On June 1, Marilyn Gamm, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, announced during a news conference that four Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) employees who were involved in an investigation of the 1001 New Worshipping Communities program no longer worked for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s national staff. Gamm declined to say whether the employees resigned or were fired or whether something else had happened, describing that as a “private personnel matter.”
On June 2, one of those employees, Philip Lotspeich, released a public statement expressing his views about what has happened. Lotspeich a teaching elder, had been the PC(USA)’s coordinator for church growth, with responsibility for overseeing the 1001 initiative. He and three other employees had been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 15, as an investigation initiated by the board’s executive committee and conducted by a law firm from Charlotte, Alston & Bird.
Another of the four employees – Roger Dermody, who had been the deputy executive director for mission, one of two deputies serving directly under Presbyterian Mission Agency executive director Linda Valentine – is suing the PC(USA)’s corporate identity for defamation.
Here is Lotspeich’s statement, which he sent to the Outlook in response to a request for comment:
I learned yesterday afternoon through a press release of the Presbyterian Mission Agency that I am no longer an employee of the Agency. While I appreciate their praise for my work, I have yet to be provided any reason for this separation. While the separation was news to me, it affords me the opportunity to at long last speak publicly about the events of the past year. As a loyal employee working for the betterment of the PMA and the church, I have remained silent while my actions have been grossly misrepresented by an audit committee investigation that was woefully incomplete.
When the Executive Committee of the Board requested an independent investigation they stated, “The Executive Committee continues to be committed to fairness and due process for all employees…and will seek ways to ensure healthy relationships and a positive, nurturing work environment for all employees.” These words filled me with hope, because prior to this point I had experienced a patently unfair process completely lacking in due process and transparency. You can imagine my shock and dismay, then, to share this news with you: the PMA has flatly refused to share the results of the independent investigation with me, and now they are refusing to share them with you.
Let me be perfectly clear, I believe that the Alston and Bird report fully exonerates the four employees from any “ethical” wrongdoing, and raises serious questions about the Agency’s actions throughout this matter. I can’t state anything for certain, because they are not sharing the information they possess, but I know the truth that was there for a neutral, unbiased party to discover. Being forced to put my ministry life on hold for six months was devastating, but I waited patiently for justice to “roll down like waters” so all the wrongful defamation could begin to be undone.
Following the April board meeting, I assumed that we would all soon be sitting down together to discuss the information revealed in the Alston and Bird report and working out a positive path forward for all involved. That proved to be wishful thinking. I eventually turned down all severance and settlement offers because they came with the stipulation that our voices would be silenced and the report would likely remain unseen. I believe that the church at large deserves to see the report that they themselves financed, and this was ultimately more important than my own financial gain.
Today, I am once again asking the PMA Board to please share the report. It is never too late to do the right thing. In the meantime, I will continue to hold the PMA Board and Staff, and all who have been impacted by their actions, in my prayers. No matter what, the grace and love of Jesus Christ unites us all.
Rev. Philip Lotspeich