tradition has always had pastors accountable to the Presbytery. So it was obvious to us that the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery would handle allegations about pastors.

    One issue I ran into was what the COM could say to the church. I was once head of personnel in a congregation where there was an accusation against the pastor. The COM denied it. Technically they could claim that they didn't lie, but that said something that they knew we would understand as denying that a case existed when it actually did. This caused problems within the congregation. A number of members knew about the case, so it now looked look we were lying to the congregation. The church ended up in serious trouble.

    A situation like this is sufficiently plausible that a commitment to complete secrecy is a bad idea.
     
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