Today, Palm Sunday 2016, is a good day for prayerful reflection on my journey as a member of the universal Church and of a particular church community, St. John’s Norwood Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase MD, USA.
I will write about my journey. For today, as we enter Holy Week in the Christian calendar, I will only say that I am deeply grateful to my late father, who made sure I went to Sunday School, and to church leaders who knew the difference between the fundamentals of the Christian faith and the cultural and political preferences of particular human tribes.
This week fellow parishioners at St. John’s Norwood and others left for a Holy Land pilgrimage. It will be interesting to hear about their experiences. When I returned from a similar journey a couple of years ago, several friends, and especially close Jewish friends, wanted to hear my impressions and learnings. Having spent time in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, I answered that I had visited at least three different “countries” in less than two weeks.
In Tel Aviv I spent time with peers — senior women leaders in higher education and business. We talked, we met over coffee or dinner at hip spots, we walked on the beach. Sort of like being in Southern California or Arizona, but with a much more global flavor.
In Jerusalem (where we happened to be close to Easter) I saw a city that could be — should be — the Holy City of the Abrahamic faiths but instead is morphing into the de facto political capital of the strongest regional tribe.
On the West Bank I saw townships (why do we call them “settlements”?) that might easily fit in American or European landscapes. They exist side by side with indigenous communities that are dying because young people who can leave do and those who cannot leave face unemployment, loss of homes and land, and incarceration. Since the 1980s I have traveled in underdeveloped countries, I have seen the many faces of poverty, often accompanied by lack of political freedom and unchecked violations of human rights. The West Bank is a place like no other I have seen.
I have known for some time that, like most of my relatives, colleagues and friends, I live in a very small world. Even so, I was not prepared for the way my connections with my church intersected with my connections with my physical and political home … the Village. While researching Village history ca. 1986-2016 I stumbled upon an event, an episode really, that shed light on cover-up behavior by the Episcopal leadership. Like the well publicized and more extreme behavior by the Roman Catholic hierarchy at the turn of the 21st century, the cover-up involved molestation of a minor visiting the National Cathedral by a person in position of prestige and influence at the church.
In January-February 2001, the Washington Post and the now defunct newspapers in Montgomery County, Maryland, reported on the matter and disclosed the identity of the alleged child molester, a prominent lay leader at the church and the long-time Mayor of Friendship Heights Village. Some of Washington’s best known and expensive lawyers worked on a plea bargain for the defendant, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. An out- of-court settlement mandated counseling, a probationary period, and compensatory damages to the plaintiff’s family.
The Episcopal leadership must have had many sleepless nights. This incident occurred when the Anglican Communion worldwide was in the throes of wrenching debates and schisms over the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions. The last thing the National Cathedral leadership needed at that time was publicity about sexual misconduct — in the public restrooms of the Cathedral — by a high-profile parishioner. Cathedral leaders did not address the issue, but it is reasonable to assume that they were also aware of the alleged offender’s high profile in the Washington gay community.
The consequences of the cover-up? The convicted offender was removed from the roster of lay leaders at the Cathedral. He lost the confidence of many friends and colleagues in the gay community. He lost the license to practice his profession. Yet within his political community he was able to deny or minimize both the incident and his conviction. He did not run for office again, but continued to “manage” Council elections behind the scenes and to promote candidates who did not question his narrative of consistently stellar achievements. Fifteen years later, he is still at it.