SOMEONE--Malcolm X, I believe--once observed that the most segregated hour in America is 11 o’clock Sunday morning. That might still be true, especially during the age of the Donald Trump Presidency, where, once again, racism has become almost common place in the public square and where perpetrators of hatred and discrimination try to make such behavior acceptable by asserting that there are “good people on both sides,” giving the same credibility to opponents of inclusion, diversity, and equity as to their advocates.
No one would have associated All Souls Church, Unitarian with Malcolm’s observation, however. After all, it has always been perceived not just as a bastion of tolerance but an advocate for social justice and equality. Over the years, its leaders and key members of its congregation have participated in liberal causes and movements. Consider, for example, it was among the first institutions to demand an end to South African Apartheid. It was a “Sanctuary Church,” before that posture became popular. And today, a banner in front its building at the corner of 16thand Harvard Sts. NW. shouts “Black Lives Matter.
But an internal struggle underway at All Souls Church has exposed long existing racial and gender fault-lines. The fight involves the white male senior minister Rev. Robert Hardies and the black woman associate minister of Congregational Life and Pastoral Care Rev. Susan Newman Moore. (DC insiders might remember Newman Moore as the religious liaison for then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams). All Souls’ Board of Trustees apparently has sided with Hardies in the dispute that has instigated at least one town hall meeting, a petition supporting Newman Moore signed by numerous church members and letter from co-chairpersons of Equity for Women in the Church-- advocates for “equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society.”
Many of the people that The Barras Report spoke with for this story requested anonymity. Vickie Lindsey, a former member of the board of trustees at All Souls, who is African American, was willing to speak on the record, however “Something is rotten in Denmark for sure. They are trying their best to cover this up.”
The “they” include the black male who is head of the board. “There is always a Ben Carson in the group,” said Lindsey, referring to the highly celebrated retired African-American neurosurgeon and conservative who ran for president in the 2016 presidential Republican primary of 2016 but who is now Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson has grabbed headlines both for his quirky positions on issues but also his steadfast support of Trump. She suggested that black board members were acting as apologists.
Lindsey said the current dispute at All Souls is not the first time that an African American has been treated shabbily by Hardies and other church leaders. She cited as example the firing of a former chief program officer, who was terminated under the guise of “budgetary constraints.”
This time around no one is conjuring up the durable bogeyman of budget cuts. Still, there has been the attempt by Hardies and board members to portray events as acceptable to Newman Moore. “The community has faced several challenges over the last year,” board president Thurman Rhodes, Hardies, and Newman Moore wrote in a joint letter to congregants dated January 29, 2018, a copy of which was obtained by TBR.
“In an effort to address those challenges, Rev. Hardies and Rev. Newman Moore met in accordance with the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association process. Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson, a member of the UUA staff with portfolios in multiculturalism and conflict resolution was chosen by both ministers to facilitate the meeting,” the letter continued. “At the end of the meeting, with Rev. Johnson’s guidance and advice, [the ministers] mutually agreed upon a separation.”
That’s all spin. Truth be told, Newman Moore isn’t just being pushed out; she’s being kicked out.
Sources and documents obtained by TBR indicate she has fought to hold onto her position. In fact, she pleaded in writing for Hardies and the board to detail what she had done wrong, who she had offended. If she had injured anyone unintentionally, according to one letter, she said she was prepared to apologize. That plea and all the others she has made over the past several months appear to have been ignored.
She told friends that she is distraught over her treatment and is disturbed by the attempt to discredit her and destroy her career. Further, she has said that before the conflict she had hoped to be at the church for several more years.
Newman Moore declined to be interviewed by TBR for this story. Hardies and the board also declined to comment. In an email dated Feb. 6, 2018, he said that he and the board were “unable to comment further on this ongoing personnel matter.” They have cited “confidentially” as one reason for not answering TBR ‘s questions and myriad inquiries from congregants during various meetings.
The race and gender issues at All Souls apparently surfaced last summer. Hardies was on summer sabbatical. Newman Moore was serving as the acting senior minister in his absence as she had done multiple times. During that period, there was one Sunday when no one was present who could sign checks necessary to pay various individuals as was customary. She wrote a letter to the board asking that during its next meeting it discuss the situation, with the intent of ensuring it didn’t happen again.
