Monday, June 11, 2007

Where Is the Staff Accountability?

Any large organization needs to operate not by idiosyncratic whim of the hired personnel, but rather by policy legitimately established to reflect the corporate purposes of the organization. Loose cannons and tinhorn radicals need to be lashed down or let go by those we have placed in leadership responsibility and hold accountable to manage the organization.

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.]


Blogger Chris said...


I hope you're not surprised by the fact that she formerly "worked for justice" by making sure that the U. S. Government taxed people specifically for the purpose of ensuring babies could be murdered in utero on a routine basis. Yes, Mrs. Casteel is a former employee of Planned Parenthood. Her job hasn't changed much - just the per capita affluence of the constituency paying for her abortion advocacy.

Maybe your blog will "stimulate discussion" about how accountable the Center staff are on matters of the church's stance on abortion and sexuality. Let's see if they are ideologically balanced enough to "push it" with the same vigor they use promoting "justice."

You should ask Tom Gray of the Kirk if he plans on sending flowers for her upcoming July ordination as part of the Kirk's "pound of flesh."

3:21 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

I think you have a different view of authority than I do. For you, it seems to be necessarily good to be "General Assembly compliant", for example, or to agree with your interpretation of the Confessions, Bible, etc.

For me, though, just because something is espoused by someone in authority doesn't make it right or good. There is room for resistance to unjust authority, or authority which is used unjustly. General Assembly, or you, or I, might be wrong.

If everyone viewed authority the way you seem to in this post, there would be no, for example, Civil Rights movement. Or abolition of slavery. Sometimes, its a reasonable and faithful thing to do to decide that some use of authority does not comply with what God intends, or with your own values, or is morally wrong, or unreasonable, etc.

I haven't read these writings that have upset you specifically, so maybe this person is just being incredibly flagrant. Ideally, she'd make it clear why she was saying what she was saying, and openly resist for openly-stated reasons. Of course she'll suffer consequences for that - that's how it works, until the unjust authority is overturned, or is moved to change.

I just wanted to note my dissent with your apparent view of authority.

9:21 AM, June 15, 2007  
Blogger Debbie said...

Doug, of course people need to follow their consciences and seek to overturn unjust authority. And I think I can speak for Jim to say that neither he nor I believe that "just because something is espoused by someone in authority", as you said, makes it right or good. That is a misreading of Jim's position on authority. We are glad that the Civil Rights Movement happened, and abolition of slavery, and other such things where unjust authority was overturned.

However, when a person has a job, they are bound to work according to the conditions of that job. Specifically, when a person works for the PCUSA, they are supposed to follow the instructions of the General Assembly. If Ms. Casteel wants to try to work to change the General Assembly resolutions that she doesn't like, that's great, but until they are changed, she is bound to follow them while carrying out her duties as an employee of the church.

On her own time, what she does is something different. But on the church's time and on the church's nickel, she must follow what the church has instructed her to do.

This would be parallel to a situation in which an employee of the Democratic party had started to feel sympathetic towards the Republican platform. If that employee felt in good conscience that she could no longer support the Democratic stance on abortion, or on the Iraq war, etc., and she started changing all the Democratic newsletters that she was printing out to mail to her party's constituency so that they supported the Republican position, she would be following her conscience, but in doing that on the Democratic payroll, in contradiction to the instructions she had received, she would be doing wrong. If she could not in good conscience perform the duties asked of her, she should seek a different job. That is similar, I believe, to what Ms. Casteel must decide, if it truly is a matter of conscience for her.

Ms. Casteel (probably) and many others would not like it if the shoe were on the other foot, if those running the offices of the PCUSA were, say, against abortion, and, although (hypothetically) General Assembly had made it clear that abortion was to be supported by the church, yet the PCUSA website only featured articles about how abortion was the murder of a child. But suppose those in the PCUSA offices said that according to their consciences, the General Assembly authority was unjust to the not-yet-born, and they were rebelling against it, in defiance of the General Assembly resolution. It would be very frustrating to those who supported abortion as justice for women, and who knew that the General Assembly had directed the PCUSA staff to reflect that on the website.

It is only by obeying the directives of the church as a whole that we can avoid having the tyranny of a few individuals, such as some staff people, control what ought to be the mind of the larger church, spoken through General Assembly.

10:24 PM, June 21, 2007  
Blogger Jim said...


All I can say about what Debbie wrote is "Amen." She expressed what I didn't have the time to say, and she nailed it.

I find it extremely difficult to comprehend why what Debbie wrote wasn't evident to you BEFORE you wrote. You don't intentionally obfuscate matters for sport, do you?

Jim Berkley

11:57 PM, June 21, 2007  
Blogger Doug Hagler said...

Yes, actually, I think Debbie clarified what you were talking about, which is good. I probably didn't sufficiently understand the situation - apparently didn't, if her comparisons were accurate. So thank you Debbie. Jim, I apologize if I jumped to an unjustified conclusion about your view of authority.

I think we've long since established that we have trouble understanding each other, so I have no idea why it still surprises you. I do prefer clarification to insulting my integrity, though. At least I assumed you were being honest.

1:05 AM, June 29, 2007  

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