Means, ends, and money

It seems to me that the Pagan community doesn’t have much experience running or interacting with organizations that try to separate the personal from the political. Covens are often extremely personality-based; to some extent, they have to be, in order for a group mind to cohere and people to build the kind of bonds that make synergistic magic happen. Perfect love and perfect trust, right?

I think that history is coloring a lot of people’s expectations about how larger organizations can and should be run. Experience in covens tells us that if someone is a bastard, and we know that – which we can know, in the closeness of coven setting, to a much greater degree than in everyday life – then we can and should throw him out. And really, it’s that simple. We all know it; we agree on it; we do it.

Real consensus-building is a lot more complicated than that, as people like Starhawk have gone to great lengths to explain. And conscious, careful consensus-building within a close-knit group can function well enough to avoid some of the worst excesses of group mentality.

But none of that means that is how larger organizations can or should function.

One of the catchphrases I’ve heard over and over again is that “OHF is supposed to be Switzerland.” Look, Switzerland is not a place that people gather in because they all have warm cuddly feelings for each other. It’s not a place where people go because of perfect love and perfect trust. It’s not even a place where people go because they have a reasonable expectation that everyone else there is a decent human being. It’s a place where people who are at war with each other will put that aside for the time being in order to achieve other ends.

In order to do that, people have to put other concerns to one side; they don’t have to give them up, or pretend to give them up; they just put them aside to some extent.

Are there things you can’t put aside? Absolutely. My point is not that we pretend we don’t know anything about each other when we collaborate on OHF. My point is that “professionalism” and the ideal of trying to separate personal disagreements from the larger goal is not simply about ignoring people’s feelings, it’s about trying to make the larger goal happen.

All of this means that when this kind of separation is being attempted, professional or organizational judgment has one role, personal judgments have another role. If you know that so and so is a bastard, you can ignore him, or refuse to work jointly with him on projects, or lots of other things. You can ostracize him socially in a way that would be equivalent to being kicked out of a coven.

And if enough people do that, then it would be pretty difficult for him to continue to function in a reasonable way within the organization.

But that’s different from being formally removed by the organization. Part of the pact of professionalism (for lack of a better word – and if anyone has one, please say so) is that we don’t just act on feelings, however well-justified they may be. We act based on evidence, because we’re setting precedents, and because this is the way that separating the personal and the political tries to get around many of the problems inherent in group management by social consensus.

One of the problems I see in the current OHF situation is that some folks seem to be conflating the two forms of management. If we can do one, they think, then we should naturally do the other.

Should there be a way for the organization to formally remove someone who is a complete and utter bastard even if he hasn’t done anything wrong with respect to the organization? Probably. I would say yes, in certain cases. But I would limit those cases; it certainly wouldn’t mean that everyone I refuse to work with would be able to be tried and ejected by the board.

I think there would be many cases where someone I would no longer be willing to work with would be informally excluded and pushed out by social opprobrium. That’s not easy, and it’s not quick, and it’s not nearly as meaty and satisfying as having everyone come together and render judgment that I am the righteous one and he is the bastard, but that’s the price we pay. Among other things, it’s a price I am willing to pay so that I, too, am not at risk of making the wrong person mad and being subject to a witch hunt and formally banned as a result of group mentality.

My real problem with Firefly publicly withdrawing support – in the full expectation that it would encourage others to do the same – is that it seems to me to be leveraging money in order to escalate this from the personal to the political. This is what I meant when I said that I do not want to be put in a position where my support for OHF becomes a sign of anti-Firefly sentiment. It’s also some of what I meant when I said that I hope certain things are going on in private. A private conversation along the lines of, “Look, you are now a liability for this organization” is tremendously more appropriate than a show trial in many of these gray areas.

They have said that their concerns have not been addressed, and that this is how they have to proceed. But they have also said, more or less, that they object because the organization has made a choice for Sean and against Iris. I think that’s an unreasonable assessment because of the kind of nuance I’m talking about here.

The OHF is not “Sean’s side” in this fight. The OHF is trying not to be a side at all.