The assistant treasurer, a white male who was away when the board meeting was held, subsequently read Newman Moore’s letter and hit the roof. He was offended by her missive and perceived her as attempting to assume authority that wasn’t ascribed to her.
Some people said he never liked her. Newman Moore had been invited to join the church’s pastoral staff in 2010 on an interim basis. Hardies reportedly told her that “We will pay you to be in the pulpit on Sundays.” That could be because the black woman who had previously served as associate minister had left the church to take a position elsewhere. Hardies didn’t want only white faces in the pulpit; he needed black window dressing.
Within a few months after Newman Moore arrived as interim, Hardies reportedly invited her to apply for the permanent position. After an extensive search, the church in a vote of 251 to 14 “called” Newman Moore to be its associate minister.
The assistant treasurer lived through that history. He had been one of the 14 that rejected Newman Moore. That could have been the motivation for what happened next. Who knows what actually went through his mind that July day? He is no longer a member of the church.
Sources said before he submitted his resignation, he set out to wreak havoc in Newman Moore’s life. He sent her disturbing emails, which she reported to her friends and colleagues, hoping the former would offer her a safe-haven, if necessary, and the latter would take more definitive action to protect her. He also accused her of violating the Ministers Code of Conduct and Ethics. He sent disparaging letters to organizations with whom Newman Moore was affiliated. At one point he accused her of plagiarizing Frederick Douglass’ July 4th speech. In a true punch to the gut, he sent a complaint to the governing body of the United Church of Christ (UCC), the denomination that ordained Newman Moore.
In a board meeting, on Sept 27, with Hardies in attendance, Newman Moore reportedly presented her concerns. She had tried before to discuss in private matters that had occurred in his absence, but Hardies had failed to make himself available.
“I think her star was starting to shine a little too bright,” said Lindsey, explaining the developing gap in the relationship between the senior minister and the associate minister.
The next day, Sept. 28, the UCC announced it had placed Newman Moore under a fitness review. While fitness reviews are not uncommon, the timing for the one involving her seemed suspicious and directly related to the heat she was feeling from some white men at All Souls.
The environment had become dangerously toxic. Following her doctor’s order, Newman Moore took a 30-day medical leave of absence; it was to last until Oct. 31. Her mother had a stroke in October and died the following month. Hardies and the board extended her personal leave until the end of 2017
At a time when most churches were celebrating the Christmas season, Hardies was teeing up his board to deliver what would become the final lethal blows to Newman Moore. The signs of his intent were clear in a letter he sent on December 21, 2017.
In that correspondence, he noted the board had held two meetings—one on Dec. 13 and the other on Dec. 20. During those sessions, she obviously was the topic of discussion, although no one had sought to invite her to attend. The board decided to provide Newman Moore two additional months of paid leave, supposedly to facilitate completion of the UCC review.
That was a ruse, however. The true reason could be found in these sentences in the same letter: “The Board of Trustees and I are concerned you are currently not in right relationship with important members of the church leadership team,” Hardies wrote in his letter, a copy of which was obtained by TBR.
“[Further], there are performance issues that I did not have an opportunity to raise with you at our Good Offices meeting on September 29 and some of these concerns have intensified during your leave,” added Hardies.
Wait, wait. How do issues about someone’s performance intensify when that person hasn’t even been at work for at least two months, largely because she was under attack and grieving the death of her mother?
Adding insult to injury, sources said Hardies subsequently prohibited Newman Moore from tending to the needs of the sick in the congregation. As she prepared to meet with one woman, Hardies told his associate minister of Congregational Life and Pastoral Care she could not provide a congregant care and comfort.
Much has been made about the #Me Too movement, which mostly focuses on sexual harassment and sexual assault of women by men in the work place. Women clergy also have been forced to contend with discrimination. Their ability to ascend in the church often is determined by men. Women who have the temerity to demand respect frequently come under attack or they are forced out—sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly. For women of color that process can be even more dramatic and painful.
