Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for August, 2016

Healing the Congregation

“Lisa’s” saga* continues: she’ll be speaking with Bishop Schol next week. To prepare him for their meeting, Lisa sent him a resource that should already be close to his heart: a document that spells out the highest standard for responding to clergy misconduct in the United Methodist Church.

“After Clergy Sexual Misconduct: A Process for Congregational Healing” is that document. Based on guidelines drafted by Episcopal Bishop Chilton Knudsen, the process was developed in 2006 by the Rev. Dr. Bonnie Glass MacDonald, a UMC deacon. The document may be ten years old, but it was new to me, and in all my years of advocacy, I have never seen a better resource for helping congregations heal.

Why does the church need this resource? As MacDonald says, “In situations of crisis or misconduct, congregations often … want to put the crisis behind them as soon as possible. But experience has shown that ignoring the intense feelings that naturally occur after a violation will cause more trouble in the long run.” She reports that after an event of clergy misconduct, congregations often descend into fearful conflict. Factions form, pastors turn over quickly, and the church loses energy, focus, hope, and members. Without intentional healing, this cycle can last many years, and may repeat itself with new acts of misconduct. For the sake of every member of the church, both present and future, “each congregation must be helped to deal openly with the misconduct.”

Note that word: openly. Incidents of clergy misconduct cannot be swept under the carpet. The church’s response must be confidential enough “to protect fair process and avoid additional harm to victims,” but the basic facts must be shared with clergy, church staff, lay leaders, and congregants. Why? Because ultimately, there are no secrets in a congregation. If leaders try to whitewash an event of pastoral misconduct, the facts will morph into cancerous nodes of rumor, accusation, and innuendo, and those cancers will destroy the church. 

“The Process for Congregational Healing” helps leaders handle each step of their response, from the staff meeting to the congregational letter to (ultimately) the congregational meeting. The document spells out how to support the victim, what behaviors to expect from the accused minister, and how to speak with the youth and children of the church, who need to be included even if none of them was directly harmed. 

What happens when congregations don’t go through an intentional process of healing? They may become suspicious, angry, depressed, fractious, highly reactive, hopeless, and fixated on matters of human sexuality. Far from shining the light of the kingdom of God, these congregations become a toxic burden to the denomination.

I’m sharing this resource for clergy and churchgoers of all faith traditions. I recommend all my readers look at the UMC’s Sexual Ethics site. If only all faith traditions cared enough to develop resources this robust and thoughtful! More to the point: if only UMC leaders cared enough to consistently use the wisdom from their own denomination.

* See Lisa’s story here, my open letter to Bishop Schol here, and Bishop Schol’s excellent response here

Open Letter to Bishop John Schol

Dear Bishop Schol,

The UMC youth groups have returned from the JUNE Project led by disgraced former minister Darryl Duer. It’s too late to protect these kids, but it’s not too late to safeguard the future.

In 2013, you received “Lisa’s” complaint against Darryl Duer for clergy sexual misconduct. You judged rightly that Duer was unworthy to be a minister in the UMC, but you judged wrong when you let him go quietly. Secrecy may have been easier in the moment, but look at the danger you have brought on your congregations. At least three of your ministers continue to give Duer access to their youth groups. If any of those young people are harmed, their parents could claim that you knew of the danger and failed to warn them. 

In 2014, when Lisa learned that Darryl Duer was still running the JUNE Project, she contacted you to ask you to keep UMC youth from attending. You sent a note to three of your ministers, telling them that that a former camp participant had made a serious, substantiated complaint against Duer. In response, he canceled that summer’s camp, but he was back in business the very next summer. At least one of your ministers, Pastor Brian Neville of Hillsdale, brought his youth group in 2015. Here’s their slide show, including a big, clear photo of Darryl Duer. 

You claim that you continue to monitor and warn others about Duer. Really? Did you not know that your ministers are still working with him? If you look at Facebook you can see that Hillsdale UMC participated in the JUNE Project again last week, and that St Peter’s of Ocean City was there too. St Peter’s has re-labeled the project as “Hope Rescue Mission,” but it’s the same camp. One of the photos clearly shows Duer in a leadership role. Gibbsboro UMC may or may not be at the camp, but they are still big fans of Darryl Duer. Pastor Rob Lewis proudly lists “JUNE Project” in his staff bio as one of his leadership roles, and he invited “Pastor Daryl Duer” (sic) to speak at the church’s potluck breakfast worship on July 3.

In short: by failing to give clear warning, you have put countless young people in danger.

Since Mr. Duer no longer has credentials in the UMC, I understand that you can’t stop him from running his service project. But you can communicate the truth clearly to all of your ministers, all of their congregations, and the parents of all the young people who have ever participated in the JUNE Project. And the truth is that Darryl Duer sexually abused a former camp participant. He did so by exploiting his power as minister, his knowledge of her life history, and her trust in him as a minister. He does not deserve the trust of young people or their parents; he is a dangerous man.

When Lisa filed her compaint, she did it for one reason: to save other young people from what happened to her. She has never asked anything of the church but to keep Duer away from its youth. In 2013, you wrote a letter to clergy about a former pastor implicated for misuse of funds. You could have — you should have — written a similar letter to clergy warning them about Darryl Duer. With his offense, it wasn’t mere dollars at stake, but human lives.

Please, Bishop Schol — it’s not too late to do the right thing. 

Yours in Christ,

Catherine Thiemann


Update, August 7: this newspaper account confirms that Gibbsboro UMC also brought a group to Duer’s camp.


Update, January 2017: Bishop Schol’s excellent response.

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