The General Synod of the Anglican Church in Australia gave it's Professional Standards Commission a task at the last General Synod - to investigate how they might bring issues of workplace bullying under the oversight of the PSC where they now can only consider issues of child protection and sexual misconduct.
On a shoestring budget the PSC has been gathering feedback from the Metropolitan Diocese and yesterday it was Perth's turn. The Perth Professional Standards Unit receives on average two complaints about bullying each week so this is not an isolated or insignificant issue.
About 25 people turned up to discuss this issue and perhaps even tell their own stories if they were given the chance. Most said they had been bullied. One confessed to having been a bully as well as having been bullied by others.
The facilitators tried a neat little euphemism that the group would not allow - "a misuse of power" instead of "bullying". In some ways the alternative phrase helps to distinguish bullying from a simple traumatic experience - both are painful, but one derives from an abuse that is intentional and systematic in the context of a power-based relationship - but I still prefer to have it named as bullying.
Two or three things struck me as I pondered this meeting and the issues it sought to address.
A Culture of Violence
It is sad to reflect on the observation that throughout the history of the church it seems to have been captive to a culture of violence. I don't imagine we could identify any one cause of this, but it is tragic that the followers of the Prince of Peace, who called them to love their enemies and pray for those who hated them, should be so oblivious to the contradicition they are living. The champions of non-violence in the Church have been great, but too few and far between.
I know that the church will always be just as "fallen" or imperfect as the members of it are less than what they know they are called to be by God's grace.
But if we know what we are called to be by God's grace, how is it that there seems to be so little passion and drive to eradicate the violence that pervades our church?
Living Out the Things We Pray for
One participant made a comment that has stuck with me. He made the observation that so much of the way we live together in the Church stands in stark contrast to the things we pray for in the words of the prayers in our Prayer Book. Our Prayer Book has many finely crafted prayers and they reflect both our core beliefs as well as our theology. But, when we utter these finely crafted prayers we fail, somehow, to let the truth of them enter into our being and transform the way we live in God.
So we not only live in ways that contradict our Core Values as followers of Jesus, we also fail to live out the life we seek by God's grace through our prayers.
Safe Workplace - Safe Communties
I think that the enormity of the task of changing the CULTURE of the church from one that uses, colludes with and even endorses violence to one that reflects bot the example and teaching of Jesus about Non-Violence should not be underetsimated by the PSC.
Similarly, I think the PSC will somehow need to make provision in any policy for the fact that the Church is not just a workplace - which is the way we have become accustomed to talking about bullying. This is important because while those people working in Anglican Agencies such as schools or welfare services are indeed in workplaces, clergy are officers of the church and therefore cannot be regarded as employees, and therefore do not carry out their duties in workplaces, and much also happens in the context of congregational members who are volunteers, not employees.
Any policy outcome of this process needs to recognise that the church is both a Workplace and a Community and that the principals of non-violence must govern all levels of our life together, and that all who participate in this community we call the Anglican Church of Australia, must, by some means, bind themselve to live together in this way.
The PSC needs to be able to clearly articulate what standard of life we are called together to live out, and then have the authority and resources to respond to those who do not behave appropriately.
I will write some more later about my own experiences of abuse in the church.
ROBERT INCHAUSTI: SUBVERSIVE ORTHODOXY
3 years ago