Monday, July 11, 2011

Leadership: harder than it looks

I am as liable as anyone to hear the evening news and exclaim, "But how could they possibly do that?" about the actions of any number of politicians, businesspeople, and clergy. 
However, as someone who will shortly be in a more significant leadership (and management) role as priest-in-charge at Epiphany, I am growing far more charitable in my expectations of other leaders.  Hard decisions are not clear at the time (or even in retrospect sometimes) and change is not easy to achieve when it comes down to the dollars and cents, the personnel on the ground, and a desire to treat people with dignity and not wound them willfully. 

Liberal Episcopal blogs have been up in arms for the last week about a situation in the Diocese of Nevada involving a (now former) priest named Bede Parry.  He was a former Roman Catholic priest received into the Episcopal Church by now Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in 2004 after two years of discernment.  During that discernment period, he revealed that he had inappropriate contact with a late adolescent at a summer camp in 1987; police did not prosecute the case, but he left his monastery and entered psychological counseling.   He and his previous monastery are now being sued over other alleged incidents of inappropriate touching with late adolescents prior to 1987, incidents which evidently he did not reveal to the Diocese of Nevada during his discernment.  He has resigned his orders in the Episcopal Church, and no longer serves as an Episcopal priest. 

The current Bishop of Nevada issued a statement regarding the events, the timeline, and emphasizing the absolute imperative of keeping children safe.  He also distinguished between pedophilia, the attraction to very young children, and adult attraction to 16 and 17 year olds.  Bishop Edwards also pointed out that the decision to ordain Bede Parry required approval from not only Bishop Katharine, but also the entire Commission on Ministry, all of whom were aware of the 1987 incident, and determined that based upon the psychological testing conducted by the Diocese, and the previous 15 years of behavior in which no incidents were reported, Bede Parry was not a threat.  There have been no allegations of misconduct during his time as an Episcopal priest.

But the blogosphere doesn't want to accept this.  They want Katharine Jefferts  Schori and all levels of Church bureaucracy crucified for having made this decision.  They assume it was the wrong decision--one that they themselves would never have made. 

I'm not so sure.  Leadership means going beyond our knee-jerk reactions and to get the best knowledge we can about situations and people so that we can act wisely.  The easiest thing in the world to do with Bede Parry would have been to reject him out of hand--but the Commission on Ministry in Nevada decided to walk deeper and no doubt confronted some of their own fears and assumptions in trying to see Christ in their neighbor, and understand if redemption and change are really possible--and if we say we are Christians, then we believe they are.

Ultimately, it may have been the wrong decision, if for no other reason than that Bede Parry did not disclose the other incidents.  With that information, the COM and bishop might have come to a different decision.  Or they might not have--but impugning the motivations of the Bishop and the COM and assuming this a decision that was made lightly or without thorough discussion seems falacious.  It's hard to make decisions in the real world, where everything comes in shades of gray.  It sounds to me like the bishop and COM did the best they could to hear the will of the Spirit--and that situations like this are precisely why the institutions of the church are so important, because they allow for collective wisdom rather than decisionmaking by a single person. 


  1. Jennifer, you are FAR too reasonable.


  2. Too reasonable? Heavens, I've rarely been accused of that... but if the church needs some reasonable people, I'd love to be one of them!