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

Remember last week’s letter about the guy who was hassling women at church events for young professionals (a demographic he didn’t even belong to), among other obnoxious behavior? Here’s the update from the letter-writer charged with dealing with the situation.

I talked to my pastor today, and we went through all of it. I even quoted him the whole Missing Stair Theory! The pastor revealed that a few members who I thought were in their 20s and 30s are actually in their 40s and just look really young. But these people are well behaved and accepted amongst the younger people. So we’re going to work hard at only marketing to young people but we’re not ready to disinvite the well-behaved “aged-out” crowd.

We finally agreed we would tell him he’s not invited to the young adults group but could still come to general church events. We agreed that we are disinviting him because of his age AND his behavior. We agreed I would tell him and the pastor would be available for backup.

So I worked up my courage and called. First, I asked him to reflect on what Melissa said and he sounded sad but was saying things like, “I get it” and “I understand.” I was wondering if he already had made the decision to stop coming. Hurray! Fearing it was too good to be true, I pushed him to clarify whether or not he’s going to stop coming. Then all of the pushback started: He’s stuck by us for so long, he pays dues and he knows for a fact that other people don’t, some people just come to church to socialize and don’t pray, this is all un-Christian gossip, this makes the church look bad, this is peer pressure, Melissa shouldn’t have been so rude, in fact, this is all Melissa’s doing. I intervened and said, “No, it’s not all Melissa. People have been saying this before Melissa arrived” but he kept hinting that clearly I and the pastor don’t believe he’s a problem and we’re just doing due diligence on Melissa’s wild accusations.

Finally, he clarified his position: There are other aged-out members and when they come to our events, he’s going to come too because that’s only fair. I was proud of myself for saying, “It’s not about fair, it’s just not appropriate.” But he clearly wanted to make this an age issue and because he’s never (never!) creeped anyone out, age is the only barrier here. Sigh. At this point he’s saying he’s willing to talk about this with the board and the pastor but I sensed that he was pushing this off into a Larger Discussion For The Future and I decided to transfer him to the pastor so we could just do this now.

I didn’t hear what they discussed but the pastor gave me the pertinent information. James will only come to events where his other aged-out friends are going, which will cut his presence down to just a few times a year. The pastor will work on counseling him on his behavior and how to change the perception that he’s creepy. One thing I didn’t mention earlier is that James considers himself our promoter and prides himself being involved with the church. So by telling him to quit coming to events, he would have to mentally resign his “post” and accept that he’s not a goodwill ambassador, he’s a pest. I’m not sure when that will happen.

I feel let down that we didn’t (couldn’t?) ban him all together and we’re going to have to keep negotiating his behavior. I hate the idea that he could creep out more women, but at least now he knows he is not slick or subtle in his attentions and we’re watching. So, not a triumph but a start.

Thanks so much to Alison and commenters. When I was struggling with my nervousness about calling him, I actually thought of everyone here. I told myself, “They would cheer me on! They want me to be brave! Do it for them!” So I can honestly say I did a very hard professional task because of you all. Thanks!

{ 288 comments… read them below }

  1. esra*

    how to change the perception that he’s creepy

    Step 1: Stop being creepy.

    Good work, OP! It’s not the best result, but it sounds like a good start.

    1. Christy*

      Real question: Do you think it really makes a difference why his behavior changes, so long as it changes? Like, if he stops ____ because people see it as creepy, then he’s not doing the creepy thing. Like how making yourself smile makes you happier. Because I think a pastor has some obligation to help a congregant be a better person in a way that bosses or friends don’t, necessarily. So if the pastor gets the guy to stop doing creepy things, the guy will stop doing the creepy things.

      He sounds like the fracking worst, though, still. I shudder at the idea of him.

      1. Cat*

        Yeah, I think my answer would be different if it was any kind of setting, but a pastor actually seems like the appropriate person to work with him on this, which is a good thing. I don’t know about the continued attendance at events a few times a year, but if the social milieu of those has mitigated the issues in the past maybe those are good “trial” events.

        1. Christy*

          Right–I think the best way to handle the events, in an ideal world, would be some sort of waiting for the OK from the pastor before attending the events again. And like, it would explicitly be a trial run. But really, honestly, I don’t think the guy wants to change, so I don’t think he’d go for any of that.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. At minimum he should have been barred for 6 months before a trial run. This is one of those no rule, rule situations where the reprimand is meaningless. What is ‘occasionally’ or ‘only a few’? Sounds like ‘any time I feel like it’ to me.

            1. GovWorker*

              This is a CHURCH? Shouldn’t there be more acceptance of a misfit? Just tell him straight up which behaviors are not acceptable. He could be autism spectrum or something.

              1. Snowy Day*

                The bible itself states the we must confront one another where there is a problem, it does not say accept all who sin against us without any sort of confrontation. A clergy man (or woman) should know this passage by heart and be able to apply it.

                “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that, by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).

                Biblical boundaries, you might say. And Jesus could lay down the law, he was not a wimp.

