ADF: Four Priests and an Initiate have Resigned. What comes next?

Inspired by Rev. Lauren Mart's collection of statements and updates, I thought I would compile a post with the details of What has Happened...So Far after fielding emails and facebook messages from ADF members for the last 24 hours asking for explanations. I strongly believe that an educated membership is an empowered membership, and so I am writing this in the hopes of helping the members of my protogrove, my classes, and my region will feel more aware of the current issues facing ADF and therefore more empowered to stand up for the things they believe. 

Before I get into things, I want to explain that I have been involved in ADF on and off since 2008, though I left for a while for reasons very similar to the reasons given in the public resignations of folks recently. I chose to return and add my voice to the wave of members calling for the kind of change I hoped to see. I now serve the organization as Greylock Shadow Protogrove's grove organizer and as the Northeast Regional Druid. I take my responsibility to the members that I serve very seriously, in spite of my own misgivings with representing an organization that has historically been resistant to change. Ultimately, I serve the members of ADF, not the organization

Here are the public details about the current controversy. 

Every November 1st, ADF's clergy members renew their credentials. Independent of one another, four members of the clergy, all non-men under the age of 45, chose to leave ADF rather than renew their credentials. With that ADF lost about 15% of its total clergy.  A fifth member of the clergy announced they were stepping back, but not yet resigning. Later, an ADF initiate also chose to resign. 

You can read some of the resignations publicly:

  • Rev Lauren Mart's collection of statements: (HERE
  • Resignation--Snow Fuller: (HERE and HERE)
  • Resignation--Melissa Hill: (HERE)
  • Resignation--Sara Blackwelder: (HERE)
  • Resignation--Diane "Emerald" Bronowicz: (HERE)
  • Statement--Rev. Robert Lewis: (HERE)
  • Statement--Desiree Amber Cook (Ex-Member's Advocate and currently Non-Officer Director serving on the Mother Grove): (HERE)

Also on November 1st, I sat down to file my quarterly report. I realized that I had received quite a bit of non-renewing feedback over the last quarter (in contrast to the none I had received in previous quarters) and that half of the feedback received spoke to some deep systemic issues in ADF, and later when I learned about the rash of resignations I found a lot in common there, too.  After the clergy resignations became public, a few ADF members would reach out to me privately and let me know they were resigning, all in the same demographic as the original resignees. Losing these voices is an enormous tragedy for ADF, and we are weaker for the loss of them. We don't yet know how many members have quietly left for the same reasons, so there is no way of counting the cost of our current path. 

So what are the issues these resignations and our non-renewing feedback have in common?

