Friday, February 21, 2020
One of the profoundly troubling things about Grace Episcopal Church is the juxtaposition of the blind trust that members place in Bob Malm and his fabrications with the fact that many parishioners work for the federal government and organizations covered by the ethics provisions of Gramm-Rudman and Sarbanes-Oxley. And that’s all the more the case following the appalling retaliation recently experienced by military and other government officials who have expressed concerns about conduct within the executive branch of government.
Consider: Many parish leaders are retired military. If someone came forward with allegations that a military leader had engaged in perjury and other potentially criminal conduct, would they turn a blind eye? Would they refuse to take any action at all? Or would they insist on a full and fair investigation into the allegations? One hopes that the answer would be the latter.
Similarly, the parish is replete with former Senior Executive Service officials. If they received such allegations, would they simply say, “Well, I know him. That can’t be.”?
Same goes for Fortune 500 employees. In almost every instance, such employees are covered by whistleblower protections, including mandatory reporting if an employee becomes aware of possible misconduct.
In the context of the Episcopal church, the canons state that all who serve the church do so as fiduciaries. That begs the question: When was a fiduciary permitted under the law to turn a blind eye to misconduct affecting the larger organization?
Consider these questions, too, if the matter didn’t involve perjury, but instead sexual harassment. Would parishioners refuse to listen or look into the matter?
Ironically, my conflict with Bob does involve allegations of possible gender-based harassment, including Bob Malm’s repeated failure to address these issues. And the accuracy of church financial reporting and adequacy of cash handling internal controls remain serious concerns of mine. Yet in every instance, both the diocese and the parish have brushed off these issues.
How Susan Goff and the diocese can say that potential gender-based harassment and known misuse of church funds is not of “weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” is beyond me. Just ask Brad Bergman about the stale checks and unaccounted-for cash found in church offices following Charlotte Payne Wright’s departure.
And if you are a woman or other person affected by gender-based harassment, why are you supporting a church and diocese that says these issues, as well as bullying and perjury by clergy, are inconsequential?
Only you can answer that question.
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
As you can see, Bob Malm’s conduct falls squarely in the former category. Indeed, to this day he continues to try to bully me via the court system; never once has he personally taken steps to resolve this issue, instead requiring the intervention of diocesan officials to make any effort in this space. Indeed, it’s interesting that Bob loves to portray himself as the decisionmaker in day-to-day life; he can even override the vestry, despite the fact that, under the canons, he is elected by, and reports to, the vestry. Yet in this conflict, Bob deliberately ignores that fact that he is responsible at all times for maintaining appropriate boundaries—a truth that is reflected in the recent church legislation to outlaw retaliation in Title IV cases. And Bob repeatedly mischaracterizes past conversations and events, even going so far as to falsely tell people that I resigned my membership in the parish in 2015–a flagrant falsehood, if there ever was one.
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Stephen, thank you for this post. I emailed you a while back about some things I’ve realized about my church culture – white US evangelical, in general; Southern Baptist, in particular. Thank you for your gracious reply. Today, I found my way back to your blog by googling “shunning.” Belatedly, I’ve realized that’s what I’ve experienced – profoundly and pervasively – since I began seeing and speaking out about ways we in this part of Christianity have been missing and misrepresenting Christ. Apparently, shunning is an almost universal response to whistleblowers and prophets. But that in no way justifies its being such a common (and profoundly denied) practice in the church. It hurts like hell, because it IS a form of murder, a seeking to murder personhood.Nice going, Bob—right in there with the Southern Baptists as you babble on about Christ’s love while thinking that shunning is okay.
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
As he put it, “Throw my records in the shredder.”
Nice move Bob. Of this I am sure: God does not look favorably on clergy whose conduct results in those entrusted to their care renouncing their faith.
Sunday, June 3, 2018
Saturday, June 2, 2018
- End his campaign of disparagement.
- Stop his interference with the practice of my faith.
Saturday, May 26, 2018
While I have discussed the matter with relatively few clergy in the diocese of Virginia, the vast majority either resort to tired old saws about forgiveness that are not theologically sound, or dismissive BS about how I’m being hateful, etc.
But the reality is that Jesus had little use for clergy who saw themselves as better by virtue of their role as clergy. Nor do he shun people —including the “hateful,” such as tax collectors.
This faulty understanding of forgiveness, redemption and welcome, combined with lack of accountability and an unwillingness to tackle difficult issues, exists at all levels of The Episcopal Church. Some have rightly noted that this paradigm interferes with the church’s ability to address impairment, but the reality is it extends to challenges, problems, and conflict at every level of the denomination.