                1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

                  Huh, this made me realise that I don’t think I’ve bothered looking at the commenting guidelines in a couple of years. I’m a regular reader and a regular-enough commenter that I hadn’t thought to re-check it.

                2. Dorothy Mantooth*

                  Alison, not sure if it’s just me or my settings, but when I clicked on the link above to see the discussion/comments you mentioned from the original post, it just took me to the post and did not bring me right to the particular comment.

              2. Preux*

                Did you fail to read the original post, in which Melissa (referenced in this post) told him what behaviors he needed to stop and his response was that he can do what he wants?

              3. Cafe Au Lait*

                There’s a difference between “misfit” and “makes me feel socially, emotionally and physically unsafe.” Women are expected to bear the burden to “making nice” to individuals who rub us the wrong way.

                May I direct you to this lovely and illuminating blog post “5 Geek Social Fallacies” ? (http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html). While directed to the geek culture, it certainly applies in other culture, including and especially in this scenario.

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  I love that so many of us are familiar with the Geek Social Fallacies; I think they’re actually applicable in more situations than most people realize.

              4. AnonEMoose*

                And let me direct you to this post from Paging Dr. Nerdlove about why the “socially awkward exception” is not an excuse and places an unfair burden on women in particular: http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2014/03/socially-awkward-isnt-an-excuse/

                Short version: When I’m at a social or networking event, I am there to socialize and/or network. Neither I nor any other woman is responsible for educating someone as to just why his behavior creeped me out or giving him another chance. Why is his comfort more important than mine is?

              5. KH*

                Churches are not required to allow men to creep on women.

                I could take your original comment and respond: This is a CHURCH? And women are allowed to feel unsafe in a church environment so as not to alienate one person?

              6. Dust Bunny*

                I’m on the autism spectrum and it’s not a free pass to be a jerk. He could change if he wanted to, but he doesn’t want to.

                My dad sounds kind of like this, although with a somewhat different manifestation, and he will. not. change. because he doesn’t think he should have to. He’s also on the autism spectrum, but he’s egotistical and arrogant. That’s what you’re really dealing with here: Egotistical and arrogant. If James were clueless but well-meaning, he would adapt his behavior when the problems were brought to his attention.

                Failure to rein this in is unfair to the women who are being creeped out by him, by the way. I’ve been in social groups where there was That One Guy whom nobody really wanted to confront, and it ruined it for (usually for the women). Since James thinks paying dues and being a praying Christian entitles him to do as he pleases, the pastor needs to set him straight on this and insist that he reform.

              7. Annonymouse*

                Yes, there should be.
                But it doesn’t mean one of the misfits gets to creep everyone out and double down on “I pay my dues, I can do as I please!”

                There’s a line between awkward and unintentionally weird and proudly being a jerk.

                He is clearly jerk.

          2. Miles*

            >I don’t think the guy wants to change

            I’m hoping his verbal responses are just a result of being defiant towards unwritten/social rules he doesn’t understand and that his attitude towards that would start to change once it clicks.

            (And this kind of thing feels so simple to everyone who understands that most people will refuse to explain it. If, for example, you’ve ever had to deal with someone on the IT helpdesk telling you you can’t have wifi because of “pci compliance” but refusing to explain what that means or why it’s important, then you might know how this guy feels)

      2. esra*

        I think outward change will affect inward change. I’m just also very tired of things like this where someone is inappropriate and the solution is not for them to stop being inappropriate, it’s for all those sensitive people out there to stop seeing them as inappropriate. Like those non-apologies that start off: “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by…”

        They were offended! That’s why you’re apologizing! No if!

        1. OriginalYup*

          Yes to all of this. There’s this whole gross social narrative about how creepers like James don’t know any better and just need a sympathetic guiding hand, so we all have to contort ourselves to accommodate their feelings and explain why/how their bad behavior isn’t acceptable in exactly the right non-accusatory way using the perfect tone of voice or whatever. Even though they already know perfectly goddamn well it’s not okay. Gah.

          1. The Butcher of Luverne*

            “The pastor will work on counseling him on his behavior and how to change the perception that he’s creepy.”
            The pastor is refusing to see the reality of this guy and how toxic his behavior is. Pastor is contorting instead of assertively laying out the issue and creating boundaries.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Yeah, I’m a little disappointed more directness wasn’t used regarding his inappropriate behavior and the convo kept circling back to his age and the ex employee. Of course we don’t know what all was said to him by pastor but I’m getting the feeling he tap danced around that part, again.

          2. AnonEMoose*

            And how women, in particular, are “supposed” to take on the emotional labor of providing this “sympathetic guiding hand.” I don’t buy it.

            If the “Jameses” of the world are capable of being respectful to others, then they are capable of being respectful to women. They’re just choosing not to, because they know they can get away with it, and the woman will be dismissed as “hysterical,” “paranoid,” “unreasonable,” or “unfriendly” if she objects to the behavior.

            1. sam*

              Yes. Every time I see someone harping on about how “affirmative consent” is so damn confusing, I wonder “how do you actually get through your day, what with the ‘accidentally’ walking up to people and bear hugging them, or grabbing their hands to shake, or kissing them hello, or barging in to conversations, or simply walking into the middle of freaking traffic, because you have no ability to read or discern human social cues?”

