LOUISVILLE – The co-moderators of the 2018 General Assembly are pulling the book they asked Presbyterians to read over the next year, after allegations surfaced that the book’s author, Noel Castellanos, had created a hostile workplace environment for women.
The co-moderators, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and Cindy Kohlmann, told participants at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Moderators’ Conference Nov. 17 that they could not proceed with recommending the book, since the allegations involve reports of a pattern of behavior extending over a dozen years.
“Toxic leadership that abuses power and authority has no place within the church and is anathema to the body of Christ,” Cintrón-Olivieri said.
The co-moderators acknowledged that some presbyteries or congregations may have already begun working with the Castellanos book, and apologized for the inconvenience. “We are even more deeply sorry that cultures of abuse towards women and those of less privilege are allowed to continue in any institution, and especially in the church,” Kohlmann said.
The co-moderators said they expect to recommend a new book within the next several weeks, probably focused on evangelism and justice. One suggestion from a small group discussion: pick a book that deals with abuse of power or authority, or sexual abuse. Another suggestion: focus on the Bible.
The Christian Community Development Association announced Nov. 6 that Castellanos had, just prior to the association’s national conference, resigned as the president of that Christian justice ministry, after leading the association for more than a decade.
At that national conference, concerns were raised about Castellanos’ leadership from speakers on stage, in unauthorized flyers distributed during sessions and in a statement of repentance posted on the association’s website, according to a Christianity Today articleregarding the resignation.
Cintrón-Olivieri and Kohlmann, announced Oct. 30 that they had selected Castellanos’ book “Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens at the Neighborhood When God is at the Center” as the title of their year-long book study for the PC(USA).They had planned to lead a workshop on the book at the Moderators’ Conference, being held Nov. 15-17 in Louisville, and a conversation on it at the NEXT Church national gathering in Seattle in March.
In that 2015 book, Castellanos describes his work in Latino urban communities and the path that led him to ministry at the Christian Community Development Association, a network of community organizations working in under-resourced neighborhoods.
The PC(USA) had developed a study guide for Castellanos book, with an introduction to the book, study questions, and quotes related to the themes of the book pulled from PC(USA) constitutional documents. In making the announcement they were pulling the book, the co-moderators appeared both disappointed and determined —leading participants in praying about the need for “right relationships” under God.
The statement of repentance posted on the Christian Community Development Association website does not directly name Castellanos, But it states that the association “has experienced organizational dysfunction, including occasional problems with itswork environment” that has “caused pain to past employees” and led some to walk away from the association. It also states that CCDA “is committed to upholding the dignity of women.”
On the #3RsRevisited website (#RememberRepentReconcile), women who have served on the CCDA staff and were involved in raising the complaints against Castellanos tell their stories. That website states that “CCDA staff have been raising the alarm for more than twelve years about the toxic work environment at the national office, but those cries have gone largely unheeded by the board of directors.”
The co-moderators of the 2016 General Assembly, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, initiated the “One Church, One Book” idea in January 2017, asking Presbyterians first to read Debby Irving’s “Waking Up White.” The second book they recommended, in July 2017, was “Always With Us? What Jesus Really Said About the Poor” by Liz Theoharis. a PC(USA) minister and co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
During a workshop discussion following the announcement, Cintrón-Olivieri pointed out that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance representatives were available to talk with presbytery or synod moderators who had more concerns about the issue.
“Heavy is the cross” of a moderator, she said – “there is a feeling that sometimes we don’t want to deal with stuff, but we have to.” Cintrón-Olivieri said she recognizes there may be cases where “people have suffered. … They have gone through this kind of situation. It can trigger something in their hearts,” and when this type of announcement is made, they need to provide care as well “for whatever may happen next.”
Here is a statement the co-moderators released Nov. 17 regarding the issue:
It has recently come to our attention that the author of the book we chose for the “One Church, One Book” initiative has resigned from his position amid allegations of creating a hostile and abusive work environment. We followed up on the story, and according to unverified information available to the public online, there are allegations that this apparent pattern of bad behavior has been present for over twelve years and has also been ignored or enabled by the board.
For this reason, we will no longer be recommending “Where the Cross Meets the Street” to the Presbyterian Church. Toxic leadership that abuses power and authority has no place within the church, and is anathema to the body of Christ.
More information will be in a press release on Monday. We are working to choose a new book that calls the church to the faithful work of evangelism and justice, and hope to announce that choice in the next few weeks.
For this conference, we will not be offering the workshops introducing the content of the book. Instead, this morning we will be available along with a few other pastors for conversation during the workshop hour.
We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause those of you who have planned to use the book or who have already introduced the book to your Presbyteries and Synods. We are even more deeply sorry that cultures of abuse towards women and those with less privilege are allowed to continue in any institution, and especially in the church.
Let us pray…