Following are some frequently asked questions about this dispute, as well as my answers.
- Do you hate Bob Malm?
No, I am indifferent.
- Isn’t this really about the fact you weren’t named senior warden?
No. First, a clarification: Bob did ask me to serve as senior warden, and later backtracked. That said, I had been hoping to serve a second year as junior warden, but was not offered that opportunity. Thus, while I was unhappy with Bob’s handling of the situation, whether or not I served as senior warden was not part of it. Moreover, I believe Bob’s actions in this space were tit-for-tat for pushing him to do his job, which includes supervising parish staff.
- How did this dispute get started?
It started shortly after Bob’s return from his accident, when Bob behaved very badly at two different meetings, including yelling at me and criticizing me in front of others, despite not having had any sort of conversation directly with me about the topics he raised.
Shortly afterwards, I met with Bob to discuss his conduct, and he apologized profusely. I also cautioned him that I would not tolerate future bullying on his part.
Later that summer, however, Bob moved into full-on passive aggressive mode when I and others insisted that Bob fulfill one of his most basic job requirements as rector, which is to supervise staff. Subsequently, Bob began a series of “micro-aggressions,” culminating in my decision to resign from the vestry and property committee. I did not, however, resign membership in the church until more than 2 years later. Thus, the vestry’s talking points claiming otherwise are a lie. Moreover, Bob has acknowledged in front of the bishop diocesan that his efforts to force me out were a form of retaliation for complaining to the diocese about his conduct.
- But didn’t you renege on your commitment not to blog about events at the church?
No. All involved in the meeting with the bishop diocesan knew and understood that Mom and others would continue to blog. Moreover, when the bishop’s office contacted me about Mom’s blogging, staff there did not realize two things: 1) That Mom never had stopped blogging, but had recently shifted blogging platforms and 2) That I was unwilling to triangulate the issue, but that they instead needed to deal directly with those involved. Indeed, I offered to facilitate the latter, but the diocese ignored my offer. I also did not realize that Bishop Shannon Johnston already had sent a letter of support for Bob Malm, in which he falsely stated that the matter had been investigated and resolved long ago.
To clarify, the diocesan intake officer does not, under the canons, undertake any sort of investigation. If they need to make inquiry, it is, per written church guidance, “To understand the matter complained of.” Dismissing the matter at that stage means, by definition, that the matter neither was investigated, nor resolved.
- Didn’t the diocese dismiss the matter as “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church”?
At that stage of the proceedings, the matter complained of is considered to be true, and the questions are asked, “If true, would the conduct complained of constitute a violation of the canons and, if so, would it be of ‘weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church’?”
Since my allegations included possible ongoing workplace harassment, bullying by clergy, perjury by clergy, and questionable HR, cash management, and financial reporting practices, as well as retaliation for filing a Title IV complaint, the diocese has made clear that it does not consider any of these behaviors problematic for clergy. Moreover, Bishop Johnston has repeatedly himself violated the provisions of Title IV, including dismissing a case at the reference panel stage, in violation of the canons. In other words, this is not an option available to him. Yet, when I pointed this out, I was ignored.
Ironically, the diocese wants things both ways. It decries the damage this dispute is causing the church, yet simultaneously says it’s not important to the church. So which is it?
In the meantime, my advice is this: Steer clear of any church that thinks bullying, workplace harassment, and retaliation are acceptable. They are not.
I’d add that there are accusations afoot — apparently well-documented — that +Shannon covered up sexual harassment of female church employees by clergy under his supervision. That speaks volumes to ethics within the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Such matters should be handled in a manner that makes clear that harassment will not be tolerated.
- How do you explain the fact that your Mom’s blog sounds much like yours?
First, by Bob Malm’s own written statement, made under oath, the tone and tenor typically is quite different. Second, Mom was one of the holders of my original blog backups, which I sent to various locations in case Bob was able to convince my platform host to take it down, and she has repurposed content on many occasions. Third, Mom and I had several of the same English instructors as kids. Fourth, I am the publisher of my blog, but not necessarily the author of specific posts. Thus, while I can often spot specific, minute differences in our diction, few — immediate family members included — can identify who wrote a particular piece, regardless of the medium used. In other word, a large quantity of material on my blog is stuff she has written—a distinction Sugarland Chiow appears incapable, or unwilling, to comprehend.