              (of course everyone has social cue misfires, but most of the time, we somehow figure out how to interact and converse with other human beings without actually assaulting them).

        2. insert witty name here*

          But that’s not what’s happening here. The pastor will be working with James to correct his behavior – which is what should be happening. In many religions, the pastor can serve in the role of therapist and it sounds like that’s what’s happening here.

          1. Observer*

            Unfortunately, there is no doubt that it’s not going to happen. The reality is that the pastor was not willing to recognize and deal with the reality. And instead of dealing with it for what it was – ie inappropriate behavior it was being dealt with as an age issue with some inappropriate behavior thrown in. Hence instead of banning him from ALL events, he’s only being banned from some events. And then the Pastor allowed this to become ALL about age, so he can come to any event where he knows that aged out members are coming.

            What about this scenario makes you think that the Pastor is going to give him the guidance he needs.

          2. Koko*

            I tend to agree with others who say he doesn’t sound like a person who will be receptive to counseling – especially if it’s as it was worded in the letter and he thinks of it as “changing other people’s [to him, unfounded] perception that he’s creepy,” not “learning how to be polite and respectful to women in public.”

            My experience has been that unless they’re willing to approach it from the latter perspective, they won’t change. Instead they’ll want to have a list of clearly defined rules for what’s OK and what isn’t, and when they later harass someone while technically following the rules they’ll cling to having been told it would be OK and claim that the rules are unfair because they’re always changing, claim that it’s unfair because women can just decide behavior X is harassment totally at random on their own to hurt or punish him, claim that it’s unfair because someone else did some version of the same thing and didn’t get in trouble, and so on.

            Essentially it keeps the issue focused on the idea that specific mechanical actions are the problem as opposed to a lack of respect for boundaries with women and/or a lack of self-awareness. Those are the real problems that need to be addressed if he ever wants to not be a creeper.

            1. MoinMoin*

              God, this is such a perfectly worded explanation of this behavior that I’m C&Ping it to refer to in the future. Thanks.

          3. Student*

            Too bad the pastor is using a bunch of unwilling young women as James’s “therapy tools”. That’s what makes this wrong. Those women have made it clear they don’t appreciate James’s behavior; why should they have to be the pastor-appointed practice grounds for this guy after that? What exactly would they have to say or do to be treated with the same deference that James is being treated with?

            1. Brisvegan*

              Yep. This.

              The clear signal to every woman who complained is that James’ right to attend (and leave them in apprehension about his intention to creep) is much more important than them feeling safe, welcome or respected by their church.

              Women will now see that they are second class congregants, expected to be learning experiences/bait/victims for a creeper until (or if) he ever either gets a clue or goes well over whatever line exists in the minds of church hierarchy (which is clearly after creeping, sexual harrassment and inappropriate behaviour which would drive someone like me away). How can they trust that this church is not like others that would turn a blind eye to worse behaviours?

              Unfortunately, far too many harrassment and sex scandals start like this. Actually seeing women as worthy of equal respect to creepy James should have led to a stronger outcome.

              I know OP did their best, but I think the pastor let everyone but James down.

              1. DropTable~DropsMic*

                yep yep yep.

                James’ continued attendance will make the women he’s harassed feel unwelcome, effectively excluding them. In the name of “not excluding” one person, they’ve driven many more away.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I would not be driven away. This crap makes me furious. I would keep going, and every time he did something creepy, I would complain to the pastor. Again and again and again. If he did nothing, I would complain to the board. Again and again and again.

                  I have no compassion for this guy whatsoever. And I have little respect for the pastor after this update. He’s just another manager who doesn’t want to manage.

                2. JanetInSC*

                  Yes, Elizabeth West! Young women should ‘take back the night.’ Hope they are successful.

                3. Elizabeth West*

                  @JanetInSC–Well, I’m old, LOL, and I can understand why younger people would feel uncomfortable complaining to the pastor. It takes quite a few years before you stop worrying about what other people think of you enough to say what needs to be said.

                  You nailed it, though–it’s one of the most important things we can learn, to stand up for ourselves.

                4. Brisvegan*

                  Just to explain myself a bit re the being driven away:

                  I’m not young or particularly quiet. However, if something is completely optional and mostly social, my introvert self will only go there if I am enjoying it. If there is a person who is annoying or creepy and seems to have some level of standing in the group, is there all the time and is not reined in when there are complaints, I’ll give it a miss. I have better stuff to do (like stay home and read a book!). Plus: there are usually other options to make connections or meet people.

                  I can’t imagine going to a religious group business event to start with, so my “driven away” wouldn’t take much. :) I would ghost pretty easily, anyway, but this would encourage me to skip the events.

        3. Terra*

          The problem with this is that not all “offensive” or “inappropriate” actions are equal. I’m not saying that anyone in this case was overreacting but as a teenager there was at least one person who told my parents that they were “offended” by me wearing lip gloss to a church function because they thought it was too mature. So yes, they were offended but did they have any right to be? The ideal scenario of everyone immediately apologizes for being inappropriate/offensive and never does it again unfortunately relies on everyone being perfectly sane and reasonable and having the same values which just doesn’t happen.

