Confession Precedes Healing


“Fear, mistrust, and resentment”: this is how the consulting firm Human Synergistics described the workplace atmosphere of 815 Second Avenue, New York — the Episcopal Church Center.

The firm presented a summary report of its survey of Church Center staff to the House of Bishops during that body’s fall meeting in Detroit. Members of the House of Deputies and reporters heard the report via webcast. TLC correspondent G. Jeffrey MacDonald was among those to stream the hearing, and thus became a bearer of bad news: “Staff find it difficult to maintain personal integrity while working for the national church” (more in MacDonald’s report).

These are not words we like to hear. Nor do we like knowing that senior administrators in the church — Sam McDonald and Alex Baumgarten — engaged in misconduct grievous enough to warrant termination. While human institutions surely fail to deliver perfection, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry pointed out during the report, the Church must be held to a higher standard (see Matt. 5:48). We commend Bishop Curry for facing this challenge head on, for bringing in outside experts, and for calling us to follow the way of Jesus. Curry described the problems at the Church Center as “deeply cultural and spiritual” and said he would have needed to address them, even if the misconduct scandal had never occurred.

Since the scandal broke last year, The Living Church has endeavored to report on this matter both diligently and carefully. A great deal of secrecy surrounds the nature of the misconduct; thus far, no one has gone on the record to discuss it. The presiding bishop’s report on the misconduct, published in April, indicated that executives “violated established workplace policies and … failed to live up to the church’s standards of personal conduct in their relationships with employees, which contributed to a workplace environment often inconsistent with the values and expectations of the Episcopal Church.”

While official reports and updates on the matter have spared certain details, they have bluntly described the dysfunction at 815 Second Avenue in recent years. Missing, however, is the language of sin.

St. John teaches that God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but save it (John 3:17), and precisely on that count our Lord urges us to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). If, therefore, “we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). With all other Christians, Episcopalians confess their sins, repent of sinful behavior, and seek reconciliation with those they have harmed.

As Bishop Curry says, it is time to “return to who we are.” But while he contends that the church’s problems are cultural and “not primarily organizational or structural,” surely culture, spirit, structure, and organization are inextricably intertwined in the church. Just so, our church, and all churches, should function as Christian institutions. Admitting that a sub-Christian environment took root may be a vital step in repentance.

We would be remiss if we did not confess our own sins in this matter. As an independent publication devoted to the flourishing of the Episcopal Church, we failed to take meaningful notice of the disappointing environment that was developing. Staff at the Church Center are colleagues and friends, and we lament and confess our sins of ignorance and silence.

At TLC we may lack the investigative resources of secular news magazines and metropolitan newspapers, but we strive to depict the church truly in everything we do. Like the Episcopal Church, we have some improvements to make.

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