telling a member that his behavior at our events is ruining it for everyone else

A reader writes:

I work as administrator at a church and we have a delicate situation.

One of our members, James, frequently attends our young professionals events, despite having aged out of the 20s and 30s demographic.

What makes this difficult is he is a very uncomfortable person to interact with. He talks exclusively about himself and his general importance in the world, doesn’t read any social cues that the listener wants to escape, and will ask visiting teachers “questions” that are more often long winded anecdotes about himself.

This is all uncomfortable enough to experience, but what’s pushing it farther is his fixation on women. He’s not married and will glom onto any single woman who walks in. He’s draped his arm across the back of a woman’s chair, follows one woman around the room as she greets people, and somehow how managed to turn a discussion of capital punishment with me into a strange monologue about dating. Adding this to his tendency to corner people, many women are uncomfortable. His actions aren’t violent or gasp-worthy offensive but deeply uncomfortable. At this point, women who know him immediate try to maneuver away and women who are new are friendly until they can’t take it anymore.

The woman in charge of these events, Melissa, confronted him about this and he snapped back that his membership supports the church and he can attend anything he wants. He then complained to the pastor, but the pastor knows James’s reputation is hurting our events and is trying to gently steer him away from attending.

Now Melissa is leaving the church for a new job and her duties are falling to me. I’m worried that James will see that Evil Melissa Who So Offended Him is gone and will cheerfully ignore everything that she said. How can I go forward as the person in charge of these events?

He is a dues-paying member and these are public events. He may have some sort of psychological disorder that causes his behavior but his behavior is still problematic and when someone called him on it, his response wasn’t “Oh wow! I had no idea. I definitely don’t want to creep people out so I’ll work on that.” It was “Screw you, my membership entitles me to do what I want.” Any guidance?

Tell him that in fact his membership does not entitle him to do what he wants.

You’re getting hung up on the fact that these are public events that anyone is allowed to attend, and that he’s a member of the church … but neither of those things mean that people can behave however they want and still get to attend. If you had a dues-paying member who showed up to every event naked from the waist down, even after being talked to, you’d probably find a way to say, “Hey, we can’t let you attend these anymore,” right? Or someone who yodeled at the top of their lungs through every speaker and refused to stop?

You’re allowed to set standards of behavior, and it’s really, really normal for groups of this sort to tell disruptive members that they can’t continue to attend unless they can follow some minimal rules of engagement and not ruin the experience for others.

It’s completely reasonable for you to say, “We’ve had complaints about your behavior at these events and cannot allow you to attend anymore.” Of course, as a church, you probably have a particular interest in being as kind as possible, so you could give him a final warning before barring him completely — “If you want to continue coming to these events in the future, we need you to stop these behaviors; otherwise, we won’t be able to allow you to attend.” Frankly, I’m skeptical that he’ll be able to turn it around, but it might be more palatable to be able to say that you did warn him and the problems continued.

Now, to be clear, some of James’s behavior sounds like the sort of thing that’s annoying but not worth banning him over. His enormous interest in himself and his own importance? Obnoxious, but not ban-worthy. (It might be if this were, say, a private book club — but for church events, probably not.) But you can certainly require that he not dominate visiting teachers’ presentations with lengthy speeches about himself, and that he not hassle women.

It’s also reasonable to tell him that the young professional events are for people early in their careers and that you’re limiting the group to people under 35 or whatever cut-off you choose.

If he protests that he’s a dues-paying member, offer to refund his dues.

Of course, to make this work, you’ll need to first make sure that your pastor has your back and isn’t going to reverse your decision.

Also, I think you nailed the most telling element here when you wrote this: “When someone called him on it, his response wasn’t ‘Oh wow! I had no idea. I definitely don’t want to creep people out so I’ll work on that.’ It was ‘Screw you, my membership entitles me to do what I want.’” That’s really, really key in how you proceed. If he’d said something more in the first category, it would be compassionate to give him some benefit of the doubt — that he means well, has poor social skills, but genuinely cares about not offending or creeping people out. The response you’ve gotten, though, says that’s not the case.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 445 comments… read them below }

  1. caryatid*


    a person worth giving the benefit of the doubt would’ve responded with mortification, or at least a willingness to correct their behavior.

    a person with poor intentions will respond with defensiveness.

    do not feel bad about laying down the rules with this dude!

  2. Mando Diao*

    This man is harassing women half his age and the church is more interested in not offending him than they are in taking the women at face value. Don’t give him another chance. Women don’t deserve to have their comfort and safety used as someone else’s learning experience. He’s a creepy older guy who attends events for fresh grass and then proceeds to follow the young women around. Don’t let the women think that their church cares more about him than them. They are paying dues too.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I want to be fair to the letter-writer here. She sounds like she’s very much taking the women’s complaints at face value and is trying to figure out how to navigate it.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Yes, it sounds like she’s been dumped into a situation that should’ve been managed a LONG time ago. I feel bad for her but glad that she wants to manage it.

      2. Wehaf*

        I do think this framing can be useful in figuring out how to address it, though. He’s a member of the church? So are these some of these women, presumably, and they’re entitled to attend events without being harassed.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Yes, this. Even if it was one complaint, one member’s right to feel safe and secure is more important than one member’s right to pester whomever they want. But the fact that multiple women are complaining is important, and remember, just like in retail or the service industry, for every one complaint you hear, there are probably many more who just gave up.

          1. Collarbone High*

            Yep, I wonder how many people have stopped going to these events because of James’s behavior? I would, and I likely wouldn’t make an official complaint — I’d just ghost. They’re shooting themselves in the foot.

            1. Ife*

              I would stop showing up too, without making a complaint. Worse yet, I would probably avoid other events at the church/get a negative impression of it as whole, especially if I was a new member and didn’t have a lot of other experiences to go on.

              So yes, shut this guy down, because it *will* negatively impact the rest of the church. Outline specific behaviors that need to stop as well as the overall pattern, and if he does not improve, tell him he is no longer welcome at the events.

            2. Rubyrose*

              I quit going to a church event because this one guy would totally dominate the discussion telling us how his church was the best in the state (group was made up of people from different churches). When I tried calling him on it once, the leader supported the guy. I was gone, not just from the group, but the church.

            3. Honeybee*

              I was thinking the same thing. I wouldn’t have complained, I would’ve just stopped coming, and stopped paying my dues too.

        2. INTP*

          Exactly, and from a global perspective, the tendency to ignore or attempt to non-confrontationally manage individuals like this – which is very common, I’m not faulting the OP for this – actually damages women’s work for equality in the workplace. It’s hard to network productively while you’re simultaneously dodging creeps, in a setting where you can’t loudly call them out and tell them to go away (like I might do at, say, the gym) without being considered the unprofessional one yourself. This isn’t a minor social annoyance, it’s a serious problem creating a situation where women, who pay the same dues as the men, are prevented from making the same professional gains from the events. It’s worth some confrontation and disruption to kick him out.

          1. Lucky*

            I want to bold, underline and highlight your response. But I don’t know how to do that, so I’ll just shout “THIS!”

          2. AGirlCalledFriday*

            Exactly this. I’m actually really upset reading this post, because:

            1. This man knows EXACTLY what he’s doing. He knows women want to escape. He knows he’s cornering them.
            2. He’s legit preying on younger women at a church BECAUSE it’s at a church and he feels it’s a place where he’s more likely to be trusted.
            3. This is something he’s done before, given the immediate defensiveness. He has already thought out what he would say if he were to be confronted, and he’s likely heard this in other areas of his life.
            4. Men like this – or rather, people like this – are dependent on others making excuses for them, shrugging off behaviors, going away quietly, and being fearful of confrontation.
            5. The women coming to these events are more likely to ignore misgivings and place trust in someone more readily because the event is sponsored by a church.

            All in all, this person isn’t someone who is just confused about the way he’s coming off to people, who has the best intentions at heart. He knows he shouldn’t be there, he knows what he’s doing is wrong. Not to be inappropriate here, but if you replaced the term “women” with “children”, it would be much more obvious that what this guy is doing is not only wrong but potentially dangerous…yet when it’s happening to women within this congregation the immediate response is not “how do we immediately protect these women/members of our church” but “how do we gently nudge this person into better behavior while simultaneously making excuses for them”. It’s behavior like this that allows rapists to move about in society and not pay for their crimes. That isn’t meant as a judgment – I know the OP is looking for ways to get this person out of the group, and I’m not calling this person a potential rapist…I’m merely pointing out that behavior such as this and the tendency to overlook or excuse it can result in disaster and it’s beneficial to be mindful of that.

        3. LQ*

          All of this! This is what I’ve been trying to figure out how to say. Why is it that his comfort is more important than theirs? They are members of the church, how would the church feel if they left because of this man? You have a bunch of people (because it sounds like not just one or two) who are being made uncomfortable at a church event. That seems like something the church should care about.

      3. KR*

        I agree with Alison here. It sounds like the church is trying hard in their own way to steer this man away from attending these events. It’s unfair to make the assumption that they aren’t doing anything about it.

        1. Not me*

          I thought so, too. I completely agree with Mando Diao’s comment, I also think it looks like the church is taking this seriously but hasn’t made a move just yet. And while if I were one of those women I would want a response from the church yesterday, it’s good that they’re thinking it through, too.

        2. INTP*

          I think it’s easy for people to get frustrated just because it’s a very common tendency for groups to want to “steer” people like this “in their own way”, while someone causing other types of major disruptions would be unapologetically banned. And young women are the ones who suffer from this tendency, and tend to be affected in many settings over the course of their lives because it’s a natural organizational tendency to prefer to avoid confrontation with one older, social or financial clout-holding male than swiftly act in the best interests of the young women who are being polite about the situation.

          I do think the OP and church are taking it seriously in their own way, but I also think it’s worth trying to frame this in a perspective that shows why that way is wrong because it’s such a pervasive type of sexism in society.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Not to sound sexist myself, but maybe the Pastor needs to step in and speak with this guy. He’s already shown a disrespectful attitude towards women, so just maybe he’d take it more seriously from the head honcho. But this guy sounds like a narciccist so I’m not even sure if anyone will get through to him.

            1. INTP*

              Not sexist, I agree with that. Not just because the pastor is a man, but because he is a person in charge. To this entitled type of person, the fact that no one else is getting involved lets him believe that it’s just that one unreasonable bureaucrat on a power trip who thinks he can be told what to do. Maybe he’s too narcissistic to get through to at all, but you’ve got a much better chance if there is a higher level person with authority telling him “This isn’t okay and no, paying membership dues doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.”

              1. TootsNYC*

                Some congregations have lay leaders; mine has a governing board with a president, AND it had a “lay ministries” board (which administers programs), with a chairman.
                In my church, both of those people would be available to exert their authority. Both over telling him he has to stop touching people and must keep his distance and should really be quiet to let other people speak, AND to tell him that he may not attend these events anymore, at all.

                Would they? I think so.

              2. JennaLynn*

                I know this is a very late reply, but I just want to say to INTP that if you have a newsletter, I’d like to subscribe to it or a group you belong to, I’d like to join it because you speak (type) so exactly what I’m so bad at saying that I want you as my role model.

      4. neverjaunty*

        She does. I suspect the comments are more out of frustration at how common this problem is, and how such discussions tend to get centered on “how can we avoid being hurtful to Fergus” rather than on the women he creeps on. OP’s wanting to solve this was very refreshing.

        1. fposte*

          I think churches can struggle particularly with this, because they hate to exclude anybody–I’ve heard of several instances where they just couldn’t face the fact that by including an offender they excluded the offendees.

          1. Chriama*

            This is exactly it. It’s a unique problem in an organization whose very mandate is to demonstrate love and inclusiveness. I posted further down about how this played out for me as a Sunday school teacher, but I think church administrators should be comfortable calling people out for certain behaviour and not feel like this means they’re being hypocritical.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Yes and as a member he’s supposed to adhere to their beliefs and behaviors. I’m sure there’s some scripture they could use or something.

          2. AVP*

            I suspect this happens in part because the offenders are likely to be more vocal or prominent than the offendees – it’s easier to make the One Loud Person happy and hope the others quietly disappear or get used to him than it is to make the offender go away.

            Offenders sometimes know this and use it their advantage but that’s a story for a different day.

      5. Mando Diao*

        My perspective is being directed by the fact that this event isn’t for him anyway. A man in his 40s going to an event that has nothing to do with him, where one of his main goals is to get close to young women? I’m appalled. Someone already commented on his behavior and his response was the already cited “screw you.” That was his one chance to shape up, and he blew it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Agreed. But this:

          Of course, to make this work, you’ll need to first make sure that your pastor has your back and isn’t going to reverse your decision.

          The OP absolutely needs to make sure the pastor will back her up, because James WILL go to him and complain. In fact, it’s probably better for them both to have the conversation with him.

          He might get so offended he leaves the church altogether. In this situation, I would consider that a win (though it sucks for the next congregation that gets stuck with him).

          1. The Butcher of Luverne*

            Agree. Both OP and Pastor let James know the New Rules, and I suggest that OP offers Pastor a couple scripts for reacting when James starts up with the bluster.

          2. Chriama*

            > He might get so offended he leaves the church altogether.

            If a pastor knew someone in their church was having an affair and called them out on it, that person might leave out of anger or embarrassment. But that doesn’t mean that if you know someone is doing something wrong you don’t say anything. One of the purposes of a church is to hold each other morally accountable. It’s not just about attending weekly services and catching up on gossip afterwards.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              True story: my parents were members of a church for over twenty years. My dad was the treasurer and started having an affair with another woman who was an admin and helped count the money (also married). The board became privy to it after them making googly eyes and flirting during meetings. The other members were in an uproar over the propriety, etc so the Pastor called both parties into his office and said either my parents or her and her husband needed to leave the church. And trust me, they could not afford to lose my dad’s 10% tithe, but the pastor did it anyhow. (It was the other couple that ended up leaving)

              1. Chriama*

                Wow. I don’t know that I would have given that particular ultimatum but I’ve never been in that situation so who can say. Either way, I’m glad the pastor called them out on it. When you join a church you commit to holding each other accountable for living out your faith.

              1. Chriama*

                Haha, I know you pointed that out as a potential benefit. I just wanted to point out for the OP’s sake that this shouldn’t change their behaviour, because they do have an obligation to (lovingly and respectfully) hold him accountable.

      6. bridget*

        I think the OP totally gets it, but she does seem to suggest that she’s not sure what the best way to respond is when The Creep says “but but but I pay DUES!”, or how to make the argument if the pastor seems reluctant when she talks to him. “Everybody else at these events pays dues, too,” is easy to articulate and understand, and really puts his “I’m a member” argument into the appropriate perspective.

  3. Mike C.*

    Oh god, not that guy. I thought they eventually grew out of such terrible behavior.

    Alison is right, once you get the pastor to back you, you need to be clear and firm with jerks like these. They’re all bark and no bite.

    Best of luck and for other guys reading this, please don’t be this guy!

    1. Kate M*

      Ha nope. There are plenty of creeps that never stop being creepy, even as they get older. (In fact, it gets even worse as they get older, because a lot of times they’re able to use their age/status to intimidate younger women into not complaining). The only thing that will stop people like this is organizations taking a strong stand on it, like the OP is trying to do. (I will say I get that the pastor is trying to be nice and “steer” the guy away from events, but it’s soft tactics like this that make it possible for these guys to keep doing this. The only thing that works is a hard NO and setting firm boundaries. They aren’t going to stop on their own.)

      1. Kate M*

        Also, this conversation is hitting so many buttons for me, because I have dealt with this SO MANY TIMES in my life (as have most women). The most recent was a guy I volunteered with who, when I was trying to get around him in small spaces, would just stand there and make me brush up against him to get around him. It was so uncomfortable. Or he would just stand too close all the time and leer. I finally just stopped getting near him and started saying (pretty rudely) EXCUSE ME a couple of times when I was trying to get around, to make him move. But it’s stuff like this that you can’t really report, or else higher ups look at you either like you’re crazy, or like they understand but can’t really do anything about it (usually other women who have dealt with this). It’s like, what are you actually going to cite he did wrong? Stood a little too close? Didn’t move out of your way enough? It’s tactics like these that let guys keep doing this.

        1. Master Bean Counter*

          Guys that stand to close to me end up with elbow jabs, crushed feet and other bruises. I’m a klutz and when I say back up I need more room I mean it.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            A couple of pre-teen boys learned once that you should not intentionally and repeatedly get too close to a figure skater who’s going into a spin, because it involves pulling your elbow back in *exactly* the same motion as a karate elbow jab. And gosh, I figure skate *and* do karate. Oops!

        2. my two cents*

          the worst-offending harassers i’ve encountered over the years were colleagues/customers at trade shows or conferences while i had staffed the company booth.

          while i was saying a short technical spiel, one guy just silently reached towards me and flipped my name badge that hung just above my stomach (i’m short). there was another guy who did an ultra-awkward sweep of a tattoo on the back of my upper arm with his finger tips and then flounced out of the booth. there was another guy who appeared to not speak english, but was gesturing something about taking pictures. i said “oh sure, pictures of the booth are fine.” dude threw an arm around me and pulled me in, took a selfie of ‘us’, and then left the booth before i could even process what happened.

          someone has to be ultra-blunt with the creeper…and it might carry more weight if a guy delivered such a message. a creeper lacking boundaries like this dude may not take a woman seriously.

          1. STEM Lady*

            YES. I don’t know what it is about conferences/tradeshows that enhances creepy and inappropriate behavior. So many uncomfortable experiences while staffing booths.

            1. TootsNYC*

              It’s the “pretty girl standing by the automobile” syndrome, where the booth attendants are basically presented as objects. That bleeds over.

        3. INTP*

          Exactly. And a lot of them don’t even get physical and just, like, socially assault women, like the OP is describing – accost them with conversation, deliberately ignore all social cues that she’s done with the conversation even down to the pretty aggressive, uncomfortable cues to use (following her if she walks away, beginning a new topic if she closes a subject and excuses herself, etc), quite literally force them to engage in interaction since the alternative is to create a major social scene by loudly saying “Go away and don’t speak to me,” and then when the woman tries to describe it, she looks simultaneously mean for complaining about him and overly passive for not being able to just excuse herself and get away from him. They know exactly how to force themselves on you without you being able to complain that they physically touched you or made an advance or said anything sexually inappropriate.

        4. Kat M*

          Yup. I’ve had so many dance partners like this.

          Sure, my boob is going to hit your arm sometimes. It’s usually my fault! But the constant “accidental” boob rubbage isn’t just because you’re a lousy lead (I can deal with those), it’s because you’re doing it deliberately.

          I have a nasty habit of smiling and making eye contact with the people I dance with. Because, hey, we’re dancing and that makes me super happy. It tends to give folks the wrong idea, unfortunately. :P

      2. Ineloquent*

        I had to deal with this at church once, only it was when I was like 12, and the guy habitually creeped on the pre-adolescent female crowd. Yeah, he was an older guy. Yeah, he did it for years, and it was known at all local levels. Yeah, he was a sex offender (with a really, really valid reason for being on the list). No, the church did nothing to curtail his creepy tendencies.

    2. INTP*

      They never grow out of it, unfortunately – if anything, they get worse. The vast majority of “Man prone to cornering women in their 20s into forced conversation and ignoring all social cues to go away including the woman literally walking away” culprits are middle aged, ime. I think men don’t know about them often because usually the powers that be subtly advise us to ignore him while they ineffectively attempt to “steer him” into good behavior without confrontation. Hence the criticism of the OP you can sense in some of the replies here. (Which I don’t think is personal, just a heads up that hey, this technique doesn’t work, everyone tries it and the women suffer for management to avoid confrontation with a lech.)

      1. caryatid*

        yeah – and there is usually a reason this is directed at younger women, presumably because many of them haven’t learned they are allowed to be “rude” or less than accommodating to older creepy dudes.