      3. INTP*

        Well, if he stops forcing his presence on women altogether, it would be preferable if he did so because he respects women but still much better than nothing if he did it only so he could continue to go to young adult groups. But if he changes his behavior at the gatherings only because he’s been warned about it and continues to prey on women, just in more subtle ways, that’s no improvement.

      4. sam*

        Oy. part of me worries that teaching this guy how to “change the perception” of his creepiness will not change his inner creepiness at all, but will only serve to help him hide said creepiness from others, which is somehow a worse outcome.

        At least the outward creepiness is a giant red flashing warning sign.

        But maybe that’s just language to use with the guy in order to soft-sell him on the idea that he needs to fix things.

        I read through a lot of the comments on the last thread at the time, but I don’t know if this was discussed after I stopped, and I certainly don’t want to make assumptions about the particular religious traditions of the OP, but…well, given that this is true of many (NOT ALL) religious institutions, is there something also going on vis-a-vis the religious institution that is causing it to “value” this man’s contributions and voice over the many women who are being made uncomfortable and unwelcome?

        (I say this as a lapsed agnostic jew who belonged to a youth group in high school at a synagogue that ended up in its own local scandal thanks to a rabbi with some…issues, so…glass houses and all that.)

        This guy should basically be locked in a room for six months with nothing but back entries of Dr. Nerdlove to read.

        1. Observer*

          Eh, I don’t think this is religiously based sexism. As others pointed out, if you look at the strictures of just about every Christian denomination out there, his behavior is inappropriate, and so is the Pastor’s.

          As and Orthodox Jew, I’d say something similar about scandals in Orthodox synagogues, etc. Most of this type of behavior ranges from “inappropriate” through “absolutely forbidden” to “Deserves excommunication level forbidden”. And, to the extent that people try to use religious dogma to avoid or prevent dealing with these issues, it’s never about officially about this, that or the other group being more “valued” or deserving of a hearing. But, in true reality, most of the time it’s not even about those issues (there are some exceptions, but not many). Sometimes it’s sexism, but more often it’s about institutional protection, personal interests that don’t align with doing the right thing or the like, often mixed with a healthy dose of ignorance.

          1. Annonymouse*

            You also have to look at all the optics.

            Sadly the optics are:
            A) one guy makes ladies feel uncomfortable at events that happen a few times a year

            B) said guy is a long standing member of the church and is going to bitch and loudly to everyone in existence about how the church has done him wrong if he gets banned over this.

            So it makes sense that a church, a place of welcome, sanctuary and community, would have to consider that part as well.

            Which sucks, but makes the pastors actions understandable.

            If it was any other type of club or social group you can easily just go “no, sorry, that’s not how people behave here and you’re no longer welcome here.”

            But even though this guy is a jerk it goes against general church inclusion culture.

        2. Aim Away From Face*

          “…is there something also going on vis-a-vis the religious institution that is causing it to “value” this man’s contributions and voice over the many women who are being made uncomfortable and unwelcome?”

          My thoughts exactly.

      5. Green*

        I think the pastor counseling him was part of the solution. Pastoral care is a really important function of what they do, and while certain *behaviors* shouldn’t be acceptable at church, all kinds of sinners are. One on ones with the pastor to address his spiritual and behavioral problems are a kind thing to do. If he starts missing those, maybe the pastor can help to hold him accountable by asking him not to come to the group.

        I would also continue to be persistent with the pastor on follow-up if the guy continues to bother other people. This needs to be a continuing conversation with some accountability here.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I agree with your follow-up comment. He can’t just try to counsel the guy and then wash his hands of it when nothing happens and say, “Well, I tried.” He needs to be prepared to sanction him if necessary. The victims of his asshattery are going to be looking to the pastor to help them. He may not be able to help both them and James, and he’ll need to recognize that and shift priority to those who were harmed.

        2. Hooptie*

          Maybe he’ll feel that the special attention from the pastor is an ok replacement for getting a reaction (albeit negative) from the women he creeped out?

      6. annonymouse*

        I think he will stop doing more overt creepy behaviour but still be creepy.

        Also the fact he is blaming “evil” Melissa and not listening to OP but willing to work with the pastor indicates a real problem with respecting women and not believing in their authority.

    2. A Non*

      Sometimes the ‘perception’ phrasing works when counseling people to change their problem behavior. I can’t find the article now, but I remember reading a fascinating piece about management consultants who would work with jerk bosses by phrasing it as “we need to manage people’s perceptions of you.” Which meant stopping the behavior that was leading to the boss being perceived as a jerk, aka not being a jerk any more. It seemed to work pretty well for them, since it sidestepped the whole issue of the jerk’s self-perception.

      But that’s for people who are making a profession out of helping jerks not be jerks, not for the people suffering from said jerk!

      1. TootsNYC*

        I have used this as a phrasing. “You may not realize how you come across.” It’s been effective.