If anyone thinks that the board should establish a whole new set of ethics regulations – including ones that cover private behavior – and then create an ethics board to hear grievances – and then set policy for bringing a grievance – and then set standards for the kinds of evidence that can be heard and the kinds of witnesses that are allowed in each situation – and then set policy for voting, appeals, and administering consequences – well, good for you. I’d love to see a Pagan organization be equipped to handle things that way. I’d hate to think of how hard it would be to create a uniform set of ethical guidelines between umpteen different flavors of Paganism. But that’s the kind of mechanics that are required to do active adjudication of these sorts of issues fairly in public in a professional organization.

And really, although we don’t like to talk about it in the Pagan community, it does come down to money. Boycotts have been on my mind much lately because of the Chik-fil-a flustercluck. I plan to write about that separately. But one of the reasons a boycott is so very appropriate in that situation (and that it’s not just about free speech, as some people are inclined to howl at the slightest disagreement) is that Chik-fil-a gives money to reprehensible causes. People are depriving Chik-fil-a of their money so that that same money doesn’t go to work against them.

But who is getting the money in OHF? Not Sean. Not any of the board members. The money goes to make the community center happen. We’re giving money to ourselves.

And frankly, I wouldn’t be quite so wracked by this if OHF wasn’t in such a tenuous position. We’re halfway through the lease. We’re either going to make this thing work, or we won’t, and if we don’t, then it’ll be decades before anything like it can even be a possibility in this area. The stakes are higher here. That’s why I’m worried that withdrawing money is the wrong means to fit the ends.

About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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14 Responses to Means, ends, and money

  1. Aside from the fact that the DC pagan community is inherently incestuous, being non-biased in these matters is impossible. To separate professional and personal is also not likely to happen because of the obvious overlaps. The shameful part about this entire thing is that no one is offering solutions to how we heal as a community. I’ve not seen one blog post on how we actually heal this. We claim to be a spiritual community, yet our spirituality is the first thing to go out the window when crisis strikes. Bloggers reporting on opinion, offering cauldron stirring and trying to get the best angle only shows the continued polarization. Shame on our community for not going beyond the money, the politics, gossiping, name calling and polarization. Which of the community leaders are going to step away from their facebook pages and blogs to offer solutions to foster and heal this obviously damaged community? Which of the clergy are going to stop launching assaults and step up to offer prayer? We can pile statement on poo… but it still smells like poo. How about we start being the spiritual people we all claim to be, and start using those skills we all have to offer hope and solution instead of fanning fires of destruction.

    • Literata says:

      I suggest we start healing as a community by trying to remain a community. As for the spiritual side and healing, I think understanding what’s going on is a necessary first step.

      • OK, so… how about we start offering guidance on how to unite as a community…. We seem to only gather if there is fundraiser, or food involved.

        I think we all understand what is going on and that step we went well beyond that before this became a blogger’s delight. Still, no one is offering anything other than blank face statements, stirring of the pot, and in the end that is what damages a community. It’s easy for everyone to sit behind their computers and blog, tear each other down, etc but its seems difficult for this community to do anything that is tangible. In the end I’m sure we’ll all move onto to something more titillating, but the legacy we are creating for our foundation moving forward. Its a shameful black eye on everyone in this community.

