Unity’s Unfinished Business

[Note: I’m making available the original post of my blog, Unity’s Unfinished Business, which I first published March 29, 2011. I’m not interested in re-litigating the past. My intention for making this available is to shed light on the history of my involvement in changes made in UWM’s handling of complaints against ministers and credentialed leaders. This first post mentions 8 cases, but it turned out there were nine. The national board initially refused to revisit these cases. Public pressure generated by this blog and its supporters finally pushed them to create a 3-member panel to review the cases as I and the persons involved presented them. Based on the evidence we provided, the panel was unanimous in reversing the case outcomes of 8 ministers and 1 licensed teacher. All were returned to the status of, In Good Standing. Over the three-year period and the countless hours of total immersion in studying these cases and conversing with the people on all sides, I learned more than I ever expected about the dynamics of church conflict. JDB, 9/11/2020]

This Blog’s Purpose (March 29, 2011)

The purpose of this blog is to inform Credentialed Leaders about the impact our former review system (CLMRS: Credentialed Leaders/Minister Review System) has had and continues to have on the Unity movement and on the lives of individuals and ministries.

As the result of significant pressure from the field, the Board of Trustees took the proper steps of initiating a review of the old system and adopting recommended changes. It has been my observation, however, that Credentialed Leaders who have not been affected by the old system are largely unaware of the impact this system has had and they are satisfied that the problem has been addressed and it is time to move on.

The information contained in this blog is intended to let Credentialed Leaders and other interested parties know that while the system has undergone a major overhaul, the problems it caused have not yet been addressed. As ministers who are quick to lend our help to the suffering, we are now called to address the suffering that is occurring under our own roof.

I feel it is also important to add commentary on the type of leadership that has brought us to this place. I have heard many who wish to leave these cases in the past say they believe in accountability, that those suspended by the old system need to own up to the reasons for their suspensions. The old system itself has been suspended. If we are to hold to this theme of accountability, then this should apply to those who supported and participated in this destructive system.

Since no official source of information on this old review system is being offered, this blog serves that purpose. I had the unique opportunity to be one of the first to enter the system as an outsider, assess its operation, and offer, through the avenue of the Review Task Team, necessary changes in the system. This blog represents facts and opinions based on my first-hand observation.

Blessings and thank you for contributing to the resolution of this issue.

J Douglas Bottorff

Unity’s Unfinished Business

March 29, 2011


“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”  (Luke 10:30-37).

The Issue

All professions have standards by which their representatives agree to abide. When the actions of a profession’s representative are in some way brought into question, the issue is reviewed by a panel of peers and a determination is made as to whether the individual in question crossed ethical boundaries. The Association of Unity Churches International, now Unity Worldwide Ministries, has such a review system. In June of 2009, due to a persistent outcry from Ministers and Licensed Teachers asserting that the system was unfair to our Credentialed Leaders, the Association Board of Trustees appointed a Review Task Team, of which I was a member, to investigate and make recommendations for revisions. The team accomplished this task and in June of 2010 I was invited to present an outline of the new system to the conference body in San Diego, California. Among the recommendations was a change in the name of the system from Credentialed Leaders and Ministries Review System (CLMRS) to Ethics Review System (ERS).

I was appointed to this team as one of three who believed the old system had serious flaws. I did not reach this conclusion on a whim but did so after conducting extensive research which included a significant number of telephone and email interviews with Credentialed Leaders (several hundred hours over a year and a half period) who felt they had been unfairly victimized by the system. In nearly all these cases, the evidence clearly supported their claims. While I applaud the Board’s decision to adopt the new system, I was deeply troubled when they informed our team that they would take no further action regarding past cases. The Board ordered the Review Task Team to immediately cease all investigatory work. I saw this as a serious mistake, counterproductive to the advances we put forth in a fairer, more balanced review system. I could not, in good conscience, continue offering time and energy to a leadership willing to settle for half measures, so I resigned from the team.

By studying these cases, utilizing years of experience serving on the Licensing and Ordination team, and drawing upon my 30 plus years serving in the field as an ordained Unity Minister, I concluded that the way CLMRS had been conducted was indeed extraordinarily biased against our Credentialed Leaders. The voices of those under review had been effectively silenced. There are numerous testimonials from Credentialed Leaders stating that they had been threatened with suspension if they discussed their cases with anyone—family, Board members or congregants. In addition, their cases, according to AUCI approved policy, could be expanded indefinitely with the slightest unsubstantiated provocation. This meant that a small team of Association representatives who had never before stepped into the ministry in question, could access all confidential files—including financial records with names of all contributors—while putting the minister, the CEO of that corporation, on an indefinite leave of absence. There is even documentation made available to the public that clearly demonstrates a case manager, an Association official, making a written attempt to sway—in direct opposition to the hired and elected leadership of the church—the vote of a church’s corporate meeting. Given that the International bylaws clearly state that the Association “shall in no way impinge upon the internal affairs or autonomy of the member ministries,” this incident should have sounded an alarm clearly heard at the highest possible levels of our organization. The sad part is that we have documentation that proves it was heard, but rather than reel in those responsible for stepping over ethical and probably legal lines, the International Board chanted a trust the process mantra to its concerned members.