        1. Chinook*

          “I have used this as a phrasing. “You may not realize how you come across.” It’s been effective.”

          It is effective because it allows the offender to save face and change behavior without admitting he is wrong. If the goal is to change the behavior, then it is a great technique. It sucks that the offender’s feeling have to be coddled like this, but if the goal is changing behavior, then you do what you need to.

          1. Misty*

            Exactly. I’ve used a variant of “we need to manage people’s perceptions of you” with an employee and she told me upfront that she really appreciated the way I’d framed it, because she didn’t agree with the perception but had to admit that she obviously wasn’t projecting the image she wanted to with her coworkers. It derailed any knee-jerk defensive reaction right off the bat so she could just concentrate on solving the problem.

          2. A Bug!*

            I think that, if a person is prepared to genuinely hold an offender accountable for their actions (rather than just looking for excuses not to), then giving an offender the benefit of the doubt once is a strong tactic that also affords a measure of grace to an oblivious, but well-meaning, schmuck. If the person corrects their actions, that’s good for the group, whether it’s motivated by an outward desire to do well by others, or by an inward desire to avoid consequences.

            More importantly, if the person doesn’t correct their actions, then they’ve lost that shield of plausible deniability. “I told you last week that your personal bubble’s smaller than most people’s, and that you needed to be very mindful of giving people more space. You said you understood. But at last night’s event, it was like that conversation never happened.”

            That said, the circumstances of this case make me doubt it would work on this guy. First, I get the feeling that the pastor is just looking for excuses not to hold the guy accountable. Second, he doesn’t just not acknowledge the discomfort he’s causing; he explicitly believes that the discomfort that’s being reported is made up by Melissa in pursuit of a vendetta. Of course, “I unintentionally cause people discomfort” is preferable to “I intentionally cause people discomfort”. But neither’s a very attractive option when “I don’t make people uncomfortable; any such reports are false and made for improper motives” is on the table.

      2. INTP*

        This makes a lot of sense to me, since most of the jerks in my life have just been convinced that everyone willing to stand up to them is overly sensitive and everyone intimidated into silence approves of their behavior. You won’t change their entire worldview but might coax them into changing for self-preservation purposes by framing it as “Even if these people are wrong, they can have X impact on you.”

    3. OP*

      Yeah, exactly. Part of me really wants to print out all Captain Awkward, Dr. Nerd-love, John Scalzi, and Pervocracy posts on creepiness, push them into James’s hand and say, “Read these, go to a good therapist, and come back in 6 months.” Change is possible! But does he really wants to change himself or just stop being perceived as creepy?

      1. insert witty name here*

        “Change is possible! But does he really wants to change himself or just stop being perceived as creepy?”

        And that’s why I’m not willing to condemn James as beyond hope. Since this is the Internet, I don’t know him the way you do OP. And I can’t diagnose someone based upon what I read in a public forum (not to mention, I’m not a doctor, so what the hell do I know?).

        With that said, I do believe you are in a very difficult position and you have been doing an amazing job. I wish you all the best.

      2. Lindrine*

        Way to go though OP. You deserve some Ninja Hugs for this. What if you add some training or exercises for the younger group on dealing with situations like this? I also suggest having a person or two to distract / head him off if he shows up to an event and starts up the behavior.

      3. Brisvegan*

        OP, you totally get it and are doing all the right things!

        It’s not your fault if you can’t make creepy James aware of all the good writing and how not to be a creep.

        I hope things work out OK.

      4. Lefty*

        OP, I’m a day late but wanted to say that it’s great that you got SOME action here… it sounds like you did the most that you could, considering the backing you had.

        Will you be at most of these functions? Now that you know James knows what some of the issues are, maybe you could be an easy “out” for any ladies looking uncomfortable/creeped upon/put out/skeeved out by him? Since he fancies himself a promotor of sorts, I’m sure you could ask him to help you with the punch or take out a trash bag… and maybe remind him that circulating helps people feel less pressured? It’s definitely a difficult situation, but it sounds like you’ll be the best soft spot for any women who cannot find a polite way to NOPE away from James on their own.

  2. Artemesia*

    You stepped up and your pastor wussed out. This vague ‘we are going to counsel him’ and ‘he will only come sometimes’ means he is still going to be there creeping people out and because he has been told he is unwanted I am betting he comes more often to make a point. Sorry it worked out this way. It was predictable but you did the best you could given your pastor’s unwillingness to make it stick. If I were one of the young professionals putting up with this, I’d probably try to round up others in the group that feel this way and move in mass to another church with a group like this that doesn’t allow creepsters to dominate them.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      “You stepped up and your pastor wussed out.”

      That’s what it seems like to me, too. The pastor let him divert the focus from his inappropriate behavior to the ages of other attendees who aren’t acting inappropriately. I can see a church deciding not to stick hard and fast to age limits where the aged-out people are generally welcomed by the group and aren’t causing problems; no reason to rock the boat there.

