Showing posts with label organizational narcissism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label organizational narcissism. Show all posts

Sunday, December 8, 2019

If Grace is Such a Slice of Paradise, Why is it Shedding Members? Further Reflections on the Church’s Organizational Narcissism

One of the noteworthy things about my conflict with Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal Church has been the extent of organizational narcissism in the church. This has been typified by the reactions of parishioners, who remain clueless about how their behavior appears to outsiders, while continuing to think that somehow it benefits the parish.

For example, consider the conduct of Sally Schneider, who rolled up to me one day and said, in her typically saccharine way, “Shame on you, Eric Bonetti,” repeating this several times. Sally has zero first-hand knowledge of the conflict, yet thinks she can wade in and pass judgment. Yet I’d be prepared to bet that she would not regard Bob Malm’s perjury as kosher, nor his attempt to drag a dying woman into court.

Similarly, Lisa Medley, who doesn’t even have the backbone to post comments under her own name, preferring instead handles like, “Long-time parishioner,” still can’t figure out why third parties look at her ad hominem attacks on me and respond with comments like, “This group of parishioners is circling the wagons and while they seem sane to themselves, they seem immature and hateful to outsiders who are looking at their behavior.”



The same holds true for Alison Campbell, who tells people that she is “just the messenger,” even as she uses the altar guild and others to try to cause trouble within the parish. She may think that somehow she’s benefitting the parish, Kelly Gable, or others, but the reality is she’s simply showing herself to be childish and hateful, while underscoring that Grace is toxic. 

Then we come to the Kemp Williams and Jean Reeds of the place, who are happy to gossip within the church about others and their perceptions of them, yet see no need to discuss those issues directly with the persons involved. Just spend a few minutes searching this blog and you will find examples of their truly ugly comments.

Also among the better examples of toxic behavior at Grace Church are the comments from a twenty-something in the parish, who urged me to commit suicide in the post below.





And of course, we cannot forget Sugarland Chiow, with his multiple false statements of law and fact to the courts, his inflammatory rhetoric, and his various courtroom fabrications, including that I never practiced law. Jeff claims that the church is threatened by “domestic terrorism,” yet brings his wife and children there on a regular basis. 

Nor can we forget Big Bad Bob, with his lying under oath (aka perjury), his lies to parishioners, and his false police reports. Truly, the ugly stuff rolls downhill.

Even more problematic is the fact that this sort of behavior is, for many, acceptable within the church. This underscores the organizational narcissism that exists at every level in the church. Yes, attendance and giving are at record lows in the parish, and yes, one-third of pledging units have stopped pledging in recent years. And many have left the parish altogether, preferring somewhere where the Ten Commandments aren’t just a bit of arcane trivia. But the fact remains that many continue to provide financial and other support for this toxic mess. Nor have any of the people identified above ever taken responsibility for their own conduct.

Thus far, parish leaders also have ignored the many things that could be done to address these issues. For example, the vestry could adopt a statement of normative behaviors, making clear the type of conduct that rightly should be present in any church. It could specifically address bullying. It could bring in outside experts in addressing conflict. Yet none of these things have happened, nor have they been discussed in any meaningful way.

Will Michael Guy and the vestry be up to the task? Can they drain the swamp that is Grace Episcopal? 

I doubt it.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Worthy Read: When Narcissism Comes to Church

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and there’s a good book that sums up perfectly my experiences with perjuring priest Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal church. Titled, When Narcissism Comes to Church the book is written by David Orrison.

Following is an excerpt from his blog that well describes the organizational narcissism at Grace
Church:
Too many people have found the church, the institutional local church, to be uncaring and so wrapped up in preserving its image that it will support the abuser in hopes that the victim will just go away and be quiet. We saw another example of this in the news this past week. Another church worker abused a young girl, and the church leaders just moved him to another place. Why does this happen? How can this happen in the church?
The answer is this overwhelming concern for image. In their drive to be seen as superior, some churches would rather ignore the victims than deal with the scandal. When hurting people can be ignored for the sake of the superior image, that’s narcissism. 
Christians expect to be able to go to church leadership when they are hurting. When they are pushed away, or sin is covered up, something is very wrong. Narcissism creeps in to depersonalize and victimize.
 Of course, this paradigm is problematic in the near-term for multiple reasons, including:

  • The fact that Bob Malm, who seems to me to have been the narcissist-in-chief for the past 30 years, is now gone.
  • No healthy priest with a good handle on organizational dynamics is likely to want to serve as rector; only another narcissist could or would fit the bill. 
  • Like any narcissist, the organizational narcissist that is Grace Church sees nothing wrong with its current conduct or attitudes, in which people are drawn to Bob Malm, versus God, and any behavior is justified as long as it meets Bob Malm’s perceived needs, and by extension those of the organization.
  • The diocese is every bit as clueless and organizationally narcissistic as are Bob Malm and Grace Church. Thus, with the diocese fully supporting the current situation at Grace Church, there is zero chance of meaningful change.
Thus, Grace needs to transform from a religion club to a church—a sea change that goes to the very heart of its existence. Unless it does so, it will eventually cease to exist, and yet it remains wedded to its current modus operandi.

