The Emerson Avenger

The Emerson Avenger is a "memory hole" free blog where censorship is scorned. This blog will "guard the right to know" about any injustices and abuses that corrupt Unitarian Universalism. Posters may speak and argue freely, according to conscience, about any injustices and abuses, or indeed hypocrisy, that they may know about so that the Avenger, in the form of justice and redress, may come surely and swiftly. . . "Slowly, slowly the Avenger comes, but comes surely." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

In 1992 I underwent a profound revelatory experience of God which revealed that the total solar eclipse "Eye of God" is a "Sign in the Heavens" that symbolizes God's divine omniscience. You may read about what Rev. Ray Drennan of the Unitarian Church of Montreal contemptuously dismissed as my "psychotic experience" here: - This revelatory religious experience inspired me to propose an inter-religious celebration of Creation that would take place whenever a total solar eclipse took place over our planet. You may read about what Rev. Ray Drennan and other leading members of the Unitarian Church of Montreal falsely and maliciously labeled as a "cult" here: - I am now an excommunicated Unitarian whose "alternative spiritual practice" includes publicly exposing and denouncing Unitarian*Universalist injustices, abuses, and hypocrisy. The Emerson Avenger blog will serve that purpose for me and hopefully others will share their concerns here. Dee Miller's term DIM Thinking is used frequently and appropriately on this blog. You may read more about what DIM Thinking is here -

Monday, October 16, 2006

“Responsible Staffing” (Preventing Abuse)

Pertinent snippets from the UUA web page - “Responsible Staffing” (Preventing Abuse)

Guidelines on Screening Practices for Use by Unitarian Universalist Association Organizations

In the absence of Unitarian Universalist Association recommended guidelines to follow when calling ministers, hiring professional leaders and church staff, and recruiting volunteers, congregations and other UUA organizations ***may be reluctant to conduct warranted screening of ministers***, employees, and volunteers.

Why is the ***lack of screening*** a problem? Failure to institute uniform screening procedures can result in ***unnecessary risks*** for vulnerable members of the UUA community as well as ***an unnecessary risk of legal liability for congregations*** and other UU organizations. Legal liability turns on whether or not, when a congregation or organization gives a person access to vulnerable members, it took appropriate steps ***to protect those members from harm.***

How can this problem be addressed? Only by adopting appropriate screening guidelines and following the procedures they call for will these risks be minimized.

Who ought to ***take responsibility*** for implementing this effort? The decision to adopt guidelines and the responsibility for implementing them will be up to the governing board of each congregation, associate member organization, independent affiliate organization, and related organization, to each District board, and to the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees on behalf of the Association, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, the Religious Education Credentialing Committee, and the Sponsored Organizations. Although each congregation or organization retains the discretion to adopt or reject this policy, we urge you to consider the ***potential ramifications of your decision***.

When should this problem be addressed? ***Before it is time to regret the failure to act in time.***

This Program and Its Goal

Beginning in the 1970’s with the renaissance of the women’s movement and ever since, the UUA and its member congregations and related organizations have explored the meaning of our covenant, both theologically and experientially. Our Purposes and Principles, passed by the General Assemblies of 1984 and 1985, are the most notable theological expression of that work. Foremost among the many experiential expressions is our focused attention to the quality of congregational life. Thanks to the UU Women’s Federation, the professional ethics codes of the UU Ministers Association and the Liberal Religious Educations Association, Task Force I, Task Force II, the authors and editors of Creating Safe Congregations and Restorative Justice for All, and many others, the UUA provides an abundance of material to aid congregations in addressing the misuses of power, and specifically sexual power, in our congregations and related organizations. By means of programs such as Journey Toward Wholeness, addressing racism and oppression, and Safe Congregations, addressing clergy misconduct and abuse, peer harassment and abuse, and child abuse and neglect, and resources such as the Safe Congregations Handbook (available from the UUA Bookstore) and Restorative Justice for All, our Association has grown increasingly aware that if “earth shall be fair, and all her people one,” we must start with ***how we live with one another in our congregations.***

Congregations and related UU organizations that follow Safe Congregations guidelines will keep abuse-enabling conditions to a minimum and ***address issues of abuse of power*** in ways both grounded and informed. The goal of Responsible Staffing is more confined: to recommend guidelines that enable congregations and other UU organizations to take reasonable precautions when bringing new people into positions of leadership that give them access to vulnerable people. Ministerial search committees, religious educator search committees, personnel committees, nominating committees, religious education committees, caring committees, CONs and other youth- and young adult-serving bodies, District bodies—any body charged with the responsibility to recommend or hire staff or to recruit volunteers will make better choices by following these guidelines. We recommend adoption of these guidelines by the Unitarian Universalist Association itself, as well, including the UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee, the Religious Education Credentialing Committee, and its Sponsored Organizations. Our goal is to create among us ***a culture of covenantal accountability.***

Risk Factors and Risks

It is important to keep an open mind about persons who may take advantage of a condition of vulnerability. There are predatory adults, no doubt: self-centered, narcissistic, ***capable of denial to an extraordinary degree***, and devious.

