Resource Publications, 202 pages
Reviewed by Timothy Johnson
“The Dean’s Demise” is a worthy first novel, written by a retired minister. Fletcher served the church first in the parish, later as a seminary professor and then became acting academic dean and dealt with the issue of his predecessor who was accused of sexual misconduct. The author chose to go by the pen name Richard Fletcher to protect his characters, and to separate his new love of story writing from his professional legacy. Fletcher combines his experience as a dean with his rich imagination to create a captivating story about the all too prevalent malady that infects the church at all levels, including its seminaries: sexual misconduct by its leaders. The story, with its cast of characters, frames the problem and shows how its many tentacles reach out to strangle and destroy people and institutions.
Even though the setting is a divinity school within a larger university, the variety of characters quickly become real to the reader, especially to those readers within the church. For this reason, and the way that Fletcher spins the tale, the book can be easily used as a case study for those who are struggling to deal with sexual misbehavior at any level or in any institution of the church. The book is full of short vignettes that could happen in any church. The long dark shadow that sexual abuse casts over affected churches often clouds the vision needed to make wise and just decisions. This book can help such churches see more clearly the different dimensions of the issue.
Fletcher’s characters are real and believable: the confirmation class member who feels bewildered and trapped with unwanted sexual advances; the seminary students who sense that if they granted sexual favors they could easily get A’s; the new female professor who also senses that if she gives in to the dean’s advances, she could be promoted; the wife of the philandering dean who senses that her husband is sexually misbehaving; the president of the seminary who is trying to balance multiple issues of what to do with the offending dean; and of course, the dean himself, who is sexually amoral, power hungry and oblivious to the destruction caused by his behavior.
The conclusion is well crafted with a rather surprising twist, showing that no one should ever underestimate what a human is capable of doing, either for good or for ill.
Daniel Aleshire, executive director of The Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada comments on the book: “This is a troubling narrative about abusive behavior in a divinity school, the predator’s attempt to recast himself as victim, the university’s instincts to attend to its best interests, and the elusive struggle for justice. The narrative is chilling and thought-provoking, woven with threads of realism, trauma, and theological insight.”
Not only is this book a good read, it is also a useful tool for discussion groups, be they in churches going through the trauma created by a sexually abusive member or pastor, judicatories helping churches to understand the issues surrounding sexual abuse or seminaries as they consider the options they have when dealing with this evil.
Timothy Johnson is a retired Presbyterian minister living in Newark, New York.