Unpacking a Community Crisis - Part 2

The Open Hearth Foundation has had as it primary charter the founding of a pagan community center here in the Washington DC metro area. I had been an early critic and skeptic, because as a native Washingtonian, I have longed been irritated when things are named after my city but actually reside in Maryland or Virginia.

So in January of last year when I was invited to a local leadership summit held by OHF, I was surprised when we reached general consensus that the center actually be located in DC. At the time, I was also greatly impressed with the leadership of Iris Firemoon and Maria Aquila. They listened to our feedback, frustrations and hope.

So when the center opened this year, I was so proud of OHF but most especially damn proud of the two of them. They kept their promise and they manifested our dreams. Iris, a charismatic, hard working and seasoned leader, lead the board of OHF into its greatest success.

But OHF failed Iris in many ways.

As a community, we have a responsibility to support and protect our up and coming leaders. In my years of running groups as small as a coven to statewide organizations like Maryland NOW with close to 10,000 members, the one thing that came up over and over again was how do we grow and nurture our leaders.

One of the ways we can harm our leaders is to treat them as if they are not human or have human foibles. We do this by not building in feedback loops, open and transparent processes, and escalation procedures. These procedures not only protect the organization, they also protect our leaders from themselves.

And we failed Iris when she fell in love. We failed to protect her from herself. There should have been an automatic process that clicked in to insure that Sean was removed from a leadership position. The other concerned and alarmed board members should have known who to contact to voice their concerns. Members of the community, including myself, should have known who to contact to express our concerns.

OHF has taken steps to correct these issues, but it is way too late to help Iris. And folks like myself, who continually voiced concerns informally, waited too late to make them public. As a result we, all of us, failed Iris.

And so here we are with Iris in great pain having suffered emotional and mental abuse, feeling forced out of leadership just as she achieved her greatest success, and feeling as if her only option was to publicly air her grievances against her husband and the board of the organization she once ran.

You will notice that I never faulted Iris for blogging her pain. As a feminist, I will never seek to silence a woman. I will hold people accountable when they overstep the boundaries of fair play, or when they manipulate processes or people toward the achievement of personal goals. But I will never seek to silence a woman who speaks her truth.

This is also why I can hold compassion for Iris as a woman while critiquing her actions as a leader.

And this is a key point.

Many folks acted as if this crisis was simply about either being for Iris or against her. This is the same polarization we hear from the Tea Party, the Religious Right and the current leadership of the Republican Party.

But we as pagans can ill afford that kind of politics inside our communities. We should be able to be more nuanced. Our paths, though differing all honor the earth, the seasons, the masculine and the feminine, and the light and the dark. We literally stand at the crossroads and find ways to dance and make magick together.

And so we need to be very careful when we find ourselves being pulled for or against anything. We need to find ways to be not simply for-or-against but more broadly both/and.

I both admire and respect Iris, and believe that things went too far in the subsequent attacks on Sean. Sean may be a lot of things, both admirable and deadly. But he is also a human being. And with the attacks on him and OHF, it opened up a negative spiral that led many folks who otherwise hold to standards of acceptable behavior in public to begin making lewd, nasty and horrible statements about Iris, Sean, OHF and Firefly.

And it was because of those statements that I felt I had to step in to protect all of them in my original post. My early posts were spells to stop folks from filling the airwaves with so much toxic energy that serious debate and discussion of the core issues was extremely difficult. People were un-friending long time colleagues within social media at the drop of the hat without listening to each other or respecting legitimate differences of opinion or perspectives.

It is a sad day when members of a community cannot respectfully disagree with one another. And what hurts most of all is that we could have avoided the entire episode if we had treated Iris and her leadership as the precious natural resource it was.

And so let me be the first to apologize to Iris for not having her back when she needed us the most. I am sorry I did not sit down with you and express my concerns. I am sorry I felt compelled to just offer words of support whenever I saw you without providing real support when I knew you needed it.

I know you are angry with me right now, but that is fine and in many ways quite healthy. Be as angry as you need to be, I can take it. But also know that I will also be your biggest supporter when and if you are ready to step back in the sphere of local leadership. We at the Order are praying for your continued healing, an easy delivery of a healthy baby, and that your spiritual community continues to hold and protect you.

You have my respect and love.

Katrina Messenger

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