Where Is the Staff Accountability?
Right now in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Associate for Women’s Advocacy--Molly Casteel--needs to feel the weight of what Charles Wiley (Associate for Theology) has termed “ordinary discipline.”
Casteel is operating in direct defiance of a resolution approved by the 217th General Assembly a year ago.
Her supervisor (unit Director Rhashell Hunter), or her supervisor’s supervisor (Tom Taylor, Deputy Executive Director for Mission) needs to let her know that such defiance simply will not be countenanced, and steps need to be taken to undo the damage.
But to be fair to Casteel, her behavior is hardly unique within the Women’s Ministries unit. She may only be following the lead of her colleagues, or standing in as the spokesperson for a streak of defiance that far exceeds her own personal authority and permeates an entire department.
Quite simply, Casteel has published very regrettable papers that violate a General Assembly directive. When called on it, she has indicated in a recent letter to Voices of Orthodox Women (VOW) that faithfulness to biblical and confessional morality is but an opinion or a choice of some small group of Presbyterians, and she and her department disagree with that option and are thus not among those people who take the Bible and Book of Confessions very seriously.
Casteel paints herself and her work in glowing terms that are unattached to biblical realities. She evidences absolutely no recognition of the clearly stated violations of theology and practice that Viola Larson skillfully elucidated in a pair of letters. She doesn't even try.
Nor does Casteel admit any need to conform her work to the bounds of distinctively Christian morality practiced by the church over the centuries. Casteel’s obvious benchmarks for excellence are the latest decrees by secular or heterodox radical feminists. Those writings, apparently, form her canon.
Direct opposition to GA instructions
Even more disconcerting is that Casteel’s dismissive reply to VOW comes despite a clear and recent decree of the General Assembly, which directs “the General Assembly Council (Congregational Ministries Division) and all other PC(USA) entities to use the biblical and confessional teachings that sexual relationships belong only within the bond of marriage of a man and a woman as the standard for the development of any future materials or recommendations for materials in print or in its website.”
Note that the General Assembly directed “all … PC(USA) entities” to follow the directive. All entities are to produce materials that teach the standard that “sexual relationships belong only within the bond of marriage of a man and a woman.” And the standard is to be used for "any future materials” and for any “recommendations for materials in print or in its website.”
This General Assembly instruction definitely meant to prevent exactly the kind of articles Casteel produced and commended on the website to supposedly "stimulate discussion."
Why should it require the vigilant and insightful efforts of Viola Larson and a group like VOW to point out the gross errors of the Women’s Advocacy Office? Why can’t that office self-police its work, so that it is biblically derived, theologically defensible, and General Assembly compliant?
Groups like VOW ought to be rendered unnecessary by an office and ministry staff faithful and competent in what they do. But instead, VOW must play a vital role, and I thank them for doing so.
And why is it that when Larson makes a careful and well-documented case, asking distinct questions that deserve a prompt and thoughtful answer--and something like an apology and retraction--Casteel doesn’t praise her for an obviously needed corrective? Instead, Casteel repeatedly delays, she misses the point, she dodges key questions in her reply, and finally replies months later with patronizing, self-serving hogwash.
It certainly appears to be time for some supervisory correction. Our denomination cannot accommodate independent characters free-lancing policy in positions of influence and authority. When General Assembly makes a decision, staff members must comply. Plain and simple.
If staff members like Casteel can’t in good conscience comply, their supervisors need to make it clear that they are welcome to take their advocacy some place else where the organization authorizes such views. The PC(USA), however, isn’t such a place.
[And a final word about the inevitable complaint I expect to hear: “Don’t listen to him! He’s a privileged, middle-class, middle-aged, white male who is out to ‘put a woman in her place’! How dare he seek to assert his authority over the women of the church!” and so on.
The thing is that gender is irrelevant here. It’s just not salient. We’re talking about ideas, not power or intent, and ideas need to be able to stand or fall on their own merit. Being white, male, middle class, middle-aged, clergy--whatever--should neither discount my words nor protect me from legitimate correction in the Body of Christ. Nor should being female either privilege Casteel’s words or protect her from legitimate correction by the Body of Christ. We can and should talk about these things, gender aside.]