        1. INTP*

          And they don’t have the social or financial clout to stand up to the organization in the way that the man does. A 25 year old woman who threatened to revoke her membership because she was sexually harassed by a man who “just wanted conversation,” as many creep apologists would say, would be seen as insane or a liability because who else might she accuse of sexual harassment? Whereas, as evidenced by the letter, people take 55 year old creeps quite seriously when they claim their rights are being infringed on. It’s not just that the women haven’t learned to be as assertive yet – they can’t afford to be as assertive without costs to themselves, especially in arenas in which they’re judged professionally. And even if they were willing to take that hit, if the 55 year old creep has a lot more money, there’s a good chance the org won’t work as hard to keep them around as him. (And contrary to popular belief, these creeps aren’t poor guys with mental disorders and no social inhibitions in any situation. In my experience, they’re quite financially and professionally successful. They have a definite filter around people they don’t perceive as easy victims.)

          1. OhNo*

            Fantastic commentary, and you are so right.

            One of the big issues in situations like this is that women get hit harder for being assertive than men do. But most people don’t realize that, so the advice from those on the outside is always “be assertive!”, with no acknowledgement of the fact that the consequences of that advice are different for some people.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              I hate to say it , but especially in very traditional Christian churches that still value traditional gender roles. I hope the Op’s church is a little more progressive and maybe they could even put together a women’s group where they can discuss boundaries and such.

            2. INFJ*

              Yes! When I took a self defense course, the instructor was generally great, but I was a little miffed when he gave us women the “be more assertive!” talk. Yeah… you’re a white male cop. Easy for you to say.

              1. Faith*

                I think the point is that *unexpected* assertiveness throws creeps/aggressors off. Most choose people who they think will not give them problems – so they would skip the tough type and go with someone who comes across as unlikely to make a scene. Make a scene and you’ve thrown their scenario in a disarray.

                1. ancolie*

                  Unexpected assertiveness MAY throw creeps/aggressors off. It also may not. It also may make them pissed off and more threatening. It’s not a guarantee by any means.

          2. Meeeeeeeee*

            “who else might she accuse of sexual harassment?”
            I think this unfortunately plays a bigger part than we’d like to acknowledge sometimes. Slightly creepy guys who slightly push boundaries like to protect very creepy guys who really push boundaries, regardless of whether the former -intend- to push boundaries.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              And you also have the dudes who’ve bought into the paranoia that every young woman is just itching to make a false rape claim etc, or just find it easier to empathise with another guy (thinking “oh no, what if this happens to me when I comment the waitress looks well today?” while ignoring that that ISN’T what the creepy ones are doing) than it is to empathise with a whole load of younger women saying the same thing.

              1. TootsNYC*

                my husband apparently has this worry! And he’s so far away from ever personally being at risk for it.

        2. INTP*

          And they can’t be as assertive with the organizations enabling these guys, for that matter. A 25 year old woman who threatened to leave the group because she was being sexually harassed by a guy who “just wanted conversation,” as a creep apologist would say, would be seen as crazy, full of herself, or a liability who might accuse anyone of sexual harassment for harmless behavior. As evidenced by the OP, though, problematic older men are taken more seriously when they claim their rights are being violated. Add in the complication that 55 year old creeps tend to have more money to give organizations than their 25 year old victims, and the women are pretty powerless in the situation, even if they are personally capable of being assertive to the creep himself.

        3. OriginalYup*

          Also, many older creeps rely on their age to disguise their ill intent under our social notions of older people, e.g. exempt from social norms, due particular respect, stereotypes about sexuality. “Of course I wasn’t groping her, she’s young enough to be my granddaughter! I’m just a harmless kindly greybeard who mysteriously harasses only people in X subgroup and leaves everyone else alone.”

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Or…”she’s not that hot, but she thinks every guy is after her..::wink, wink, nudge, nudge::.”

          2. I'm a Little Teapot*


            It doesn’t sound like James is old enough for that to apply (LW said he’s aged out of the 20s-30s group, which sounds like he’s probably in his 40s), but yes, some of the grossest creepers I’ve met have been 60+ and I strongly suspect a lot of them deliberately use their age to get away with it.

          3. INTP*

            “I was just giving her a compliment! In my day women appreciated this, but I guess I just don’t know how to speak to these entitled kids.” Said by an epitome of male sexual entitlement, of course.

      2. AVP*

        Occasionally my male colleagues will ask me about new freelancers that we’re working with (I am in charge of hiring them but coworkers often refer people). Sometimes it goes like this:

        “What do you think about Johnny?”

        “He keeps trying to give all of the interns massages and I’ve had to talk sternly to him twice in the last hour and send him outside where he can’t bother anyone. I’ve gotten six complaints and I’m never hiring him again. How have you not noticed?!”

        They NEVER notice. I mean, we’re all busy working and it’s not their job to, but I’m still always floored by how obvious it is to me when we have a total Creep in our midst and it’s like a language that only women understand.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Adding my voice to the chorus– this kind of stuff usually gets worse, not better. Happened in an organization that was (still is, though I moved away) a huge part of my life. They have a pretty bad creeper who is now in his 60s and still pretty creepy, though it’s not quite James level. When he went after a girlfriend of mine, she sent an email to him (and copied me– I was on the board at the time) and told him never to contact her again. He stopped and managed to tone things down quite a bit, so it worked, but she is the rare young woman who will flat out say something like that without skirting the issue. I was ready to escalate if she wanted me to, but I was also on a board with a bunch of people who “felt bad” for this guy. It’s a tough battle.

        1. INTP*

          They are able to get this sympathy in a totally calculated way, and that sympathy causes people who could put a stop to them to keep enabling them. Ignore every socially acceptable social cue that a woman gives you so that her only options are to keep talking to you as long as you wish or do something socially unacceptable, “mean,” and probably public-scene-causing. Then innocently state that you were only trying to talk to her and she blew up at you. She’ll sound insane if she says “Well, first I tried changing the subject or saying I needed to go and he just kept talking until I yelled “f- off!” and ran away.”

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      Yep, this guy. We had him in my church’s young-adult group. He was about 50 at the time. At my church, the leadership gave zero f**ks about the internal dynamics of the young-adult group, so we handled it ourselves by being strict about the 18-35 age limit of the group. That is the non-confrontational way, and the only path available if you don’t have any authority outside the group.

      I think it’s better, if you can, to enforce it individually with the person who’s causing the problem. The This Guys of the world know exactly what they’re doing, which is why all the gentle hinting doesn’t work. Making it clear that the church can and will exclude people from events if they’re disruptive works for all situations, and doesn’t exclude people who would be good additions to a group despite not technically qualifying.

      1. AMG*

        That’s what frustrates me–they know and count on all the awkwardness to continue to behave however they choose. They don’t count on a woman stopping, staring them right in the eye and telling him to knock it off or they are going to HR. Not that I ever did that with the office Eyebrow Creeper (waggles his eyebrows up and down while creeping).

      2. INTP*

        I agree with the second paragraph, if the OP has the authority to ban him individually. A flat ban on all people outside of the age group would deprive the group of potentially valuable business contacts that might show up because they genuinely enjoy mentoring young people.

    5. Chriama*

      As a young woman, I’ve encountered that guy too many times. It’s borderline predator behaviour, where they seek out places with lots of young women who have their guard down and see how far they can push their boundaries. I’m sure there are other places he appears, but young adult church groups is like Christmas or something for him.

      1. Elizabeth S.*

        We had a This Guy where I used to work (he’s since retired). He was always looking for opportunities to creep on female coworkers, to the point of being forbidden by his boss to go into the row of cubes where another young woman and I sat. But he cornered me, once, in the recovery area at the workplace blood drive. I don’t think he had given blood himself – just thought the canteen area, where people are supposed to sit and wait *until they stop feeling lightheaded and woozy* was a nice place to hang out and make friendly chit-chat with women.

        That only happened once, as far as I know, but GEEZ. He’s retired now…

        1. Elizabeth S.*

          (I realized immediately after hitting “Submit” that I mentioned he was retired twice. I did that on purpose, yeah. To emphasize how much he isn’t missed. That’s the ticket.)

          1. Chriama*

            Oh yeah. I’ve thankfully never worked with anyone like that. But we used to have a space with coffee and cookies between the 9 and 11 am services and I remember hiding in the bathroom when I saw him coming because I just could *not* talk to him anymore.

        2. INTP*

          Yeah, they totally have a way of popping up where women are limited in their ability to physically move away from them. I’ve had the issue most often at the gym – and on a treadmill you can just put in earbuds and ignore them if you can steel yourself against the social awkwardness of everyone seeing you blatantly ignoring someone who is speaking to you and motioning for you to remove your headphones, but I had one in the pool when I was aquajogging with an ankle injury and that was an impossible situation. Difficult to ignore someone when you’re doing an activity that doesn’t require any concentration and you have no headphones and you’re in a big pool area where everyone will hear if you tell him to stop speaking to you. Luckily no coworkers creepy enough to prey on women who are recovering from having blood drawn though!

          1. Chriama*

            It actually happens for me a lot when I’m taking public transportation or at the mall. One time I got off the train because I didn’t want to sit next to this guy anymore but I was too embarrassed to tell him to shut up or just move to another seat. Now I drive to work and hang out in my room on weekends so I’m ‘safe’ lol. Also it happens less in the suburbs than urban environments.

            1. Rana*

              Yeah, I had one of those creeps harass me on a bus when I had my infant daughter strapped to me. I still remember bluntly, if politely, telling him that I wasn’t interested in his creepy stories and him retorting “I don’t care” before launching into another one.

              What was nice – and somewhat unusual – is that the rest of the bus riders rallied around me and my baby. One woman engaged me in conversation to make it easier to “ignore” him, some men stood very close to him in an intimidating way, and when he happened to be near an exit when the bus stopped, several people stared at him fiercely until he got off. It turned what had been a very upsetting situation into one where I was feeling good about humanity and the community I live in.

          2. DellaAndTheDealer*

            I’ve gotten to the point that “I’m too old for this shit” and tell them “don’t talk to me.”

            Not the safest thing for sure but like I said Im kinda old and I’m just not taking it anymore.

            Oh and ladies…yeah apparently “old” doesn’t stop them even if they are young(ish). Sorry but it *doesn’t* get better. :/

    6. JMegan*

      Ooh, I have to comment on the “all bark and no bite” idea. This dude is actively harassing women, and he *is* causing harm – they’re feeling uncomfortable, some of them are complaining, and some of them are leaving (and presumably taking their membership dues with them.) Women being harassed – especially in large numbers, but even one counts – is the “bite.”

      This guy is also “Schrodinger’s Rapist.” He *might* be the guy who stops at being creepy towards young women in public places and does no further harm. But he might also be the guy who pushes at boundaries, and charms and manipulates, and pushes at boundaries some more, until he does get a woman in a situation where he could assault her. And the women in this scenario don’t know which kind of creep he is, so they have to treat him as the actively dangerous kind.

      There’s plenty of “bite” in this situation, both present and potential. OP, good luck in getting him out of there!

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Yes – this, exactly. And even if he stops at creepy behavior, these young women should not be told “oh, he’s harmless,” and left to deal with him on their own.

      2. OhNo*

        You have an excellent point. I assume that Mike C. was referring to no bite for the organization, meaning that he’s unlikely to be able to seriously impact the church in any way.

        But the more important question here isn’t whether enforcing boundaries would have a negative impact on the church, but whether not enforcing them has a negative impact on the women attending the events (and I think we all know the answer to that one).

    7. TyphoidMary*

      “They’re all bark and no bite.”

      I’m gonna have to disagree. I know it can be comforting to tell ourselves that this behavior is a nuisance but not likely to be harmful; the reality is, this is grooming behavior, and often signals escalation down the line. This guy is absolutely testing the waters to see how much he can get away with, and he will continue to push the envelope.

      1. TyphoidMary*

        annnd I just saw JMegan’s reply! Sorry for being redundant, and props for bringing up Schroedinger’s Rapist because that is EXACTLY what this guy is.

  4. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m a dues paying member for other non-religious organizations (chambers of commerce) and just because I pay dues doesn’t mean I get to show up to whatever events I want and act however I want. They absolutely have the right to restrict my attendance or kick me out entirely. Just because it’s a church doesn’t mean you can’t do that.

    Stand firm. Have the backing of the pastor and elders/deacons/senior leadership as appropriate. Losing his dues might mean gaining those of many others.

    1. CADMonkey007*

      Worth stating that OP really does have the right to have to kick him out, even escort him off the property if it comes to that. Some people seem to have the mentality that churches are not “allowed” to do this so they will continue to toe the line hoping to call your bluff. If this guy pushes back, simply say he is always welcome to come to service and confess his sins :)

    2. BRR*

      This is a frequent problem with nonprofits (and other businesses but my personal experience sees it more with nonprofits) who would be better if they turned away the entitled person. There is a big fear in losing the donation and other people finding out and losing them as well. My guess is this guy is not the biggest donor (they usually aren’t) and in this instance people probably don’t like him and would be ok with/happy that you dealt with him.

        1. BRR*

          Same here. But I think there’s a line that organizations have. Is he a little annoying or is he causing several others to leave because of his behavior?

    3. The Butcher of Luverne*

      ..and the fact that it *is* a church raises the level of respect one would expect from its members toward other members.

    4. cardiganed librarian*

      I totally agree, but I think it’s very hard for churches to exclude people, because, well, you’ve got this little voice at the back of your head saying that if Jesus could hang with the outcasts and sinners, who are you to cast this guy out? And yes, you can and should because he’s harassing other people. (Plus he’s not being kicked out of the church, just these social events.) But it’s tough to make that decision that this person is “bad” and not just socially awkward – it’s not a judgement churches should often be making.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Yes, and I’m not a Christian, but even I know that if there’s one thing Jesus DIDN’T do, it was keep quiet about behaviour he thought was wrong, to make life more comfortable!

    5. Elsajeni*

      Right, and even in a church context, there tend to be plenty of groups that are limited to certain members — like, you wouldn’t let this guy attend every meeting of the youth group, or the new mothers’ social club. He’s not a young professional, so even if he weren’t acting like a jerk, it would be reasonable to exclude him from the young professionals group. It sounds like the limits of the group have not been clearly defined up until now, but this would be a great time to define them.

    6. Amy*

      Perspective from an (almost) minister (just passed my ordination interview, on to my ecclesiastical council this spring!)

      If this is a protestant church, it might be worth it to come at it from a ‘covenant’ angle, ideally from the pastor (if you get the sense that el creepo sees the pastor as someone with moral authority), and talk about church membership IS a benefit but also comes with responsibilities, that we have a covenant with one another for mutual care and respect. One of the benefits of membership is access to various groups like bible study, 20/30’s groups, etc., but one of the responsibilities is to make sure that your presence in any given group is appropriate. For example, if you’re someone who has a phobia of hospitals, you probably shouldn’t sign up to be on the visitation committee, and if you’re past 40, you shouldn’t really be going to a 20/30’s group anymore. And that’s just if you’re a neutral presence who’s just out of place…if you’re making those around you uncomfortable with your presence and treatment of them, you’re not upholding your end of the covenant, and should either reassess whether you want to continue membership in the church, or amend your behavior accordingly.

        1. Amy*

          thanks! these are exactly the kinds of case studies we use in the admin/leadership classes in my degree program, often feel a lot less cut/dry than when these types of issues occur in a purely secular/corporate environment

  5. BadPlanning*

    An additional idea for the short term, are there any tasks that you can assign James? Either as a pre-arranged thing or when he shows up? It could redirect his behavior or deflate some of his interest in attending in general if it’s suddenly a “job” and not a stage to share his wisdom with the ladies. I’m thinking table/chair set up, refilling coffee/snacks, shoveling the walk if it just snowed, fetching pens/paper.

    Or is there someone who attends that could be used as an intermediary? Someone who walks over and jumps into the conversation and frees up whoever is trapped. Of course, this could be an exhausting task to assign to someone.

    1. Sassy AAE*

      This would be good advice if James was more reasonable, but enthusiastic, but the short term idea isn’t more responsibility. That could send the message that the group trusts him with tasks, when really, they don’t/shouldn’t. LW needs to lay down the law, firm and fast.

      The best possible outcome here is James rapidly curbs his behavior, or decides to stop attending on his own.

    2. Artemesia*

      If he were trying to reform his behavior that would be great, but this guy has already delivered a hearty FU to the previous director of this event. At MOST he should be told that behaviors AB and C need to stop immediately or he will be barred from attending further events. And then follow through. Banning him now would also be perfectly acceptable. Let him take his dues and run if he needs to.

      This all hinges on the Pastor. I think the OP as a new director should be pretty forceful with the Pastor and frame this as sexual harassment that needs to be stopped and that given his reaction to being counseled by the last director, it is pretty clear that he has no intention of behaving. The OP is setting her relationship with the group and the Pastor now. Start the way you would go on. This is not something to downplay as social awkwardness or the need for us to welcome all God’s children or whatever. This is someone who misbehaves and then flips the bird when given feedback. He needs to be out of the group.

      But the Pastor has to have the backbone and needs to understand how serious it is — the sexual harassment is the key to it being serious. Being a boor is one thing; being a predatory glassbowl is another.

      1. Sadsack*

        The pastor should consider that while he is gently steering this one dues-paying member away from events, there are likely multiple dues-paying members who are being driven away from events, and possibly this church, because of him.

        1. Sadsack*

          Oops, left off my main point… Steering won’t work, it is time to take swift action in no uncertain terms.

      2. Katieinthemountains*

        Yes, it’s hard to go against the all-are-welcome mantra, but you have a responsibility to protect the other group members. The fact that he’s a jerk-creep and not merely an awkward-creep should help with the guilt. And, yeah, I think the previous poster is correct that having the pastor in the meeting where you deliver the ultimatum will be the most effective course of action.

    3. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      I seriously disagree. The message this will send (to the attendees and possibly James himself) is that James is trusted, even on a minimal level, and that his behavior is thus sanctioned to some degree. Honestly if I had been dealing with someone like this and turned up to see them in even a quasi responsible role, I would leave.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        “Honestly if I had been dealing with someone like this and turned up to see them in even a quasi responsible role, I would leave.”

        Exactly. He needs to be reined in, not elevated and further entrenched.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I have heard of it being done in churches. A small group of men will spread out during service or activity and watch the individual to see what is going on. If the behavior is inappropriate, they speak to him.

        However, I do agree, his removal is long over due.

        1. Marie*

          While I don’t think this is a solution in this particular scenario, wow, I would LOVE to see more organizations train groups of men in this fashion. They could be the “first responders” to creeps, instead of leaving it to the women to speak up and/or just disappear as a means of silent protest and protection. I like the idea of pre-emptively creating an active solution to a problem that happens so frequently in every social situation, rather than waiting for things to actively become unsafe before finding a way to walk back to safety again. It would send a powerful message about how much the an organization values ALL its members (not just the squeaky wheels), as well as communicating the responsibilities it expects from its community — it’s not the victim’s responsibility to police, fix, or avoid bad behavior, but everybody’s responsibility to be aware of and active in creating a safe space.

          I would also love it if that kind of training helped men develop the ability to sense these situations in other scenarios. How often are you stuck on a bus with a creeper, and you look around and see all the women on the bus highly aware of the situation and making the “do you need my help?” face at you, and all the men are blithely unaware? I would love men to be more aware of those situations for a thousand and one reasons, but getting back to the purpose of this blog, I work in a mostly female-dominated field, and men who lack that awareness don’t do well here, I’ve found. When women are communicating to each other through eyes or body language, or pulling new hires aside to warn them about the office creeper, and tugging on their ears to signal they need to be saved from a cornered conversation, they’re *networking.* They’re creating a whole separate community of support and knowledge and cooperation that unaware men are completely excluded from, leaving them befuddled as to why certain coworkers get along better, do each other favors, seem to get to know each other very quickly, work more cooperatively, etc. There’s a subculture that’s created when women are the only ones who notice and act on certain issues, and men who want strong working relationships and a good overview of all the personnel in an office would do well to become aware of and involved in that subculture.

          1. Marie*

            Of course now that I’ve said all that, and sat and thought here a moment more about it… siiiiiiiiiiigh… I recognize that the creepsters will happily seek out and join the creepsitter brigades, because it will give them even more access to vulnerable women and make it significantly harder for those women to call them out.

            Well, it was a nice thought.

          2. CADMonkey007*

            It’s interesting to consider that most people know what is meant by the term “creeper” and that most women in particular know a creeper when they encounter one. Why, then, is it so hard to call one out?