The Jesus I know is the Jesus of the radical welcome, the protestor against injustice, and the friend to the outcast. Most Episcopal clergy, however, know nothing of these things. Theirs is a fictitious Jesus: The Jesus of the prep school and the golf course.
Sunday, May 6, 2018
When Bob first came to Grace Church, roughly at the same time I graduated from law school, the population of Alexandria was 111,198 per the US Census Bureau. Today, the city’s population is 160,035, representing an almost 44 percent increase. During that time, the parish has not increased by a similar percentage, but rather has continued its slow decline. Thus, when membership is correlated with local population, it is clear that the church has lost “market share” by roughly 50 percent during Bob’s tenure.
Attendance similarly is down. While some of the numbers for attendance at divine worship in years prior to Bob’s arrival are suspect, there can be little doubt that attendance is down sharply over time. Indeed, some early reports suggest that Easter and Christmas worship often topped 1000 persons, a number that seems improbable given the small size of the nave. There can be little doubt, however, that the numbers far exceeded those of today, when average Sunday attendance (ASA), a key measure of congregational health, runs about 275. Moreover, the sharp decline in ASA since 2015, roughly 31%, does not bode well for the church. This speaks to the value that people perceive in the opportunities for community, fellowship, and worship that the church provides.
Similarly, total pledges have dropped precipitously during the last five years, from $890,000 to about $780,000, a decrease of more than 12 percent.
Meanwhile, the relatively constant budget, which has been subsidized by gifts of appreciated stock, as well as increased reliance on the relatively modest trust fund, masks an ongoing decline in purchase power. Assuming, for example, a steady budget from 2007 to 2017, inflation during that time results in a 15.41% decline in financial capacity. Similarly, a steady budget from 1989 to 2017 results in an almost 50 percent decline in purchasing power.
Even more alarming is the precipitous decline in pledging units. From its recent high of 340 pledging units, the parish has seen the number plummet to roughly 220, a drop of 35.29%. This, I believe, is attributable to Bob’s having stayed far too long as rector, as well as the deleterious effects of conflict in the parish, including my own dust-up with Bob. (Too often, Bob models behavior that says it’s okay to engage in inappropriate conduct. But I digress.)
Compounding matters is the disparate giving of young couples and newer members versus long-term members. Several families, all long-time members, give very generously to the parish, offsetting declines in giving from other quarters. Eventually, however, these families will no longer be able to support the parish at these levels, which will result in an abrupt decline in revenue. With budgets already perilously thin, any decrease in revenue would prove painful, to put it mildly.
Similarly, committed members of the church have stepped up their giving in recent years in an effort to offset the parish’s flagging fortunes. As a result, the average annual pledge now is $3,300, but there are signs that people are fast maxing out. Thus, continuing declines in acquisition of new members, together with natural attrition of existing members, spell a perfect storm in the making. This will be exacerbated when, sometime in the next 5 years, Bob packs it in and retires. While the fresh air will ultimately good for the parish, in the near-term his departure will result in additional declines in attendance and revenue.
There’s another wrinkle in all of this, which is that, when Bob does head off to Jekyll Island, the parish will have to learn how to fully function within the Episcopal tradition. For example, the canons require that the vestry elect the executive committee; it may not be appointed by the rector. (Sorry, folks, a thumbs-up vote is not an election, unless you’re in Cuba. And maybe not even then.) So, there will be a period of adjustment as people learn to live into the tradition of representative democracy envisioned in Episcopal polity.
Of course, people will also have to unlearn Bob’s focus on the same ol’, same ol’. The world changes and evolves, yet very little except the organ and choir loft has changed within the church since 1994. Yet any organization that cannot change with the times is doomed to die. Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but Bob ran, hung out at the beach, and played golf.
The bottom line: Grace Church is in a period of sharp decline that likely will become a perfect storm during the next five years. This paradigm is exacerbated by the church’s reluctance to look the issue in the eye, to engage in strategic planning, and to ask the question, “What’s next?” Or, as the old saying in organizational consulting goes, “If you don’t know where you’re headed, you’ll surely get there.” If it is to survive, the church will need to radically transform itself from a 1970’s vintage model predicated on clericalism to a model that reflects the realities of the 21st century.
It may well be that the parish will not be successful in making this transition.
Love the way he refers to you like a thing, not a person. Right out of Goebbels' playbook. I see a second career for him on Fox News - an institution whose ideals are right in synch with his. Poor Grace church having that angry, hate-filled drama queen at the helm.Spot on.
