On the Evolving Situation: Bishops & Bicycles

I had a long and deep post on this situation written. I thought it was pretty good, but wanted to think about it and edit it again before posting so I saved it as a draft.

The draft didn’t save; the post is gone.

At the moment I have neither the time nor the energy to reconstruct it, but I do hope to at a later point. For the moment, I just want to say these few things:

  • As a cyclist and the husband of a cyclist in Baltimore, people outside of this area need to know that this situation has a specific local importance. The crash has thrown a huge light on a rampant problem that hopefully will be leveraged to create safer cycling conditions. Far too many times in the city and metro area, drivers have been let go with a light slap on the wrist after injuring, maiming, or killing cyclists, especially if said drivers have privilege and connections; the cycling community is fed up with it. As a result, this case has acquired a large symbolic meaning for Baltimore cyclists and voters entirely apart from church concerns and church politics. Keep in mind that the State’s Attorney and the judge(s) involved in the case are playing to the local crowd more than they are to you.
  • On one hand, clergy are human. As humans, they are just as susceptible to weakness, temptation, sin, and really dumb choices as anyone else. On the other hand, clergy have voluntarily offered themselves as leaders and exemplars of communities of spiritual and moral transformation. Nobody forced you to become a priest or to stand to be bishop so, yes, your moral choices do receive more scrutiny than the average layperson. Deal with it.
  • As a community of spiritual and moral transformation, we do have a responsibility to help our clergy in their humanity, specifically in setting up gracious and caring systems of accountability. When the girls and I moved churches recently (long story—more on that later), one of the first questions I asked the rector of the church where we landed was: what day is your day off and do you actually take your days off? I truly believe that all clergy ought to be accountable to their vestries with a listing of their time showing a breakdown of how their working time was allocated within broad programmatic areas (worship, Christian ed, sick visitation, regular visitation, sermon prep, worship, meetings, admin, etc.) and also recording whether they actually got their days off—properly defined as a 24-hour period where there was no job-related activity including answering emails and phone calls! Furthermore, vestries need to have it beat into them that clergy not taking their days off is not a sign of dedication, but of over-work and possible disease. Clergy are very susceptible to golden calf syndrome—they love to be needed. Ego addiction is a real thing.
  • We as a diocese and we as a church need to have some conversations around accountability when there are known problem areas. A lot of heat has been focused around the fact that the diocesan Standing Committee, Search Committee, and our diocesan bishop knew in the vetting process that there was a prior DUI, and that the electing convention did not have this information. What concerns me more is that once the election occurred and she was elected, there does not seem to have been an accountability mechanism set up to ensure that it never happened again. I could be wrong on that—but my hunch is that I’m not…
  • How do we create mechanisms for accountability that do not have a stigma associated with them that will help us lovingly care for our human clergy, particularly those who need attention and assistance in specific areas? I don’t know. But we need to do more and better talking about it.

5 thoughts on “On the Evolving Situation: Bishops & Bicycles

  1. Barbara

    Good post, Derek. Thanks for the info about the Baltimore/cycling issue; wasn’t aware of this at all.

    I agree with almost everything you’ve said here. People in recovery reading about the 2010 DUI recognize it as a very clear indicator of a problem with alcohol; I won’t say “alcoholism,” because I’m not a diagnostician. It doesn’t matter in the slightest, however; a person in that condition needs help and should have been required to get it – and to demonstrate . It doesn’t do anybody any favors to ignore this, least of all the person herself.

    Furthermore, this kind of thing ought to be disclosed when it involves the consecration of a Bishop. Whether we like it or not, the Biblical witness on bishops is clear on what’s required of Bishops. Again, it doesn’t do anybody any favors when things like this are swept under the carpet, least of all the person herself.

    And even if she HAD sought help and actually been in recovery: time (as they say in AA) takes time. Four years is not enough time in recovery to be sure of it, and to be sure of permanent change; it takes more like 15 years. There’s no shame in that at all.

    I will quibble with you about your point about “moral choices” – but it’s mostly semantic. When people are this out of control, it’s almost by definition NOT a “choice” or about “morality” – but again, that doesn’t make any difference at all to this situation. I would only reword your sentence to say “Your actions do receive more scrutiny than the average layperson’s. Deal with it.” She is accountable for causing the death of another human being, and she needs to face the consequences of it; here, too, it won’t do her any favors to let her off with a slap on the wrist when she is guilty.

    Two points of my own: I believe ALL clergypeople should be in therapy. People who know nothing about themselves simply should not have charge of other peoples’ inner lives; there’s way too much potential for abuse.

    And finally: could the the Episcopal Church for once examine its own besottedness with “leadership,” do we think? Do we think Episcopalians might someday “have the courage to be an absolute nobody” (to quote from “Franny and Zooey”)? As a quick example: aside from Full Homely Divinity, there is almost nothing anywhere online geared, simply, towards “the Anglican in the pew.” If clergy and so-called “leadership” aren’t fixating on themselves, they’re fixating on “leadership among the laity.” I’m so sick of this I can’t say; astoundingly, people are now appointing themselves “leaders”; the problem with this is that leadership isn’t a right – it’s earned over time. This is the same impulse that drove people to push for a “gay Bishop” before it had ever addressed the spiritual lives of its gay parishioners (unlike the path taken by the Anglican Church of Canada, I must point out). It’s delusional self-centeredness and self-importance.

    There’s no shame in being a simple parish priest, you know – or in being a layperson simply trying to live life the best way s/he can. You don’t really have to stand for Bishop; it’s really time the church learned this lesson, which is Biblical, too….

  2. Susan Loomis

    This author makes good points about things that need to change at the national level to address some of the issues involved. (As a side note, I live in an area where have as much of a problem when bicyclists hitting & injuring pedestrians as we do with cars hitting bicyclists.) http://gracebrunswick.org/pastoral-letter.html

  3. Derek Olsen

    I was thinking broader than just issues of alcohol and alcoholism in using the phrase “moral choices,” but “actions” is definitely a better phrasing!

    You’re absolutely right on the leadership thing too.

  4. C. WIngate

    From my perspective, the worst administration/whatever issue about this is that The Process was (inadvertently) designed to enable a candidate to engage in the pretense that the problem was all behind her. I don’t see this as an accountability question per se; the deeper issue is that the way we think about the Processes leading up to ordination/consecration plays to certain kinds of worldly pathology in the way that secular American politics encourages certain faults among the candidates who seek office. The leadership fetish that Sarah speaks to above is part of that.

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