      2. BadPlanning*

        No, certainly not as a permanent solution. I’m thinking of when he comes next Tuesday and The Plan is to have the pastor talk to him on Wednesday. Or when James has had a “don’t be a creeper” talk on Wednesday and comes to the event on Thursday. I don’t think the OP wants to bar the door and call the police as the first fallback plan.

        1. neverjaunty*

          No, but assigning him a minder isn’t necessarily helpful, either – he’ll just be an ass to that person, and then there’s a ready-made excuse to avoid confrontation if it does work (“See? He just needs a creepsitter!”).

      3. Meg Murry*

        I also suggested the Creepsitter tactic below (but not with the awesome name, good job on that one) – but I would clarify, I was suggesting it as a stopgap measure while OP worked with the pastor to get James to stop attending for good, not a long term solution.

      4. maggiethecat*

        Ugh agree! We had one older guy who dubbed himself “the candyman” at our church who always had pockets full of sweets that he would hand out to young ladies. I mean younggg and girls exclusively. Ew. His tagline was that “as a recovering addict you can have as much *candy* as you want”. He was a sex addict. Needless to say my mom told me and my sister to stay away and if we wanted candy we could get some ar the store after service let out.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*


          OMG. CANDY? Did he also have a white van and tell you was looking for his puppy?

          I’m trying to imagine how someone could get that reputation in a church community without something being done about it. But then, I’ve lived in Massachusetts all my life and vividly remember the extent of the clergy abuse scandals.

        2. Banana Sam*

          There was an old man in my church who handed out Werthers to all the kids, and he was the sweetest, kindest man. My memories of him are all very fond, but whenever I tell my friends about him they’re horrified. Pedophiles are ruining candy for the rest of us.

    4. Chriama*

      The way I understand it, James isn’t attending these events as a volunteer. Rather, it’s like someone holding a Christmas party for kids and a group of teenagers showing up. Also, he’s attending specifically because it’s a way for him to meet young, impressionable women who have their guards down and are uncomfortable telling him no. He’s not misguided or well-intentioned, just a jerk.

  6. TMA*

    Oh, I have had to deal with guys like these before! I wish I knew more then, because I would have at least attempted to shut them down. Instead, I just stopped going to the events.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      And that, right there, is why this guy needs to be dealt with, and SOON. I completely get why you stopped going, but it saddens me that you felt you had to.

    1. JennyFair*

      This would amuse me. He could sit criss-cross-applesauce on the grass and when he started to talk about himself I’d say, ‘Now remember, Jimmy, raise your hand and wait to be called on’ and pat him on the head.

    1. Rowan*

      +1 on having a code of conduct. Here is a generic, open-source one used for conventions that could be adapted for churches/church events:

      That said, I think a published code of conduct will be of most help with any potential future situations, in that someone will be able to point to it and say, “We made these rules explicit and clear in advance, and you violated them.” In this case, James needs to be spoken to directly as soon as possible. As has been said many times before in this space, addressing an individual’s behaviour with a blanket policy discussion is ineffective.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. Making a new rule that it is an under 35 group will just inconvenience the 37 year old late starter who is a great asset to the group. And rules of conduct are never recognized by those who need them.

        This guy should be dealt with directly by the OP and the Pastor together meeting with this guy after first deciding what they will do which I would hope would be to dismiss him from the group. He has already had his warning and basically told the former director he didn’t need to comply. Now is time to say ‘no more’ not ‘we hope you will behave differently next time.’

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          I was 37 (I think) when my chamber of commerce started a Young Entrepreneurs group. I asked if I was able to join and they told me no, the cut off was 35, no exceptions. I was a late starter, I had been freelancing for 7 years at that point but had never gone to business school and knew not much about it. I probably could have benefited from that group as I bet there would have been people there who knew more than I did. But, 35 was the cut off. Unlike James, I have been conditioned to take “no” as an answer so I never just went anyway, even though I was a dues paying member.

    2. Kate M*

      Yes, I was just coming to say this. Create a code of conduct, and then get every current member to sign it and agree to be part of the group. And every year with dues, get it signed again. That way, there is no excuse for “I didn’t see it or agree with it.” You can even add something like “failure to behave in accordance with the Code of Conduct will result in termination from the group.”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This is bog standard for most clubs, etc. My skating club has a code of conduct not only for skaters, but for parents. You must sign it when you register or renew your membership.

    3. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I like the code of conduct idea. I also like the idea of the church “workshopping” the code of conduct with various member groups to come up with expanded examples of non-allowable conduct. Part of stopping bad behavior is to be open about identifying specific examples of it, and to call it out for what it is, rather than to let it live in a fuzzy gray area. It is sort of like what schools have done with anti-bullying policies: identified specific behaviors and labeled them as bullying, instead of giving the benefit of the doubt to the bully.

    4. insert witty name here*

      I disagree. Just tell James to knock it off. You don’t need to point to a code of conduct to tell someone they’re a creeper.

      1. LisaLee*

        Codes of conduct are useful because they can help prevent this from happening again. If you lay out expectations right at the beginning, people can’t complain that they didn’t know their behavior was unacceptable. It also clearly lays out consequences so that you have a standard operating procedure when these situations arise.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, and it send signals to other attendees — including the people being impacted by this guy — where the church stands on that. That can really matter, and it can make people more likely to speak up.

          1. Amy G. Golly*

            It also empowers the staff and volunteers who run the programs to deal with problem behavior head-on.

            As a public librarian, I deal with the bad behavior of adults all the time. Some of the libraries I’ve worked for had very clear codes of conduct, and very clear policies for how the staff should deal with violations of the code. It was much easier to address problem behavior at those libraries, where I knew enforcing expected behavior was part of my job, than places that didn’t have a clear-cut policy and expected staff to “use their judgment”. Nobody likes to be the bad guy, and situations can quickly devolve into “so-and-so lets me” or as the OP fears “this is Mean Melissa’s rule, she’s gone so I can ignore it now”. James (and any future violator) needs to know this is The Rule, and not the whim of any one staff member.

            Basically, creating a code of conduct is an investment in the organization, its staff, and all the members who’d like to attend public events without being creeped on!

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Exactly. And as employees or members of an organization, don’t we all want to have guidelines that are clear and spell out what’s expected of us, what’s not allowed, and what happens if we don’t live up to our end of the contract? Making expectations and consequences predictable is absolutely necessary if you’re trying to shape future behavior.

        3. Ama*

          Yeah, my worry with just saying “you can’t come to *this* group any more because of the age limit” is that James will just inflict himself on whatever group he does fit into. It’s possible he might behave himself better around people who are closer to his age, but if he can’t they shouldn’t have to put up with him either.

      2. Kenzie*

        Sure you can call anyone a creeper, but moving forward and telling them to leave may take a code of conduct or other escalation.

    5. Ad Astra*

      If it doesn’t make sense to have a church-wide code of conduct (I would guess some denominations with large national/international hierarchies might not approve), it would still be reasonable to ask participants in specific programs or ministries to adhere to a code of conduct. For some denominations it will be important that just about anyone be allowed to attend services, but social activities don’t have to be quite as open because the point of them isn’t salvation, it’s community.

  7. AnonEMoose*

    As I know I’ve mentioned here before, I volunteer with a local to me science fiction convention. There is a concept that’s becoming well-known in the geek community that I think is applicable here. What you have is a “missing stair” – the linked blog post explains the concept, and while it doesn’t sound like your “missing stair” has gone beyond creeping, yet, I think you’ll still find this a valuable read:

    Does your church have a member code of conduct or a harassment policy? This link goes to the policy for a local convention; you may also find this a useful read:

    If your church doesn’t have such a code or policy, it might be worth talking with the pastor, or whatever governing body sets policy for your church, about creating one. Everyone deserves to feel welcome at their chosen house of worship, and I can say with a fair degree of confidence that the women “James” is hassling don’t feel welcome or safe. And while no one wants to think that “it can happen here,” history has unfortunately shown that it absolutely can. But please make sure everyone understands that, if there is a policy, there must be a process and willingness to support it. Just having a policy does nothing if no one actually does anything to follow it.

    If James starts blustering about “I’m a dues-paying member,” maybe try something like “yes, that’s true. However, there are responsibilities that go along with the rights associated with your membership. And one of those responsibilities is treating others respectfully, so you will need to stop doing X, Y, and Z if you want to keep attending these events.”

    1. Computer Guy Eli*

      Just putting it out there that the first link sends you to what I would classify as a NSFW website, in case it matters to anyone.

    2. AMT*

      I’ve always loved that essay. It has applications way, way beyond BDSM and geek culture. Relevant quote (it’s actually about BDSM groups, but ignore that):

      “Being invited to sex parties should be a positive show of confidence in your character, not some sort of default human right.”

      Same with Dungeons and Dragons, church events, ren faires, and pretty much any niche gathering you can think of. A friendly, welcoming community is a precious commodity. Giving someone access to your community is an enormous show of trust. It’s a mistake to let people continue violating that trust as if they have some kind of “right” to be there.

  8. CADMonkey007*

    Being a “member” really has nothing to do with anything here, so don’t let this guy try to use that as leverage. Even though this event is “open to the public” it is still a private event, on private property, and the host church is certainly able to establish rules of conduct! He is welcome to participate in worship services and church events provided he conduct himself in an appropriate manner. Outline the behavior that needs to stop. I wouldn’t bring up the age issue, because once he realizes he can’t schmooze with the ladies anymore, he’ll probably stop coming.

  9. Just Another Techie*

    Oh man, OP, you have my sympathies. I’ve dealt with similar situations in my church. It sucks. It really does.

    You don’t say what religion you are, but since you referred to a pastor, and described your congregation as a church, I’m going to assume some flavor of protestant Christian. If that’s wrong, please ignore the rest of this paragraph. However, from a protestant Christian perspective, I know there is in many denominations (including mine) a large prejudice against excluding anyone. Because we belong to a religion that allows (and in some cases seeks, and sometimes seeks aggressively) conversion and that aspires to be a religion for everyone, everywhere, there’s so much pressure not to exclude anyone. And if he is a faithful tither, and especially if your denomination is seeing shrinking membership or shrinking tithing percentages, or both, there might be pressure not to do anything that would make him stop contributing financially. I fully understand these concerns. That said, there is Biblical precedent for casting out sinners, and let’s be clear, that’s what this dude is doing. His creeping on women, centering his own ego, taking over forums of (presumably well-respected and honored in your denomination) visiting teachers? This is all sinful. “15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. ” (Matt 18) It is not cruel or unfaithful or contrary to your mission as a church leader to tell him to stop what he’s doing or else he has to leave. It is, in fact, your* obligation to the community, and especially to the women he’s creeping on, to protect them from his bad behavior. Also, by letting him get away with unacceptable behavior, the ordained/pastoral leaders of your church are badly shirking their sacred duty to Mr Creepy, by not leading and teaching him the proper way to behave.

    Okay back to pragmatics. I wonder how many women have stopped going to these events because of him? How many show up but are less engaged in the community than they would be if they didn’t have to spend a big chunk of their energy avoiding creepy dude? How many people of any gender have stopped going to forums because they know they won’t get to hear the invited speaker over Mr Bloviating? Even if he is tithing a huge number, is it larger than adding up all the small costs of however many people he’s driving away?

    * And by “your” I don’t mean you personally, OP, but the leadership of your church in general. In terms of how to address this, I think you should bring this situation to your pastor, your board of elders, a deacon, or whatever leader makes sense for your denomination and tell them that this is a serious pastoral issue that needs to be addressed ASAP. Ideally someone somewhat ministerial will have the “You can’t come to these events anymore” conversation, and then your job would be to enforce that at events.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. It all hinges on the pastor. This is not just a boor; this is a sexual harser who when asked to moderate his behavior basically told the last director to FO. The OP is establishing herself as director of this program. She should come in confident and aggressive with the Pastor — this is not something that should be kicked down the road.

      1. 2 Cents*

        +1 It’s time for the pastor to stop “gently steering” and to have a (pardon the expression) “come to Jesus moment” with this guy about his boorish behavior toward women. He should be treating everyone with respect and be using his time to listen rather than talk (God did give us TWO ears and ONE mouth).

    2. Anna*

      I like that even the Bible has a part that basically says, “Hey, people are jerks and we don’t have to stand for crappy behavior.”

    3. Emmy*

      This: “I wonder how many women have stopped going to these events because of him?”

      I you want to be an open and welcoming church, if you want to build a strong community, you need to be serious about stopping this. It’s almost assuredly hurting more than losing him would.

    4. Mephyle*

      This is really a key element here. A church is perceived by its adherents as different than a business organization in that its ‘rule book’ or ‘code of conduct’ is or is based on religious scriptures and teachings (supposedly). But also, James is off-track if he thinks he is entitled to participate because he pays his dues. In most denominations, money isn’t the ticket to entitlement (at least not overtly) – rather, it is that (sorry, I have to invoke specific elements of the religion here) Jesus’s sacrifice is considered to apply to everyone. James needs some spiritual counseling about this point, too.
      If the pastor isn’t up to it, then can you get support from someone under or over him/her – e.g., deacons from your own church, or whatever the next organizational level encompassing multiple churches is in your denomination.

    5. Church Worker*

      OP, I hear you! I work at the church I attend and do ministry at, and this can come with its own set of fun complications. Although rare, we’ve had to ask someone to stop attending events or even the church as a whole. While this sounds counter-intuitive to what a church “should” do, it’s good to remember that the church is not a country club, and James is not here to be served, but to serve and grow in the church body.

      You definitely need the backing of the pastor, and preferably he, or another in leadership, could have this conversation with James, to spare you the drama while you’re taking over. But if it’s left to you, at least you can say that the message comes from the pastor and he’ll get the same response if (when) he goes to the pastor. Sometimes it’s worth it to be the bad guy – at least then, James will know what to expect from you. Is James involved in another Sunday School class or Life Group (or whatever the equivalent might be)? Perhaps his teacher could have the conversation, or may have extra insight into dealing with James.

      Also, to help reframe this, it’s worth pointing out the damage James is doing to the mission of the church in your community. As a single female at a church event who’s been backed into a wall by an older man with a cliched pickup line, I promise many women who attend as guests are not coming back. Which means James is not just uncomfortable to be around, but actively harming the church’s outreach.

      Quite simply, he’s not in the age demographic, and his presence is not helping to grow the group. Bonus if you can get the leader of a Men’s Bible Study to invite him to their group.

      1. Chriama*

        > James is not here to be served, but to serve and grow in the church body.

        Also very accurate. Most churches have specific and formal process for membership that goes above just attending every week and paying your tithes. Membership means committing yourself to the community and agreeing to stuff like:
        – holding other people accountable for their behaviour and allowing them to hold you accountable to yours
        – serving each other and the communities you live and work in
        – growing in faith and community together

        So telling someone he can’t come (or can’t come *unless* very specific things are changed) is really part of being a good church administrator. I think it’s important for you and the pastor to understand that you guys can be good Christians and not tolerate his bad behaviour – even to the point of enforcing consequences that include excluding him from the community.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      And if he is a faithful tither, and especially if your denomination is seeing shrinking membership or shrinking tithing percentages, or both, there might be pressure not to do anything that would make him stop contributing financially.

      Yep, and James could actually be one reason for the shrinking membership. People can attend any church they like, really. If there is more than one of that particular denomination in the area, congregants who are aware of this situation and think it’s not being handled might simply fade away and go there instead.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        I was going to say this – I’ve heard of a lot of groups that are shrinking/struggling wanting to keep every member, without taking into account the members that they’re missing out on because it’s an uncomfortable space

    7. Annie Moose*

      Yes yes yes.

      Of course Jesus loves everyone, but He also didn’t hesitate to call people on their bad behavior. Especially if they were hypocrites who thought their tithes and shows of piety made up for being terrible people. It may be very helpful to keep this perspective in mind.

  10. LisaLee*

    I don’t know if it’s even worth trying to change James’s behavior. Broken record time.

    You: “Sorry James, we’re limiting these events to people under 35(/just starting their careers/whatever).”

    Him: “But I pay dues, blah blah blah.”

    You: “James, we’re limiting these events to people under 35.”

    Make it super boring for him to keep pushing you. Enlist the pastor to give the same response. It is not an appropriate event for James to attend, therefore James shouldn’t attend. End of story.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “James, dues paying people over 35 do not come to this event. I cannot make an exception in your case. No one here over 35 expects to be able to come to this event.”

    2. Kat*

      THIS. No apologizing, no softening. No “I’m so sorry James, but we recently updated the event procedures to only people who are 35”. You cannot give this guy an inch to negotiate or argue.

      Just keep doing the broken record LisaLee recommended. Do not smile. Say it matter-of-factly, seriously, and repeat as necessary.

    3. Meg Murry*

      How often are dues paid? Annually? Monthly? Quarterly? And how are they paid? By check to OP?

      Can OP tell James that if he continues his behavior, he will not be able to renew his membership? And then when the day comes, return his check and tell him “thanks, but no thanks”. Or next time he brings up paying dues as an argument, tell him you will refund him the dues on the spot.

      When people pay dues, do they fill out a membership form with their contact information? Could you create some kind of “code of conduct” for people to sign when they join? Then you have it in black and white – “James, when you joined, you agreed to do X, Y and Z. You aren’t holding up your end of the bargain, so you are done.”

      If his argument is “but I pay dues” – don’t accept his money, but understand that you may also be giving up his donations to the church in general by rejecting him.

      1. LisaLee*

        I suspect that by “dues” the OP means tithes paid to the church as a whole, so she probably doesn’t have the authority to refund them. If the pastor’s on board that’s a great idea, though.

        1. Meg Murry*

          I wondered about that as well and originally thought OP just meant tithing – but since OP says “dues” I’m assuming this professional group has its own set of dues that James is paying, but it could just be a general tithe. Or maybe some churches say “dues” instead of “tithe” or “donation”?

          1. LisaLee*

            Some churches do have members pay dues for membership, and consider tithing more of a spontaneous thing during services.

          2. TootsNYC*

            If it’s truly dues to this sub-organization, refund his dues and refuse to accept them.

            But it’s open to the public, so he’d use that.

    4. Mando Diao*

      “If you insist on coming, I’ll call your wife and invite her too.”

      This church is protecting James at the expense of every woman under 35 AND his own wife. She would proooooobably like to be looped in on this. Family values my butt.

    5. TootsNYC*

      You’ll need the pastor and maybe the congregation president to be there to enforce it, and to escort him to the door.

    6. Lynn Whitehat*

      That solves the immediate problem. But what happens when he shows up in choir and the Social Action Committee and Coffee Hour and small-group ministry and Bible study and every other group that doesn’t have a procedural reason to exclude him? Creepers gonna creep. Better to solve the root of the problem if you can.

      1. LisaLee*

        That’s true. I don’t think that the OP has any power there, though.

        She does need to push the pastor to deal with James in the big picture, if she can.

  11. Not So NewReader*

    I think your problem is compounded by the fact that your organization is a church. Sometimes churches wrestle with “how do we draw the line and still be good [insert denomination here]?”

    This may sound sexist but please keep reading. I think that part of your answer is to get the men in the church to jump in here. In my church and others that I am familiar with, women talk to other women about issues and men talk to other men about personal issues. There are reasons for this that are not a slam to either gender. Among the ideas of how to steer this man are men’s group activities; one-on-one mentoring but more like big brother/little brother and, if need be, professional counseling. We have a list of professional counselors that use a combination of psychology and bible to approach matters.

    Your pastor should be able to find resources through your denomination offices, or a mentor if he has one, or other pastors in his denomination. There are SOPs for handling this stuff. My thinking is you should not be handling this on your own because the guy has already shown he is resistant to things people say. It will take several people working with this man to change the behavior.

    I have very strong feelings about leaving this unchecked. This is something that needs to be followed to a conclusion. This is how lawsuits start. And perhaps that is what you need to point out in order to motivate people to change this situation.

    As a widow, I go to church KNOWING that it is one place that I can go and not have to put up with garbage like this. It’s a safe place. This guy is totally destroying that safe feeling churches provide. The leadership of your church has a responsibility to protect congregants from these type of behaviors.

