Taking Legal Action Against Church?
Hi Folks -
I'm brand new to the forum, but have been marginally involved with Soulforce for a few years. In 2004 I was part of a direct action at the national meeting of my former denomination and was honored to speak and pray with Mel White at that time.
In 2001, I came forward to confess an affair with a college professor in the small town where I served a church of a large mainline denomination. I shared the info with my wife and we attended a counseling program in Colorado recommended through Focus on the Family. Returning to NY, I spoke to my denominational supervisor and requested a leave of absence to further work on issues of purity and personal holiness. He agreed with reluctance (saying I was doing all the right things) but when he informed our bishop, she immediately summoned me to her office. She asked me to repeat my story, and though I refused to identify as a 'self-avowed practicing homosexual' (I was on the ex-gay path and wasn't 'practicing' let alone identifying as gay) she asked me to surrender my ordination. WIth my wife by my side, she pointed her finger in my face and shouted (I'm not making this up) "You Slept With A Man!" During the 15 minute meeting I resisted until finally she threatened to tell my congregation that I was gaythat very day if I didn't give up my credentials (I had just completed a Doctor of Ministry degree, was senior pastor of a large, multi-staff church, and was well-respected for my service to the denomination.) I buckled under the pressure for fear that my children would be subjected to shame and ridicule in our community.
For three years I struggled in many ways to make sense of life and support my family. We had to move in with another family, and I spent all of our savings to get by. In the end, thank God, I came to fully accept my orientation and was consequently divorced. The UCC welcomed me into its fold, and I am grateful to be serving a small, struggling congregation in the inner city as an openly gay pastor.
In the 4 1/2 years since I was pressured to leave my prior denomination, I have learned the following:
1. The bishop erred by not following the requirements of the denomination to provide or allow for a peer advocate to be present in my meeting with her.
2. Three months later, my former supervisor told me that the bishop had acted hastily and regretted her actions. By then the damage was done, of course.
2. In her prior region of service, she was known to be supportive of LGBT persons in ministry.
3. The bishop is widely known in pro-gay circles to be a lesbian. She has a partner who lives in another state.
All of this is baffling and deeply disturbing to me. I strongly suspect she was using this situation as a newly-elected bishop to show her leadership strength. The prior bishop, she told me, was 'soft' on moral issues. Equally, I suspect her actions served to protect her from suspicions re: her own orientation in a very conservative diocese (I can't know this for sure, of course, but I do wonder.)
The hypocrisy of this situation stuns me, especially when I consider what my children and ex wife suffered as the result of the bishop's actions.
I am aware from speaking to other clergy in the diocese that some who had considered becoming more honest about their orientation have retreated further into the closet and would never consider coming forward themselves as the result of what happened to me.
Several persons, including former colleagues, have urged me to take legal action. I am not yet certain how I feel about this, though I would at least like the bishop and her advisors to revisit what happened and issue a formal apology if nothing else. They closed ranks quickly when I surrendered my ordination, so I know friendly dialogue is not possible.
Does anyone know of how I could go about getting legal counsel? I truthfully don't have money to hire a lawyer on my own (the divorce wiped me out and I only have a part-time church income plus some odd jobs.) I'm open to any or all suggestions.
Peace to you all.
Last edited by RickinNY; 05-17-2006 at 01:56 PM.