Thursday, March 15, 2018
See the vestry minutes at: https://www.gracealex.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Vestry-Minutes-January-16-2018.pdf
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Note that I am not suggesting that Bob has engaged in sexual misconduct.
What I am saying is that Bob’s role with the parish is based on boundary violations. Rather than being a missional partner, Bob tries to be in control. Whether it’s choosing the vestry’s executive committee, refusing to address vestry concerns about parish business operations and staffing, refusing to have candid conversations about governance concerns, taking leave in apparent excess of what is allowed under his letter of agreement, Bob misuses the authority of his position.
What does all that mean?
It means that Bob ultimately pursues his own perceived self interest—avoiding criticism, avoiding accountability. At the same time, Bob appears very focused on obtaining recognition and adulation, often in a very calculating way. Conversely, Bob is Machiavellian in his efforts to suppress perceived criticism, often via petty slights or power games.
This is, of course, contrary to a healthy pastoral relationship, in which the needs of the parishioner comes first. Or, as we teach in the sexual misconduct prevention course, if the answer to the question, “Whose needs are being met?”, is the clergyperson’s, the relationship is abusive.
This paradigm extends to Bob’s conflict with me and my family. Rather than engaging with us and asking the question, “how can we work together to resolve this?”, Bob continues to treat the situation as a battle to be won. As a result, extensive harm has been caused to the parish, its members, Bob and his family, and my family.
Put in other words, Bob has never tried on his own to resolve this conflict, instead trying to triangulate his way through Dee Parsons, the vestry, the diocese, his wife, and others. That underscores just how inappropriate his relationship with his parish.
Consider Bob’s bogus report to the police. Did Bob ever raise his alleged concerns directly with me or my family members? No, he didn’t.
Apropos Bob’s false claims that I may be mentally ill, has he ever brought his alleged concerns to my attention? No, he has not.
Has the Grace Church vestry ever tried to reach out to me or my family to see what might be done to resolve this conflict? No, it has not.
Bottom line, boundary issues are a hot mess at Grace Church. As a result, interpersonal dynamics within the parish are all too often unhealthy.
Bottom line, Bob Malm’s relationship with the parish and its members is profoundly unhealthy. It should not ba all about Bob.
Let us hope that The Episcopal Church expands misconduct prevention training to include non-sexual misconduct.
Monday, March 5, 2018
In the instant case, few would contend with a straight face that there is, at this point, any possible upside for Bob or Grace Church. Bob’s repeated misconduct and abuse of power has forged an ardent alliance of opponents, none of whom are going to ratchet back their opposition any time soon. Meanwhile, details of Bob’s actions are well known to the public, and will reflect badly on The Episcopal Church for years to come.
In his most recent moves, Bob has shown an utter lack of scruples that has only exacerbated the situation. Family members have found renewed energy, and more than one major news outlet is now looking into the story. Additionally, the time, stress, pressure and drain on resources caused by Bob’s actions can only serve to further erode the increasingly shaky paradigm at Grace Church.
Yet Bob continues to pretend and try to bluff his way through things. In so doing, Bob leads the church into an increasingly unhealthy situation—one that will prove damaging to the parish over time.
Maybe it’s time for Bob to take his own advice and simply give it a rest.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
How so? Because outsiders, not drawn in by Bob’s manipulation, quickly recognize that going around telling people that a former parishioner is mentally ill is conduct unbecoming for clergy. Not only does Bob have no expertise or training in psychology, but even if his assertions were true they are not the sort of thing you share publicly.
The end result is that the more Bob attempts to discredit those who would hold him accountable for his behavior, the more quickly things unravel at Grace Church. That trend is accelerated by those, like Leslie Malm, who go around lying about what transpired. When people realize that parishioners have adopted Bob’s approach to conflict resolution, they see that Grace has become toxic. And no matter how Bob tries to manipulate and bully his way out of things, parishioners eventually realize that Bob has never — not once — reached out to me or any member of my family and asked the question, “What would it take to resolve this?” Instead, Bob clings to his magical thinking that somehow he is going to prevail, and suddenly everything will be as it was 5 years ago.
The reality is that, even if this blog, my mom’s blog, and all the social media criticism of Bob’s behavior went away tomorrow, he and Grace church would still have a major problem on their hands. It’s called Bob’s behavior. And any priest who thinks it’s okay to try to force parishioners out of church for complaining about his or her bullying behavior has no business being a priest.