“Don’t judge Religious Science by Religious Scientists.”
~ (the late) Rev. Dr. William Taliaferro
If you read Part 1 (LINK) of this series, and the two recent posts from Harvey Bishop’s Blog, entitled “Don’t Look Behind the Curtain,” (LINK to Part 1) (LINK to Part 2), you know that these series were initiated based on how some Centers for Spiritual Living (CSL) spiritual leaders have treated practitioners who were unwilling or unable to meet requirements set for them, usually about financial giving. If you have not already, you might want to catch up on those posts before you continue.
While Bishop has focused on the treatment of some practitioners using unskillful, even shaming leadership tactics, my focus as also included the aspect of good followership – the accountability of members of a spiritual community, particularly people in positions such as staff ministers or practitioners to both the leadership and the community as a whole. I see followership not in any diminished sense, but in the realization that every organization needs both leaders and followers who are as healthy and accountable as possible. In CSL, staff ministers and practitioners are actually in both roles, serving in followership to the spiritual leader(s) and in secondary leadership to the membership.
I have also focused in Part 1 of this series on issues that so many bring into their roles – psychological and/or emotional issues from earlier in life, issues which have not been resolved and which affect current thinking and behaviors. When we have unresolved issues, we are often incapable of being our best, particularly when we feel under pressure or in fear. This might show up as taking an unskillful approach when confronting a practitioner about being out of integrity with some agreement (financial or otherwise). It might equally show up as feeling a burning sense of shame when reminded by the spiritual leader that one is out of integrity with an agreed upon expectation, even when that reminder is skillfully expressed in an appropriate manner.
Naturally, the higher the position of authority one has, the more accountable one is for one’s behaviors. But we are all accountable for our own behaviors, are we not? Now, I am in no way saying that the stories shared in Bishop’s blog are inaccurate. As described, they reflect a failure of appropriate leadership at a minimum. They seem to illustrate a lack of emotional intelligence, which almost always results in failed interpersonal communications.
But I wonder.
I wonder how many of those practitioners approached the spiritual leader(s) of their community and shared that they would be unable to meet the expected level of giving? Or did they leave it for someone else to discover? I wonder whether the spiritual leaders communicated the policy regarding giving to the practitioners AND had they created an atmosphere in which it felt safe for practitioners to let the leaders know if and when they were unable (or unwilling) to meet the expectations in the policy?
In my time as a spiritual leader, we usually had giving expectations which were both clear and flexible; and I had situations where practitioners or others on the leadership team did not meet the expectations. Some told me about it as it unfolded, others did not. While I can understand their embarrassment, I cannot approve of their lack of accountability in not approaching me for that conversation when I had encouraged them to do just that. Of course, their lack of accountability did not give me permission to be unskillful or to shame them – it also did not give me permission to ignore the problem.
Perhaps we are talking about two different things here (although they are often intertwined). One is how often those of us in spiritual leadership fail to be the best version of ourselves when we feel pressured (and how easy it can be for us to feel pressured); indeed, how many in spiritual leadership lack necessary temperament and competencies for their positions. The second thing is the too-frequent breakdown of an atmosphere of accountability and support among the leadership teams of our spiritual communities, usually due to failure to address issues proactively.
AND: what are WE supposed to do?
“Not responding is a response –
we are equally responsible for what we don’t do.”
~ Jonathan Safran Foer
Deep-seated personal issues on which we have not done deep spiritual work are unlikely to be resolved until we engage with that work; this is true for both leaders and followers. However, there are some things that leaders can initiate to create an environment of trust, safety, and accountability.
Have you explored the pros and cons of having required giving expectations? Why or why not? What are the costs and benefits, both financially and to the culture of the spiritual community? What does having such a policy say about prosperity consciousness (or lack thereof)? And if you have such a policy, how and when is it communicated? Is it written into bylaws or policy manuals? If not, why not?
Leaders should promote the overall mental and spiritual health of the leadership team and the spiritual community. Have the conversation often: state expectations clearly (put them in writing where appropriate); speak about openness and accountability; create space for people to share what is bothering them – either in groups or one-on-one. Make it safe to have personal problems or concerns about policies. Do this with your board and your ministerial/practitioner teams regularly.
Ask people how things are going and do so when there is the opportunity to respond truthfully – not during fellowship time or in other inappropriate situations.
Leaders – show your own vulnerability from time to time. This is healthy. It can, however, become unhealthy if it becomes your default way of being. If you are a leader, you have the accountability to lead and to set an example of integrity and compassion. Finding the proper balance is a sign of emotional intelligence.
Followers – you can best support your leaders by being honest and open with them. Being an accountable follower means that you are supportive, but not in lockstep with the leader(s). It does not mean always getting your way or never disagreeing, but it may mean supporting an approved policy with which you do not agree. If leaders are not open to hearing you, or if they are toxic (LINK), you must protect yourself; do not remain in an unhealthy situation – if you can’t influence it in a positive direction and it is toxic, your best option may be to leave.
If there are ethical violations occurring, use the ethics process. Ethical standards and procedures for Centers for Spiritual Living are described in Section 7.1 & 7.2 of the Policies and Procedures Manual. It is advisable to review this before making a formal complaint if you are a minister or practitioner. If you are not, you probably do not have easy access to that document. The contact information for ethics complaints is below. I am sure that Unity has a similar set of policies and procedures.
Centers for Spiritual Living
Rev. Barbara Bue, Licensing and Credentialing Manager
Email: bbue@CSL.org Phone: +1 (720) 279-1634
573 Park Point Drive Golden, CO 80401, USA
These are particularly challenging times for leaders of all kinds. We are facing tectonic shifts in cultural evolution and issues such as the worsening climate crisis, among many others. As Nora Bateson has written:
“Whatever leadership used to be — it used to be. Now, it has to be something different. Now, we all have to be more than we were. The kind of leadership that I want to explore may not be identifiable as leadership at all. I am interested in a kind of mutually alert care and attention to the well-being of all people and ecological systems. This kind of leadership cannot be found in individuals, but rather between them. It cannot be found in organizations, nations, religions or institutions, but rather between them. I have called it Liminal Leadership to highlight the relational characteristics.”
~ Nora Bateson
I think it is obvious that leaders facing these kinds of transformational challenges which affect the very nature of leadership itself must improve their ability to have positive interpersonal relationships with everyone, especially those in their inner circles. New Thought Organizations can only do so much for spiritual leaders in this regard – perhaps better psychological testing at entry level and better support for those in service, but spiritual leaders have to be open to such interventions, and that has too often not been the case. Additionally, no one wants a heavy-handed organization intervening too often. Most issues are best resolved at the local community level – and taking personal accountability is a significant and necessary first step.
The organizations do need to improve their ability and knowledge to develop and support healthy and competent spiritual leaders – focusing on emotional and spiritual intelligence as understood today would be a good start. Many issues within a spiritual community do not rise to the level of ethics violations but are extremely destructive. Blaming the larger organization usually misses the point – accountability lies with each of us to be in the highest and best integrity in our roles, regardless of the behaviors of others.
There may be more to come on this topic but let me close this post with a quote from a distinguished citizen of my new hometown, Lyon, France. I think that Ernest Holmes would agree.
“You must begin by assuming responsibility. And you alone are responsible for every moment of your life, for every one of your acts.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
As always, your comments are welcomed!
Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard