While researching last Friday’s post on Michael Dowd, I noticed that people referred to “the Rev. Dowd,” as does the Web site for his book, “Thank God for Evolution.” The site mentions that he was pastor of three United Church of Christ churches.
His site also includes a letter to UCC clergy, discussing his disfellowship by the denomination. I found that reference only through Google. Maybe that reflects a lack of computer skills on my part, but he doesn’t include that information in his main biography. A Google search turned up many mentions of him, but only two other Web sites that discuss "disfellowship," including one interview. The UCC published an article by him last year, noting he was a UCC minister, but not saying anything about disfellowship.
I’m a Unitarian Universalist. A 2006 article in our national magazine says UU churches “make up the bulk” of the speaking schedule for Dowd and his wife, Connie Barlow, a science writer. Their desire to preach evolution is why they “left their jobs,” according to the article, which discusses his background at length, but not the disfellowship.
I didn’t write about this in last week's post because I was awaiting a response from the UCC about Dowd. I emailed the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, director of communication, on Jan. 2, but have gotten no reply.
I talked to someone in my own denomination who said a minister who is disfellowshipped is still considered a minister because he was ordained, but he can no longer be the pastor of a church. This is how Dowd explains what happened in his letter to UCC clergy:
I was disfellowshipped by the UCC in 1995 because the denominational leadership concluded at the time, rightly so, that I was unfit to be a UCC pastor, given my sexual ethics and practice during the late 1980s and early 1990s.His first wife divorced him. He says he and his current wife are monogamous. From his letter, I can’t tell if he thinks polyamory is immoral and unethical, or if his denomination disfellowshipped him for polyamory. I do know that churches consider it unethical for a pastor to seek a sexual relationship with a member of his congregation. People shouldn’t confuse these two issues. In an article titled “Why It’s Not an Affair,” the Rev. Patricia Liberty writes:
While serving my first church, in 1989, I had an affair with a deacon in my congregation. Moreover, when this fact became publicly known years later, my first wife and I were practicing "polyamory" — that is, we were living non-monogamously.
Even though most of my former congregants would say that I was a beloved and effective pastor, because of my confused morals and unclear pastoral boundaries, I was deemed unsuitable for pastoral ministry. I fully agree with their decision.
When speaking of sexual contact between clergy and congregants, the term professional misconduct or sexual exploitation is more accurate. It keeps the emphasis on the professional relationship and the exploitative nature of sexual behavior rather than placing blame on the victim/survivor. "An affair between consenting adults" is never an appropriate term to use when describing sexual contact between a minister and congregant. Accurate naming of the behavior is an important step to reshaping our thinking about this troubling reality in the church, how we name it reveals our belief about it.Dowd’s book discusses growth “in deep integrity—that is, in trust, authenticity, responsibility, and service.” I think someone with “deep integrity” should tell people ahead of time about being disfellowshipped, in case they don’t want to invite him to speak at their church or buy his book.
So long as religious and political leaders continue to ignore our evolutionary heritage, and thus do not put in place structures of internal and external support that can withstand the high dosages of testosterone that high status and power necessarily confer, then there will be no hope for a less calamitous future.
If churches praise and promote him now, raising his status and thus, according to him, his testosterone, what structures are they putting in place to assure that this won't cause problems? If we shouldn't ignore "our evolutionary heritage" from thousands of years ago, why is it OK to ignore what happened in 1995?