Sunday, August 23, 2020

Who Do You Say That I Am? Reflections on Jason Roberson’s Sermon

Grace Episcopal Church

This morning, as I was eating breakfast, I surfed by Jason Roberson’s pre-recorded sermon on the Grace Church website, which examined the question, “Who do you say that I am?,” and the importance of becoming the beloved community. Here is my response.

As Jason correctly notes, there is a compelling need in the church and our society to address prejudice, hatred, racism, and exclusion of every kind. Grace Church, the clergy perjury parish, is no exception. This, Jason is spot-on in speaking to the importance of becoming the beloved community.

The problem is that Grace all too often already believes it IS the beloved community. As perjuring priest Bob Malm once said in writing, “I don’t think I am exaggerating to much when I say that, we here at Grace, (sic) practice true religion.” But that sidesteps Jesus’ own test, which is to look at the fruits of the tree in order to understand the tree. In Grace’s case, these fruits include perjury, defamation, bullying, mobbing, lying, defamation, and more. Yet the parish’s role as a religion club, versus a church; and its organizational narcissism, in which it views itself in a positive manner, regardless of how appalling its conduct is; lead most in the parish to deny that there is any issue at all.

Malmites further reply, “This is a friendly, welcoming, inclusive church.You’ll be welcomed with open arms.” That also conflates two issues: friendly and faithful. Grace Episcopal, the clergy perjury parish, indeed is friendly. But that is not the same as faithful, and committing perjury, engaging in defamation, trying to drag a dying woman into court, calling other Christians “domestic terrorists,” and more are fruits not of a healthy tree, but rather a toxic tree.

Although they don’t come right out and say it, the de facto response by denizens of Planet Malm is, “Well, the ends justify the means.” But nowhere did Jesus ever advocate this approach.

Then we come to the issue of truth. On this issue, both Grace Church’s clergy and vestry have lied to parishioners and others, both with their claims that they were threatened, with their claims that Mom or someone pretending to be her contacted Bob Malm repeatedly to set up appointments, and that Mike and I left on our own. These claims are readily verified, yet to my knowledge no one at Grace has had the courage to tell the truth. That compares unfavorably with the message from the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (Or for that matter, the same phrase, which Bob Malm claims is “itched” in the church’s rose window.)

Similarly, the Bible says, “ If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

When answering the question, “Who do you say that I am?,” members of Grace Church may look to the Bible for guidance in answering that question. 2 Corinthians: 4.2 says, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.”

In other words, it’s only by telling the truth and bringing light to the darkness that Grace can turn its back on its past. And that excludes the whole childish, “Well, but you did _____.” The latter argument might work for little kids, but it doesn’t work for adults. And clergy, including perjuring priest Bob Malm, are always responsible for maintaining boundaries on their own behavior. Always.

Of course, so far Grace Church categorically refuses to tell the truth, instead trying to defend its conduct in court. But there is no excuse, no explanation, no justification for perjuring priest Bob Malm’s myriad lies, his perjury, and his other misconduct. Nor is there any excuse for flipping people off, urging them to commit suicide, or any of the other childish, hateful behavior that comes out of Grace Church when it is criticized for its conduct. Nor is there any acceptable explanation for trying to force Mike out of the church; he is adamantly opposed to ever getting involved in any sort of religion, ever again, and perjuring priest Bob Malm and the sycophants of Grace Church can take full credit. Nor can one be the beloved community when one shuns or excludes those who tell the truth, which is that behavior at Grace Church is often bad. Really bad.

It also should be said that Grace’s past approach, which is to try to force others not to share their negative experiences with the parish, will never succeed. The church can spend the next 40 years in court, and sue every former member out there if it comes to that, but people still will publicly and privately discuss the church’s collective and individual hypocrisy. Moreover, as the Catholic church increasingly is finding out, non-disclosure agreements are intrinsically unethical unless a victim of church abuse requests such a provision.

Lastly, while I do not want to discourage Grace Church from attempting to become the beloved community, there are four factors that need to be kept in mind:
  1. Grace Church has a very long way to go to become the beloved community. This is an effort that will take years to happen, if it happens at all. In order for it to happen, members need to be prepared to challenge deep-seated notions, some of which go to the very heart of the parish. These notions include the idea that Grace actually is a healthy church, that Bob Malm was an exemplary priest, and that past conduct in the church is acceptable. Behavior in the church has not been acceptable, and it cannot be ignored, swept under the rug, or brushed aside by saying, “Well, Bob Malm is no longer here,” or “Well, we don’t behave that way any more,” or “We are all fallible humans.”
  2. The depth and breadth of problems at the church far transcend anything clergy can handle without the help of outside professionals. Thinking that Michael Guy or Jason Roberson can deal with these issues — either individually, collectively, or even with behind-the-scenes help — is a recipe for failure.
  3. There is much damage that cannot be undone. Abuse by clergy, whether sexual, financial, or in this case spiritual, often is irreparable. The same is true for congregational misconduct. Just like jumping headfirst into an empty swimming pool will cause harm that at best may be partially repairable, so too can the harm caused by Grace’s past actions be only partially repaired. The national denomination knows this, having said, “A poorly handled [case of clergy misconduct] can cause unnecessary – and often irreparable – harm to both relationships and reputations of all parties involved. The church has a responsibility to remediate any unnecessary costs, both relational and financial. Consistent and quality upfront training can greatly assist in this regard. More harm to the church can flow from the mismanagement of a claim than from the misconduct itself.”
  4. It is only by telling the truth about its past conduct that Grace Episcopal Alexandria, the clergy perjury parish, ever start to move towards wholeness. As long as it refuses/avoids doing so, it cannot and will not heal. There is no alternative.
To answer Jason’s question, “Who do you say that I am?,” I say that Grace Church is a place where it’s okay to commit perjury, to drag the dying into court, to call other Christians “domestic terrorists,” to defame others, to urge others to commit suicide, and to force innocent people out of church. But other than that, it’s a great church!