During the recent Catholic synod to address abuse in the church, one of the participants made a particularly insightful remark, “Trust arrives slowly, on foot, but leaves quickly, on horseback.” That, and several other comments made during the meeting, are relevant to my conflict with Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal Church.
To be clear, the Catholic synod is meeting to address sexual abuse; there is no allegation that Bob Malm has engaged in sexual misconduct.
That said, abuse exists across a wide spectrum, ranging from emotional abuse, to relational abuse, to abuse of power. Spiritual abuse encompasses all of these, and other types of abuse as well.
In Bob’s case, his misuse of authority, including his efforts to include Mike and Mom in his vendetta, have destroyed trust on multiple fronts. And, having left on a horse in 2015, Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s efforts to flog that horse via accusations of “domestic terrorism” and other inflammatory rhetoric both reflect a lack of understanding of church dynamics, and of the Christian faith.
The larger point in all of this is encompassed by another comment coming out of the Synod, which is that the abuse crisis “undermines the church in practically every way.” That is true for every type of abuse, including Bob Malm’s spiritual abuse. At every level, Bob and Sugarland Chiow have eroded trust in the church and its moral authority. Even total strangers are shocked and appalled at their efforts, for example, to drag a dying woman into court in violation of Pennsylvania law.
Nor will the damage be quickly resolved. Having spent considerable time and effort over the past three years in trying to get the upper hand in our conflict, Bob and Jeff have underscored their real motivation, which is power and control, not faith. That is an issue that cannot be resolved through a settlement agreement. Indeed, Jeff’s proposed settlement agreement, which contains a non-disclosure clause, would actually have exacerbated things, for conflict cannot be resolved by simply sweeping it under the rug and offering an, “agreed-upon statement.” Such an approach simply drives conflict underground, where it can fester for years afterwards, only to explode back to life unexpectedly.
Of course, the situation also underscores the serious issues that exist with Bishop Shannon and the Diocese of Virginia. Had someone pulled Bob aside long ago and pointed out that things like lying in court aren’t exactly helpful to the church, much of the damage would have been prevented. But having failed to provide adult supervision, Bishop Shannon leaves for others a hot mess.
It’s interesting too: The Diocese has been consistently flatfooted in its handling of such situations. For example, when issues emerged at St. Thomas’ McLean, the Diocese was supremely indifferent to the effect on the parish and its people. True, the new rector is an excellent choice, but the damage is already done. (If nothing else, don’t announce the news as a surprise at Divine Worship. #clueless)
Can things be resolved going forward? Hard to say. Mom is fast running out of time, and with no one in my family now considering themselves to be Christian, there would be difficulty finding a shared reference point. Indeed, Mike is rabidly anti-Christian, and I want no parts of any faith that thinks trying to drag a dying woman into court is okay, or refers to those who criticize it as “terrorists.”
In short, when the seemingly inevitable day comes when St. Dysfunction aka Grace Church closes its doors, my feeling is that the world will be a better place. Yes, the food pantry, brown bag lunches and other services the church provides are important, but there’s no need to spend $1 million a year to surround these activities with a bunch of liturgical hoo-ha, especially when roughly 20 percent goes to pay for a “professional Christian,” or rector, who appears to have, at best, nominal religious beliefs. Moreover, Grace Church’s closing will end a bastion of organized bullying and control that is typified by Bob’s lying in court, and his trying to subpoena a dying woman.
Good riddance to bad rubbish. Don’t let the karmic door hit you on the butt on the way out, Grace Church.