Allegations not specific enough to warrant investigation, denomination official says
The United Church of Christ denomination doesn’t intend to investigate or take action on recent allegations made by Cathedral of Hope members that led to them being expelled by the world’s largest gay church.
The Rev. Douglas Anders, minister for UCC’s South Central Conference, told Dallas Voice last week that information he received from one of the expelled members, Blake Ashlock, wasn’t’ specific enough to warrant a formal complaint against the church or any of its clergy.
Anders said he believes the information UCC received was similar to an e-mail Ashlock distributed to hundreds of people in February. The e-mail listed more than 30 grievances and accused senior church leaders of financial improprieties, immoral conduct, and unethical business and employment practices.
Senior Pastor Jo Hudson and the Rev. Mike Piazza, dean of the Cathedral, have categorically denied the allegations in the e-mail, and a law firm retained by the church has threatened to sue for defamation.
Distribution of the e-mail also led to Ashlock, along with fellow Cathedral members Harris "Gene" Yarbrough III and Bob Politano, being expelled from the church for "disloyalty or unbecoming conduct." It marked the first time since at least the 1980s that the church has expelled members.
Anders, minister over the UCC region that includes Texas and Louisiana, noted that unlike other denominations, UCC isn’t hierarchical. He said UCC grants vast
autonomy to individual congregations and doesn’t typically get involved in their day-to-day affairs.
"The official response of the UCC is, unless there are allegations of specific clergy misconduct, that it is not our policy to intervene in a denominational response to internal conflicts in the life of the congregation, other than offering support and offering to work with the local congregation if requested," Anders said. "If Blake’s complaint to me was that, ‘On this specific date, I saw Jo Hudson steal $10,000 from the Cathedral of Hope,’ that’s more specific than saying to me, ‘I have concerns of financial mismanagement by the clergy leadership of the Cathedral of Hope.’ … If there are allegations, they have to be very specific and there has to be substantial evidence. Blake thinks there are things going on at the Cathedral that are not right, but they’re more general than they are specific, and that’s one of the difficulties."
Anders said a separate complaint alleging clergy misconduct was filed against Hudson last year by a Cathedral member who wasn’t among those recently expelled by the church.
Anders said in response to that complaint, a UCC committee of lay and clergy members initially voted to conduct a Situational Support Consultation with Hudson, which is a nondisciplinary proceeding. However, the committee later reversed its decision and chose not to take any action at all.
Anders added that Hudson is in good standing with the denomination, and that he’s not aware of any other pending complaints related to her or the Cathedral, which is UCC’s fourth-largest congregation.
David Plunkett, a spokesman for the Cathedral, declined this week to arrange an interview with Hudson or provide a statement from her.
UCC’s decision not to investigate or take action on the allegations means the current controversy at the Cathedral won’t follow the same course as one from 2003. That’s when the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the denomination to which the Cathedral belonged at the time, conducted an investigation in response to complaints brought by members against then-Senior Pastor Piazza. A few days before the investigation was to be released, Piazza surrendered his MCC ministerial credentials, and the congregation later voted to leave MCC. The Cathedral joined UCC in 2006.
Ashlock said this week he finds UCC’s decision disturbing. "I just believe that they’re protecting their own and they don’t want to cause any scandal," he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 10, 2009.