      But when a member who isn’t really the intended age group for the activity is causing problems, the focus of the pastor’s discussion with him needs to be on his own behavior, not on the fact that his friends who attend are in their forties, too. I think the pastor should have told the guy that the reason the church hasn’t said anything to the other aged-out people is that they aren’t causing a problem. Then he should have brought the conversation right back to the fact that the guy IS causing a problem, and that’s why he’s being asked to leave. If a member of the appropriate age group were causing a problem, maybe the church would invest more time in corrective action for him. But why should they waste time on corrective action for someone who doesn’t really belong to the group anyway?

      I’m disappointed that the guy came away from the talk with the pastor thinking the situation hinged more on his age than on his bad behavior.

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

      Yay for spineless pastors /sarcasm. He’s effectively said he’d rather the young women affected by this guy leave the church and stop attending events than to have to establish and enforce a boundary himself. The counseling suggestion in and of itself isn’t bad, but there also needs to be real consequences.

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

        Another thought is that most churches have some sort of board/elders/council structure that the pastor ultimately reports to. Any chance you can present this at a board meeting?

      2. Jennifer*

        Same as every other dude ever, pretty much. They’d much rather lose disposable young women than this guy who will throw a giant fit when you try to get rid of him.

        1. Artemesia*

          yup which is why I if the OP would be sorely tempted to round up the women in the group and the men who are supportive and move en mass to a similar denomination which would stand up to creepsters. Given the sexism so prevalent in most religious groups, this may be fantasy of course. But I know some churches are more likely to stand up against this sort of thing than others.

          1. AnonInSC*

            I was thinking not so much leaving the church – but it would be telling if all of a sudden the other members weren’t at the events. And at another location having a non-officially church sponsored event. I don’t know that if in her role the OP could really do that officially.

    3. INTP*

      I agree. I just don’t see a reason why the pastor “wasn’t able” to ban him altogether. Just because someone voices a rationalization doesn’t mean you have to concede to them. You can, in fact, refuse discussion altogether, and say “It doesn’t really matter how you feel/how wrong we are/what is logical to you, this is what is happening because we have the authority to say so.”

      Also, the young women in the group who wish to avoid him will continue to skip events because they don’t know which ones he will be at, even if he’s only coming 3x a year instead of 10x, unless they’re warned ahead of time about his presence. And at that point you’re telling all of them that you see a problem and you’re just not willing to prioritize their comfort over his.

    4. Jennifer*

      Maybe you should compile a list of the young women who have quit coming to church specifically because of James’s behavior. Which might be hard to do, I admit, but at least that way there’s some kind of evidence of “YOU are ruining everything” that could help build a case towards booting this sterling beloved citizen out.

      1. Cassandra*

        Eesh, I wouldn’t present such a list to James; that’s a James-revenge magnet.

        Such a list might be worth discussing with the pastor, however.

    5. irritable vowel*

      In the pastor’s defense, I think it’s probably incredibly difficult for someone in his position to feel comfortable telling someone not to participate in church-sponsored events. This goes against everything they believe in–welcoming all comers, fostering a sense of fellowship, etc. This man has a spiritual calling to be inclusive in his line of work, which also includes counseling, so that’s what he sees as a more appropriate solution than banning the hassler outright. (I’m not sure I agree with this line of reasoning 100%, but I’m just trying to see it from his perspective.)

      It sounds like perhaps there’s a demonstrated need, in more ways than one, for a networking group for older people, if there are other aged-out members attending the young people’s group. This would make it very easy to tell this guy that due to feedback from the group, there’s now a firm age cutoff for the younger professionals’ group, but he and his fellow aged-out congregants are welcome to attend the new meeting on Tuesday evenings or whatever. If he’s leaning on the presence of other people in their 40s as a reason why he should still be allowed to attend, then remove that crutch.

      1. LQ*

        But this kind of inclusivity is also excluding people. It is making a decision that including James is more important than the people who are bothered by it. It is a lazy decision because it isn’t saying, “I care about James staying in the church more than I care about Suzy, Sally, Sarah, and Sandy staying in the church and the potential for other people to leave in the future.” But that is exactly what it is saying. I kind of wish he’d just come out and say, “I’m too lazy to do the hard parts of my job.” or “I care about this man more than I care about these women.” because that is the underlying thing here.

        1. eplawyer*

          Yep. Especially since this guy sees himself as an “ambassador” for the church. Oh goodie, now you will g3 known as the church of the creepy guy. How many people has he pushed info about the church to been unwilling to be a part of it because he is so creepy?

          Quite frankly, the simple solution was to declare the young people events for young people ONLY. Sure you lose the good people, but hey they need to find friends their own age too. Plus it cuts out the guy’s diversion that you are excluding only him based on age while letting others in.

      2. Artemesia*

        This is what I would push for if I didn’t want to leave the church and didn’t want to let this spineless coward of a pastor refuse to protect his congregants. I would push him to establish a group for mid aged professionals 40 and up (or whatever is below this guy’s age, it sounds like 40 would do it) or 35 and up if you really want to keep the character of the first group ‘young.’ and then have a firm age boundary. Seems a shame to have to punish everyone in order to protect people from one douchebag.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          But what about single women in the older group? You’ve just moved the problem from one group to another. And while at the ripe old age of 33 I am far better able to tell creeps to GTFO than I was in my 20s, I don’t _enjoy_ doing it, and would still just quietly ghost out of a group with a James than submit to his grossness.