    It kind of slays me. A friend was kicked out of a church for ONE incident that was ACCIDENTAL and, yet, in a different church this man goes unchecked. Sometimes, in extreme cases, a person has to be told to change what they are doing or leave the church. He may have to leave.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      This guy is totally destroying that safe feeling churches provide.

      This. Honestly, if I was at my first (or one of my first) events with a new church and encountered someone like this, I wouldn’t come back.

    2. Kat*

      Honestly, situations like this are what made me leave the church when I was 15. There were creepy older men (40’s-ish) who would say really inappropriate things to me at church events or would forcibly hug me, and when I complained, nothing was ever done. I started getting scared to go to the one safe place I thought existed, so I just stopped going, and it soured me on religion ever since.

      1. LQ*

        This is the part that I don’t get. Don’t churches want to keep people? One creepy jerk can keep out a lot of people and have them just stop coming. Each time one person leaves the creepy guy goes and finds someone else. Is it because those people who just stop going don’t make as much noise as this guy?

        (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people leaving church, I’m pretty hard core atheist, but you shouldn’t have to leave a place you want to be because you are made uncomfortable like this. It’s incredibly unfortunate.)

        1. Observer*

          s it because those people who just stop going don’t make as much noise as this guy?

          Almost certainly. With Mr. Creeper, they know that “they are driving him away”, while they can NOT know that they are driving the victims away.

        2. fposte*

          Agreeing with Observer. And this is where it is very much like a workplace–managers who close their eyes to a problem employee are ignoring the effects on all the other employees. Of course, churches are particularly bad because they make avoidant management sound like a spiritual mandate, when it’s really just another way of saying “It makes me uncomfortable to fire him.”

        3. Chinook*

          ” Is it because those people who just stop going don’t make as much noise as this guy? ”

          Absolutely. There are a dozen reasons why someone could choose to stop attending and it has been my experience that most people don’t ask why someone is no longer there. Of course, being a Catholic, I don’t know if other churches have forms that allow you to withdraw from your community. In mine, once your a Catholic, you can never formally leave. There is no ceremony, no paperwork. Once you are on the books in a parish somewhere, you are considered one of us unless you are formally excommunicated (at which point, you get back in by going to confession).

          If you quietly left, most people think you either started attending at another time or moved and not think twice about it. I have seen it happen many times with people who have been (rightfully) offended by a priest or a fellow parishioner and felt powerless about there being changes. As a result, TPTB have no clue that they have been driven out by a toxic environment.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            You can transfer parishes and you just send notice in writing. If you leave the church entirely and give written notice that also works. However, I don’t know of anyone who has sent an “I quit” letter to their priest.

        4. One of the Sarahs*

          “Is it because those people who just stop going don’t make as much noise as this guy? ”

          Or the noise they make is dismissed – creepers are often super-clever, of course you can tell when you’re being creeped on, but it’s hard to explain, especially if you’re young and unsure of yourself. I remember trying to talk about an older man who made me uncomfortable, but he wasn’t groping me, it was dismissed as “he was just trying to be friendly”, and “you’re imagining it”.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Check this out, OP. There’s a lot of people out there that feel this way- men and women. And yes, it can mean a lifelong avoidance of churches. Your pastor should be aware of the impact his lax attitude can cause.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Actually, i think the most effective thing would be for several men of the congregation to confront James and tell him to knock it off.

      That kind of peer pressure can be powerful. And it will need to be men.

      It’s important to get men to start “policing” other men–to start saying, “Not cool, dude” and “This is not appropriate behavior for a man of our faith” and “This is not how real men act.”

      I think that men have stopped doing that sort of standards-setting. Women still do it–we still pressure one another to behave in certain ways. Sometimes that’s not good–but we have it as an option.

    4. Serin*

      As a widow, I go to church KNOWING that it is one place that I can go and not have to put up with garbage like this. It’s a safe place. This guy is totally destroying that safe feeling churches provide.

      Wow, reading this was really eye-opening. I’ve been a churchgoer since infancy, and when I read this, I realized I had quite the opposite feeling — I would have said, “I go to church knowing that it’s a place that offers lots of opportunities for men to embrace women they don’t know, and lots of calls to extend a level of hospitality that borders on intimacy to perfect strangers, and that if men behave inappropriately to me, I’m on my own.”

      I’m married to a pastor. Maybe I should share this with him.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        Can you explain why you feel this way? (maybe in the weekend open thread so we don’t derail here). Do you see single/unmarried or widowed members as prey in the church? It is so interesting reading these comments about James because I think so much of his behavior is what continues to give people negative perceptions about attending church.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I am verrrry interested in Serin’s answer, too. I have been at my current church for almost ten years. I have been hugged by a man once and that was probably four years ago.
          In general, the men are pretty cognizant of their surroundings. I occasionally find myself in conversation with a man about a committee or group we both belong to. While the conversation is taking place I am in a roomful of people, kids running around, etc. I would describe the men as more concerned about my comfort level than their own comfort level. But I think that this is something the leadership (pastor plus governing board) has created or directed.

          The church I grew up in was a train wreck. So I can understand why people have concerns. It is no small step for me to have joined this church based on my own experiences. Even after years of going there, I still have days where I cry because people are just plain NICE. I can’t believe what I am seeing, it’s not what I saw growing up. Yes, OP, people do end up in counseling (if they are lucky) because of things that happened to them IN church groups. I think you know that, but it’s important to encourage the pastor to keep this at the forefront of his thinking.

          Serin, I hope you come back and expand on this some more. I want to talk to my pastor’s wife about your thoughts here, too.

          1. Serin*

            I actually couldn’t even tell you the last time I was personally creeped upon — I don’t know whether it’s being fat&fifty or having a resting face that says, “Were you enjoying not being a frog? Then don’t mess with me.”

            But I remember from my teen years how every church youth event seemed to attract a population of guys who —

            – felt that if girls were hugging one another, they owed hugs to any guys present
            – would follow, moon over, and basically stalk girls who probably wouldn’t have given them the time of day in a school setting, and make creepy use of the way the atmosphere of religious youth events tends to make pretty girls feel guilty about not wanting to make out with less-pretty boys
            – were very quick to suggest games like Twister, Sardines, or Knots that involve a lot of unmonitored physical contact
            – sat too close, “fell asleep” on buses with their heads on girls’ shoulders, etc.

            As an adult, really the worst thing I’ve personally experienced is when the sign of peace is shared and I have to decide whether I want to avoid hugging someone (and risk hurting their feelings) or hug them (and risk catching their Raging Death Cold). And nearly all the churches I’ve attended in my life have either had explicitly feminist principles or unspoken beliefs that amounted to the same thing.

            That’s why it surprised me to read Not So New Reader’s comment and realize that, in the back of my mind, I was assuming that churchgoing creeps would be able to creep with impunity.

            In all my years of potlucks and choir practices, I’ve never, ever heard a tale of any man being asked to mend his behavior or else leave and not come back. Which I suspect means that there are tales of the other side — of women being quietly informed to check who’s in the cloakroom before they go in, of women deciding that it’s easier to switch pews (or congregations) than make a fuss — going untold.

            1. Salyan*

              Well, just to give you that one tale…
              We had a fellow come to our church (conservative Baptist) for a short time. he gave all the women the creeps – including me, even though I had nothing concrete to base those creeps on. All I knew is that one day I came into service and saw one of our young girls (i.e. child!) sitting next to him and immediately I knew she just had. to. move. now. Thankfully her dad came and got her right away. There were red flags I didn’t even hear about at the time – like him (single, childless) spending part of a service in the nursery talking to a mom about her toddlers. !!!! Thankfully, he disappeared shortly after. You know what happened? My pastor went to him and told him that if he continued attending our church, he would not be allowed any contact with the children. My pastor is the best. :)

      2. Chriama*

        That… sounds really awful. I would say definitely talk to your husband. I remember my one service where a male pastor was talking about bad behaviour and described ‘the guy’. He was like “he dresses up very nicely, goes to a young woman and says ‘God might want us to be together'”. It was clear that he knows this kind of behaviour exists and he doesn’t condone it. So for you to feel like you’re forced into intimacy with strangers* and no recourse if someone crosses boundaries means there is something very wrong with that church culture. I know there are churches that are very big on the traditional, sexist patriarchy but I would never belong to one like that and I think if your husband really cares about his church he wouldn’t want it to be like that either.

        *On the whole intimacy thing: I do think churches can and should try to encourage people to be more vulnerable and open than we usually are with acquaintances. But at least when I’ve experienced it it’s by facilitating forums for members to build relationships (e.g. small groups) and then challenging people to be more open in those relationships. So it’s not about intimacy with strangers but building real relationships with people when default society tends to hold everybody at arms length.

    5. Chinook*

      “This may sound sexist but please keep reading. I think that part of your answer is to get the men in the church to jump in here. In my church and others that I am familiar with, women talk to other women about issues and men talk to other men about personal issues. There are reasons for this that are not a slam to either gender”

      I disagree that this is sexist in and of itself. You are using the cultural norm to your advantage. I would never expect a man, in general, to step in to legitimize my words or actions (i.e. I don’t feel it is right to borrow male authority) but, in my dealings in my local Catholic Church community, I recognize that there are times that that action or word from a male is just what I need to legitimize my concerns and get an action to stop (or start). Then again, it also helps that my counterpart in the male organization (which we are not affiliated it with) understands that my asking him for backup doesn’t make him my superior. It is more a case of him also recognizing that cultural change takes time and that he does defer me (and his wife) when someone is trying to drag him in to an issue purely because he is male.

      1. Ad Astra*

        That’s a great explanation. While I don’t care for the weird gender dynamics that many churches encourage, it makes perfect sense to seek a solution within the culture at hand. It’s about figuring out what motivates people, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a creep puts more stock into what another man says about how to treat women than he puts into women’s own request/demands about how they’d like to be treated.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yes, exactly. In this particular case, I think it will take two or three men to get the point across.

          1. spocklady*

            Yep, yep, yep. I once had a wonderful boss that I was talking to about a harassment issue I was having. He told me, “If you want me to get involved and tell that dude to cut it out, I will, and I want to be clear that I *absolutely* don’t think you need any additional authority or whatever. But. That dude might hear more authority from me than he might from you.”

            I agree that it doesn’t seem sexist to me, either. I have also noticed that I will often talk with other women about harassment/creepers more readily than I will with men. I think it might be a personal comfort issue for many people?

  12. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

    OP you have my sympathy. I had a “James” in a young professionals organization and eventually the behavior got so bad that I would have to stay at the check-in area and physically prevent him from coming to the event, which happened twice after we refunded his dues.

    The biggest thing was making sure the rest of my board, or in your case your pastor, are on board with the plan and willing to help enforce it. Best of luck!

  13. Meg Murry*

    I’m reminded of the letter with the volunteers who needed to be “retired” but they just kept coming to all the training sessions and derailing them, only that was only clueless and annoying – this has shifted into creepy and obnoxious.

    I think you 100% need to get your pastor behind you on this, and that the pastor needs to do more than just “gently steer” James away, he needs to straight up say “James, you aren’t welcome at these events anymore when you behave like that.” You don’t say, but is the pastor a man? Would it make a difference for the pastor to be the one putting his foot down? Or is there a committee in charge of this group? I hate to say “bring in a man to fight your battles” but sometimes the only person to get across to a sexist jerk man is another man who the jerk feels is “above” him – and in this case, I think it would be worth it to be rid of James.

    If James has aged out of the 20s and 30s group, is there another group that he can be steered toward, or is the problem that there is a hole in the programming and the other groups are aimed at couples, people with kids or retirees? Could you suggest he start a men’s bible study group, etc?

    If you can’t get the pastor to tell him that his money does not entitle him to come to every event and be creepy, can you designate a James handler for these events – someone to basically shadow him and keep him from monopolizing the guest teacher or cornering young women? Preferably someone to stick by his side, but at least a few people willing to go over and join in the conversation if they see him isolating someone, and help give that person a way out of the conversation?

    Are the events at the church or are the held out in the community? Can you designate someone (the pastor, for instance) to meet him at the door and waylay him? Preferably a man, who can keep him from doing his creeper routine. Can you give him a task, like manning the grill or punch bowl?

    But, ugh, James has probably scared a lot of women away from your group.

    1. AMG*

      Yes–this totally reminds me of Steve the volunteer. You aren’t wanted or appreciated, but you just. won’t. stop. I wish someone would follow him around and record his behavior and women’s reactions, then play it back for him so he would really understand that he’s The Creeper and People Don’t Like It.

      1. JoJo*

        Believe me, he understands and he knows damn well people don’t like it. Making women uncomfortable and scared is the objective, not a side-effect.

  14. Terey*

    It sounds like this guy MAY be somewhere on the Autism spectrum – which certainly does not excuse, but may explain some of his behavior. Does he have family members who belong to the church?

    1. Kat*

      Terey, this isn’t just directed at you, this is a common comment, so please don’t take this harshly–but I think we should not do armchair diagnoses. Some people who are just jerks, not hampered by any disability. And regardless what the cause is-whether he’s socially oblivious or has Autism–the effect is the same: he is harassing women and making them uncomfortable and that needs to stop.

      1. LisaLee*

        Also, concluding that all annoying behavior is the result of autism is pretty insulting to people who are actually autistic. Most autistic people are not jerks, and the vast majority are happy to change their behavior after feedback. James’s refusal to take feedback shows that the root of his problem is being an asshat, not any diagnosis.

        1. Tau*

          Thank you! This line of argument is so, so frustrating to me as an autistic person.

          Especially because I’m on the female end of this equation and let me tell you, being on the spectrum can make you vulnerable to sexual harrassment in some truly awful ways. I have horror stories. :( And in general the statistics on developmentally disabled women and sexual abuse are shocking and infuriating and something I wish people paid more attention to.

          But somehow, every time, every time autism comes up with respect to sexual harrassment it’s “but what if the harrasser is on the spectrum and can’t help it? It would be offensive to tell him to stop!!” If a tenth of the people who leapt to the defense of the harrasser spared the same concern for the person being harrassed…

          1. LQ*

            “If a tenth of the people who leapt to the defense of the harrasser spared the same concern for the person being harrassed…”

            +All of the numbers

          2. mander*

            Yeah, my husband is on the spectrum. He is perfectly capable of learning and adjusting his behavior when he’s done something that goes against social norms (and yes, he’s done things that came across as creepy). It’s really rather offensive to suggest that he, or anyone else on the spectrum, can’t learn or control himself just because he technically has a disability.

            And his difficulty with certain social cues or unexpected changes has certainly left him vulnerable to certain things, such as being exploited at work.

          3. Ad Astra*

            I’m far from an expert on this, but every autistic person I’ve personally known would be embarrassed to find out he’d misread so many social cues and made these women uncomfortable. It doesn’t sound like James misread social cues; it sounds like he ignored them.

            It’s entirely possible that some autistic people are also, independent of their condition, big ol’ creepy jerks, and I’m guessing that’s where the “sexual harassers might be on the spectrum!” trope originated.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              YES!! The response when directly called on it would NOT be to get blustery and go with “I pay, I can come”

          4. One of the Sarahs*

            Yes, I’m so sorry for your experiences, and came to say “what if he’s not, but some of the people he’s harassing ARE?”.

          5. Marvel*

            Yeah. I have a lot of friends who are autistic (I’m not on the spectrum but several of my closest friends are and they know people who are who know people who are, etc. etc.), and as someone who is fairly easily offended by many things, I’ve found myself in the position of saying “hey, that’s inappropriate” many times before. The answer was ALWAYS “Oh, I’m sorry, I won’t do that anymore. Can you tell me if I mess up again?”

            In my experience, mature adults who have a legitimate reason–especially one that is, on some level out of their control–for behaving a certain way tend to be pretty aware of it, and to react well when called out.

            There are some exceptions (there are assholes in every group; that’s just life) but I really hate when people go “but what if he’s on the spectrum???” as if that excuses the behavior. Even if he is, he still has a responsibility to make efforts to change when he finds out he’s violating people’s boundaries. Period. Otherwise, spectrum or not, he’s an asshole.

      2. Katie the Fed*


        I will say the Friday roundup did help me identify strategies for dealing with an employee who MIGHT be on the spectrum, but it’s thrown around a lot here. And the bottom line is the same – you don’t have to tolerate behavior that’s flat out inappropriate, regardless of the cause.

      3. Not me*

        I agree. It’s also noticeable to me that stories about harassment tend to get a “maybe the harasser’s autistic” response, without the same concern being shown for anyone else in the situation.

        It also sounds like someone spoke to him about his behavior. Instead of being surprised that he was coming off this way and working to fix it, he responded that he’s entitled to keep doing it. So I think he knows what he’s doing and plans to keep on with it as long as he’s allowed to.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          This. Nobody ever seems to worry about whether the victim is autistic, or neuroatypical in some other way (I know from experience that an anxiety disorder can make it much harder to (a) set boundaries and (b) “get over” a negative social experience). And statistically, if he’s harassing as many women as the OP says, some of them probably are. Maybe show some concern for them for once?

          1. Tau*

            Ha, you beat me to it. I’m autistic and I know first-hand how badly that can interact with harrassment. Ability to set boundaries, ability to identify that you even *need* to set boundaries, ability to trust your perception of a social situation (this isn’t okay!) over an apparently-neurotypical person’s, ability to deal with sudden unexpected situations, ability to navigate social rules when someone’s actively using them against you, the list of things an autistic person being harrassed might struggle with goes on. Being autistic can leave you vulnerable in some really frightening ways – this is definitely one of them for me, and AFAIK statistics bear out that I’m in no way unusual for someone on the spectrum here.

            And yet, somehow, it’s the harrassers where we need to give them special consideration because it would be oh! so! unfair! to tell them to knock it off if they’re on the spectrum. Of course.

      4. Terey*

        That’s why I said MAY – it’s from a lot of experience. I just wondered if there were family members that could help intervene.

        1. neverjaunty*

          No. You are 100% wrong.

          1) People on the autism spectrum don’t like committing social mistakes. They like having clear rules. They prefer to be told, clearly, “this is OK, do not do this other thing”. People who react to clear, reasonable rules with tantrums about being dues-paying members? Are not displaying autism. They’re simply selfish assholes.

          2) People on the autism spectrum ALSO have individual personalities. Some of them are assholes and choose to behave in an asshole fashion, deliberately, and not because they ‘can’t help it’ or ‘don’t know any better’ than to behave like creeps.

          Stop making excuses for James, please.

        2. Zzzz*

          No it’s just the most recent way to excuse “boys will be boys” behavior so that they don’t have to be responsible for their actions.

    2. Anna*

      There’s no other indication that this is the case. Sometimes people are just jerks without being on the Autism spectrum. And sometimes people on the Autism spectrum are just jerks irrespective of their diagnosis. This guy is a jerk.

    3. AnonEMoose*

      It’s worth considering, but I’d be a bit skeptical of this, for one reason. Most of the people I have met who are on the autism spectrum, or who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s, or similar, genuinely don’t want to make other people uncomfortable.

      If you gently but clearly point out to them that they goofed, mostly they’re horrified and want to know what to do better next time. And it’s not aimed at one specific group of people (such as “young women” and/or “newcomers”, for example).

      In my experience, it’s worth having a clear policy/code of conduct, partly because it removes the “plausible deniability” for people like James. It’s much more difficult to claim “I didn’t know I shouldn’t do X, when X is clearly prohibited in writing.”

      (And yes, I do get a little tired of the “but…socially awkward…but autism…” contentions as reasons that women should be expected to do the emotional labor of putting up with this kind of behavior, rather than people (usually men) being called out on the behavior. Not that I think Terey is advocating that, it’s just something I’ve seen/heard a few times too many.)

      1. Collarbone High*

        “And it’s not aimed at one specific group of people”


        This to me is the clearest test of whether someone is “genuinely unaware of social norms” or “using ‘socially awkward’ as a cover for harassment.”

        Years ago I had a supervisor who would stand behind people to discuss work and “casually rest” his hand on their shoulder. When I became a supervisor I got complaints from other young women about it, and told him to knock it off. He claimed that was “just how I am, it’s how I build rapport” and I told him that was BS, he doesn’t do that to men or to older women, and if it happened again there would be an official complaint. And AMAZINGLY, he was able to stop , because it wasn’t “something he didn’t even realize,” it was something he did very deliberately.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yes, exactly this. That he doesn’t do this to everyone is at least a small sign that this isn’t because he just doesn’t pick up on social cues.

