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 -

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rev. Scott Wells' U*U Clergy Sexual Misconduct Roll Call Is Anything But A Roll Call. . .

Rev. Scott Wells is a "Christian" Universalist U*U minister who has been rather less than Christian in his dealings with me. I first met Rev. Scott Wells when I was protesting against the anti-Christian, and more broadly anti-religious, intolerance and bigotry of some Unitarian*Universalist U*Us at the 2002 UUA GA in Quebec City. Rev. Scott Wells condescendingly and contemptuously dismissed my legitimate protest in the way that only a gay man can if U*Us know what I mean. I am confident that gay U*U men know what I mean. . . Right? In any case, just because Rev. Scott Wells behaved like a big fat U*U asshole towards yours truly in 2002 and later that does not mean that he has nothing of value to say. Heck even Rev. Ray Drennan has something of value to say from time to time, such as publicly declaring that is "false advertising" to call the Unitarian Church of Montreal a "church" for example. . . I couldn't agree more. But I digress. . . Some time ago Rev. Scott Wells posted a blog titled 'UU clergy sexual misconduct roll call' to his 'Boy In The Bands' blog.

Rev. Wells blog post was basically a one man 'Amen Choir' to Rev. Daniel Websters' assertion that one of the things that bug him about the Unitarian*Universalist Association is "too much tolerance of clergy sexual misconduct." Rev. Wells all too brief blog post said -

Current clergy guidelines and attitudes protect sleezy (but non-criminal) clergy with a veil of silence and fog of frustration. I’ve talked with other ministers about X who somehow escapes censure and keeps a good name by skirting the edge of the rule, and in this case, I suspect past it. Certainly past what most people would consider decent. But time, effort, and hard proof are wanting. All I have left is a leer and a cold shoulder, the occasional word of warning to likely marks and a kind word to one of X’s easy targets. There seems to also be a double standard: the more conspicuous or famous a minister, the more “liberty” is given.

I don’t welcome a libel case, so I won’t say more.

But I’d like the clergy and tuned-in laity here to chime in. Do you know someone like X? A “yea” or “ney” is all I ask; certainly no names. So as not to confuse matters, let’s leave it to ministers in fellowship within the UUA.

end quote

Apparently Rev. Scott Wells does not know what a roll call is. . . According to that reliable source of information Wikipedia a roll call is -

the calling of the names of people from a list (roll) to determine the presence or absence of the listed people (also known as a register in countries such as the UK).

The term applies to the calling itself, to the time moment of this procedure, and to a military signal that announces it (e.g. by a drum).

Roll calls are used in places such as classrooms, the military, prisons, law enforcement, and camps.

In traditions of some schools, the term Roll Call refers to a general assembly for various daily announcements; see for example the traditions of the Groton School.

The Roll Call of Honor is a ceremonial roll call of honorably fallen people or a list of these people.

end quote

Simply put. The whole purpose of a roll call is to name names, something that Rev. Scott Wells quite evidently does not have the guts to do, ostensibly for fear of "welcoming" a "libel case" against him. Likewise not one of the U*U clergy commenters on his 'UU clergy sexual misconduct roll call' blog post named one single U*U minister who has been suspected of, accused of, or clearly and unequivocally found guilty of clergy sexual misconduct, even though they clearly and unequivocally indicated that they knew of one or more such U*U ministers. Remember that Omerta-like code of silence of U*U ministers that I talk about from time to time? Rev. Scott Wells' "no-name" UU clergy sexual misconduct roll call presents a fine example of it.

So what did the commenters have to say?

Former Christian U*U seminarian and former blogger Perigrinato aka James Estes responded:

"I’ve received unhealthy vibes from clergy at GA. Enough said."

Please note that clergy appears to be plural in this case. I guess those weren't the only unhealthy vibes that James Estes experienced in the U*U World because he is now in ministerial formation with the United Church of Christ.

Derek said - I can think of 3 easy examples. None of these persons has had their fellowship challenged (to the best of my knowledge). The examples include a Mr. X (who is married) and who made an advance on me (while I was a seminary student) at the GA in Cleveland. The next example is a Mr. Y who had romantic relationships with a number of women in his parish from the 1970’s through the 1980’s, and then he retired. But that spectre hangs over his former church, and the local town’s suspiscion (sic) of every male minister that came after him. Some families left this church for a nearby UCC church. The third person I will call Mrs. Z, who had an affair with a married man in her congregation who was seeing her for pastoral counseling. In her case she was exposed, quietly resigned, and moved onto ministry elsewhere.

