With Grace’s transition from 30 years of perjuring priest Bob Malm now entering its sixth month, it seems that very little progress has been made. Yes, a well-qualified group has been chosen for the search committee. Yes, the search committee is going through all the right steps. But they are not meeting the congregation’s needs.
Specifically, one of the requirements of a successful transition is coming to terms with the church’s past. By definition, that would include Bob Malm’s perjury, his lies to the congregation, his efforts to drag a dying woman into court, and more. Yet the parish’s response is typical: It’s trying to defend the case in court, which only erodes confidence in the church, further alienates members and former members, and diverts much-needed funds from — you guessed it — healing and outreach.
Part and parcel of this is Sugarland Chiow’s spectacularly stupid role in this debacle, as well as that of the ever clueless Diocese of Virginia. This included efforts by Sugarland to get me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA, in exchange for dropping Bob’s fraudulent protective order obtained via perjury and false statements. The fact that Sugarland even tried to go this route reveals he has scant understanding of Christianity, conflict transformation, or even the simple matter of that makes me tick.
So what would have happened had I signed that NDA?
The answer is the church would have wound up with its problems shoved under the rug and papered over with Sugarland Chiow’s badly written pablum about moving forward in peace and love. The problem, of course, is that nothing about Sugarland’s conduct, Bob Malm’s conduct, the vestry’s conduct, or that of various key church members in any way involves love. Nor does it involve Christian conduct.
As Robin Hammeal-Urban, expert on church misconduct, writes, disclosure of misconduct is essential if we are to be in right relationship with ourselves, each other, and God. Folks like Kemp Williams may decry the harm that comes from disclosure, but concealing misconduct only makes things worse. Indeed, churches that do so may suffer harm decades letter.
Consider the example from Robin’s book below, involving an assistant rector and a non-disclosure agreement:
And below are more excerpts from Robin’s book, covering the importance of disclosure.
And no discussion of the effects of hiding misconduct would be complete without noting that doing so prevents a congregation from understanding, recognizing healthy systems of checks and balances and boundaries.
My observation is that, like all narcissists, Bob Malm established no boundaries for his own conduct. Lying to his vestry, to his congregation, to his bishops, and even to the police and courts, all were okay. Yet the boundary he sought to establish for parishioners was no criticism of his conduct, ever. Indeed, he told me more than once that he would not address my concerns about his behavior. The diocese was even worse, showing zero understanding of its own role in the debacle. And to this day, the diocese and the parish vestry continue to try to defend their conduct in court — which, if they succeed, will only impose another impediment to the church becoming healthy and taking ownership of its issues.
Truly, Grace Church and its leadership appear determined to wreck the future of the parish. As things stand, they are doing an excellent job of doing exactly that.