Saturday, August 26, 2006

Book Review: Is Nothing Sacred?

Is Nothing Sacred? by Marie M. Fortune is "the story of a pastor, the women he sexually abused, and the congregation he nearly destroyed." Fortune is an ordained UCC pastor worked at a women's counselor at the time that the psuedonymous "First Church of Newburg" experienced the pastorship of Pete Donovan, a sexual predator. All of the names have been changed, but from the facts presented, I'm going to guess that it is a PCUSA or Disciples of Christ congregation. Donovan was a charismatic young pastor who took advantage of pastoral counseling situations and supervisor-staff relationships to coerce women into sex. The lay leadership of the church and the denominational hierarchy was slow to remove him from the ministry.

A few tidbits from the text:
1. When the events of this book took place in the early 80s, most denominations tended to see sexual misconduct by pastors as moral failings, not abuses of professional authority. Donovan's liberal denomination tended to accept pre-marital sex, so Donovan's sexual escapades made him a philanderer (a lighter offense), not a pastor engaging in professional misconduct, violating his pastoral charge (a heavier offense). Conservative responses may also be inadequate if a denomination does not regard sexual activity between pastors and laity as not just adultery, but professional misconduct.

2. Fortune creates an intriguing schematic for applying social justice principles to incidents of pastoral misconduct. In this formulation, protecting the public reputation of the church quite rightfully takes a backseat to publicly acknowledging that a church member has been sexually abused.

Related post by Rev. Ed.

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