In each case the minister had some position of authority in pastoral relationships (ordained minister and seminary student, pastor and parishoner, counselor and counselee). Roman Catholic bishops are not alone in sweeping sexual misconduct under the rug.

U*Us might want to ask just who Derek is referring to when he says, "Roman Catholic bishops are not alone in sweeping sexual misconduct under the rug." Then again they might not. . . Quietly resigning and "moving on" to ministry elsewhere, sometimes elsewhere in the U*U World. . . is not uncommon for U*U ministers who are accused of clergy sexual misconduct, to say nothing of non-sexual clergy misconduct.

Peacebang aka Rev. Victoria Weinstein chimed in and said:

Are ya kidding me? How about the good ole ministers (see, I’m not even saying what GENDER they are!) who commit serial adultery and still get the plummiest pulpits?

Of course all is forgiven if you marry your fling, no matter how you met. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway. And I mean verbatim.

end quote

Please note that Rev. Weinstein is using the plural and suggesting that U*U ministers of both genders "commit serial adultery and still get the plummiest pulpits". U*Us might want to look to the "plummiest pulpits", if not the "plummiest pulpit". . . to see which married U*U ministers, both male and female and maybe even everything in between, "commit serial adultery". Peacebang provides a clue by saying "all is forgiven if you marry your fling". . . So U*Us interested in knowing just which U*U ministers "commit serial adultery" (at least according to Peacebang's allegations here) might want to look for U*U ministers in "the plummiest pulpits" of U*Udom who have remarried after divorcing a previous wife, perhaps especially prominent U*U ministers who married one of their parishioners or a U*U seminarian or something like that.

Amy Zucker Morgenstern responded: I know of four cases where I trust the source enough to be quite sure there was serious misconduct (not counting the case I know of where the minister was censured). I do the same as you: ignore the perpetrator, and feel that I’m not doing very much.

When I learned of the case of the colleague who left his wife for the woman to whom he’d been giving marriage counseling, I asked why the hell one doesn’t lose one’s fellowship for that, and was told that if no one in the congregation pressed for it, the MFC didn’t pursue it. Excuse me? Aside from the unlikelihood that no one pressed for it (how about the husband?), since when is fellowship up to the congregation? I was about to go to the MFC for preliminary fellowship at the time, and it tarnished the experience to know that the standards are so low–or low for some, at any rate.

Since both libel and miscarriages of justice are serious concerns, I don’t think we can do much about it by griping on blogs. We need to express our concern to the MFC.

Amy (who is not Mrs. Z mentioned above) ;-)

end quote

I don't think I need add much to that. Do U*Us?

Brian responded:

unfortunately, my answer is “yea.”

I am not sure that "yea" is a word that one wants to associate with clergy sexual misconduct. It might encourage them. . .

Jeff Wilson responded:

I’m not afraid to name names. I guess I won’t do so here because it seems to worry you, Scott. But of course to discuss this subject properly we have to talk about the very prominent minister of a New York City UU church, a UU church I did not join because of its tolerance of his “indiscretions” (admittedly, there were class reasons also why I didn’t join that church but went to another Manhattan UU church instead). [I'll let this stand. Once one's line-crossing hits the papers, as this one did, I think we can say it is open for discussion. Or at least a Lexis/Nexis search. -- Scott/BitB] I suspect every poster to this thread, and surely most if not nearly all UU ministers know exactly who I mean. In my mind, divorcing your wife and marrying the parishioner does NOT make everything OK.

When I was growing up, the minister of my UU church in [a state too small to hide an identity. Scott/BitB] was fooling around with at least one parishioner. He even did so in the church building itself. Members of the church knew about it, but he was charismatic and had a sufficient hold on the congregation that no one managed to oust him. He eventally retired with honor — perhaps he’s the minister mentioned in a post above. [Sorry, no. The minister I'm thinking of is still active. Scott/BitB] Since then he has done some admirable social justice work. I wish him much success with this, even though he is a sleaze and perhaps these efforts merely give him further access to more women. I’ve always wondered if his post-retirement work is an effort to assuage a guilty conscience.

I didn’t know about any of this when I was in Sunday School–in fact, I had a pretty idealistic idea of ministers as more moral and holy than the average person. And I thought that UU congregations would surely hold their occasional philandering minister to higher standards. Shows what I knew.

