To all of the leaders, friends, & family of
The Reformation Project,
It grieves us deeply to inform you that as of today, May 29, 2019, the entire staff of The Reformation Project, with the exception of the Executive Director, have formally submitted our resignations from the organization.
We came to this decision after deep thought and consideration. We know that many of you will have questions, and we want to share the story of what happened. We also want to encourage you that working to advance LGBTQ inclusion in the church is bigger than a single individual or organization. Change is possible, necessary, and worth fighting for.
As many of you know, because you have helped to build it, TRP has strived to create an LGBTQ Christian culture that dismantles white supremacy. We have strived to create a culture that values anti-oppression, power-sharing and intersectionality, not just in word, but in practice across our external facing programs and our internal organizational policies and processes. We have strived to create a culture of grassroots power where we work to right the injustices of this world that marginalize queer people, trans people, people of color, women, and others. We have strived to create a culture that does not reinforce the power structures in society that already exist to silence and erase us - that prevent us from utilizing full agency over our own lives. We’ve believed that cultivating beloved community requires that we yield to the concerns of those historically excluded, that power in decision-making be reimagined and that we become unwavering in renouncing the many hierarchies we’ve internalized and replicated.
One important way in which TRP challenged the traditional, white, corporate model of nonprofit management was by piloting a highly collaborative peer supervision model among the organization’s directors. This was fully endorsed by all directors, including the Executive Director< in August 2018 to promote greater collaboration, eliminate unnecessary hierarchy, redistribute power, and increase individual and departmental agency. Our day-to-day work has always been rooted in a consensus-based model of decision-making and intentional collaboration, and this model integrated well into the day-to-day work.
After the staff has spent years operating under these principles, and months of updating and codifying internal written policies, Matthew made a sudden and unilateral decision to reject the existing peer supervision model and declare himself direct supervisor of all directors. He refused to entertain any further discussion with the directors on this topic. In his email to directors, we felt that his decision challenged directors to either support his decision or leave the organization. He then terminated Sara Renn, citing no legitimate reason, and in direct violation of written policy. These decisions and actions by Matthew impacted the rest of the staff severely and shifted the dynamics of our workplace from an atmosphere of collaboration and openness to one of fear, intimidation, and confusion.
How we responded:
We pursued existing channels to address the problem. We filed an official, written complaint with the Board of Directors, citing organizational policy and asking for an investigation into Matthew’s actions, which we believe violated the organization’s policy and created a hostile work environment. Out of fear that the rest of the staff might also lose their jobs without reason, we requested a suspension of communication between the Executive Director and the rest of the staff while also requesting Sara’s immediate reinstatement. We asked for compromise and for processes and outcomes that could carve out a way forward together.
The Board agreed to launch an HR investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, we were informed by the Board: 1) the findings would not be shared; 2) any actions that might take place as a result of the findings would not be shared; 3) the ED would remain in place with the full backing of the board. All asks made by staff during the investigation and via letters to the Board were either disdained or outright rejected. We believe the Board’s process has stripped us of agency and voice. We believe that we have become a group of women, trans, and POC staff, who have been given the responsibilities of the job but no power, and that the Board has worked to silence us and keep us from having any say in the trajectory of the organization. We feel TRP’s Executive Director and Board of Directors has made it clear that their principles are not our principles. And we believe that their loyalty and commitment to governance and oversight is tied to the traditions of hierarchy and values upheld within white supremacist culture like fragility, power hoarding, and paternalism.
Despite the many years we have given to this organization, the relationships we’ve built with our leaders, the partnerships formed, and the energy we have brought to the cause of pushing for policy shift in churches to become fully inclusive of LGBTQ people, the only option left for us now is to leave TRP. We refuse to condone the behavior, actions, and guiding principles of the Board and the Executive Director by remaining on staff.
After this experience, we are more committed now than ever to live in ways that reflect anti-oppression, power-sharing, and intersectionality in all of our personal, professional, and organizational ties. This has not been an easy decision for any of us. Our primary concern is how this will impact our local chapter leaders, our Leadership Development Cohort alum, the network of affirming Christians we have been learning from and working alongside for the last several years.
What we know to still be true is that the movement for LGBTQ inclusion is better than these actions. This work requires us to fight against oppression and imbalances of power, and our efforts will only succeed when we accept and center the voices and experiences of QTPOC leaders - both in church life and organizations that aim to achieve similar ends. We know that this movement is bigger than TRP and there are other LGBTQ Christian organizations and clergy doing incredible work worth supporting. We acknowledge the sense of shock and loss this will create, and it is our prayer that you trust and believe in your own collective wisdom, agency, experience, theological acumen, and community organizing training to do this work without being linked to a formal organization. We encourage you to reach out to each other as resources and reach out to us personally.
Lauren Gray, Reed Lively, Myles Markham, Sara Renn, Marshaé Sylvester, Shae Washington