  • Cronyism. There is the perception that appointed positions in ADF are filled primarily by the friends of whoever is in charge. This creates an echo chamber where leaders are only called to listen to the voices of people they agree with. Some movement has been made on this front with a few recent appointments being advertised and applications accepted, but it will be a long time and a lot of concerted effort before we repair our reputation, especially because the folks appointed recently, though they are qualified for the positions they were appointed to, are still members of the good old boys club that has held power in our organization since the beginning. The trend toward cronyism also feeds into the pervasiveness of and lack of response to bullying and spiritual abuses, which I go into below. 
  • Lack of Transparency. Plainly, there is not enough communication from the Mother Grove to the membership. In general, it's hard for the average member to know what is being discussed, how change happens, and who to reach out to for help. Quarterly and annual reports are hard to find on the website and harder to read if you aren't familiar with reading them. Minutes from the mother grove meetings can sometimes have delayed releases, and (to my knowledge) their release is not widely or consistently advertised in either the ADF pages, facebook groups, or our email lists. Despite the improvement on this issue, there is still a long way to go before the average member feels like they have any understanding of how ADF functions as an organism. 
  • Need for Organizational Review. There was also some very brief discussion, connected to our SWOT analysis, of performing a full organizational review of how our groups and subgroups work together, but there has been little movement on that front. And seriously? Y'all, we're a mess. I spent six hours working on an organizational chart and I still missed an entire class of subgroup the first time.  This is not sustainable, and it makes us completely inaccessible for new and lay members. It shouldn't take six hours and charting software to know who to reach out to.  It is clear that the organization was assembled piecemeal as needs arose, but the current structure is not tenable and we need to do some serious pruning. 
  • Bullying & Spiritual Abuse, coupled with an ineffective Conflict Resolution Policy.  This is an issue touched on most poignantly in the statement from Cook about her experience as Member's Advocate and the resignation from Nicole Egelhoff from that same position several years ago.  Diane "Emerald" Bronowicz also referenced this difficult issue in her resignation as an Initiate.  To summarize, our system actively harms victims of abuse and privileges people who perpetrate abuses, especially when those people hold leadership positions in our organization. Over the past few years, much has been made of the need to reform our conflict resolution policies, but there has been very little, if any, progress on that front. This is also another example of how, if progress is being made, it is not being shared with the members in an adequately transparent way. 
  • Consolidation of Power into the Clergy. It is absolutely unbelievable to me that the Arch Druid and Vice Arch Druid are required to be a member of the clergy and that they also are the head of the clergy council. There are many ways to lead besides being clergy, and ADF needs to recognize that. The head of the mother grove need not be the Druid Pope, as the head of the Clergy Council might be, they need to be a director and capable of running the day to day actions of the organization. Not every person qualified to do that is clergy, and not every clergy person is qualified to run a non-profit. Our roles need to reflect that. 
  • Poor Response to Current Events. The two major incidents that come immediately to mind are Scott Holbrook's conviction for "Dissemination of Obscenities" and the allegations of Child Sex Abuse against our founder, Issac Bonewits. Both of these did elicit responses from the Mother Grove at the time, but there were concerns about the appropriateness of those responses which cost us members AND reputation. 
  • Racism. Despite a dramatic increase in racist violence coming from folks connected to neofascist movements rooted in modern paganism, ADF has, as a whole, done very little to condemn these actions on a global scale. The organization does consider itself to be "non-racist" (which, importantly, is very different from anti-racist) but does nothing to condemn hate crimes and terrorism.  In addition, conversations about colonialism, cultural appropriation, and the need to elevate the voices of people of color in our community have sputtered out. This is, of course, a huge challenge given the international nature of our organization, but it is nonetheless vital to ensure we stand on the right side of history. 
  • Sexism. I mentioned earlier our "Good Old Boys Club." Our organization has never had a woman hold the position of Arch Druid, which means our clergy council has never been led by a woman.  Thanks to the cronyism I mentioned before, this means most of our organization has historically been led by men. With five of the women who might someday have been able to do that having just left this organization, this problem is not going to get better without some serious effort. 

ADF, like every organization, has a lot of disagreement among the membership about where ADF ought to go in the future or how ADF ought to respond to current events. How do we respond to the concerns from the people who either have already left or are in the process of leaving our organization? Should we address them? You can probably tell from how I've framed this list where I fall on these issues, but there is disagreement among the members. Not everybody is aware of these issues in a meaningful way that they can feel in their souls, and they just aren't ready to make those changes to their personal philosophies. 

After all, as we say, Druidry isn't about what we believe, it's about what we do. Together. 

Ultimately the truth is that what we do reflects both who we are and also who we aspire to be.   Our actions, whether we intend them to or not, reflect our beliefs. With these resignations, issues that have been festering in our group for at least the last five years have been brought to a head. Our organization is described as a mighty oak, and we often bring out the platitude that change happens "as fast as a speeding oak." When I ran for Northeast Regional Druid, I did not hide my distaste for this platitude. Our members deserve better, and it is far past time to do that. Do we accept that our oak has sickness in its branches and work toward healing the tree--even if that means we have to prune some things we've loved in the past that have grown diseased? Or will we risk the death of the entire oak?

ADF is at a moment in our growth where the people in leadership positions MUST decide the kind of organization that we want to be. There's much hemming and hawing about what to do, and sometimes we get stuck there and can't progress, so in the next week or so I'm planning to make a list of the changes that I, personally, would like to see happen in ADF.  In the meantime, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the Mother Grove. They have all the tools they need to do this: they can look at the SWOT analysis that was recently completed, they have a robust group of leaders across more groups than I can count who are willing and ready to Do The Work, and they have deeply committed members who want to see ADF grow through this and thrive. I truly hope the Mother Grove takes advantage of this opportunity to grow and to learn, as it's already too little, too late for an uncountable number of our ex-members.


EDIT (11/5/19 at 9:30 PM): This post has been edited to remove the statistic that 25% of the initiates had resigned. This was a misunderstanding and does not reflect the actual numbers. There were 22 Initiates. Only one has resigned. 

EDIT (11/6/19 at 12:45 PM): This post has been updated to reflect that Bronowicz' statement has now been made public.