Consider that as Newman Moore was fighting against what many perceived as racist and sexist forces at All Souls Church, another African-American woman was engaged in a similar battle. The Rev. Elder Darlene Garner was a leader at the Metropolitan Community Church.
According to a January 31, 2018 article published in the Blade, racism had raised its ugly head there as well. “In early December when we read MCC’s defense for firing Rev. Garner, it became clear that MCC’s posture and rigidity to see the truth around [her firing] was not the result of difficult decision-making, managing the business of budget shortfalls or implementation of a strategic plan—this was the revelation of white supremacist thinking within MCC executive leadership,” Dr. Imani Woody Macko and Donna Payne Hardy wrote in their opinion editorial. The two are national leaders in the LGBTQ community and members of MCC.
“In our view MCC’s leadership made a strategic attempt to undermine Rev. Garner’s character and used sophomoric PR tactics to disguise its white supremacist thinking…
“For us to move beyond these issues of race and white privilege within faith institutions, it is important for both clergy and lay people to stand up, speak out and push for these issues to be addressed,” Macko and Hardy added.
That was the same message Rev, Sheila Sholes-Ross and Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton co-chairpersons of Equity for Women in the Church had sent to Hardies and the folks at All Souls Church. “We help congregations do the hard work of introspection to become aware of sexism and racism in their practices,” they wrote adding that when they see injustice they are compelled “to speak out.”
Ironically, women of color in the Unitarian Universalist Association had begun to do just that. In March 2017, months before Newman Moore’s trouble, began a Latina wrote in a blog that while she had applied for a key position in the organization the position had gone to a white man. “How do we hold the UUA accountable for racial discrimination and upholding white supremacy, if no one standing in the public square says, ‘Me, it was me, you did this to me and it is not okay.” That missive, according to the Washington Post, prompted the resignation in March 2017 of Rev. Peter Morales the organization’s first Latino president.
The UUA Leadership Council admitted that it was “time for us to examine more deeply than we ever have patterns of institutional racism that are embedded in our practices of leadership, including hiring.
That directive obviously did not reach All Souls--Hardies and the board of trustees. They have offered a string of lame excuses that Lindsey said she saw used before, including when the black chief program officer, Leo Jones, was fired.
He had been hired to handle administrative tasks that the senior minister seemed unable to address. By all accounts the new staffer was getting things done. He soon became ill and had to take medical leave for several months.
A few days before he was to return to work, Hardies sent him a letter, telling him not to come back. “There wasn’t even a farewell part for [him]. Some lay leaders had a going away from the church at their homes,” said Lindsey. “That left a horrible taste in our mouths. Whites on the board seemed cold and lacked empathy.”
Hardies did not respond to a subsequent email sent by TBR, asking specific questions about the composition of the administrative staff and actions by him and the board to recruit people of color. TBR also asked whether there was a manual or policy followed by the church to deal with concerns about racism and sexism.
Sources said that in January 2018, there were 20 paid full- and part-time employees at the church. Newman Moore is the only full-time black religious professional; eight other people of color served either as front desk staffers or custodians.
“They are trying to paint Rev. Susan as a terrible employee,” said Lindsey, adding Newman Moore’s last evaluation was “stellar. [But] the board wants to speak with one voice.”
Many members of the congregation have voiced their dissatisfaction, prompting the board and Hardies to issue yet another letter on Feb. 6, 2018. Hoping to quiet criticism, they donated that “The board’s personnel committee is tasked with regularly evaluating the senior minister. That process is already underway.” Further, the letter said, a retreat has been scheduled to “discuss governance and accountability structures.”
It appears the board has begun negotiating a severance package with Newman Moore to facilitate her departure. According to the rules, she could remain on the job for at least 90 days. That means, the church would have to compensate her for that time and perhaps provide additional compensation. “The church called Rev. Susan. The congregation does have the right to make sure the settlement is to her liking” said Lindsey.
“[Hardies] has pledged to get better at management,” she continued. “I’ve never heard of any one getting 17 years to learn how to do their job. “It shouldn’t be a lifetime appointment. He needs to go.”