I am heartsick.
Iris Firemoon of Firefly House has publicly accused her ex-husband Sean Bennett of adultery and emotional abuse. She called for Sean to be removed from his position on the Board of Governors of the Open Hearth Foundation because of this misconduct, and announced that she would no longer support the OHF community center, presumably until Sean was removed.
Firefly House just released a statement that they are following her lead:
…we have decided to pull financial and volunteer support from the Open Hearth Foundation until the OHF board remedies the situations in a way that is suitable to the current conditions.
Firefly does not specify what a “suitable” remedy would be. By making these public statements, Iris and Firefly seem to be calling on the Pagan community to follow their lead and withdraw support from OHF.
These statements leave me with more questions than ever: Is Firefly trying to mount a boycott of OHF? If so, they should come out and say it; if not, they should state that, too. By withdrawing their support publicly, they create an atmosphere that draws the whole community into this argument. Are they really trying to create an “us vs them” situation, where every act of support for OHF as an organization is also a statement in support of Sean and what he has been accused of?
I don’t understand the OHF side of this, either, and I am desperately hoping they will make a public statement very soon about this matter.
Does OHF have an ethics code or expectations for its Board of Governors? Can a governor be removed by the board officially? Can one be asked to step down? And if so, under what circumstances?
Is the OHF leadership discussing this with Sean? I’m not asking him to make a public statement, but unfortunately if Firefly is calling for a boycott – and I don’t see how their actions can be interpreted any other way, but if they make a public statement otherwise, I’ll listen – then OHF needs to respond to that boycott, and in so doing they need to discuss the matter internally. If he maintains his innocence, we are in a real pickle.
I don’t know what happened between Iris and Sean. I believe that Iris is telling the truth about how she understands her experiences, but it’s extremely difficult to prove things like emotional abuse.
It’s very dangerous to set an institutional precedent that someone can be removed against his or her will on the basis of something that can’t be proven, even if it’s true.
As far as I can tell, Sean has not been accused of any malfeasance with respect to his position on the Board or within the organization. I’m not sure if Iris is arguing that Sean’s position on the board is in some way enabling him to mistreat other people or causes him to pose a risk to the community. If that is what she’s arguing, it could be understood as grounds to remove him – if that’s even possible under OHF bylaws – but that would be a very difficult argument to make based on what is mostly private behavior to which the board and the community have no access or witness.
Iris argues that people are asked to leave groups because of sexual misconduct, harassment, and violence or threats of violence, but all the examples she gives seem to be ones where there were witnesses. Again, I’m not saying she’s lying; I am saying that if this sets a precedent, an accusation could be used in the future to remove someone from the board who is totally innocent. It puts the board and the community in the position of judging the truth of allegations that are by their very nature subject to misunderstanding the participants themselves, let alone outsiders. I do not want to be put in that position, nor do I think the organization should be.
I am also not asking for Iris to air the specifics of her grievances more publicly in order to try to demonstrate that there is something provable (or proven). As part of taking this (nascent?) boycott seriously, I hope the OHF asks Iris more specifics in order to figure out if there’s something there they can, should, or must act on, starting with discussing this with Sean, as I said above.
I hope that’s going on, and since I too would prefer that it go on at least partly in private, I am trying to wait and be patient. But I am heartsick.
When I went to the OHF open board meeting recently, what I saw was an organization at a tipping point. It’s almost a year into the two-year lease, and OHF is having tremendous success with some programs, especially the library. At the same time, the organization is still using seed money to cover part of its monthly expenses. The financial outlook seems to be that the organization will be able to cover all of its obligations through to the end of the two-year lease.
Speakers at the meeting were extremely optimistic about being able to make the community center a viable enterprise and be able to continue operation beyond the end of the current lease, although it would take even more tremendous investment from the community in terms of financial support to begin to meet the monthly costs. I saw this as a tipping point where either the community center and its programs, events, and classes would become valuable enough to the community to elicit that support, or it would become obvious that for many reasons a DC community center is not a feasible proposition.
The Firefly withdrawal throws all of that into question. If the community center fails, years of work and many thousands of dollars will have been for naught, as Iris herself acknowledges, having been a key player in making the community center a reality.
For now, I urge my fellow Pagans not to rush to judgment, and I implore the OHF leadership to issue a statement that tells us you are taking this seriously and begins to outline how you intend to approach this. I want to see this issue addressed, but I am not willing to financially imperil the community center at this critical juncture.
If OHF is for structural reasons unable to meet Iris’ demands, I will be even more heartsick, but I am not yet convinced that it is right to threaten to destroy what so many have worked so hard to create in order to blame an institution for the actions of an individual.
I don’t want to see the community destroy itself and its resources this way; I don’t want my support for the community center to become a political football in a personal dispute.