        2. alter_ego*

          Yeah, my standard has always been “if you know not to/can stop yourself from doing it to your boss, then you know not to/can stop yourself from doing it to everyone. Young women are not some separate species whose social cues are so different from young men, or older men or older women or people in positions of authority that you could unintentionally misread them, but not EVERYONE ELSE ON EARTH.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*


        “But won’t someone think of the Aspies?” comes up a lot when young women complain that a dude is creeping on them. For some reason. “Gosh, what if he has a disability and can’t help it?”

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Along with “you should be more compassionate/ teach him better.” And no, just no. If I’m at a social event, or a networking one, I’m there to socialize, or to network. I’m not there to take on trying to teach Creepy Dude to Not Creep.

          And, of course, there’s the ever-popular “you should just tell him no” argument, which fails to take into account that women can actually be putting themselves in danger by directly saying “no.” And it’s impossible for them to know in advance which Pervy McCreeperson is going to flip out and injure them, or worse.

          1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

            Getting kicked out of an organization for your behavior is a learning situation.

        2. neverjaunty*

          “But won’t someone think of the creepy dude Aspies?” you mean. Funny how nobody cares about the “Aspies” who lack social skills and currency to deal with being creeped on.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      We have people in our church who are encumbered in numerous ways and they do not behave like this.

      OP, just a random question, have you checked the sex offender registry for this guy? I know it’s easy to forget to check there.

    5. Violetta*

      I don’t know how you’re getting that from the letter. He’s an obnoxious creep who thinks he’s entitled to people’s attention, especially women. There’s a lot of them around.

    6. VintageLydia*

      Honestly, no. Sounds more like your bog standard self centered jerk. And you really wouldn’t handle this any differently either way. He was told his behavior was unacceptable and instead of adjusting his behavior, he blew off the advice. Besides, in my experience, autistic people who are unintentionally creepy are more equal opportunity in their creepiness. He’s targeting a certain demographic. He’s not randomly following around or trying to monopolize the time of the young men while networking. Just the young women (and the speakers, which could be construed as another way to try to impress the young women.)

    7. AMG*

      Having a family member help intervene might be a good way to go, but I personally favor the direct approach. Stop It. Don’t go to the events. End.

    8. jhhj*

      As an excessively general rule, people on the spectrum don’t actively want to harass people and are happy to stop when told that’s what they’re doing. (There are of course creeps with autism, but no more than there are creeps without.)

    9. Observer*

      No. Just NO. This totally does not even begin to explain ANY part of his behavior.

      PLEASE stop stigmatizing people with ASD. They have enough genuine issues that they don’t need to be tagged as people who are likely to be creeps.

  15. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

    Some potential assistance in getting backup from the pastor – how would you react if it wasn’t random? If he always came to events knowing that his ex wife, ex boss, ex whatever attended and then harassed that person all evening? The only difference here is that more people are affected. Maybe the pastor wants to also counsel him, but first she/he needs to protect the churches flock.

  16. Anna*

    Is there any way for the pastor to approach it in a spiritual counseling sort of way? Because James sounds exactly like the kind of guy who needs to do some self-work, whatever form it takes. It seems there’s an opportunity for the pastor to sit down with James and address it as spiritual growth.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think it would be a much longer process and I lean toward a Christian counselor for longer term counseling. The guy is pushing 40 and has very little self-control.

      1. Anna*

        Yes, but for the immediate problem I think the pastor meeting with him and discussing it as spiritual health (as Pwyll put it) can put it in a new perspective and it also gives the pastor an opportunity to address it in the future if he isn’t seeing improvement. Spiritual counseling is one of the roles a pastor is meant to fill.

    2. Pwyll*

      I 100% agree. This isn’t a Christian social group, it’s a church. While churches certainly try to foster community around their congregations, isn’t the primary purpose of a church the spiritual health of the members? I would think this should absolutely be addressed as a spiritual issue by the pastor (and I think the above-quoted bible passage is great for this purpose). And after discussing why his activities are sinful and the ways in which the church is looking for him to improve himself, if he doesn’t make changes in his behavior, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to tell him he cannot attend until he commits himself to making changes and seeks the support necessary to do so. That’s the whole point of church, to improve the lives of the members (all of them) through God’s grace, isn’t it? (And I say this as someone not terribly religious myself).

      1. mander*

        Indeed, I’m not particularly religious either but I would expect the pastor to sit down with James and explain why this behavior is not acceptable from a spiritual point of view, and help him make plans to help change it.

        1. The Butcher of Luverne*

          Indeed, isn’t it the responsibility of the pastor to tell James firmly that his behavior goes against the religion’s teachings? I’d say the pastor really needs to step up here.

  17. Meg*

    Quite frankly, this church needs a harassment policy that it publicly states and enforces. This reminds me of the discussion of harassment policies for conventions by John Scalzi at Whatever. This shouldn’t be a question of a one-off situation.

    1. AMT*

      The convention example is a good one. Nerd cons eventually realized that the consequences of NOT having harassment policies (alienating a huge number of potential attendees) were bigger than those of having them (making a few creeps angry—totally worth it). Likewise, this church needs to realize that making this one guy mad is much better than being known as the church that protects a serial harasser.

  18. AMT*

    I hate the idea that you “can’t” exclude someone from your community unless their behavior reaches a certain threshold of outrageousness. Why not? Do low-key sexual harassment and general rudeness somehow not count? This isn’t a court of law. You don’t have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s terrible. If he doesn’t want to improve his behavior, kick him the hell out.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Agreed totally, of course, but I think it’s especially hard in organizations like churches that put a big premium on inclusiveness. Obviously keeping this guy around is bad for inclusiveness in all sorts of ways, but I think that’s the element that often makes it especially difficult for people to navigate. The answer remains the same, but it’s an added layer to sort through.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        This. Thisthisthisthisthis. It’s the church version of Geek Social Fallacy #1:

        (Sorry, Allison, I feel like I’m making you verify a ton of links today…I hope you’re finding them interesting, at least!)

        It’s really difficult to get some organizations (and churches and geeky organizations can be especially prone to it) to understand that sometimes you don’t have a choice about whether to exclude SOMEONE, you only get to choose who you exclude. So in this situation, they get to choose whether they actively exclude “James” or they passively exclude the young women he is harassing and intimidating.

        1. AMT*

          That’s so weird, I was just thinking of Geek Social Fallacies! It’s especially tricky when “ostracism is bad” isn’t just an unspoken rule, but one of the actual written rules of your religious group.

        2. Bookworm*

          Haha, I’ve been reading them at least. I like the missing stair analogy a lot. It’s one of those concepts where, as soon as she started to explain it, I would instantly conjure up examples from my own life.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I think most women, in particular, could immediately come up with examples without having to think about it much. Which says sad and scary things about our society, but is unfortunately true. But it’s one of the reasons I like to share that essay and the other links I’ve shared today; because I think it helps people realize how widespread the problem is, and that they are not alone or at fault if they have been on the receiving end.

      2. AMT*

        I agree—I go to a lot of gay/trans events and the queer community is also big on inclusiveness. It’s hard to strike a balance between “we love you even if you’re strange” and “we’ll accept you no matter what your behavior is like.”

        1. Not me*

          I’ve definitely seen that, too.

          There’s a local discussion group for religious LGBT people… It is now solely composed of several That Guy characters.

          1. AMT*

            Argh. I hate when they’re allowed to ruin it. I’m a member of a local gay hobby group that has (had?) a member known as “Mr. Scary” because of his gross sexual remarks and stalkerish behavior toward younger members. Luckily, the organizer listens to people’s concerns and isn’t afraid to deal with problem people. Not sure if he’s been formally kicked out, but I haven’t seen him around lately.

      3. Mando Diao*

        I think people’s hackles are bound to go up any time there’s a whiff of “church condones sexual harassment/abuse.” Toss that into a forum full of women who are also used to being treated that way at work, and there’s not going to be much sympathy for the church’s position here. The church needs to change, flat-out. I don’t care if the church is traditionally about inclusion. Those traditions are sexist and old-fashioned.

      4. Ad Astra*

        And I think it’s fine, maybe even good, that OP and other church-going types stop to ask themselves, “Is there a way I can include this person without compromising the whole event/congregation? Is excluding this person in conflict with my/our church’s beliefs?”

        But, in this case, the answer to both questions is no. He’s not a smelly homeless person asking for shelter or an illiterate person trying to attend Bible study or someone whose lifestyle (divorced or adulterous or maybe just a Friday meat-eater) doesn’t match the ideals of the church. He’s a jerk.

        1. Chinook*

          “He’s not a smelly homeless person asking for shelter or an illiterate person trying to attend Bible study or someone whose lifestyle (divorced or adulterous or maybe just a Friday meat-eater) doesn’t match the ideals of the church. He’s a jerk.”

          Exactly – he should be excluded based on the actions he blatantly pushes on other people, not due to situations beyond his control. And I would argue that, if an other person’s lifestyle was blatantly pushed on others (think of an adulterer openly propositioning a fellow parishioner) in such a way that he could push others into sin, then they too should be excluded. The Christian ideal is to accept everyone who is willing to try and at least aim at being a good person regardless of circumstances beyond their control, not to condone all behavior as acceptable.

      5. Lady Kelvin*

        Sure, churches are all about inclusiveness, but that means you include as many people as possible, not everyone. In this case, they are driving off the many (the young, future of the church no less) for the sake of the one. That’s not being inclusive, they are excluding women. All the church is doing buy not immediately addressing and stopping this behavior is broadcasting that they don’t care about women in their church, just the money the members bring in. Not the kind of reputation churches want to have.

  19. humeswep*

    It sounds like there are two issues here — his age and his behavior. Would it be OK for him and others who are well past their 20s or 30s to attend as long as their behavior wasn’t an issue? If not, if you’d really prefer to limit these events to a particular age group, then is there a reason to get into his behavior at all?

    1. JessaB*

      This. His age should not matter, because then what do you do if the next inappropriate person is 25? This should be strictly about behaviour. While we prefer this group to be from x age to x age, anyone of any age who shows up is required to abide by the rules of decent behaviour. So whether or not you change the group rules regarding age in order to make the group useful to the participants, it’d be a very bad idea to make the exclusion of the jerk a condition of his age instead of his behaviour.

  20. Katie the Fed*

    Ewww. We have ALL encountered a James. More than we’d like.

    There’s always a James.

    So, yeah, you need to have that discussion with him now. Tell him his behavior is making women uncomfortable – particularly his touching them and cornering them. Tell him it needs to stop immediately or he’ll no longer be allowed to attend.

    I also think you should enforce the age limits. If he’s the only one who’s over 35, then it’s easy. Otherwise you have to decide if you want to boot out the others.

    His membership argument holds absolutely no water. Cancel his membership if brings it up. You have a responsibility to the other attendees to not subject them to James’ creepy behavior.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I also want to say though that James doesn’t seem like the kind of person who will take being kicked out well. So have an eye out for any other concerning behavior following that conversation.

        1. BRR*

          I feel like that’s weird wording. I mean that I would assume this will happen and decide how to resolve the situation based on that assumption.

    2. Shell*

      Ugh. I always hate reading these kind of threads on AAM–not only because goddamn it what a creep, but also because it gives me flashbacks to the version of James I’d met 10+ years ago (and then I go around feeling unsettled and gross for the rest of the day). Some memories don’t go away even when you bury them.

      We have all encountered a James, yes.

      Everyone has said what I want to say, with less profanity and more eloquence. Just…ugh.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        The other thing too is – as a 23 year old I didn’t know how to deal with a James. I would have just let him touch me and creep me out without doing anything, then been mad at myself later. Now at the ripe old age of…my ripe old age – I would tell him to pound sand. But you shouldn’t expect the young women to know how to deal with this. Or to have to.

        1. Shell*

          Yeah, been there done that. This is one of those things many of us unfortunately have experience with, and it was that experience that taught us how to insert steel into our spines and deal with creeps with proverbial brass knuckles. But back then…

          Experience is a harsh teacher sometimes.

        2. Artemesia*

          Excellent point. Women of my generation put up with this crap all the time. I have encountered it as a young relatively attractive professional in political groups, in professional groups, in graduate programs, on the job. A generation or two back this was just commonplace and women just put up with it. And younger church women today are going to have difficulty dealing with this jerk — although I’ll bet a lot less trouble than we had back in the day when the only people to suffer if they complained about sexual harassment were the women being harassed.

  21. Chickaletta*

    As a former vestry (board) member of my church, I can tell you that you wouldn’t be the first church to ask a member not to attend based on their behavior. We had to do something similar with a middle aged woman last year who had some psychological issues who cursed at our priest, broke dishes in front of everyone, and then called the church later on to threaten harm to the priest. The priest and a couple other higher ups (myself included, which is why I knew about the situation), discussed a plan of action should this person show up at church again. (Note: the priest was willing to work with her and meet her outside of church, but we felt it was not ok for her to return to the building). Fortunately she did not come back or follow through with her threats.

    Even though your problem person isn’t threatening physical harm, his is causing damage, is not behaving appropriately, and seems unwilling to work on his behavior. If I were you, I would definitely discuss this with the priest and a couple other parishioners in authority to come up with a plan for how to handle this person.

    The bottom line is this: a faith based organization is still made up of human beings, none of them are perfect. None. We try to react with kindness and compassion, but we are also living in the real world and we have to make real world decisions. And that’s OK.

  22. Chriama*

    As someone who attends church and has been a children’s ministry volunteer for several years, I totally sympathize. There are so many times when the goal of being a welcoming, accepting place conflicts with the behaviour of individual people. As an example, a couple weeks ago a parent dropped a kid off in my class with the comment “he has mild autism. Here’s my number if you need anything” and left. I was managing 10 other kids and didn’t know what to say. I’m also the only teacher in my class (because chronic understaffing is another plague of the church). It was kind of a nightmare. I’m glad he didn’t hurt himself or another kid but he had one girl in tears by the end of the class because of certain behaviours, and I couldn’t communicate with him at all. I also couldn’t leave the class because that meant leaving 12 9-11 year olds unattended. I talked to the kids ministry supervisor afterwards and she said we do have a policy of a child with special needs having to have a personal caregiver with them at all times. It kind of sucks because this usually means the parent tries keep the kid in with them during the service and they don’t get a chance to focus on their service. And when you’re the parent of a special needs kid it kind of sucks to be told “your kid can’t be part of this” pretty much everywhere you go. But the fact of the matter is that I’m an untrained volunteer, and a child who isn’t socialized and can’t be communicated with is a potential danger to themselves or others. And the parent’s desire to have 75 minutes of uninterrupted ‘adult time’ isn’t more important than the needs of all the other kids in the class.

    Anyway, in churches I think there’s a very real fear that by telling someone “no” you’re being unchristian, or somehow rejecting them in a way Jesus wouldn’t. But you have a responsibility to make it a safe place for *everyone* to attend. The person contradicting social norms doesn’t get to hijack these events for their own personal satisfaction.

    And as a final piece of advice: focus on behaviours and not motivations. I know this type of guy, there’s one at every church with a decent young adult population (and as a young female myself, I’ve met him many times). Tell him specifically what he’s *not* allowed to do – follow people around the room, talk to them about dating/relationships unprompted, corner them or get in their personal space. And try to have someone keep an eye on him for the next few events, and intervene if he starts those behaviours. It’s *highly* likely that once it’s made clear that these young adult gatherings aren’t his own personal mating grounds he’ll storm off in a huff and stop attending. Because his goal was never socializing, but rather trying to use the cover of church to get access to young women.

  23. ThatOtherChick*

    Here’s a question: if James’ horrible behavior continues, is it possible to ban him from the church, not just the events?

    I hope the OP writes an update to this post, because I’m genuinely curious to see how everything will turn out.

  24. Collarbone High*

    Keep in mind, too, that it’s very common for churches to have age-segregated activities and groups, and to cut off people’s participation in those groups once they age out. Webelos, Acteens, that sort of thing. Most churches wouldn’t allow a 23-year-old to attend youth group activities, unless they were in an active leadership role in the group, so it’s entirely reasonable to ban James on the grounds of his age alone.

    It’s also common in secular young professionals groups — when I was 35, I got a friendly but firm email from my group explaining that I would age out on my next birthday and would be removed from the group’s listserv, and wouldn’t be invited to further events.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Agreed – they need to adhere to the age groups. If I’m in a youth group I don’t want creepy old man James there.

  25. jhhj*

    Here’s the thing: you can’t be inclusive towards everyone, no matter who you are. If you want to allow creepy predator James around, you’re telling all the women he’s preying on that they’re not really all that welcome. If you want to welcome women, you can’t be inclusive towards creepy predators.

    There are ways you can work with James, but you need to stop him from following women around or touching them without permission. That might require a creepsitter — it doesn’t involve having him given extra stuff to do.

    1. Mando Diao*

      This is a major problem in social groups, again, largely affecting women. Do you know how many women have told their friend groups, “Hey I ended things with my ex, and I’m taking a big emotional risk here and telling you that he abused me, so can you show me some loyalty and stop hanging out with him?” and then those friends say, “Well, he never did anything to me, and he’s still my friend, so I’m just going to keep getting the whole group together.” They avoid making a hard decision by forcing victims to make the decision for them. In addition to enabling future abuse by these men (because the women aren’t taken seriously), the women are the ones losing their social support systems at the time when they need them most.

      This might be a tangent, but I think it’s important to illustrate how “but I just want to be nice to everyone!” favors the not-nice people. I can’t tell you how many people I know who took that approach and “somehow” ended up with friend groups full of abusers and guys who treat women like dirt. I’d hate to see a church become that kind of cesspool, especially since women are speaking up now and they deserve to have an answer more substantial than, “We’ve decided to give James another chance.”

      1. jhhj*

        Yeah, “I don’t want to choose between you guys” can sometimes work after a non-acrimonious divorce, but if one person abused the other, outsiders don’t get to choose both, and it’s a (more minor) form of abuse to say “oh, well, you’re the one making me choose between you and your abuser, that’s not fair to me”.

        I have opinions.

        1. Mando Diao*

          I’m often reminded of that scene in the first SATC movie where Big and Carrie meet in the street and Charlotte sticks her finger in his face and says NO. Just NO. It’s called loyalty and being a good person. Some people don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

      2. OriginalYup*

        The I’m-not-choosing-sides thing drives me up a wall and back down again. Yes, in argument about who didn’t do the dishes or who spilled wine on the rug, it’s fine to remain neutral. In a situation in which a live person is actively being harmed, “staying neutral” is the coward’s way of saying “the wrong being done to you is fine with me.”

  26. Chriama*

    Another thing to note is that it’s possible some of these young women *don’t* pay dues. When I was in college I attended and volunteered at a church but I wasn’t an official member. I didn’t get to vote at the AGM or anything, even though I did pay tithes. Usually membership is a formal process the church wants you to go through once you’ve decided you’re going to stick around here. So it’s possible that James is an ‘official’ member and some or all of the young women aren’t. It doesn’t change the message, and I do think his claim that paying dues makes him entitled to attend events or behave a certain way is a notion he should be disabused of. Jesus loved to call out people who acted like having a certain amount of money made them more righteous than others, and paying church dues does not give you carte blanche over the church and its resources (e.g. you don’t get to sleep in the building, you don’t get to enter it when it’s locked, if you want to hold an event you might have to pay rent like an outside party, etc).

  27. Michelle*

    I haven’t read through all the comments so this may be a repeat of something that has already been stated. And kudos to OP for wanting to deal with this.

    This needs to stop now. Get with the pastor, talk it through and makes sure he is on-board. Then you *and* the pastor need to meet with James and tell him is no longer allowed at these events. Use an age cut-off or the plain truth. When he starts with ” I pay dues”, do as Alison suggested and offer him his dues back and/or point out that these woman pay dues, too, and deserve to be able to come to events without being harassed and hit-on. And follow through. If he shows up at the next event after he’s been told no, have him escorted out. You may need to get a couple of young men to help with that so he gets the message.