It also should be noted that several independent third parties were aware, long before Bob Malm’s false accusations, that Mom was blogging and had continued to do so. They were prepared to testify to this had I taken the legal case to trial.
- Have you ever threatened Bob?
No, and he knows that. Indeed, his ludicrous and badly drafted settlement proposal is all about silencing criticism, as one can see from even a cursory review.
- Can this dispute be resolved?
Yes, but I doubt that it is feasible. First, Bob and I cannot have any contact until 2020, and even then I don’t want any communication from him. Second, resolution would involve genuine Christian conduct on the part of Bob Malm, the parish, and the diocese. Thus far, none of the three have shown that they are capable of acting in a manner that even suggests any genuine Christian perspective. Moreover, with Mom’s days rapidly dwindling, they are fast running out of time to resolve conflict with a key stakeholder. There also is the issue, common to all conflict, that the longer parties are at loggerheads, the harder it is to find resolution.It’s also important to note that clergy are always responsible for maintaining boundaries, and are expected to adhere to a higher standard. Thus, even if everything Bob says were true, lying in court, including family members, and referring to me as “sick,” “twisted,” and “dysfunctional,” to members of the parish, diocesan staff, and others would still be highly inappropriate.
- The church appears to be lurching towards an existential crisis, in which it can no longer pay its bills. Does that concern you?
No, it doesn’t. Bob Malm, the vestry, and church members have had numerous warnings that things were headed in this direction, and ample time and opportunity to address these issues. So, if the church collapses, I’ll neither feel bad nor rejoice.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that the current pattern, in which the remaining members ramp up giving as attendance and pledging decline, is considered by experts a common sign of a dying church.
- What do you think about Bob Malm’s claims that you are mentally ill and violent?
Given that I have successfully passed a polygraph, a psych evaluation, and a background check more rigorous than a federal security clearance, Bob’s comments reflect on him, not me. They’re also remarkably stupid: Either people believe Bob, in which case they are likely to avoid a church that claims to be threatened by “domestic terrorism,” or they don’t believe him, in which case they are likely to avoid a church where the rector may be dishonest, or manipulative, or mentally ill. I offer no conclusions in that space, but instead encourage others to form their own opinions.
- You are active in the church abuse survivors’ movement. Are you suggesting that Bob Malm has engaged in sexual misconduct?
- You state that Bob Malm has lied repeatedly. Can you summarize your claim?
Yes. Bob’s lies start with his claim, which he used in order to induce me to agree to serve as junior warden. In response to my concerns about church office staff and their conduct, Bob stated (verbatim): ‘Don’t worry about it. They’ll be retiring this year.” Needless to say, this didn’t happen, and he later admitted he had no basis in fact for his statement. He also stated, in writing and under oath, that part of the reason he believed I had threatened him was that my mom and other family members “time and again” make appointments with him and no-show. That is an utter fabrication, and neither Mom nor anyone claiming to be her has EVER made an appointment with Bob, for ANY reason.Other lies:
- His statement to Kemp Williams that I violated my agreement to abide by the bishop’s guidance during the meeting in Fredericksburg. No such agreement was made, nor was the topic discussed.
- Bob’s statement during the Fredericksburg meeting, said in front of the bishop and the canon to the ordinary (verbatim), “Having resigned from the vestry, you were no longer eligible to serve as a trustee.” No such policy exists, nor did Bob supply a copy of such a policy during discovery.
- His claims that I am mentally ill.
- Various court pleadings, ranging from his claim that I am inspired by a fictional church shooting in the equally fictional town of “Sugarland Texas,” to:
- His claim I never was licensed as an attorney.
- His claim that I never served as a police officer.
- His claim that I have violated the existing court order.
- His biggest lie of all, which is that I have threatened him. Taking random words out of context is only a threat if you are mentally ill, and even then, it does not meet the requisite legal standard.