I’ve been disappointed that UUs replicate disfuctions (sic) in other denominations. Thankfully, at least I’m not aware of any covered-up activities involving children. I’m glad of that, and that if we’re not perfect about policing our own, at least most UU ministers are “on the side of the angels” and need no policing.

end quote

Gotta love how Rev. Scott Wells "memory-holed" the name of the state that Jeff Wilson mentioned because it was "a state too small to hide an identity". You said it Scott *hide* an identity. Well done. Not only did you not name a single U*U minister in your so-called 'UU clergy sexual misconduct roll call' but you hid the identity of a state in order to hide the identity of the U*U minister of Jeff Wilson's U*U church who Jeff Wilson alleges was "fooling around with at least one parishioner". So what tiny U.S. state does Jeff Wilson hail from I wonder? Well Jeff if you are really not afraid to name names feel free to come over here and share your concerns with us. Heck I will even personally invite you to do so. . .

Peacebang chimed in again and said:

God, and I am SO DAMNED well-behaved.

Adam Tierney-Eliot responded:

All I have heard is rumors, mostly. That, of course, doesn’t mean these rumors aren’t true! Some, in fact, are well substanitated (sic). I do also remember some UCC scandals (local to where I grew up) when I was younger as well. I, however, am very well-behaved and in general much more square than PeaceBang.

How square do you have to be to be more square than Peacebang aka Rev. Victoria Weinstein? Not very square at all AFAIAC. . .

Hafidha Sofía responded:

I just read over these comments, and I cannot BELIEVE it. Well, I guess I can believe the part about sexual inappropriateness, but I can´t believe no one would say anything? What, exactly, is the problem?

Well for starters Hafidha there's this thing called the UUMA Guidelines and Code of Professional Practice (PDF file) which, amongst other things, says -

I will stand in a *supportive* relation to my colleagues and keep for them an *open mind* and heart.

I will *not* speak scornfully or in *derogation* of any colleague in public. In any private conversation critical of a colleague, I will speak responsibly and temperately.

And that's just the semi-public face of the Code of Silence of U*U ministers which strongly discourages U*U ministers from openly and publicly criticizing their *fellowshipped* professional colleagues no matter how badly they may behave. . .

Scott Wells answered Hadifa Sofia's question by responding:

I’d say the rules — which are broad and vague — and the political power and influence some more prominent ministers wield are a problem.

Which only serves to underline my point about the broad but not so vague Code of Silence that is written into the UUMA Code of Professional Practice aka UUMA Code of Ethics.

Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot responded:

My sense is that people do say something. Usually quite loudly! All of the situations I am aware of, I am aware because they were reported to the board of the congregation and/or to the association leadership. I do not know why action isn’t always taken, however. The problem does seem to lie at least in some part with the “hearing” rather than the “speaking”.

Is this the experience of others, or is it more complicated than that? I should note, by the way, that my sense is that most clergy people aren’t terribly aware of what is going on in other pulpits unless an issue becomes public. I, at least, don’t get out of the parish too often these days.

Hank responded:

Of course I know an X sort of minister. He had his fellowship chalenged but bullied the ‘witnesses/ victims” so that he is still a Rev. But he is no longer able to serve congregations.

So my question is how well has all of the testing and classes have had on our generation of ministers? All of the creepy ministers I have known of are baby-boomers.

end quote

I am not sure that one wants to use the term "baby boomers" in the same sentence as "creepy ministers" when discussing U*U clergy sexual misconduct. . . I can't help but notice that Hank says "*Of course* I know an X sort of minister" as though it would be surprising if he didn't know one.

On 1 November 2005 at 12:08 pm Sarah responded:

Misconducting ministers that I know of have three qualities in addition to their tendency to sexually misconduct themselves: they are highly charismatic, they know how to manipulate people/congregations to their advantage, and they give off the impression (to those they fool) that they (the ministers) are THE church. I think that all three of these are tied to the reasons that our democratic churches sometimes let misconductors stay in their positions after ethical boundaries have clearly been crossed. Congregants think, “Oh, if we lose Rev. X, our church just won’t be our church anymore!” People have *a lot* invested in their image of church. And you can bet Rev. X uses that to his (or her but usually his) advantage. He’s got a manipulative personality. That’s how he managed to cross the lines in the first place and that’s how he intends to stay in his position when his misconduct comes to light. He wines and dines the board, explains “his side” of the story, maybe cries a little in public, and does his work to discredit those who dare to call him on his actions. He does sermons–without any specific reference to himself–about how we are all “only human” and how we “must forgive.” Oh, and yes, as peacebang pointed out if he “makes right” by getting married much of the congregation is all too eager to forgive him.

In addition, I’ve observed that misconductors (or even charismatic/manipulative ministers who don’t misconduct) tend to discourage their congregation from district and continental ties. They (minister) and the congregation are somehow “different” or “better” or “more special” than all those other UU congregations out there. So when the misconduct comes to light the congregation can be scared about the prospect of a different minister because they’ve been led to believe in both subtle and unsubtle ways that the other ministers out there are a boring and inferior lot.