        • Here’s how I’d suggest handling it from the practical side.
          Step 1: Have the current OHF review their bylaws and incorporation papers. Specifically if the following items are not addressed, they need to be:
          * How and why internal members can file a grievance.
          * How and why external members can file a grievance.
          * How and when arbitration is handled.
          * What delineates acceptable behavior–both from someone’s past (for instance, a criminal record) and present/future behavior. What is the appeals process if there are extenuating circumstances (for instance, a criminal record based on protest of a “worthwhile” cause).
          * What constitutes a voting member for purposes of election of the board. (If desired, this could include limitations of number of voting representatives from specific groups based either on a “House” or “Senate” model–population based or equal representation, but address the potential challenge if one group is able to steamroll others based on volume of membership.)
          * What is the procedure for censure and/or removal of a member in violation of the acceptable behavior clause.
          * What is the term of office for board members. This would also include what the term limits are for “acting” roles.
          * What legal jurisdiction covers the corporate handling of the organization (as this area draws from DC, MD, and VA at a minimum).
          Step 2: Make those rules available to the general public and available for both public comment and revision/rejection by the voting members.
          Step 3: Set a date in the future for nominations and elections to replace the acting chair position with a full chairperson. Make this information well known (requirements of service, requirements for nomination, requirements for voting).
          Step 4: Determine that there is not a “single point of failure” for the corporation. No one person nor one group should have majority sway for everything from financial support, possession of physical property (for instance, if only one person has the keys, that’s a problem), possession of virtual property (web site passwords, e-mail addresses, etc.), voting privileges, and so on. There are cases when someone dies tragically and no one has the password for the web site address–preventing a single point of failure is VITAL for any organization. This also should be a case where it is not a single point of failure held within a member organization or within a family dynamic.
          Step 5: When the control is transferred, conduct an audit and make the information public so that everyone knows where everything stands at the beginning of chairperson X’s tenure.
          Step 6: Conduct a resource assessment to determine what resources (financial, volunteer, logistics, physical space, etc.) are available and what resources are needed. Identify target areas for review that are not being met. Develop committees to address those specific needs.
          Step 7: Encourage people to find their own way to find spiritual resolution for any old feelings. If it is necessary for people to take a break while they sort out feelings, then they take a break to sort out feelings. If they feel they are never able to support the organization again, then blessings to them on their way to finding an organization they can support. If they are able to support the organization but need to avoid a certain person or persons, then they need to figure out how to work that on their own. Provide information about resources in the community for counseling, therapy, spiritual support, and so on, not as an endorsement of any of them, but as available resources to be used as needed.
          Step 8: Engage in and encourage community building activities, both on the “mundane” level (i.e., social or service) or on the “spiritual” level (i.e., ritual). Empower that these are drama-free zones. If you cannot come in without drama, it is requested that you do not attend so as to preserve the “drama-free” zone for others.
          Step 9: When issues come up (because this is paganism–there will ALWAYS be issues), they are addressed according to established protocols (see step 1).
          After that, lather, rinse, repeat until it becomes a habit.

          That’s my view on how things can progress…I’m curious to see what other people think.

          Maeri

  2. Peter Dybing says:

    Yes Sean would love it if this all gets painted as a personal issue. He would get to continue emotional abuse of of women, reducing them to dependence on him, draining their funds, and cutting them loose when he is done with them, even when pregnant. Sure let us set a standard in the community where we let males repeatedly lie to and cheat women out of their self respect. In fact lets hold up these individuals as examples of what leaders should look like in our community.

    Wake up OHF, there is a wolf in your house, he belongs outside, simple as that!

  3. derored says:

    Why have you decided to use “bastard” throughout? Why not say “abuser?” The accusation is not ONLY adultery– that is being a bastard, the accusation is also abuse. That is different.

    Being a leader is not a right. Not at all. Being in a position of power and authority over another is not a right. Being free from abuse? IS a right. And someone who abuses one relationship to warp authority and power to himself and hurt the other… when put in an *actual* position of power over others? This is a disastrous decision. Any set up, even a “refusal to judge” which treats being in power, treats protecting the status quo as MORE important, MORE of a right than protecting more vulnerable individuals from abuse is not right.

    If you do not *believe* the abuse accusation, if you have evidence that Iris is likely being vindictive in the aftermath of infidelity? Ok. Fine. But honestly, you can’t “not pick sides” when it comes to abuse. True, our culture pretty much universally picks the abuser’s side, to the point that doing so FEELS like it is “being neutral” but it is not.

    • Literata says:

      Bastard is more general. I am not only talking about this situation. Perhaps I shoulc have been more clear about that.

      I don’t want this to be purely a personal thing, nor to be about the personal vs the organizational. I want there to be more than two sides. I want to support Iris and OHF both. I’m trying to explain, among other things, why I think that’s possible.

      Look, I’ll come right out and say it: I hope Sean steps down. I think it would be the right thing for him to do for umpteen reasons. I hope OHF takes steps to clarify how they will deal with situations like this in the future.

      But I don’t think that seriously endangering our community center financially is the right thing to do or the right way to go about dealing with the accusations that have been leveled.

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  5. I, for the record, have never been a member of a coven. I have been a member of formal activist groups, incorporated nonprofits, that have had to address some of these issues. And I’ve done some reading and studying of the issues, mostly in the course of healing from the abuse I have been the victim of.

    A community center is not actually a professional organization, but even large corporations formally eject CEOs and board members when their presence becomes a liability for the company. And the position that abuse is a personal matter and not something groups should address is one that allows abuse to continue. Pagan communities, like most communities, have a long history of not dealing well with abuse.