    Bottom line: How many other members is the church willing to lose to keep James? He is banking on the fact that churches generally try to include all and want to be kind to everyone. Sometimes you just have to say “BYE”

  28. Anon-na-na*

    FWIW, I had an experience with a creepy guy after attending a new church. He tried to drape his arm around me during the service (I jumped up and moved across the room after telling him no) and then he attempted to follow me out to my car after church ended. I called the church as soon as I got home (I was so startled and uncomfortable I didn’t want to stick around to speak to anyone) and let the admin know what happened. The pastor called me that afternoon, we talked, and he told me that the staff had been alerted about the guy; he took my concerns very seriously. Within a week, said guy had been pulled in by the pastor for a direct conversation about his behavioral issues, and the pastor then followed up with me over the next few weeks to make sure things were going okay. Said guy did not return to church. It is precisely because of how this situation was handled–with empathy, with concern for safety, and with follow-ups–that I have continued to attend this church and support them in my charitable giving. I applaud the OP for taking responsibility for something that seems to have been going on for far too long, and reiterate the words of others above who indicated that behavior like this can easily drive people away from organizations of all kinds. I really hope OP’s pastor steps up as well. Please do keep us posted if you can!

    1. AlyIn Sebby*


      Your Pastor is not doing their job.

      I experienced this exact situation upon my return from military service – where I was serially sexually harassed (hostile work environment).

      I come home, fairly emotionally battered and not feeling safe in my world, to ‘My Community’ and the first event I tried was almost this exactly. I had picked that group because it seemed to have the least likelihood of encountering another ‘James’.

      The leader and the Pastor did exactly as your has.

      This led to me really spiraling in terms of not feeling safe ANYWHERE and deepened the PTSD I was attending my faith community to begin to repair.

      Now, no church – ever, under no circumstances. My experience says I cannot expect or rely on a faith community to protect it’s members from the bad and noxious behaviors of others in the community.

      Mine did not have my back nor my best interests at heart.

      Is this the message your Pastor wants to send? Specifically to the women and or any other specific group within the church?

      That is why I am no longer a person who practices faith or spirituality with anyone other than myself.

      My life is my ‘church’, I am my own faith guidance person. This is why smart, young people especially women are leaving the church and faith communities in droves.

      We come to these spaces to have fellowship – not harassment – James is giving zero fellowship and is taking resources from those who need them.

      Allowing this to continue diminishes your fellowship, it diminishes the church and it diminishes the good works our faith communities do.

      Print this whole piece – your question and all of the comments and give it to your Pastor. If he/she does not act on it, find another community – he/she is the failure, the board of the church is the failure.

      It is just so SO damaging to humanity for someone to come out to an event that is supposed to lift them up a little, connect with others and be a positive, safe space and be preyed upon by James – he is acting like a predator not a parishioner.

      And to keep this in a ‘Workplace’ theme – this is exactly also a toxic work environment. When I arrive at my place of employment, work and behave correctly – that’s my JOB. Redirecting and having to ‘manage’ a fellow employee like this is not my job and I don’t get paid to ‘manage me managing my relationship with the office’s missing stair.’

  29. Ad Astra*

    Not to be indelicate, but… even strip clubs will throw out paying customers if they get too creepy. This guy seems to think his membership entitles him to behave however he wants, and OP needs to make it clear that he’s incorrect.

    Great point, Alison, about making sure the pastor supports this move.

  30. Mena*

    This isn’t about asking him to not attend events; it is about asking him to withdraw from the church so that you do not lose members because of his creepy presence. He isn’t interested in modifying his behavior to make himself more likable to others … he is telling you that because he pays dues he can do whatever he wants. He can’t, so refund his dues and ask him to leave. I’m thinking he is using his membership to just troll young women and he thinks a church can’t (or won’t) exclude him.

    1. Analyst*

      +1 here. Back when I was in customer service handling a subscription membership service, we had to do this as well. These were paying customers for a high-end product, but there were a handful of incidents where folks would behave badly at member events and with the full support of our owner-family, we would tell them to hit the road. Doesn’t matter how much of our product they bought; we still controlled who was allowed to be in the community and boorish behavior was never welcomed.

  31. Chriama*

    Oh wow, I’m all over this comment thread today. I think this is something that hits home with me because I attend church and I’ve encountered situations where it feels like telling someone ‘no’ is like being a hypocrite. I hope the comments here today have shown OP that you can call out bad behaviour and it doesn’t mean your church is any less loving or welcoming. I suspect that if you enforce proper behaviour with James he’ll just stop attending the church, but maybe he’s actually willing to change. Either way, I hope you come back and let us know OP.

  32. LCL*

    What I haven’t seen mentioned yet, hopefully someone qualified will speak to this is-
    If an organization has non-profit status with the IRS, the organization has to be careful when excluding people, otherwise they can be sued for discrimination and can jeapordize their non profit status. It is possible to exclude people, but the org should have very clear policies that will stand up to legal scrutiny.
    (This came up when a self described Neo Nazi wanted to join a volunteer group I was involved in.)

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Unless their decision is based on James belong to a certain legally-protected class, then this has no bearing at all. Creeps aren’t protected.

      1. newlyhr*

        And religious entities are allowed to require a certain profession of faith or standards of conduct for members to be in good standing. Most don’t, because it’s antithetical to their mission, but for example, they may require staff members to have a profession of faith, even if those positions are not directly responsible for spiritual teaching.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Also–James would be being excluded because of his behavior, not his beliefs.

      A Neo Nazi who joined an LBGT organization and started harassing people would be someone you could ban without any legal worries whatsoever.

    3. AnonEMoose*

      And the convention I work on has banned people for violations of policy. Not going to say too much more about that for privacy reasons, but it has happened. Not often, thankfully.

    4. Observer*

      Not really. For one thing, as others have noted, religious organizations actually CAN exclude people based on faith.

      More importantly, any organization can exclude people for pretty much any behavior, as long as the behavior is not legally privileged (eg you can’t exclude someone for complaining about harassment or racism.) So, you can exclude people for wearing jeans if you so desired. It doesn’t have to be a smart or reasonable reason – as long as it’s applied without regard to protected classes (eg white guys get to wear jeans but Latinos don’t.)

      Beyond that, allowing illegal harassment could also endanger their charitable status. And harassment based on sex or gender is illegal in an organizational context. So, if you are worrying about legal issues, it’s NOT responding that creates a problem.

    5. Observer*

      No, this is not an issue at all.

      However, the reverse is possibly true. Allowing the harassment to continue could put them at risk. People are being harassed at these events because they are women, and the organization is allowing it. That’s almost certainly illegal.

  33. newlyhr*

    I’m not in favor of using the age range route to deal with this, since the problem is the guys’ behavior and it’s important for all the people who attend this group to know that this behavior is not allowed, no matter what your age is! As difficult as it may seem, tackle the issue directly. best case is the pastor calls him in before the next event, tells him he cannot attend anymore and why. And then have your pastor there to help you at the next event in case the guy shows up anyway.

  34. Lunch Meat*

    This is timely because I just found out yesterday that a member of a networking group (which meets in our workplace but is not affiliated with our organization) asked out one of my coworkers multiple times, sulked when she said no, and yesterday brought her an extravagant gift in front of everyone. He’s 15+ years older than her. The group’s president, who does work for our organization, has before said that the multiple invitations to go out are just him being “nice.” He doesn’t work for us so I don’t know what our HR department can do, although I think they would be willing to help. My coworker knows this is creepy but I think she needs some support handling it. Any ideas what I can do, other than running interference and trying to shut him down if I see him doing it? I am also female and the same age as the coworker he’s targeting, so I’m not sure how much respect I would get.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One thought is for you and ideally other members of the group to push the president to act on this. Make it more uncomfortable for the president to do nothing than it currently is.

      1. Chinook*

        “One thought is for you and ideally other members of the group to push the president to act on this. Make it more uncomfortable for the president to do nothing than it currently is.”

        Even in a volunteer organization, the president still has to enforce boundaries and ensure the safety of those who are attending. I had this discussion last night with my executive where I lamented the fact that I “get” to have a difficult talk with a deacon about why he we publicly insulted us and how his words are making a number of volunteers feel unwelcome. Because I am president, I made sure I have the backing of my executive as I “manage up” and am not looking forward to it in the least, but that is my job. I also get to have the hard discussions with the ones who pay for supplies out of our church cabinet without leaving receipts or volunteer our group to bake for an event without running it by the executive first. It sucks but that is why I get the shiny (2 cm) president bar on my pin and access to the phone list.

    2. AMG*

      Look him square in the eye and tell him you are not interested, do not want the gift, and that you are not here to date. Lather, rinse, repeat. He will think she’s rude and a jerk, but will stop. sure not to waver.

      The good news is that once you are good at this (and it doesn’t take much), you can shut it down with a look when you are really on your game.

      1. JessaB*

        Some women may be very worried about doing this, especially because of recent press due to men killing women who brush them off brusquely. Seriously. I would not do this unless I had some kind of back up, because it’s becoming dangerous to do this alone. And yes this guy may just walk away, but jerks have escalated in the past.

        1. Mookie*

          Yep. Another reason smart organizations develop codes of conduct, vigorously enforce them, and assign more than one person to investigate incidents and to formally report findings to a council for a decision. Victims can be retaliated against, whereas an organization that supports (and polices) its own members is a monolith that can’t be attacked in a parking lot later by a scorned rejectee. If an organization is going to host social events, that organization has a duty to pre-emptively prevent harassment to the best of their ability and that requires education and a strong will. The louder you are about being committed to approaching harassment as a serious breach of conduct that will not be tolerated, the less creeps, bullies, predators, and potential abusers you’ll attract.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I would vote for her standing up in front of everyone in the organization and saying, “George, I’m returning that gift to you. You’ve asked me out repeatedly, and I have said no over and over again–I do not want to have any sort of relationship with you. Please give me the respect to accept my “no.” In fact, please never approach me at this gathering again either. Leave me alone.” And you can stand there and nod approvingly.

      Or, find some other person, even someone unofficial, who will have this conversation with him. It truly stinks that you’d have to get some older, more powerful seeming man to do this disciplining, but sometimes you just need to go with whatever it is that works.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I came back to say–this sort of confrontation wouldn’t be my suggestion as a first step. And I wouldn’t suggest a lot of animosity or heat. But making the gift-returning and the statement of “don’t ask me out again. I’ve told you no six times already, that should be enough,” in front of many other people may be necessary.
        But she would need a few people to come and stand near her, and physically mimic her stance, and look concerned, and nod firmly at the guy–so that there’s a clear indicator that there are people hearing her and agreeing with her.

    4. JB (not in Houston)*

      Ugh, I hate that kind of framing. Continuing to ask out/hit on/pay special attention to someone who has turned down you’re intentions isn’t “nice.” That’s ignoring the person’s expressed feelings and pushing yourself on her, which is the opposite of nice.

    5. Katie the Fed*

      ” The group’s president, who does work for our organization, has before said that the multiple invitations to go out are just him being “nice.””

      HULK SMASH!!!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Peach. I think that if this is so important then the prez can go out with the creeper instead of this woman. The prez can be the one to “be nice”.

    6. Emmy Rae*

      I think it can be powerful to speak up as an observer: “I was very uncomfortable with your behavior at our last meeting and it was clear from her reaction that Coworker was as well. I really don’t think this group is the appropriate place to look for romantic partners.” And then if they do something else in public, run interference as you suggested. That would be my approach.

      1. TootsNYC*

        love this for suggestions on what the bystander can do.

        Bystanders have tremendous power. In terms of school-kid bullying, they are absolutely the key. And they can be really powerful in this sort of situation as well.

    7. neverjaunty*

      Ask the group’s president if he would enjoy explaining, to a lawyer for this young woman (or any other target of the creep’s) during a deposition, that he sat on his hands and did nothing because he thought the creep was just being “nice”.

  35. Collarbone High*

    We’ve been (rightly) focusing on how James’s behavior is affecting the young women in the group, but I wanted to point out that, to a lesser degree, everyone here is being harmed in some way.

    The “hijacking visiting teachers” thing has got to be incredibly irritating to everyone — I took some of my college courses online, and honestly the best part was not having to sit through That One Person Who Always Has A Long Irrelevant Story That Derails The Lecture And For Some Damn Reason The Professor Won’t Stop Calling On Them Or Put A Stop To It. James is preventing everyone — men, women, the visiting teachers — from enjoying and getting the most out of these events, and he’s likely giving the church a bad reputation as a place to speak as well.

    He’s also doing damage to the young men who might not have great social skills and are seeing this behavior condoned. This is doubly true if James is professionally successful. Kicking him out would send a message to the women that “you deserve not to be treated this way” and to the men that “this is not how to act.”

    1. AnonEMoose*

      This is such an amazingly good point. And definitely a point to bring up. James is a toxic influence in the group in general, and not only because of his inappropriate behavior to women.

    2. TootsNYC*

      “The “hijacking visiting teachers” thing has got to be incredibly irritating to everyone — I took some of my college courses online, and honestly the best part was not having to sit through That One Person Who Always Has A Long Irrelevant Story That Derails The Lecture And For Some Damn Reason The Professor Won’t Stop Calling On Them Or Put A Stop To It. James is preventing everyone — men, women, the visiting teachers — from enjoying and getting the most out of these events, ”

      This is very true.
      (In high school, I got fed up w/ the teacher baiting of our rookie instructor in Accounting class, and lit into the guy who was deliberately asking repeated “dumb” questions. My point was, “you are getting in the way of my learning, would you shut up?” The kid trying to control the classroom turned on me, verbally, but the Cool Kid chimed in to say, “she’s got a point, shut up.” But I was mad enough that if Cool Kid hadn’t spoken up, I’d have been up for the confrontation, and I’d have been down the hall to the principal’s office–but I was a senior, and so much more confident in that setting. And pissed off.
      (But it taught me what a huge price the innocent bystanders pay when things get derailed in the classroom, etc.)

    3. Not So NewReader*

      James has more than one problem going on. He is a detriment to this group.

      In one group we had a person worse than James. It literally tore the group a part because of the arguing over what to do with this guy. The group broke up.

      What I am saying is there is more than one threat here. James’ behavior is totally unacceptable. If the leadership does not step up to the plate, the arguing that follows can be the final blow for the group.

  36. fizzchick*

    Am I the only one who wonders how much James played a role in Melissa’s decision to leave? Because if I had a (probably not well paid) job that involved dealing with a creeper like James on a regular basis, and felt like the church hierarchy didn’t have my back, you can bet I’d be looking for another position. Just to add to the list of things you are possibly losing by not dealing with this problem effectively – you may be driving away staff as well as other members and potential members.

    1. Mando Diao*

      I had that thought too. Now James thinks he’s won, and he’s going to be even harder to deal with.

  37. OP*

    Hi everyone! OP here. Thanks so much to Alison for answering and to everyone for commenting. I’ve read through some of the comments and will digest them fully later on tonight. I love the commentariat on AAM. To respond to some of your queries: The pastor told me that the previous pastor tried to talk to James about this and there are a few other groups in town that James frequents who are also struggling with his behavior. It’s clearly time to do something and I plan to sit down with my pastor tomorrow and deal with this. All of our advertising materials says “20s and 30s” or “young professionals” or “young adults” but that doesn’t stop some of the older members from drifting in. I’m not sure how to enforce an age limit other than intercepting people once they walk in and saying, “You’re too old, please leave.” Which is a legitimate boundary to have but it opens up “You embarrassed me and that’s not very Christ-like!” and “You’re excluding me and that’s not very Christ-like!” My pastor is heavily investing in promoting the church in any way possible so I have to tell him we have net losses because of people being creeped out by James. I’ve even heard that some non-church social events are privately designated as “James-Free.” I’ve read the Missing Stair Phenomenon and actually told Melissa that that’s what we’ve got going on. I’m still torn between setting up rules for James to follow because it seems hard to rule something like “You need to stop talking to single women” because he could shoot back, “I’m just saying hello!” or “She and I have been friends for years and I can’t talk to her!?” I don’t want to tussle with someone who lives in Plausible Deniability Land. I’m tempted to just be non-negotiable and say, “James, you’re creeping people out and you need to stop attending.” He would probably bash us publicly and be horribly offended. As a young female is a religious setting, it seems like I can either be Sweet People-Pleaser or Horrible B*tch. I may have to play the second one. Thanks again everyone!

    1. AMT*

      It’s awesome to hear that you’re taking it so seriously! You’re right, he doesn’t come off as the type of person who would respond well to rules, and would probably drive you nuts trying to circumvent them. At least you can be a “Horrible B*tch” (read: person who cares about her congregation’s safety and well-being) with the full confidence that you gave him more than enough chances to play nice.

      Anytime you feel too “mean,” or someone calls you some variant of that (un-Christlike, hmph!), just think, “No, I’m being kind to the people who don’t like being harassed.” This is a situation in which being “nice” to James is being “mean” to his victims.

      1. The Butcher of Luverne*

        And SAY THAT to James.

        He: “You’re mean! I’m just being friendly!” You: “No, I’m being kind to the people who don’t like being harassed. Your behavior is harassment and you are not welcome.”

    2. AnonEMoose*

      Thanks for chiming in, OP!

      If you do want to start being a little stricter with the age limit as part of your strategy, what if you announced it in advance? Something like “Starting May 1, 2016, the young professionals network group is going to be limited to those between 18-35 years old.” Announce it during the announcements part of church services leading up to that date, publish it in the bulletin and newsletter (if you have those), put it on the website or any social media outlets, the whole bit.

      Then, whenever the first event after “May 1” (or whatever date you choose is), if someone not in that age range shows up, you can quietly take them aside and say “James, remember, we’re now limiting attendance at this group to those who are ages 20-35, so they can get the most benefit. Have a great afternoon/evening!”

      You’ll no doubt have to deal with some pushback, complaints, etc. But that way, you’re giving advance notice about the change, so no one can really claim they “didn’t know.”

      I still think “James” needs to be fully dealt with, but the above could be an option for the young professionals group specifically.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Yes, I think the 2-pronged approach is important – and while it may be hard to tell people “you’re too old”, if the group is aimed at an age range, it should be enforced (it’s the same as eg having a “parents & toddlers” group restricted to parents of younger children etc). If non-James-people complain about it, maybe you could suggest to the church leadership that there’s room for an all-ages group too?

        (Obvs I am on the side of getting the Pastor to address James’ behaviour as well)

    3. Snarkalupagus*

      Don’t let gender, age, or setting be the context in which you apply labels to yourself that are unfair and untrue. You’re doing your job and making a situation safer and more comfortable for others. Everything else is just set-dressing.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Agree! And remember that Jesus didn’t really define what “peacemakers” do–James is bringing the opposite of “peace,” so by kicking him out, you ARE being a peacemaker.

        And in Micah 6, there’s this:
        He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

        Note that justice is first.
        “Kindness” is sometimes rendered as “mercy”–but again: what sort of kindness or mercy is it when you insist that other people must continually be sinned against?

    4. AnotherAlison*

      It might be worth considering adding another group, and strictly limiting the young professionals group membership to an age cutoff.

      That doesn’t deal with the James problem, but if James and other adults are attending this group past the age they should, maybe there is a hole in the offerings for older professional singles. If all the groups over 35 are for couples, families, or retirees, there’s no where to move on to. (Even if an older-aged group isn’t specifically for couples, it might skew that way so that singles aren’t comfortable attending.)

    5. Observer*

      I think you are right to go the route of telling him not to come. The issue is not his age, and it’s happening in other groups as well, so you need to take the broader approach.

      You need to tell him that this is the list of behaviors the need to stop. If they don’t stop – ALL OF THEM – then he can’t come. Period. Beginning and end of story. “But, I’m just blah blah bla.” “Correct. You need to stop that.” “But, I bloo blah bloo.” “Correct. You need to stop that.” Tell him ONCE and then become a broken record. And, if he doesn’t stop ALL of the behaviors, lower the boom.

      Please reiterate to the pastor that if he really wants to grow membership this is not optional – no matter how badly James bashes you, everyone in the congregation knows the deal. The only way forward is to stop him.

    6. TootsNYC*

      I hope you can really emphasize how un-Christ-like it is to allow James to continue with this behavior.