Sad, sad stuff. I am heartened by what Hank said above about most of these ministers being of an older generation that was not inculcated with a consciousness about misconduct during their training. Maybe this will be reduced? Also, I know of few misconductors who have gotten away with it since the MFC tightened its rules and procedures in the early 1990s. I know of one Gen X misconductor but that person did not retain a ministry position. I just hope that after more time in their pulpits the younger generation of clergy doesn’t fall prey to the temptations of thier forebears.

Maury Bandurraga responded:

as a board member of a church where misconduct was alleged, information was not shared with the board at the time of the “misconduct”. The investigation was handled by the board president and HR chair. The rest of the board (and congregtion) was kept in the dark. Later the same minister moved on to another church where misconduct was alleged, and action was taken. Apparently there was a relationship with a church member. This led to not granting fellowship to the minister (who was in the process at the time). This led to resignation of several members who thought the minister was unfairly punished. It made me feel like we perhaps had not taken sufficient action. It is tougher in a “he said/she said” situation vs. an admitted affair with a person being counseled (which I believe would cause a therapist to lose their liscense, yet I’m sure also happens).

When you are a bystander in the middle of one of these cases, it is a tough situation for the congregation to handle. Trust has been abused. There are other cases of abused trust by ministers however (one minister was very antagonistic towards men, verbally abusive to many congregants). How can we not expect this if the ministers are human like all of us? What we don’t have to do is put up with it. Luckily, both of the above ministers are no longer active in UUA.

Chalicechick responded:

I’ve also known a minister who was falsely accused and may only be a minister today because the “witness” claimed to have seen said minister with someone who was actually out of town when the indescretion supposedly happened.

Just sayin’


Joseph Santos-Lyons responded:

there is little required of us in seminary, Rev. Deborah Pope Lance offers a week intensive at Andover Newton in Boston that some attend, with a bit of scholarship from the UUA…otherwise, it is really what you glean from CPE, ministerial internship and maybe a class on pastoral care that addresses boundaries. should really, really be more (as should anti-racism IMHO)

More than a month after her initial comment Chalicechick chimed back in again and said:

Just realized that we were only supposed to be talking about UU ministers, and the falsely accused minister I described above was not a UU.

That said, we do know false accusations, and sadly ones not so easy to disprove, do happen. I’m sure that most if not all of the people on this page did what people say they did, but still, the possibility of innocence does exist.


Woo hoo! The *possibility* of false accusations and innocence does exist, even though the false accusation that CC spoke of did not involve a U*U minister. What about the *probability* of false accusations and innocence CC? What percentage of accusations of clergy sexual misconduct, to say nothing of other forms of clergy misconduct, are false or otherwise unjustified and the accused minister is thus actually innocent? I would be very surprised if it is more than five percent at most and probably less. Let's not forget that Rev. Daniel Harper is on public record as saying -

In my Unitarian Universalist tradition, some experts estimate that over fifty per cent of all Unitarian Universalist congregations have experienced an incident of clergy sexual misconduct since the 1960’s;

That's about 1% of all U*U "churches" experiencing an incident of clergy sexual misconduct per year. In that there are about 1000 U*U "churches" in the UUA that works out to about 10 incidents, presumably actual *reported* and confirmed cases of U*U clergy sexual misconduct, per year. How many incidents of U*U clergy sexual misconduct do U*Us suppose go completely unreported for various reasons? I would suggest that unreported cases of clergy sexual misconduct far outweigh the small number of cases where a U*U minister is falsely accused of sexual misconduct, assuming there actually are any. . . I am not aware of a single case of a U*U minister being falsely accused of clergy sexual misconduct, or any other form of clergy misconduct. I expect that the UUA would publicize such a case if one existed.

AnnaBelle responded:

It takes courage to speak up on this subject. Thank you all so much for doing just that. I thought you might want to know that this is on the Board’s radar at the moment. You can see an item attached late to the agenda of the most recent Board meeting here:

My prayer is this will make a difference. I truly believe our association has the potential to model for other faiths how to respond to misconduct, but we have a long way to go.

From what I can see online here and elsewhere on the internet AnnaBelle's prayer of just under three years ago went unanswered, and Rev. Fredric Muir's report/recommendations to the UUA Board of Trustees of January 2006 made little or no difference to how the UUA and its very aptly named Ministerial Fellowship Committee respond to complaints about clergy sexual misconduct and/or other forms of clergy misconduct. And I can't help but wonder why I can't see that particular PDF file when I enter the URL into a browser.

More later. . .

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