That said, if Grace Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia think these behaviors are acceptable for clergy, they are welcome to Bob Malm. I have no desire to be associated with a church or denomination in which this conduct is acceptable, and where both the bishop and members of the parish endorse such behavior.
- Can you walk us through your claim that Bob Malm committed perjury?
Yes.During our litigation over Bob’s request for a protective order, Bob was served written interrogatories. By law, these must be answered under oath.In his written responses, Bob lied about two issues.First, he claimed, as the basis for his claim that he believes me to be the author of Mom’s blog, he stated that Mom repeatedly made multiple appointments with him and no-showed. This simply has never happened. Nor has anyone made such an appointment on Mom’s behalf.Second, he claims that only his wife has blogged about this conflict. Yet Bob knew from the get-go that his daughter Lindsey had done so, and indeed called the Alexandria police in her efforts to obtain removal of a post on Fairfax Underground that she didn’t like. This subsequently was confirmed by members of the Alexandria police department.Of course, his various false assertions, discussed above, in his court filings also are fabrications. To be clear, Bob did not say, “Plaintiff believes,” or “Based on his research, plaintiff has concluded.” Instead, Bob proffered this information as statements of fact. The goes beyond assertive advocacy, and represents an effort to deceive the court.
- Why did you reject the church’s settlement offer?
I rejected it for a variety of reasons. Among these were the fact that accepting it would have rewarded Bob’s unethical behavior, including his courtroom lies and knowingly inflammatory rhetoric, as well as Bob’s bullying. Additionally:
- In short order, we would have been right back where we started from when someone blogged or otherwise criticized Bob and Grace Church. At that point, Bob’s paranoia would again kick in, and he would have argued I was behind it.
- The offer was entirely one-sided, and would have allowed Bob to continue his behind-the-scenes claims that I am dysfunctional, a “domestic terrorist,” etc.
- The offer contained no enforcement mechanism for violations by Grace Church.
- The offer in no way reflected Christian values of truth-telling, repentance and reconciliation. Instead, it gave Bob Malm, the person in the position of power, a pass on his previous conduct, slapped a layer of “Jesus-babble” on things about love and forgiveness and Bob’s usual empty words, and reverted to the status quo.
- The offer in no way addressed the needs of my Mom, Mike, or other stakeholders, all of whom remain apoplectic over Bob’s conduct, as well as that of Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow.
- Why do you refer to Jeff Chiow as “Sugarland”?
The moniker is a reference to Jeff’s fabrication, in his discovery documents, of a non-existent town in Texas, and an equally fictional church shooting in that town. These fabrications typify both Jeff’s lack of integrity as an attorney, the remarkably sloppy work reflected in his pleadings, and his other fabrications, previously discussed.
- Why do you refer to Bob Malm as “Dysfunctional Bob”?
Early in this conflict, Bob began telling people that I was mentally ill and referring to me as “dysfunctional.” Ironically, he also claimed on the one hand that no one takes me seriously, but on the other that people are terrified. So which is it?That said, given Bob’s questionable veracity and outright fabrications, as well as his repeated violations of pastoral norms in referring to parishioners to “dysfunctional” to third parties, the name fits Bob quite well. And something tells me if he talks that way about me, he refers to Jan Spence as an “asshole,” calls Lisa Doelp a “spy,” and more, you can be pretty sure that unless he needs something from you, you’re not immune to this sort of commentary.
- What do you predict will happen at Grace Church during 2019?
It’s hard to know, given the erratic nature of Bob Malm’s conduct over the past few years. That said:
- The church will lurch through the coming months. The budget that the vestry passes in January likely will be balanced on paper, either via rosy predictions of revenue, or equally irrational projections on the expense side.
- Stalwarts will continue to ramp up their individual giving in an effort to shore up the church’s increasingly shaky finances.
- It will become increasingly obvious to all involved that the situation is untenable, but few will have any meaningful proposals to address problems at the church. True to form, folks will dither, kick the can down the road, and more.
- Given the advancing age of many parishioners, the church may well luck out this year and have someone pass away, leaving the church enough money to — you guessed it — kick the can down the road.