      Lean on that lesson from Matthew 18 about “if your brother sins against you, go to him….and if he doesn’t listen, eject him.” That’s straight from Christ. (take a red-letter edition of the Bible with you when you bring it up, and point that out)

      And emphasize: James *is* sinning against all the young women he pesters, and the speakers.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        I’m with Toots. There is a lot of scripture to support your approach and I encourage you and your pastor both to use it. If he tells you to be more Christ-like, kindly ask him to remove the log from his own eye before attempting to remove the splinter from yours. If he feels embarrassed, that’s on him.

        You can’t control how James reacts, but give what you’ve told us about him I wouldn’t worry much about people taking his offense seriously if he leaves your congregation.

        Good luck!

    7. OriginalYup*

      Good on you for taking this seriously and being so thoughtful about it. One thing to for you to consider is that “making rules” for rules-ignorers like James is a never ending cycle. It’s more productive to set it as a bar he needs to rise up to, rather than individual rules to not break. As in, “courteous and respectful behavior is required, all the time, every time: meet this bar or banned.”

      Another thing I wanted to mention is that the excuses you have already spotted in advance: “You embarrassed me and that’s not very Christ-like!” and “You’re excluding me and that’s not very Christ-like!”. My recommended answers are as follows: “Actually, you have embarrassed yourself” and “You will continue to be excluded from events until you can behave in a Christ-like manner towards your fellow attendees, who have put up with you with long past what God commands.”

      1. TootsNYC*

        Well, if you want to talk “Christ-like,” it’s not Christ-like in the least to monopolize the conversation and encroach on the personal space of young women.

        1. Mookie*

          “Oh, Christ was a boring, humble-bragging mansplainer who liked to get handsy with younger women? It’s revelations like these that make me wonder if I should’ve been reading NEB all along.”

          Or, “that would be an ecumenical matter.” Works every time.

    8. CADMonkey007*

      “James, I cannot speak to your intentions, but your repeated behavior makes young women uncomfortable and therefore it needs to stop. Period. Given that you are over the intended age for these events anyways, it seems best to agree that you no longer attend. If you cannot respect that boundary then perhaps ABC church is not the place for you.”

      1. OriginalEmma*

        As I believe Louis C. K. has said, if someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to tell them that you didn’t.

        No one cares about my intentions when I trod on someone’s foot. They care about my apology and me NOT doing that again.

    9. Chriama*

      Hey OP! Thanks for coming back. Please let us know how it goes. I do think you can give him *one* chance – “Your behaviour towards young women here is inappropriate and needs to stop. These are specific examples of that behaviour. If it can’t stop then you won’t be allowed to attend these events anymore.” I think he probably will bash you publically but you guys are strong and it’ll be ok.

      It also sounds like other older people are attending these events? Are they also a problem because they change the dynamics of the group, or is it just James? Because if the group as a whole benefits from some of these older folks there then don’t ban them in order to ban James. *James* has acted in a way that’s getting him asked to leave, and *James* is the only one who should be affected by his behaviour. If the age thing is a problem though, maybe look more closely at why that is. Are the older people not getting enough events of their own? Are these events being marketed with ambiguous terms?

      Either way, I’m impressed with your resolve (and anyone who calls you a b*tch has problems of their own. Reasonable people will not be offended by you being reasonably assertive). Please let us know how everything goes!

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        He’s been given at least one chance by Melissa though, hasn’t he? I feel like this needs to be made very clear to him.

    10. Lady Kelvin*

      Also remember that you should NOT be thinking of how you are hurting James. He is not the victim. Just keep all the women he has bothered (not to mention all the other church members who put up with his other behaviors) in your mind, they are the true victims. Re-framing the way you think about the people involved may make it easier for you to deal with the problem.

    11. Analyst*

      I hadn’t heard of the Missing Stair phenomenon before these comments, and it’s fascinating. You should share it with your pastor as well, while telling him that your (CORRECT) notions that just setting rules for James to try to argue his way around is a waste of time. Also (analyst alert) do you have any hard numbers on event attendance drops or a statistic on how many people leave your congregation because of James? Bonus points if you can also show just female decline in participation if it’s a noticeably higher number than overall decline.

      People in your church actually set up covert events just to keep them James-free! Wow.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Well, don’t share the “missing stair” idea straight from that website….paraphrase it, maybe.

    12. fposte*

      Let him shoot. This isn’t a duel. You get to say he can’t be there (presuming the pastor has your back), and you don’t need to convince him or out-argue him.

    13. Minister of Smartassery*

      As someone who used to work in a church, I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to deal with the fallout of losing a badly behaved member (losing his tithe, having him talk badly about the church to others) than the long-term damage that a member like this can do to the church body. He is turning people who might join your church as a result of this young professionals group away. He is keeping people from learning at the meetings. Trust me when I say that your church is developing a reputation among the speakers who appear at these meetings. Because people in this sort of “Circle” talk to each other and they are telling each other, “Augh, you don’t want to go there. There’s a guy that derails EVERY meeting with creepy, self-aggrandizing behavior.” Which will make it difficult to get quality speakers for your events.

      And that’s just the damage he’s doing at the young professionals’ meetings. That’s not counting the damage his behavior at other group’s meetings you mentioned, or the damage he’s doing at regular church services.

      You can either be subtle about confronting this behavior, such as being willing to interrupt James’ monologues about his lifetime of awesomeness to say, “Let’s move the discussion along. Speaker, what was your next point?”
      Or you can confront the behavior head-on, telling James in private, “James, your behavior during the meetings is disruptive and making people uncomfortable. You have a tendency to monopolize the speakers’ time with stories about your own career. You also tend to corner women into discussions when they’re trying to circulate and meet new people. This is not acceptable and it will stop or you will have to stop attending the meetings.”

      Either way, you’re going to have to confront it. It would be better if the minister did it, because it would be difficult for him to argue that the minister doesn’t have the authority to tell him what to do. And the minister needs to stop being so dang gentle about it. No, it may not be very Christ-like to exclude someone, but it’s also not Christ-like to subject other people from boorish, bordering abusive behavior when it’s completely preventable. So he talks about you/the church. That’s part of the job of running a church. Someone is ALWAYS going to be unhappy with how you run things.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        That’s part of running anything – no matter what you do or don’t do, you will never make everyone happy.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        it may not be very Christ-like to exclude someone

        Oh no, Jesus was quite willing to call people on bad behavior. They weren’t happy, and it did not stop him at all.

    14. Dani X*

      James bashing you publicly is a plus for your organization. It will let people know that you guys put your foot down and will not allow him to harass people at your events anymore. It could lead to people coming back to your events.

    15. A Non E. Mouse*

      Others have touched on it as well, but aside from dealing with James, can you also let the younger female members know, explicitly let them know, that they can speak up and out about this? If everyone tries to ignore it, or just rolls their eyes while it’s happening, it probably feels like an unwritten rule that they just tolerate James.

      That won’t help the overall James Problem, but could at least make them feel slightly more comfortable, and buy some goodwill for the church while James is being dealt with.

    16. Elizabeth West*

      Tell your pastor all of this, and yes, I do think you need to be non-negotiable. And that does not make you a horrible bitch–it means you’re doing your job.

      In the event he does bash you publicly, I would have a standard reply to give people if they question your decision. Something like, “There was a disagreement regarding the high standards we require of our attendees,” and leave it at that. If he is doing this in other places with other groups, I’m betting it won’t be a problem, because he’s probably already totally notorious.

      Let us know how it goes, please–and good luck!

    17. Miles*

      “Horrible B*tch”

      I hate the way a lot of women seem to use this word, like it’s some horrendous thing to be. No! It’s no more terrible behavior than a man acting like an A**hole. Sure, there are a lot of situations where it’s uncalled for, but knowing when to apply it and being unafraid to do so is one of the fastest ways to gain your peers’ respect. (Yes, this applies to women too, though I’d agree with the argument that that word is thrown around way too often as a manipulation tactic as well)

      So what’s a good metric? I’d say one good metric is when you legitimately don’t care one way or the other whether that person comes back. I think this James is well past that point.

      1. Miles*

        If my meaning wasn’t clear, I agree it’s better to play the second one, and that nobody in the group will think any less of you if you do. They’ll more likely see you as a good person to be in charge.

      2. Allison*

        I’ve found it’s better to reject a guy giving me the heebie jeebies and risk being called a “bitch” than it is to engage and risk being actually assaulted, or being called worse things when I have to pull out of the situation for my own safety.

      3. AMT*

        “Horrible b*tch” = “woman who made me feel bad, so I am lashing out in the expectation that she’ll buckle under my name-calling and allow me to continue my behavior. Women don’t want to be seen as ‘horrible b*tches,’ so they probably won’t defend her; I’m also hoping that I can spin this in a way that makes the men of the group feel sympathy for me because they have been hurt or rejected by ‘horrible b*tches’ in the past.”

    18. Not So NewReader*

      “You embarrassed me and that’s not very Christ-like!” and “You’re excluding me and that’s not very Christ-like!”
      1) By his own faith/life’s work your pastor knows that heaven excludes sinners that don’t repent. No, Christ is not totally inclusive, this logic does not hold up.

      2) As above, he embarrassed himself by not following the rules and ignoring advice of others.

      3) This is a person, who although may have read the bible, has little or no comprehension of what it says. Christ would be very displeased to see his words used to justify hitting on women or to justify degrading women in any way.

      4) A good defensive is a strong offense. Expect that what ever you say he will turn it around and take a pot shot at the person speaking. NO has to mean NO, it can’t mean “argue with me hard enough, I will get tired, and you will win.” This is why you take two or three men for this conversation. You have to bring additional people and this is an SOP. I do not understand why your pastor is not familiar with this technique. The James-es of the world are exhausting, you need to have several people confront this Goliath because of his sheer determination.

      “My pastor is heavily investing in promoting the church in any way possible so I have to tell him we have net losses because of people being creeped out by James.”

      1) When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

      2) Allowing people to whatever, where ever, is not in line with the church’s goals/teachings.

      3) It’s not a promoting the church if it pushes people away. Tell the pastor he is going to have a congregation of ONE (named James), if he keeps doing what he is doing.

      4) Other men see what is happening and the lack of movement on this problem and they are going to want to take their wives and daughters to a different church. Don’t forget, good men cannot stand pervos like this guy. Annnnddd, from personal experience, I know that other men can ID this guy in a heartbeat. Men can “smell” his stink a lot faster than some women. I have had too many times where I man I trust has told me to move away from another man, and that advice has been totally correct.

      5)Your pastor is doing too much by himself. He is in dire need of mentoring or in dire need of a peer group. Encourage him to get-together with other pastors to talk over this problem and other common problems churches face. This is a super important step here.

      6) Your pastor can have rules or he can promote the church in any way possible. He cannot have both, he must pick one. For example,there is no point to having a young adult group if anyone of any age can show up. Why bother making rules?

    19. Chickaletta*

      You know, the older I get and the more situations I encounter with difficult people, the less I worry that someone may perceive me as a “Horrible B*tch”. 1) I cannot control other people’s emotions; if that’s their perception of the situation, so be it. 2) Like was mentioned in an earlier thread, being nice to everyone can actually favor mean people because they’ll be the first to take advantage of your generosity. Sometimes, you gotta play favorites with the nice people and by ticking off the a*holes. They’re going to get ticked off anyways.

      Also, get some backup to help escort James off the premises. I’m all for female power and such and women can be just as effective leaders as men, but it doesn’t hurt to have a man or two to actually walk James to the parking lot, for several reasons.

      1. Lady Kelvin*

        I wish I could do this, but since I’m just starting out, being labeled as a horrible B*itch could derail my career. Its much easier not taking crap from anyone when you have a long history to fall back on.

        1. Chriama*

          If you ever have a work situation that you want advice on please post it here! But I would say that sometimes our fear of the consequences are worse than the consequences themselves. The phrase ‘pick your battles’ implies that there are some battles worth fighting and this is true.

    20. Ad Astra*

      I will be using “Plausible Deniability Land” in future discussions of people like James. Thank you for this.

    21. Collarbone High*

      “You’re excluding me and that’s not very Christ-like!”

      Dispatch this argument for the nonsense that it is. First of all, as I mentioned elsewhere, churches exclude people from things all the time, for perfectly good reasons. I imagine your nursery has an age cap. If the youth group had a lock-in for middle school girls and a 50-year-old man showed up with a sleeping bag, no one would think twice about telling him to leave. I wouldn’t be invited to join a Bible study group for new fathers, since I’m a woman with no children, and that’s fine.

      Secondly, not only is James failing in his obligation to model Christ-like behavior for younger members, he’s also modeling behavior that’s wildly inappropriate for the workplace. I’m assuming the group has some sort of work-related component, otherwise it would just be a young adults group, so his interrupting, woman-harassing presence is undermining the goal of helping the members learn to succeed at work.

    22. Marie*

      “I’ve even heard that some non-church social events are privately designated as ‘James-Free.’ ”

      That, to me, sounds like an endorsement for kicking him out. Other people have already created their own solutions because the church was too slow to react, and their solution was to meet outside the church and without James, which means they believe that the church and James aren’t separable, and the only way to get away from James is to get away from the church. That’s not the message you want to send!

      I also suspect if you nix him, it’ll have a domino effect — all those other groups are experiencing the same thing, and everybody else is just sort of putting up with it. Seeing one group take a hard line could empower them to do the same, and there could be nothing more helpful and effective in getting James to re-evaluate his behavior (if he’s inclined) then for him to actually face consequences for his actions.

      As for telling him to stop doing things that are difficult to describe and hold down… well, I work with children and teens, and they’ve broken me of any fear of this situation, because hoo boy, nobody can rule lawyer you as hard as a kid, and with children it is SO OBVIOUS that the rule lawyering is inane, entirely self-interested, and intended to break you down rather than argue a legitimate point. There’s nothing productive to be gained from engaging in the rule lawyering, so your best friend here is a broken record and a high (honestly, normal) expectation of comprehension. Like, with my teens:

      “Stop doing the thing.” “But I’m not doing *the thing*, I’m doing something *like* the thing and it’s really unfair–” “You’re not stupid and neither am I. You know what I mean. Stop doing the thing.” “But you haven’t let me explain–” “And I’m not going to. Stop doing the thing. You know better.” “You’re so mean and I’m not even doing the thing but I’m doing the other thing and–” “I don’t have time to argue this. Stop doing the thing and I’m done with this conversation.” “But you haven’t even listened–” “I’m taking the thing away and we’re going home.” “But I didn’t even do the thing!!!!!!!” “You know exactly what you did because you are a smart person and neither of us believes you.”

      Works on adults, too! “James, you are cornering young women, forcing them into conversation, invading their personal space, and ignoring their discomfort. You have to stop.” “But I’m just being friendly! Are you saying I can’t talk to women?” “I said exactly what I mean. We’re both adults and I know you can understand me. You have to stop.” “So I’m going to be thrown out just for talking to women?” “You’re going to be thrown out for harassing women.” “But I’m not harassing them, can I not just talk to somebody? Are you saying I can’t say hello?” “I already told you what you need to stop doing.” “What if one of them talks to me, am I not allowed to respond?” “I’ve already explained to you what you need to do. I’m not asking or arguing. This is the end of this conversation.” “Oh, I guess you get to boss me around now because–” “Okay, it’s time for you to leave.” “So I’m not allowed to disagree now?” “You know exactly what happened and why you’re being asked to leave.”

      Having that backing from your pastor is crucial. I couldn’t possibly act this way with kids if I didn’t know I was the adult who was in charge of keeping them safe, and had the authority I needed to make decisions. I might make a mistake! I might misjudge a kid and be too harsh. I can always apologize, which is a good role modeling behavior and does good things for our relationship and my humility. But I can’t go back and make kids safe if I failed to protect them. You’re the authority and you need to own that authority to keep people safe, including James, whose behavior makes him a wildly unsafe person to be with and isolates him from true connections with others. It’s okay to refuse to engage his pedantry just as it’s okay to refuse to engage his harassment. You don’t need to engage reasonably and genuinely with an unreasonable, disingenous person — reasonableness and genuineness are privileges that you gain when you return the favor. Until then, all you get is a hard boundary and no second chances.

      1. TychaBrahe*

        “What if one of them talks to me, am I not allowed to respond?”

        Actually, the answer to that one is, “James, there is not a single woman in this room who thinks you aren’t harassing and cornering them, and you and I both know that none of them are EVER going to initiate a conversation with you.”

  38. voyager1*

    I am going to disagree with AAM. This situation with this man is to the point of the pastor just dealing with this guy. Honestly this guy seems more predator then creep. I think the pastor needs to tell him that sexually harassing female members won’t be tolerated. Frankly I would not let the LW handle this, I would be concerned for her safety. Dude clearly doesn’t respect women nor boundaries. Guys can’t just touch women when they want.

    1. fposte*

      It doesn’t sound like he’s touched any of the women to me (and we also don’t know that the pastor is a man).

      More broadly, I also think James’ behavior is pretty common, which is why it gets talked about so much, and if women running stuff find somebody else to deal with people like that every time rather than dealing with it ourselves, we hobble and undermine ourselves. It makes sense to be aware of and minimize risk, but minimizing risk comes at a price too.

      1. Analyst*

        “He’s draped his arm across the back of a woman’s chair” – he must have been touching the woman who sat in the chair, and also that’s a physical maneuver of control.

        1. fposte*

          No, it’s not necessarily touching the woman, and I don’t think we want to claim that it was when the OP didn’t say.

          And while it’s a significant maneuver, it’s also a common maneuver, of many things that may but don’t always include control, and it’s not something that proves him dangerous or becomes a reason why the OP can’t deal with this guy herself.

          1. AMT*

            Abusers and creeps feed on technicalities and plausible deniability like this. Yes, draping your arm across the back of a woman’s chair isn’t necessarily alarming for someone with no prior weird behavior. It IS alarming with this particular guy. You stop getting the benefit of the doubt once you have a history of harassment!

            1. AnonEMoose*

              Exactly. It’s the equivalent of the teenage guy who “yawns” and oh, look, suddenly his arm is around his girlfriend’s shoulders. It is, or can be, a way of testing the boundary to see if he can get closer to her without her objecting, but doing so in a way that leaves him able to “plausibly” claim something like “I was just stretching out a bit.”

              Creepers and abusers are very adept at pushing/testing boundaries in ways that make their victims look “crazy” for objecting, unless, of course, the person they’re complaining to is aware.

            2. Allison*

              Yes, exactly! Smart creeps know better than to break the rules, they do everything they can technically get away with without breaking any rules, but just because someone’s not breaking a rule doesn’t mean they’re not violating people’s boundaries.

            3. fposte*

              At no point did I say his behavior was appropriate. He was being cast as a particular *threat* based on the notion that he was touching women, and we don’t know that he was touching women. He’s still an offender.

          2. AMT*

            Just to add, I don’t think that OP should make the pastor deal with behavior like this every time it happens, but based on her description of him, I’d be a bit hesitant to talk to him alone myself, and I’m male. When in doubt, make it a two-person job.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              Also, when having this type of conversation, it can be sound practice to have a witness, and to have mixed genders involved in the conversation.

              1. AMT*

                I hadn’t thought of that. You’re right, the guy will probably claim that she said something horrible. I mean, he might claim that anyway, but it’ll be harder to pull it off if other staff members were there.

  39. Anna No Mouse*

    When I was teaching English abroad to adult students, I had one class that was hands down my most fun. It was a conversational English class, so we just chatted a lot, went over slang terms (I did an entire class on the many uses of the word “piss” in both American and British slang), and discussed conversational etiquette.

    Towards the end of the term, the school added a new student to let him “test drive” the class to see if he wanted to join for the following semester. He was loud, obnoxious, missed social clues, spoke over people, laughed loudly at his own jokes despite no one else laughing, and made a few borderline inappropriate comments to the only female student there. After two classes with this guy, some of my regulars stopped showing up. I spoke to my boss, and he told me to just explain what behavior was unacceptable, and to let him know he either needed to control himself, or I’d ask him not to come back. My boss totally had my back.

    But the damage was done, and even though this problem student didn’t show up for the final class of the term, only one other student did. She and I decided to go out for a beer.