      3. The Butcher of Luverne*

        It sounds like perhaps there’s a demonstrated need, in more ways than one, for a networking group for older people…

        James doesn’t seem to want to network. What I got from the first thread was that he is a bloviating narcissist who likes making women uncomfortable. Does the church really need to create a group to accommodate his behavior?

      4. Observer*

        Sure, removing the crutch will help for THIS group. But, this is NOT the fundamental problem.

        Let us be clear here – this is NOT about inclusiveness. Not deciding is also a decision. And, in this case, not banning, is ALSO a decision – a decision to exclude. It is a decision to exclude every woman who does not have the tools and strength to deal with this kind of thing. How is that more inclusive than banning James.

        Just as part of being a manager is dealing with bad employees who damage others, so it is part of the job of any spiritual leader to deal with members of the congregation whose behavior hurts others.

      5. fposte*

        Sure, but the reason it’s incredibly difficult for him to feel that is because his perspective is incomplete. That’s pretty common, but it means his conclusions are incorrect. He’s thinking “Don’t kick James out of the warm Christian group.” He’s not broadened his brain out to think, “Don’t chase the women out of the warm Christian group.” He hasn’t grasped that ministry to the women may require a conflict with his ministering to James.

        And that’s on him. And a lot of people in a lot of groups.

      6. Liane*

        Let’s take a closer look at this idea of creating a similar group for aged-out professionals that Pastor tries to get James to join. What should the church/pastor do if (read “When”) one or both of these results?
        1. James pitches an “I pay dues so I get to choose which group I go to” fit.
        2. James starts going to New Group &–lo and behold!–the younger-looking women in that group start complaining that James tries to corner them, put his arm around them & generally creep them out?

      7. Pennalynn Lott*

        I belong to a large, nationwide social group that is broken into smaller groups of every conceivable stripe (Gen-X, Gen-Y, Millenials, Baby Boomers, Runners, Movie Lovers, Sci-Fi Fans, etc.). We have a persistent problems with older creepers insisting that because they belong to the national group as a whole, they have the right to attend any sub-group they choose. . . which just happens to be the ones with women decades younger than they are. They have plenty of age-appropriate groups to choose from, but that’s not what they’re interested in. They want to rub up against and leer at women who haven’t quite yet figured out how to say, “Fuck off, grandpa.”

        So, in my experience, it wouldn’t do one whit of good to create an “Over 40” group at the OP’s church.

        1. Anonymous in the South*

          I just thought about one of the women James creeps on saying that to him during the meeting. Sure, there would be gasps that someone actually said that, but can you imagine the look of shock on James’ face?? I’m giggling at work just imaging him being offended because someone told him to f off and being called a grandpa.

  3. Kate M*

    Congrats for trying to take this on. I think the thing to remember is, if you’re asking him to agree with not coming anymore, you’re never going to get that. You definitely (especially since the pastor is backing you up) have the authority to just say to him “you are not allowed to come anymore” without him agreeing with the reasons. He might come back and say that “it’s just because of his age, but other people my age are coming, so I’m still going to come.” The response to that should be “no, you are not. This is about your behavior, so if you show up, we will kick you out. Full stop.” Don’t hold out for him to realize his behavior and stop coming on his own.

    That being said, if your pastor is counseling him about his behavior, I think it’s still a really good idea to lay out a Code of Conduct, and have him sign it. Then, if he breaks the rules at any of the events (the very first time he breaks the rule), you ask him to leave. No more second chances for this guy.

    I know all of this is a lot easier said than done. But you’re doing well for trying to take this on!

      1. Kate M*

        Well yes, it seems like he ended up backing off. I was more focusing on the part where he had originally agreed that they would ask him to stop coming. But I think the mistake they’re both making is hoping that the creeper will agree to stop coming. Like, you don’t have to get his permission to ban him.

  4. Church Worker*

    That’s a difficult conversation to have – congrats to you for doing it! I’m cheering you on from my desk in Georgia!

    Sounds like this is not all under your control, which means the outcome isn’t under your control. I’m glad the pastor backed you up (kinda), but this can’t get swept under the rug (which you know, I’m sure). I’d suggest start making a list with dates & details of every infraction, and every time someone comments to you about him. It’d be a good idea to have semi-regular meetings with the pastor to give an update on how the group is doing overall, as well as James in particular. Even just an informal chat, if nothing else.

    One more thing – now that you know there are more older-than-the-demographic people in the group, is it really helping the group to have them there? You’re the one who can answer that, but it’s a good possibility that the group will get along better with just the people it was intended for.

    1. Jade*

      I wouldn’t feel comfortable attending a group event for young professionals if there were older people there. The whole point is to provide a safe space for people in the same demographic to get together and share their experiences within that demographic. To me that’s like a married person showing up to a singles mixer. His presence alone would be uncomfortable, let alone the inappropriate behavior that is known to follow.