By the way, there’s a good post on Dave’s blog about branding, differentiation, and religion, located here. If you read the post, keep in the back of your mind Grace’s role as the only full-time Anglo-Catholic parish in Northern VA. Think too, of Bob Malm’s claim that, “I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much, when I suggest that at Grace Church we know, we practice “true religion”. (Sept. 3, 2017 sermon)

This, from a church where the rector commits perjury, deliberately misuses funds, instructs staff to shun members, and tries to drag the dying into court.


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

As Interim Starts at Grace Episcopal Alexandria, Questions Remain


As Grace Episcopal prepares to welcome the Rev. Michael B. Guy, Sr. as interim rector, questions remain about the parish’s direction and ability to transition successfully to a new rector.

First, some background. Guy is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, which is in full communion with The Episcopal Church. Formerly pastor at a predominantly African-American church in Baltimore, he also has served as interim senior pastor at Resurrection ELCA in North Arlington. Guy also is known to have participated in ecumenical activities with The Episcopal Church.

Meanwhile, Grace’s pledge season is under way. The usual loyal givers have pledged, with an average annual pledge increasing to just under $4,000. Others will follow suit, with final results based in some measure on how people feel about the church’s direction during the coming months. To the church’s credit, it appears to be stepping back from Bob Malm’s “let’s say as little as possible,” approach, which all but guarantees declines in giving. (Hint to Malmites who read this: Lack of transparency is deadly to churches.)

But will Grace fully welcome Guy? That remains to be seen. After 30 years of Dysfunctional Bob and his congenial but faith-free approach to Christianity, how will folks react to a rector who has no experience with the Anglo-Catholic tradition?

On the one hand, Guy’s loose denominational ties may stand him in good stead. More than one Episcopal priest with knowledge of the situation at Grace has said that there is not enough money in all of Christendom to convince them to serve as interim at Grace. Not only are 30 years of Malm’s feckless performance as rector a difficult precedent, but the organizational narcissism at Grace goes to its very core. And no one wants the ocean of conflict at Grace to attach to their professional reputation, particularly since the church’s precipitous decline in recent years places it at heightened risk of closure. So Guy’s distance from diocesan politics and other intra-church nonsense may be helpful.

On the other hand, there are indications that the inevitable comparisons to Malm already have begun. Guy clearly does not display the same interpersonal attributes as Bob, and his writing seems stiffer than Bob’s. At the same time, he appears to take his faith seriously, which is a profound change from Bob. And somehow I don’t see Guy staying up until the wee hours at Shrine Mont, loudly socializing as the people around him get plastered.

It also will be interesting to see how race plays out. While Grace has a long record of being inclusive, it has never had an African-American rector, as will be the case with Guy, and the percentage of minorities in the pews is shockingly low given the composition of the surrounding community. Nor is being a minority protection against conflict emanating from the altar guild and other special interest groups in the parish.

Most challenging, though, is dealing with the wake of Bob’s narcissism. For years, the whole modus operandi at the parish has been Bob drawing attention to himself, versus God, seeking adulation at every turn. Such an approach is toxic to the long-term health of any church, yet there is no sign that Guy,  the vestry, or the diocese recognize that this is the underlying challenge at the church. Nor is there any sign that they have the skill sets to address these problems. Moreover, the first time the good Christian ladies of the altar guild or choir feel that Guy has tramped on their toes, he’s going through the grist mill, rear end first.

Complicating things is the tendency in the diocese to sweep matters under the rug and hope that they will go away — an approach Bob used for any issue he didn’t feel like dealing with. Missing money? It will get resolved eventually. Utterly useless and ineffective staff? Don’t worry about it—they’ll be retiring this year. Misconduct by staff? It will have to wait until after my vacation.

But if the diocese and parish don’t deal with the elephant in the living room, sooner or later the elephant will get restless and ultimately demolish the living room. Nor would this be the first time that the diocese has said, and I quote, “Just hang in there ‘til we can get someone in there.”

In short, unless the parish and diocese are prepared to deal directly with these issues, it’s not too much longer before Grace church closes its doors for good.  Unfortunately, 30 years of Bob Malm may be an experience from which the parish simply cannot recover.



Sunday, October 6, 2019

Heaven Help Us: More on Interims and Organizational Narcissism




In earlier posts, I discussed organizational narcissism and the challenges it poses for an interim and Grace church. This article more fully explores these concepts, with an emphasis on the difficulties organizations face when they seek to change.