    1. Mando Diao*

      This reminds me of a book club I joined once. It was a bunch of women from my English MA program, so we quickly got into a neat groove of how the conversations and analyses were going to flow. One time, someone brought a guy friend, who hadn’t read the book and who started suggesting books that didn’t jive with the direction of the group. Of course, some of the members wanted to be “open-minded” and “welcoming,” so the direction was allowed to shift a little. Eventually, the club was overwhelmed by men who had no interest in the original reading list or having discussions that referred to literary criticism and our other coursework. The women eventually stopped coming. Instead of starting their own club, men invaded mine and drove me and the other women out. I really enjoyed that club and I’m still really sad about what happened to it.

  40. Forget T-Bone Steak, Let's Eat T-Rex Steak*

    Ooh, I’ve been the administrator for a church and they are a hotbed for workplace dysfunction because no one wants to offend a tithing member. Consequently performance issues are never dealt with and parishioners are left to run rampant. Think of it this way, part of the pastor’s (and probably yours) job description is to shepherd the flock so to speak, up to and including revoking membership (check your bylaws). So by not dealing with this member, your staff isn’t doing its job. You don’t want this person representing your congregation ad chasing off other members.

  41. Observer*

    I just want to add one issue that I didn’t see well covered (although I could have missed something.) It seems to me that this person is putting your church in a precarious legal situation. I would absolutely NOT bet against a lawsuit. Even if you win, it could cost you a lot and be perfectly terrible publicity for you.

    1. Chriama*

      I don’t actually think that’s likely. This isn’t a volunteer situation, and James is attending as a member of the public just like the women he’s harassing. If he was in a position of authority over them I’d see your point, but I think there are plenty of valid reasons to get this guy out of there that don’t include the threat of lawsuits.

      1. Observer*

        Sure, there are LOTS of good reasons to get rid of the guy. But some people are not going to be motivated so much by that, while the threat of a lawsuit might. I’m obviously not talking about the OP herself here, but possibly others who have to be on board. They all need to realize that they have to stop being so “gentle”.

        These events are open to the public, but that does not mean that they have to allow EVERYONE in, no matter what. And they do have a duty of basic care to make sure that attendees are safe. So, if they see that someone has a pattern of actively harassing women and the people in charge have not taken reasonable and effective action to stop it, there is an argument to be made that they are complicit in the harassment – and therefore discriminating against women in accommodations at a public event.

      2. Observer*

        For some reason my earlier comment hasn’t shown up.

        I totally agree that there are plenty of good reasons to boot this guy, aside from lawsuits, but it’s possible that some of the decision makers at the OPs org may be more motivated by this. (That may help explain the pastor;s “gentleness”, in fact.)

        In any case, the reason why the organization might be vulnerable is because it does have the ability to bar people and it does have a basic duty of care to prevent foreseeable harm. They KNOW that James is a problem, so an argument might be made that they are allowing women to harmed BECAUSE they are women. Not a good thing.

  42. Miles*

    I can all but guarantee you his statement about his “dues supporting the church” holds about as much water as a fishing hook.

    For one thing, how many paying members does your church have? A few hundred? If so his fees are less than a percent of incoming money from just membership fees. Over the long term, losing that much in fees is the difference in serving food or not at one event every few years. Big deal.

    Next, I know I’ve personally chosen to avoid events where I knew some creep was going to make me uncomfortable the whole time, and I’m a guy! This is not the sort of thing where you can gain thick skin by constantly being bombarded by it, you gain thick skin by knowing you can choose to avoid it, if it gets bad enough. So the next question is, how many members have chosen to go to another church’s similar events, and maybe even moved their membership, just to avoid him? If the number is 1, then that effectively cancels out any benefit his membership dues are giving your church. If the number is greater than 1, his money is basically toxic.

    So, if his only excuse for why he should be allowed to stay despite his behavior is that he paid that annual membership fee, take it for what it is: yet another self-entitled statement that has no relevance to the situation.

  43. Soupspoon McGee*

    I have encountered this guy far too many times. I used to work in higher ed, and it’s astonishing how many older men with power (tenure, C-level jobs, etc.) prey on younger women who either don’t realize what’s happening or don’t feel powerful enough to stop it. In the rare instances they’re called on it, they play innocent, claim their feelings are hurt, and turn the tables on the people standing up to them. “Excluding me is not very Christ like” is the same as “How dare you reject my kind mentoring advice; no wonder your career will never go anywhere here, you horrible incompetent bitchy person” (but in subtext, so plausible deniability).

    Now I’m getting angry, because I can think of three–no four–instances of this right off the top of my head. In two cases, I’m sure the creepers are still creeping unchecked. In two others, they finally crossed legal lines (police, not just civil law) and lost or left their jobs.

    It took legal action to stop them. Let that sink in. Our culture is so invested in not rocking the boat that creepers are supported by their institutions until the police are involved.

    1. Soupspoon McGee*

      I thought of three more.

      I know a former nun who told me the janitor chased the nuns around and cornered them in closets, physically barring their way. They complained to the mother superior, who blamed the nuns. Apparently, being dressed in full habits didn’t prevent them from somehow leading him on.

      Creeper at church picked a hair of my shirt when I was about 13–in front of a group of women–and laughed when I blushed and got flustered. It was my fault I had hair on my boob, or I couldn’t accept help?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This makes me even angrier when I hear of WOMEN perpetuating this stuff. I am sorry this happened to you. There was absolutely no reason on God’s green earth for ANYONE to remove that hair off of your chest. grrr.

  44. Soupspoon McGee*

    I see a lot of recommendations to enforce an age limit for these networking groups. To me, that’s like creating a policy or sending out a blanket email to address one person’s bad work. You can call him on his behavior specifically. You can ban him from attending groups or the church entirely because of his behavior, because he will find another group to victimize. You do not have to defend your decision in court. He’s already had too many chances. And if he pulls that “You aren’t being very Christ-like!” victim crap, a) you aren’t Christ, b) Christ stood up to bullies and people who hid behind ancient rules and laws to behave badly and c) Christ was not a manipulative creeper.

    1. LisaLee*

      My read on the OP’s letter was that there already *was* an age-limit in place that just wasn’t really enforced and James was using that to get in, which is why I suggested just enforcing it. You could be the nicest person in the world, but if a space isn’t meant for you, you shouldn’t be there.

      If the LW wants to leave attendance open, she’s totally right to say something like, “Melissa asked you to stop doing X, Y, and Z. Since you haven’t stopped, you cannot attend this event.”

  45. Allison*

    I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a swing dancer, and this behavior is a huge issue in just about every social dancing scene basically all over the world. At bar dances, it’s tough to manage, but at organized dances in church event halls and studios that have been rented out just for the event, organizers are definitely able to approach people about that kind of behavior and they very often do. There are several blogs on dealing with creepers in the swing and blues community that could give you some ideas, but it boils down to this: approach the person, calmly tell them exactly what they’re doing to make people uncomfortable and warn them that if they don’t stop, they will be kicked out. If they continue, kick them out of the venue. Could be a temporary ban, but if they come back before they’re allowed back or they come back when they are allowed and continue skeeving people out, it’s permaban time. It’s also important to make it clear to all attendees that certain forms of behavior that make people uncomfortable will not be tolerated. The Mobtown Ballroom in Baltimore explicitly says on their website that attendees can’t use the dances as a pickup bar.

    In this case, because he complained to the pastor who seems to be on your side, have the pastor have a hand in this. He needs to stop gently steering him away and either tell him “you’re outside the target demographic and you’re not meshing with the attendees, you need to stop attending now” OR “you can only continue attending if you adhere to these standards of behavior.”

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      I feel for you. I don’t know why, but “learn to swing dance and meet women there” seems to be advice for all kinds of men looking for love, from the most feminist-leaning to the downright PUA types, but especially for guys who haven’t had much dating experience and are socially awkward, which is fine, it seems like a fun hobby, but I’m definitely put off learning because it brings up visions of hoardes of guys there purely for dates.

      (When I was in my 20s, it was Salsa that was recommended in this way, I wonder what it was before, and what’ll be next?)

      1. Allison*

        For what it’s worth, creepy guys and jerks are definitely a thing, but I generally feel pretty safe at dances. I too had visions of guys hitting on me, and I worried they’d yell at me and say “well then why are you even here???” when I said no, but the reality is that the vast majority of dancers are awesome people. And if you decide to lead, you really won’t be dealing with a lot of men anyway.

      2. Laura*

        Yeah, I stopped doing salsa because guys got gropey. And have taken a few swing dancing classes and got a slightly off vibe from some men so stopped that too. Sigh.

  46. Not So NewReader*

    Thank you, Alison, for taking this question about a church organization. Our churches do need help in so many ways and it is important to open these type of topics up for public discussion. The discussions behind locked doors method, does not work. Yet, many churches struggle with basic “where do we draw the line?” or “how do I convey this important idea?” type questions. The answers are not in the rooms with the locked doors.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Besides this, I think this discussion is also helpful to many organizations who struggle with the issue of how to handle inappropriate behavior/creepers. Sad that it’s so widespread, really. And yet, also kind of perversely reassuring in the sense of “it’s really not just us” (whoever “us” happens to be).

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think that it’s important to know that the problem is widespread. Acknowledgement is the first step to solving these problems. Once people see that their situation is not a one-off, but rathar, commonly occurring problem the REAL discussions can begin. I am thinking of the mushroom saying about darkness and manure. Turn the light on and get rid of the crap, quit feeding/harboring these fungi.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I think one of the things it took me a while to understand is that you don’t have to make an airtight case to someone about why their behavior is inappropriate. You can just tell them “hey, you’re acting inappropriately toward women and we’ve all noticed it. It needs to stop.”

          1. TootsNYC*

            That’s actually a possible script, similar to Marie’s approach w/ kids who rules-lawyer you.

            “I know you understand me. I’m sorry you don’t like the message, but I know you understand what I mean.”

            1. Marie*

              Yes! It’s not your job to explain it in a way they finally accept and agree with. It’s your job to state a boundary and enforce it. Creepers try to subtly shift to the former scenario, because they can keep that one going FOREVER, which allows them to keep up the creepin’ in the meantime, because they just don’t understaaaaaaaaaand, it just doesn’t seem faaaaaaaaair, explain it agaaaaaaaain. Same rules for break-ups: all it takes is one person who wants to break up for a break-up to happen. Whether or not the other person agrees, understands, likes it, or thinks it’s fair has no effect on whether or not the break-up has happened.

              It’s not that boundaries can’t be negotiated, again, with a reasonable, genuine person who has shown they’re acting in good faith. But boundaries do not require the consent of two parties. One person lays a boundary, and the other either follows it or does not. The boundary is there whether the other person agrees with it or likes it or thinks it’s fair or not. Their feelings on the subject don’t change the existence of the boundary, and their actions don’t change the existence of the boundary, but their feelings and actions do tell everybody watching whether or not they care at all about the safety and well-being of the people whose boundaries they choose to keep crossing.

              1. AnonEMoose*

                This is so important to remember. When the convention started heavily pushing awareness of the harassment policy, we got so. much. handwringing.

                It was partly along the lines of “I’m uncomfortable because I don’t want to acknowledge that harassment can and does happen here.”

                And partly along the lines of “But, socially awkward! But, no one will dare flirt with anyone Ever Again because, what if they get accused of harassment for complimenting someone’s costume?”

                Pretty sure I haven’t noticed any decrease in flirting in the years since. And the point is not “never flirt or talk to anyone,” the point (oversimplifying greatly) is, if someone leaves a conversation, or flat-out tells you “leave me alone” or any variant thereof, you LEAVE THEM ALONE.

                And the point is, you don’t get to grope someone without consent – it doesn’t matter if they’re wearing a scanty costume, or a corset, or a kilt.

                But there were some (I think) genuinely clueless people and some creepers whose initial reaction was to frantically try to rules lawyer the policy out of existence, supposedly out of concern for the poor, downtrodden, socially awkward males, and can’t women just be more understanding?

    2. Agnes*

      I also appreciate how respectful the discussion has been. I was worried it would steer towards “Religious people are a bunch of deluded hypocrites, what did you expect?”, so I appreciate the attempts to grapple with the spiritual side of the question as well.

  47. Kathryn T.*

    One point I’d like to make that I haven’t seen made here yet is that you can bar James from the meetings, the activities, the social events, the lectures, even regular services without barring him from the church.

    My church had a long-time member in very good standing who was arrested for truly horrifying crimes involving online solicitation of young children. As soon as they learned of his arrest, one of our pastors visited him in jail and told him that he, as one who has transgressed and fallen short, was as in need of the redemption of Christ as anyone on this earth, and that he would not be removed from the church or from his access to pastoral care on the basis of these crimes — but that he was never allowed to be on church property, or anywhere near it, ever again for the rest of eternity. That man is in prison now for the rest of his life, and as far as I know still gets regular visits and phone calls from our clergy members.

    So yeah, the church should be inclusive and forgiving, as Christ was inclusive and forgiving. That doesn’t mean that you need to subject the other non-creep parishioners to a creep.

  48. Anderson*

    I worked once with a guy that was incredibly uncomfortable to work with because all the “non-sense act and conversation”. Later one I found out that he had Asperger syndrome. That explained everything!
    For me, this guys sounds like one.

    1. Kat*

      You understand that many people with Asperger’s are lovely people, with excellent social skills and manners? That they would be the first to be mortified if someone told them they acted inappropriately? Saying that a creepy sexual harasser has Aspergers as the explanation is extremely insulting to anyone with the syndrome and to the women affected. This guy is a creeper. No matter what the reason is, it’s uneacceptable.

      1. Kyrielle*

        This. I have worked or been friends with more than one person with Asperger’s in my life (probably more than I know, but at least more than one that I do know about), and while they could be a little quirky, they were lovely people, kind and polite, and on the one occasion I told one of them that X behavior was making me uncomfortable, I got an immediate apology and it stopped. (It wasn’t creeper behavior, either, it was just awkward.)

        Certainly I won’t argue there can never be someone acting like this who has Asperger’s. But I will argue that as Iphigenia says below, the person is still a jerk. They still need to own their behavior and fix it, and decided not to. And that refusal to change and entitlement is a symptom of being a jerk, not of Asperger’s.

        1. Marie*

          Yep. Neurodivergent people don’t have a corner on the jerk market. It’s a very open market — everybody can buy a share.

      2. Tinker*

        Can confirm.

        I have a number of friends who are neurodiverse in some way and I am ambiguously autistic myself. The thing about excusing this sort of slimy boundary-pushing behavior as potentially reflecting autism is that it may convince some people that this person needs to be indulged (which is NOT actually a positive result), but it does not actually make anyone more comfortable with the behavior being engaged in. And it casts autistic people as “folks who do intensely irritating and potentially scary things in social groups, but who must be kind of tolerated and allowed to occupy the space while using indirect social signaling to hedge them away from doing too much damage”. That’s not accurate, and it’s also an especially terrible thing to have to deal with as a person who doesn’t do well with indirect social signaling but DOES understand the concept of hurting other people and/or being the subject of general distaste.

        It’s been said above, but I also want to reiterate here — with all the concern about this guy possibly being autistic, where’s the concern about the possibly-autistic person in this guy’s target group who might not pick up on warning signs, isn’t good at extricating themselves from awkward social situations, or who is used to feeling pressured and uncomfortable in situations that they know other people classify as “normal stuff that you have to tolerate” and consequently have a hard time advocating for their needs in that domain?

        Because I assure you, if you’re always seeing Jameses who are supposedly autistic because they don’t receive social signals from people that they read as having less social power and you never see Julias who are autistic because they have persistent deficits in social communication and repetitive patterns of behavior… and who have less social power, on this and other accounts… and are presently being backed into a corner by James… then you’re missing a big part of the picture.

        1. Observer*

          Because I assure you, if you’re always seeing Jameses who are supposedly autistic because they don’t receive social signals from people that they read as having less social power and you never see Julias who are autistic because they have persistent deficits in social communication and repetitive patterns of behavior… and who have less social power, on this and other accounts… and are presently being backed into a corner by James… then you’re missing a big part of the picture.

          This is SUCH a good point. And, I would say that the autistic Julia’s are far more common than Autistic Jame’s

    2. Iphigenia*

      Whether or not James has Aspergers is irrelevant. He has been told to stop his bad behaviour and made a conscious choice to whine and justify his poor conduct. Either way, he’s a jerk and needs to be banned from the networking event before he damages it even further.

    3. Observer*

      Are you really claiming that Aspergers explains sexual harassment? If you really mean that, then you clearly don’t understand much about Aspergers.

    4. Observer*

      It sounds like you are claiming that the Aspergers diagnoses explained a former co-worker’s creepy and harassing behavior. If you think this is correct, then you clearly do NOT understand much about Aspergers.

  49. anon for this*

    Ok. So I’ve not read all the responses (so many! I came late to this party…!)… but will throw my own up.

    This guy sounds like a handful. Not wanting to armchair diagnose, but there’s a good chance there’s more going on here than is obvious. If that could be true you don’t have to pussy foot around it, you can say “I understand that you aren’t happy that we are sitting here explaining the behaviour standards to you, but we have felt that you don’t understand them. Do you have any questions about why we’ve talked to you?” and do explain the standards. A label, a disability, a social communication disorder doesn’t mean that they get to be an asshat, it is not a free pass. It might mean they need things explained to them explicitly. And if they are brushing you off with a don’t care attitude that could be the same disorder, or they might be asshats through and through, either way… explain exactly what is an issue (like you would manager to employee) and set the bar. Their behaviour will determine whether they are welcome then.

    Because you are a church this is harder. There’s an expectation that churches will be more forgiving, take more crap basically, because they are in the business of working with people and forgiving. It’s true in this case, to an extent. If your attendee isn’t acting in a Christ like way you can bring that up, with specific examples (don’t get into a shopping list of exact behaviours – or he’ll stop those and start new ones, make sure you generalise your examples, say “Things like when you do this, or that, and other similar actions” ) and if they say they can’t act the way you want then you can talk through with them options for support. Being Christian doesn’t mean you have to put up with other people’s poor behaviour (in group or out), and it doesn’t mean your church has. If your church has a strong focus on supporting people then you could well come up with some other spaces and places for this person, link them in with social groups that are more appropriate (maybe even create one), link them in with other churches and their events etc. We had a person with a serious issue try to join our church that was incredibly problematic to both the safety of members of our church, and to the future perception of security around this persons rehabilitation, and we quietly sought out a couple of other churches that would not have the same issue and encouraged this person to go there, with the clear explanation of why. We didn’t reject him, we found a safer, more secure place for him, that meant his rehabilitation wasn’t jeopardised. Saying no to someone can be done from a place of loving, if you examine the reasons why and meet their needs still. That’s what I think your church could well do – ask the pastoral care team or similar to help you come up with a plan about finding out why this man attends these things and if there’s a reasonable way to meet those needs, even if it’s not in-house.

    If he argues that you aren’t being Christlike don’t get drawn on it. He’s baiting the argument to turn it to where he wants. It’s not an argument, it’s not a debate. There are unacceptable behaviours and even Christ himself sets the standards. Ask him to thoroughly examine and come to you and share with you where in the bible it says he can be rude and inconsiderate to others, where it states that he is allowed to ignore the freedom and will of others to satisfy his own wishes. Then you can have a debate. It’s not about what you are allowed to do, it’s about what HE is. He might well find some totally out of context and obscure passages, great, now the Pastor and he can sit down and talk theology, preferably at the same time as this group so the group is free.

    I wouldn’t ban older people, personally I feel limiting people arbitrarily means you lose experience and variance in a group which makes it less healthy. Banning older people just because of their age is disrespectful. If this is a networking group for adults new to the working world then having a few older, more experienced people could actually be a benefit – if they are behaving! Ban on behaviour, not on an arbitrary statistic. It shows the congregation what’s ok and what’s not, and treats members who do know how to behave with respect. I understand you want this to be predominantly for a set age, and tailor the style of program, the culture of it to that age, and if you do that well they are the people who will attend – the others might pop in and out and move along if it doesn’t suit them.

  50. DellaAndTheDealer*

    He was told to stop. He was told that people don’t enjoy his company. He doubled down trying to use his money contributions as a hammer.

    Oh “its a church” … “his spiritual…”

    What about the spiritual care of, inclusiveness, and comfort of all the women he harasses?

    Oh wait, *his* spiritual care as one lone male trumps all the women?

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