The Rev. Gail Seavey delivers the 2016 Berry Street Essay. (© 2016 Nancy Pierce)
The Rev. Gail Seavey took on the painful topic of clergy sexual misconduct in a major address at the annual meeting of the UU Ministers Association June 22. In her talk, “If Our Secrets Define Us”, Seavey described the historical reluctance of UU ministers to criticize the misconduct of their colleagues. Some who did, she noted, were censured. She exhorted her fellow ministers to stop keeping secrets so that UU congregations and the faith can thrive.
The question of how to deal with clergy misconduct was posed to the three candidates running to become the next president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. At the post-GA meeting of the UUA Board of Trustees, Moderator Jim Key—who issued a formal apology to survivors of abuse at GA 2014—promised the board would make a report on its progress at its October meeting.
“I have seen smart people, good people, fail to understand the impact of sexual misconduct, how pervasive and systemic it is, not just among us but throughout our culture,” said Seavey. “For years the system at the UUA and in many of our congregations has been to protect the privileged instead of the vulnerable.”
Facing the issue head-on is not only the moral thing to do but also results in healthier congregations and a healthier denomination, said Seavey, senior minister at First UU Church of Nashville, Tennessee, a congregation that suffered from ministerial misconduct in the 1990s. Since then, the Nashville church has led denominational efforts to address the problem through the creation of UU Safety Net, which seeks to effect changes in policies and procedures around clergy sexual abuse in Unitarian Universalism.
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.
Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.
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