This type of information came as a major shock to me, as most professional review systems support their people with thorough investigations of accusations made by clients, patients or congregants. The CLMRS, on the other hand, seemed more than willing to force Credentialed Leaders to undergo psychological reviews and impose extremely harsh plans of action that were based on little more than hearsay from sources whose claims and credibility were never researched and never brought into question.

While hearsay is not acceptable as valid evidence in a court of law, the CLMRS carried out its work under the banner of an ecclesiastical review, a designation, I was told, that would provide immunity from the traditional legal system and standard legal thinking. And so it has—thus far. The parallels between this ecclesiastical review system and that of the Spanish Inquisition—also an ecclesiastical review system—were chilling. A prominent similarity between the Inquisition and CLMRS was that unsubstantiated accusations—hearsay—could be made against anyone at any time, leaving the accused to prove their innocence (as a rule, Credentialed Leaders were not told who their accusers were or what they were saying until after their review was initiated) rather than requiring the accuser to produce evidence supporting their claims of guilt. For most Americans familiar with the concept of innocent until proven guilty, the ecclesiastical mindset of guilty until proven innocent stood as a glaring contradiction to the governing principles of our nation. Though there are those that served within the old system that refute this charge, it should be noted that not a single review was initiated where the Credentialed Leader was presumed innocent.

To further empower this flawed review system, the Association Board granted review team members authority equal to that of the Board itself. This meant that the CLMRS was free to operate unhindered beneath a cloak of confidentiality. When Credentialed Leaders under review by this system felt they were being treated unfairly, they would naturally attempt to explain their concerns to our CEO, Rev. James Trapp, and/or to their elected officials—Board presidents or Board members in place at the time—all of whom refused to get involved. Members of the Board and our CEO uniformly and persistently prescribed their rote mantra: “You have to trust the process.” I have personally heard three of our Association presidents attempt to alleviate voiced concerns with this platitude. Unfortunately, this was the worst possible and least assuring advice our leadership could have offered to those voicing concern about the system or to the ones struggling for their professional life in the clutches of CLMRS. The process was skewed, the Credentialed Leader’s fate placed completely in the hands of this clandestine culture under no official obligation to answer to anyone but their own self-regulated reviews and in-house policy makers. To the naïve who say, “This can’t happen in Unity,” I offer the assurance that this did happen in Unity.

In my research, both on and off this team, I have discovered at least 8 cases where Credentialed Leaders (7 ministers and 1 Licensed Teacher) and at least 2 ministries, were unfairly suspended. To be suspended means you cannot work within any Unity ministry (they could serve in an independent Unity church, or, a different religious denomination if hired – to be ‘suspended’ does not imply being ‘defrocked’) or serve in any official capacity concerning Association business. Your rights and privileges as a member of the Association are voided. The Association labels the suspended Credentialed Leader and Ministry as “not in good standing.” Some religious denominations call it shunning, where the one being shunned is treated as if they do not exist. Essentially, to be suspended is to be black listed. A number of these suspensions occurred simply because Credentialed Leaders and Church Boards refused to continue to cooperate with an unfairly biased review process.

With my understanding of these cases, I believe anyone with an ounce of dignity and spiritual integrity would have made the same decision to withdraw from the review process. I applaud these individuals for taking a stand against a system that was flawed, unfair and completely opaque. It was their actions of defiance and the added outcry of Ministers familiar with these cases that brought this issue to the attention of the Association membership and forced the Board to take appropriate action.

Prior to the Review Task Team’s official formation, I developed a concept that I labeled the Minister’s Advocacy Team (MAT). This team would provide a voice for the Credentialed Leader or ministry under review to create transparency and make certain that any hearsay brought against the leader would be properly investigated and either substantiated or discarded. I immediately brought this concept into our newly formed team. I am happy to say that it has been incorporated into the new Ethics Review System and hailed as the most important addition to our new system. Now our Credentialed Leaders and Ministries have an official Advocate, a voice, a trained colleague who assures that complaints made against our leaders and ministries are valid, based on actual evidence rather than hearsay. With this new element in place, the Ethics Review System actually becomes a supportive rather than a punitive process.

The cases of our 8 Credentialed Leaders and two ministries [and there may be others too hurt to come forward] remind me of miners trapped beneath the rubble of a collapsed mine. Our colleagues are trapped beneath the rubble of a collapsed system. Our leadership seems content to ignore their cries, to leave the black stain of a flawed system permanently on their professional records and on the very souls of their colleagues. Action, or, in this case, inaction speaks louder than words. Concerning this issue, I personally find nothing in either the action or inaction of our leadership that reflects or is supported by the principles we, as professionals in this sacred endeavor of ministry, are sworn to uphold. I see a leadership who draws its strength and guidance, not from a compassionate heart, not from the principles of Truth, but from legal maneuvering and sugar-coated spin. This is nothing more than fear and weakness masquerading as enlightened leadership.