Sometimes We See Justice Made
When national Protestant denominations meet, there is a lot of necessary but mundane business that goes on. But sometimes something very important occurs and it should be noted. This summer, I've received updates from two denominations that are explicitly addressing abuse by clergy at their national gatherings: The Presbyterian Church USA and the Unitarian Universalists.
When national Protestant denominations meet, there is a lot of necessary but mundane business that goes on. But sometimes something very important occurs and it should be noted.This summer, I've received updates from two denominations that are explicitly addressing abuse by clergy at their national gatherings: The Presbyterian Church USA and the Unitarian Universalists.
At the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA), the delegates voted unanimously to include the “Child/Youth/Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy and Its Procedures” in the Book of Order which is the foundational volume for governance and discipline in the church.
This action followed a recommendation from the Committee on General Assembly Procedures which, in its consideration of the policy, heard from Rev. Kris Schondelmeyer. Kris described his experience of being sexually assaulted by a Presbyterian pastor who was a chaperone at a youth conference. Even though leadership knew that the pastor had served time for child pornography years earlier, the executive presbyter concealed this information and said that he was giving the pastor a “second chance.”
Following Schondelmeyer’s testimony, PC(USA) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons said: “Kris’s story should never have happened. The church owes Kris an apology, and a policy that would prevent this from ever happening again.” Parsons proceeded to make a public apology to Kris at the session of the General Assembly where the policy passed. Watch this video. It’s important.
This action by the PCUSA comes after years of efforts by many individuals who have worked long and hard to help their church become a safer place for children, youth, and vulnerable adults. Policy making is the first step. The proof of these efforts will be in the implementation of the policy at all levels. So Presbyterians must be vigilant in monitoring the implementation.
The second occasion of justice made occurred at the Berry Street Essay held in Columbus on Wednesday, June 22, an address to the Unitarian Universalists Ministers’ Association given by Rev. Gail Seavey on the topic of clergy misconduct. ( click for text of lecture or video of lecture)
Rev. Seavey is minister of the Nashville UU congregation and has been an advocate and activist within the UUA for changes to the way that the UUA addresses complaints of clergy misconduct. In this address, she offers a powerful, no-holds-barred history of clergy misconduct within the UUA under the title of “If Our Secrets Define Us.” She concludes that secrecy about clergy misconduct is seriously harming the church.
The fact that Rev. Seavey was asked to give this major lecture indicates that the UUA is willing to confront its secrets and continue its efforts to bring clarity and purpose to its policies and procedures in order to protect the vulnerable and hold those who do harm accountable.
It is important to notice and celebrate these moments of justice in our midst. We are reminded with Dr. King that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. But we are also reminded that it doesn’t bend by itself but as a result of a lot of hard work by those who are determined to see justice in our churches and safety for our members.