    OHF is already involved in this problem. It chose to elevate Sean to a higher position within its structure after his abuse was made known to it. It is already not neutral. It has already shown approval for Sean. You claim the Firefly has de facto called for a boycott by its actions. Well, OHF has de facto said that Sean deserves a leadership position in the community while being aware that he is an abuser. They have put their weight behind him.

    The community cannot “remain a community” this way. Supporting an abuser, giving him a position of leadership, and not actively demonstrating that abuse is unacceptable, implicitly says that abusers have the community’s permission to abuse. It alienates every abuse victim, makes them feel unsafe in the community. Personal censure works only when everyone is seen to censure, and that, de facto means group censure. When some people, but not everyone, shun an abuser, and an abuser is allowed by an organization to keep membership or leadership positions, then the organization as a whole is seen to condone abuse, even if some individual members do not. That inherently breaks a community, exiles abuse victims from it. This is what actually happens, in real life, again and again. It is not sustainable long-term.

    Small, specially focused communities go through this very issue on a regular basis. A lot of people have put a lot of work into developing tools for dealing with these issues, especially communities of color. Pagan communities, being generally mostly white, typically have never encountered these tools. I have recommended privately to Literata, and recommend to everyone involved in this issue or any issue like it, The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities. Yes, it was developed for activist communities, but there is a lot there that’s applicable to Pagan communities as well.

    All of society must learn to deal better with abuse, and that starts at the individual and community levels. Communities organizations — and any community center is such — must be a part of that.

    • Literata says:

      Small point of fact: As far as I know, Sean has NOT been elevated by the board. He continues to act as Vice Chair.

      Yes, him continuing to act in that capacity after allegations of abuse have been made is an issue. But you say they are “aware that he is an abuser.” Again, I’m NOT saying Iris is lying; I’m saying that I don’t think it’s that simple. I, personally, don’t know that he’s an abuser. And, unfortunately, some of my questions here are pragmatic. Concerns about evidence, and who decides what, and who gets to impose what penalties upon whom, are a lot more detailed than “throw the (accused) abuser out.” It’s those kinds of things I’m trying to wrestle with, and as part of that I plan on pursuing your recommendation. Thanks.

      Trying to think about this outside of the constraints of the current situation leads me to question the structure of the OHF and to some of the thoughts in the next post.

      • Very well. I misunderstood what had happened, I thought he had been elevated to Chair. But you seem to be saying here that the OHF should not officially remove him even if they have evidence, because it’s not their place to do so. That’s the principle I’m disagreeing with.

        I also disagree with you about what kind of standards of evidence are needed, and what kinds of processes an organization needs to eject someone. I don’t think they need to determine whether or not someone is guilty of abuse, I think they need to determine what actions will protect people and make them feel safe, and will best serve the community. Which is, since you keep talking about professionalism, something like how a corporation decides whether or not to remove a board member: what actions will best serve the company and protect its profits.

        • Literata says:

          That’s why, as I observed before, I think Sean should step down. I think it’s the best thing for the organization.

          And yes, I think the organization should have means to remove people who become a liability. In a situation like this, it’s clear that he is a liability separate from questions of evidence.

          The issue of how safe a space the organization or community wants to create is another one, and a thornier one as we both know. There, I think, especially if we’re talking about someone who is *not* in a leadership position but just a member, we come inevitably back to questions of evidence, or at least authority.

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  7. Peter Dybing says:

    In this case, if it were just Iris making the alagation, I would still support her as my friend and believe her as to what happened. Would I still be as adament about Sean departing? not really. It took an incredable amount of courage for Iris to come forward. As we see with many abusers, one person’s story has given others the courage to come forward and tell their stories of abuse at the hands of Sean. Each of these woman, have taken a very big emotional risk. Will the community chose to believe them?, Take action? prevent another Pagan women from being abused? If not they have laid open their hearts and been ignored. It is time for people to stop attempting to make this out as between two people. There are three women coming forward with stories of abuse. This is pretty simple, these women derserve our support and compassion. Sean deserves our centure in the hope that a firm statement from the community will spark a personal inventory leading to personal growth. Our attempts to be “OK with everybody” need not include those who have recently engaged in abuse, yes they are of the Goddess, deserving of compassion, yet they also deserve a community that will hold them accountable in the hope of future change.

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