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Admin PLB Accountant, Dick Roma
This new case regarding Keith Raniere does not qualify on the same order of magnitude for clergy malpractice as the landmark case, F.G v. MacDonell and its long lineage of clergy malpractice.
Popular reporting of the Raniere case labels the followers of Keith Raniere as a ‘cult’. This label is melodrama because the label might lead naive readers to assume the Raniere case has no relevance for clergy and full-time caregiving in cases of spiritual care. The Raniere case does not distinguish between cult and religion. The case does not give criteria to know the difference between cult and religion. Anyone who wants extra reading, see one of the best explorations of the confused lines between cult and religion, where cult and religion sometimes merge, by Marci Hamilton, a leading scholar of constitutional law who specializes in church/state issues, see “JUSTICE DENIED: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children” (Cambridge 2008, 2012), who wrote also, “GOD VS. THE GAVEL: Religion and the Rule of Law” (Cambridge 2005, 2007).
In short, the Raniere case puts us back into the territory already identified as the confused boundaries where cult and religion merge. This case does apply to clergy and to full-time spiritual caregivers.
The plot of the Raniere case is ancient. The plot goes back at least to the story of the unnamed woman concubine in Judges 19–20, a woman from Bethlehem who lived with a Levite priest in the hill country of Ephraim. The woman is raped to death. The priest does nothing to save her. The rape causes the first bloody civil war between the tribes of God’s people.
Here are a few issues from the case of Keith Raniere that are issues all the way back in history to Judges 19-20. They are relevant in our work as full-time mentors and students in spiritual service.
For one issue, the case raises old issues about how and when spiritual authority becomes abused by people with authority so that men or women insiders are coerced, threatened, ‘blackmailed’, or by violence put under pressures to have sex with leaders – by forced ‘consent’? More generally, what is consent?
For another issue, the case raises age-old questions about whether consent can include consent to be a ‘slave’? This issue of consensual slavery is not trivial. Arguments that people want to be slaves are more common than we think. Especially in arguments in favor of sex-slavery. The argument goes that sex and human trafficking victims really want the so called ‘protections’ of their slavery. These arguments in and out of court today are cloaked under fancy rhetoric about voluntary consent. Arguments in court, and social policy arguments try and justify many forms of slavery in the U.S. These arguments go back at least to the shameful era of the Fugitive Slave Act. And before that – with slavery of all kinds justified by theology preached from pulpits.
For another issue, with questions about sex, sex slavery, and sex trafficking put aside, the Raniere case raises questions about how and when people with authority create obedience ‘slaves’ to spiritual authority for a variety of ‘religious’ purposes and ‘religious’ chores. Sometimes without the perpetrators like pastors and elders and without the victims (church members) even knowing they are in slavery. Almost always without religious authorities admitting – almost always with religious authorities denying – that they are creating slaves. Just joking? – just read the Raniere case.
A most troubling issue in the practice by followers of Raniere is that they ran eleven daycare centers for children worldwide. The existence of children in religious day care may have played a huge role – a far greater role than can be published in popular media because we do not have access to the subjective opinions of the jury – the jury decision includes unpublished juror reasons for judging to convict Raniere on all counts. Good judges expect impartial juries. The problem and the great blessing with our system of juries made up of our ordinary peers is that ordinary jurors really are our peers, and they are mothers and fathers too.
… distributed by email from T.J. to users as 20196J5Y.docx, and 20196J5Y.odt