So what is organizational narcissism? (Note that we are here referring to the high self-esteem variant. There are others.)

A concept in organizational psychology, the term describes an organization that is unable to behave ethically because it lacks a moral identity. While such organizations may not be intentionally unethical, they become self-obsessed and use a sense of entitlement, denial, and rationalizations to justify anything they do. Source: Duchon, D. & Drake, B. J Bus Ethics (2009) 85: 301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-008-9771-7. As a result, the organization is blind to its flaws and weaknesses.

While academic research into organizational narcissism in churches is limited, experts are in agreement on two key points:
  1. Such organizations find it profoundly hard to change.
  2. While narcissistic organizations may adopt ethics and other policies, such efforts will have little effect.
Industrial psychologists also note that such organizations often are headed by a narcissist, in many instances adopting their persona. And all organizations, just like humans, have personalities, learned behaviors, and ways to respond to stress, problems, and challenges. In short, organizations have personalities, and can choose to act in an ethical manner, or not.

And so it is with Grace. Bob Malm and the church both, in my opinion, lack moral identities. Both use a sense of entitlement, denial and rationalizations to justify anything they do. Both have behaved in ways that to outsiders are shocking and unethical, including:
  • Committing perjury
  • Making false police reports
  • Proferring false statements of fact and law in court
  • Trying to subpoena a dying woman in violation of state law
  • Referring to those entrusted to their pastoral care as “domestic terrorists,” “sick,” “twisted,” and “sad individual[s], starving for attention.” (Projection, anyone?)
  • Lying to members
Indeed, one of the reasons that Grace church has gotten away with these behaviors to the extent it has is that these behaviors are so over the top; few readily believe that a church would engage in such conduct, particularly in a hierarchical organization like The Episcopal Church.

Similarly, just like an individual narcissist, Grace church demonstrates little introspection, either on an individual or collective level. For example, parishioners fail to see the laughable irony when they leave Mass on Sunday, having just made their confession, and flip off protesters. Nor has there been any organizational demand for accountability by Dysfunctional Bob or Sugarland Chiow. Indeed, the parish saw the former off with a celebration of his 30 years of “ministry.” Yes, there were many good aspects of Bob’s tenure, but any situation in which it’s okay to commit perjury and bully the dying is hardly cause for celebration, even when taken as a whole.

So where does that leave things? Like the alcoholic who tells herself that, “I can stop any time,” Grace church is in denial. Beautiful liturgy and cordial relations with fellow parishioners mask the underlying reality, which is that the parish is a hot mess. And just as narcissists create a false image for themselves that they present to others, so too does Grace Church create a beautiful illusion of a friendly, welcoming place.

Moreover, just as telling an alcoholic that she has a problem rarely goes well, so too will the interim who steps into the breach discover that efforts to fix problems at Grace are unwelcome. First will come the inevitable comparisons to Bob, then the fun and games with the altar guild and choir, eventually leading to the new person being declared the source of all the church’s woes. “Things were fine when Bob was here, so it’s obviously the interim’s fault,” will be the refrain, conveniently forgetting that things were far from fine.

Even worse, the one person who potentially could help the parish move through these issues has checked out. Much like the bishop had to write a letter  to ask parishioners not to visit Bob Malm during his recovery unless specifically asked to do so, Susan Goff may be the one person who could step in, speak at a parish meeting, ask people to tone it down, to be open to new approaches, and to fix long-standing problems. But with +Shannon having weighed in to express his full support of Dysfunctional Bob, doing so involves an implicit repudiation Goff’s none-too-successful predecessor. Nor is the diocese great at issues of this sort: Even on how way out the door, +Shannon proclaimed that everything was going well at the diocese, despite the fact it clearly was not.

Additionally, +Goff refuses to respond to emails about Bob’s misconduct and reneged on Pat Wingo’s offer to be a resource following our meeting in Fredericksburg, Thus, she has scant credibility and zero first-hand knowledge of my issues, or the larger issues in the parish, which center on power, abuse, respect, the baptismal covenant, and the notion of being the Body of Christ. And after providing the diocese with multiple opportunities to help work towards reconciliation, I want nothing to do with those knuckleheads. Indeed, the diocese appears best suited to meaningless liturgies and laments over slavery and racial injustice, and reflections on reproductive rights. Real social justice has proven repeatedly to “not be of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.” Plus, with membership in The Episcopal Church plummeting, these days the church is too small for anyone to care what it thinks anyway.

My advice to interims: Think twice. Even a highly skilled and very determined expert in interim ministry faces a daunting task, plenty of stress and anxiety, and potentially lasting damage to her or his personal and professional reputation.