- Bob will continue to try to have his cake and eat it too, by talking about the need to be kind, even to people whom parishioners hate (like me), in an effort to tamp down the conflict now tearing apart the fabric of the church. But he’ll try to avoid doing anything that comes right out and admits, either directly or tacitly, that he pulled a fast one on the parish with his sudden interest in panic buttons, active shooters, etc. (Keep in mind that, even as recently as 2014, Bob still referenced feelings of personal invincibility in his sermons. That right there should tell parishioners something.)
- Finding a full-time assistant rector will be problematic. Yes, Bob likely will try to address the concerns of potential applicants by telling them, as he has done in the past, that I’m “off my rocker.” But there’s plenty of written documentation of Bob’s misconduct on this site, and any candidate worth having is going to look closely at Bob’s courtroom lies, his inflammatory rhetoric, and his inappropriate comments about those entrusted to his pastoral care.
- The diocese may step in and try to help sort out the mess, but if it does, that will require a level of courage, integrity, and Christian commitment thus far not evinced by the diocese or its bishops. And a half-baked effort of the sort that slaps a layer of “Jesus-babble” on things and announces that we are moving past things, with no consideration given to the needs of those hurt by Bob’s misconduct, is worse that nothing at all.
- There’s increasing evidence, based on conversations with several parishioners, that people have come to realize that things are a hot mess at Grace. The challenge will be finding someone willing to come right out and say it. Grace has a bad case of group-think, as well as the notion that questioning Bob Malm somehow is disloyal. Even those who have been burned by Bob’s actions, like the unfortunates who got to clean out Charlotte’s office while Bob allegedly played golf, seem unlikely to step up to the plate and call a spade a spade.
- What do you think it would take for Grace Church to again become healthy?
I believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the parish to again find its footing with Bob as rector, as he appears to have spent his entire career pursuing power, control, and prestige, versus serving the church. That said, the church will need to work with an outside expert in conflict management to understand how to address conflict in a healthy manner. It also would be helpful for the church to formally adopt written, normative behaviors and a vestry covenant. Combined with an formal annual vestry retreat, performance reviews, and mutual ministry reviews, these steps would help the church transition to a healthier, more effective approach to church governance.It’s also important for the church not to follow its usual trick of either minimizing or denying conflict. Instead, healing for the church will only occur when there can be truthtelling and disclosure in a safe environment in which all are welcomed, and all vantage points welcomed. This means that past conflicts will need to be revisited with a view towards learning from mistakes. There also are several parishioners who engage in bullying behavior and who are damaging the entire church through their actions. These individuals either will need to learn new ways of interacting with others or decide for themselves whether they wish to continue to be part of the church.My suspicion is that, when Bob finally does leave, the interim period will prove quite difficult for the parish. But it may also be that the experience will allow parishioners to finally recognize just how unhealthy the parish has become. Meanwhile, the fact that parishioners are okay with Bob lying and engaging in shunning, as well as other parishioners inter alia urging people to commit suicide, mocking the dying, and more shows just how very skewed reference points have become in the parish.
- Would you consider pulling down this blog and other postings?
Probably not. And in this regard, Grace has an issue on its hands, which is that Fairfax Underground affords no way to pull down content without an account, which I don’t use. And that’s not unfair: The harm that Bob Malm’s has caused others through his bullying, his lies, and his betrayal of trust won’t suddenly evaporate, either.
That said, I may be willing to provide an update that announces meaningful progress towards resolution. But it’s not unfair that people who may be considering becoming involved in the parish know that this is a church that thinks suing its former members is okay, or that it is okay for the rector to lie, abuse his authority, and more. After all, few would argue that the church should obtain members via false pretenses.
- Why do you post all the time to Fairfax Underground? Maintain an image library on Flickr?
Search engines evaluate a variety of factors in selecting data to index, or not. One of the biggest criteria is frequency of posting. Similarly, the web increasingly is becoming a visual medium, with more and more searches based on imagery.As long as Bob’s court order is in place, you may count on me continuing to post.
- What does your mother think of Bob Malm and The Episcopal Church these days?
You don’t want to know.
- What does Mike think about Bob Malm and The Episcopal Church?
If he never hears either name again it will be a day too soon. Ironically, I am still the friendliest in my family towards the church — which is not saying much.