Far more common are ***irresponsible persons*** who, although they would never think of themselves as ***capable of doing harm to another human being***, ***use alcohol*** or other substances to release themselves from ***their own ethical commitments***. Indeed, the prospect of such release may be the largest single purpose of the abuse. Common, too, are individuals who ***exercise poor judgment*** for a variety of reasons.

The risks such persons pose to children, teenagers, and vulnerable adults are grave, extending to the breach of selfhood, of psychological and physical integrity, with lifelong effects. The risks their activities pose to congregations and to congregation’s leadership, ordained and lay, are serious. In congregations where leaders fail to check the references and the background of such persons, both the congregation as an institution and the leaders as individuals can be held liable for negligent hiring. In congregations where leaders ***turn a blind eye*** to ***inappropriate***, much less predatory, conduct, the institution as a whole and the governing board as individuals may be liable both for ***negligent supervision*** and for failure to report.

A Delicate Balance

Respect for personal privacy is a long and honorable tradition in Unitarian Universalist congregations. It is integral to the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning” that we embrace, and to the individualism that has characterized us since Puritan times. During the 1950s and 60s, when many now older members affiliated with Unitarian Universalist congregations, personal privacy was fiercely defended in the face of ***McCarthyism*** ;-) ;-) and stifling social conformity. ***Security procedures of any kind in a congregational setting thus continue to be found offensive in principle by some Unitarian Universalists. ***

These guidelines recommend a balance between respect for personal privacy on the one hand and respect for congregations as trust-based communities on the other. Persons in congregational settings expect to be able to be vulnerable; we expect to be safe from exploitation, to be able to “let our guard down.” Thus the question criminal conviction checks ask—has this person been convicted of a felony (and in some searches, misdemeanor)?— deserves an accurate answer. Yet an answer in the affirmative is in many cases only an invitation to further exploration. Was the criminal trespass for purposes of burglary, or ***civil disobedience***? Was the drug conviction for ***selling cocaine*** or ***possessing marijuana***? Was the statutory ***rape conviction*** of a 40-year-old man with 12-year-old girl, or of an 18-year-old with a 16-year old? How long ago was it? ***What kind of life has the person lived since?*** And remembering the differential rates of prosecution and conviction of people of European background and people of color/members of historically marginalized groups, what was the context of the event, and what other factors were involved?

These guidelines further counsel a ***do-it-yourself approach*** to reference checks. The greater the ability of the search committee or hiring body to develop detailed acquaintance with the persons it is considering, the greater its ability to make an informed selection. Reliance on the technical means offered by outside agencies should at all points be considered second best to ***in-person conversation***.

Self-reliance requires imagination. ***“Google” persons’ names***to see what, if anything, comes up. Check out the websites of the congregations they are currently serving, even those they have served. By such means you may well unearth valuable new conversation topics by which you can get to know them better.

We recommend that all professional staff—i.e. ministers, religious educators, administrators, and music directors—and all members of the congregational boards of trustees submit themselves to criminal conviction reviews in order to model, as leaders, the conduct they expect of new ordained and lay leaders.

When the news is bad

There will be occasions—may they be rare!—when the results of the criminal conviction check rule the person out of consideration. The temptation at this point may be to tell a “white lie,” so as to avoid the difficult conversation that must take place. Don’t succumb! As theologian Langdon Gilkey was fond of saying, “Religion is where we deal with the negativities.” In dealing with the negativities sensitively, even tenderly, while no less firmly, we affirm ourselves and our faith communities as both compassionate and responsible. Living, as we must, in the world as we find it, sometimes the best we can hope for is an environment in which misbehavior is named, consequences exacted, rehabilitation encouraged, and recovery respected, and in which covenants are authentic compounds of realism, respect, and redemption.

Once a hiring decision is made it is also important that appropriate policies be adopted to minimize ***the potential for harm*** and that appropriate supervision and ***oversight*** of all operations and individuals in ongoing.

What was/is his/her reason for leaving your employ?

To your knowledge, has he/she ever been accused of any behaviors that would be considered ***unethical***, inappropriate, illegal?

Is there anything in his/her personal and professional life that we should know?

Would you want ___________as your minister?


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