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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"I swear to tell the truth,"

"I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Under penalty of perjury, I was sworn in and promised to tell the truth, not to cover up what was inconvenient or unfortunate, to answer all questions truthfully without intent to deceive.

And so I did.

One of the hardest things I've ever been asked to do was testify, under oath, against friends, valued colleagues, a community I respected. But I had to tell the truth.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and one of its seminaries and members of its faculty were being sued in 2003 by the families of young boys who had been molested by an ELCA pastor. The pastor had already been found guilty in criminal court and was in prison.

Why the lawsuit?

Because his sexual misconduct while on an internship during seminary had been reported. Because the church ordained him anyway and turned him loose, gave him access to reoffend. Had the warnings been heeded, he would not have been granted pastoral authority and access in a small Texas town to lure teen-age boys into relationships where they were vulnerable and were then molested.

As I remember (I was deep into my own early days of PTSD at the time), I was primarily an expert witness. Which is to say, called upon to testify about the plans and policies put in place by the ELCA, of which I was an author and had been director during the time period in question, which were not followed in this case.

Essentially, the question was, did we know better? Did the seminary and the faculty and the church know better when it ordained and sent this pastor into an unsuspecting parish and town?

I had to say, yes. They did. I knew they did. I was there when they heard, and learned and discussed it.

It was awkward at best and painful as well to have to testify, essentially, against good friends and colleagues who had, frankly, blown it. Blown it big time.

What is the higher value, loyalty? Or, as the Scriptures tell us again and again and again and again (which is to say, all the time), to protect the vulnerable, the weak, the lost?

What is our highest responsibility? Safety. And, as the Hippocratic Oath demans of physicians, to do no harm.

It was a wrenching day. Eight full hours of testimony. It stirred up a lot of current shit. I'd recently been attacked for being disloyal to "the team" and dangerous to an ongoing cover-up elsewhere in the ELCA. I had already suffered, and suffer still, for threatening the status quo.

The colleagues who had most to lose on that day were classy and mature enough to understand that I did what I had to do. I did what was the right thing to do. I told the truth. And I'd do it again.

I may have to.

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