- What do you think about Bob’s retirement?
Bob’s retirement is long overdue, and the parish’s collapsing numbers make clear he has worn out his welcome. When this conflict first started in 2014, the parish had 314 pledging units. Today, it is struggling to make 200 pledging units, and further declines are highly likely. While these are not the only measures of a successful ministry by any means, the fact that the parish is in a precipitous state of decline speaks volumes to Bob Malm’s dysfunctional leadership and the problems within the parish.Bob’s retirement does not in any way lessen my ongoing efforts to spread word of the church’s conduct. Any house of worship where people think that it’s okay to urge people to commit suicide, to refer to others as “domestic terrorists,” to lie repeatedly under oath, to bully others, to sue the dying and more is someplace where, at a minimum, people need to know what they are getting into before joining. And if Grace Episcopal is gone 10 years from now, the world might well be a better place.
- What is your reaction to parishioners who blindly weigh in?
Typical, and a good reason to steer clear of organized religion.I’m reminded of Sally Schneider, who rolled in and stupidly began berating me, but appears to have had no such reaction when, for example, Bob Malm committed perjury.As the old saying goes, better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.If the Sally Schneider’s of the world don’t know that they are talking about, they’d be well-advised just to stay silent. As it is, I certainly hope that when she sees bullying and misconduct in other settings her response is more thoughtful.
As for former friends in the church whose friendship was predicated on Bob Malm’s approval, or not criticizing the church: If those are the conditions of your friendship, you can keep it. No thanks.
Lastly, my observation is that the one consistent theme in all of this is that people are quick to jump onto the bandwagon and join Bob Malm’s smear campaign, with Kemp Williams, Jean Reed and others weighing in. Yet in all the emails and other materials I have seen, no one ever expresses concern for me. That in itself should tell how, to use Jean’s phrase, the “servants of Christ” at Grace Church roll.
Institutional narcissism, anyone?
- What do you say to those who say there are two sides to every story?
There are certain indisputable facts in this case. These include the fact that Bob chose to include Mike in his vendetta. He chose to try to drag a dying woman into court. He lied under oath. If you doubt the latter, ask Bob for his proof that Mom, or anyone claiming to be her, ever made an appointment with him. Moreover, Sugarland Chiow is no doubt aware of Bob’s antics. If not, he’s even more stupid than I believe, and his thought that going to court would ever benefit the parish is beyond stupid. Even more foolish his his effort to deploy a scorched earth policy in court, which has only solidified opposition.
Yes, you may quote me on that.
Oh, and when you read the vestry’s talking points, in which it claims that I, and by extension Mike, left on our own, ask why then Bob felt he needed to send us an email telling us we were unwelcome.
Having a vestry that lies to its own congregation surely is a sign of a church in a dire way.
- Do you have to tell the whole world?
Of course not. But a few bits of context may be useful.
- Early on, I offered through my attorney to settle my dispute with Bob Malm in exchange for nothing more than his agreement to stop disparaging me and Mike, and to stop interfering with the practice of our faith. I also asked that he treat our discussions as confidential. Through Sugarland Chiow, Bob declined, including our request to discuss matters on a confidential basis. So Bob has gotten exactly what we wanted, and if he was not prepared for me to go public, he should have not engaged in his apparent smear campaign. Recall that, inter alia, Leslie Steffensen joined in that, with her statement to a third party, transcribed verbatim, in which she said she was not sure she would trust me with money.
- Bob was warned in 2014, shortly after his return from disability and before his summer vacation, that further bullying on his part would not be tolerated. He ignored that caution multiple times, ultimately leading to this conflict.
- The best way to avoid being called out on bad behavior is to not engage in bad behavior.
- Few would argue (except perhaps Lisa Medley, with her false, ad hominem attacks on The Wartburg Watch, Bob Malm, and members of Bob’s family) that Grace Church should obtain members via false pretenses. So, if Sugarland Chiow and Dysfunctional Bob are okay with their false statements under oath, issuing subpoenas to the dying, and the other high water marks of their purported Christian faith, they should be okay with that information being made public. “By their fruits you shall know them.