      It also makes me wonder what’s going on with this James guy to start with. What kind of social life (or lack thereof) does he have outside of church that he feels the need to interject himself into every social circle as a self-appointed ambassador? I certainly hope these counseling sessions with the pastor address this weird need to shoehorn himself into everyone’s lives.

      1. Mpls*

        Eh – I don’t think a young professionals mixer is really a venting “safe space”. It’s another networking tool. Marketing it as a young professionals helps to get people early in their career in the door. Having older professionals (nominally outside of the age range) is useful to provide the younger people perspective and advice about the workplace.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          That’s true, but if that’s what you’re doing, it should be marketed as such. Calling it “young professionals” means “it’s all gonna be people like you,” and if that’s what you’re expecting, maybe you don’t want anyone providing “perspective and advice,” especially since it’s often couched in terms of “kids these days” and “back in my day” and blah blah blah. /tangent

          1. Lindsay J*

            Exactly. If I’m attending a young professionals group, it’s because I want to connect with and network with people in my age range. There are plenty of other places I can go to to seek advice of established business people older than I am.

            I don’t have this problem with work, but in one of my social activities (we’ll call it that) most of the people who participate are significantly older than me and it bums me out because I would really like to meet and connect with some people my age; there are just some things about a peer/peer relationship that are different than a relationship with someone older or younger than you.

            I would feel misled if I went to a group that proported to be a young professionals group and it turned out a significant portion of them were in their late 30s, 40s, and beyond. They wouldn’t be adding value to me, they would be destroying the value that I did see in the group.

        2. Jade*

          We know two things here. One, we’re explicitly told that the other aged-out members only attend this group a few times a year, except for James, who comes much more frequently. I could reconcile them coming a few times a year, *by invitation only*, to network and offer advice, but beyond that they don’t belong there. Why not? Because we are also explicitly told that there are visiting teachers who come and speak to the group. My guess is they are there to fill the role of older, experienced professionals who offer advice and networking. Therefore I don’t really see a need for the older members to attend this group. Best I can figure is they are showing up to this group because they used to belong to it when they were younger and now that they’ve aged they lack an appropriate group of their own. Based on this, I stand by my assertion that a group of “young professionals” should remain just that.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            I could reconcile them coming a few times a year, *by invitation only*

            I posted this in the previous thread, but when I was over the age of 35, my Chamber of Commerce started a Young Entrepreneurs (under 35) group. Having not graduated with a business degree, I wanted to join it because I thought that I could learn things because while I was self-employed, I wasn’t exactly the best at it and I wasn’t *that* much older than 35, I hoped they would make an exception. So I called and asked and was told quite firmly that since I was over the age of 35 that I wouldn’t be allowed to attend. End of discussion. I didn’t try to just go and schmooze my way in because “no” is a complete sentence.

            So, IMO, the thing to do is make it for 35 and under — no exceptions. Other older people could be invited to do a presentation, to do some sort of AMA about X Topic, lead a workshop occasionally. But that’s it. If one of the other older people asks why the change “We had some complaints about an over 35 year old member acting inappropriately. When they were informed about the complaints and requested to not attend the events any longer, they protested that other people over the age limit were also attending, that they were a dues-paying member and they would continue to do as they liked. So we felt we had no other choice but to enforce the age restriction to protect the people being targeted by this individual. I’m sorry that this has resulted in you being also shut out from this group, but I do hope you understand.” 5’ll get you 10 that they will know exactly who the problem member was.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Yes yes yes yes. They older people can be speakers, give workshops, etc., by invitation. They would probably rather be networking with people at their own level (not age, but work experience/seniority) anyway.

      2. INTP*

        I could see the presence of some older people being beneficial to the group, if the older people are there specifically to mentor and offer advice and connections. When everyone is under 35, then they can identify with each other and offer support, but have less in the way of industry connections, offering the perspectives of a hiring manager, extensive industry experience, etc. – a couple of older members there to offer those things could be quite beneficial. If the older people in the group are just a group of friends that hang out together, of course, then they probably aren’t adding much to the group.

      3. Liane*

        “What kind of social life (or lack thereof) does he have outside of church that he feels the need to interject himself into every social circle as a self-appointed ambassador?”

        Probably not much of one. I cannot find it right now, but I recall OP, in the original comments, mentioning that some other church members wouldn’t allow James to attend non-church social events over his creepy ways.

    2. Ama*

      It does make me wonder if the church needs a better group for older singles. I know a friend of mine changed churches because once you aged out of the young adults group (I think their cutoff was 30), the next group up was all people who were married and had kids, so that’s where their activities were focused — she’s single and has no plans to have kids even if she marries, so she switched to a church that had a specific group for thirtysomething singles.

      1. Chinook*

        ” I know a friend of mine changed churches because once you aged out of the young adults group (I think their cutoff was 30), the next group up was all people who were married and had kids, so that’s where their activities were focused ”

        I can’t agree with this enough and it is why I had been fighting locally against them creating a youth group for those under 20 – what happens when they age out? Do we have something to move into that will be just as inclusive? As much as I hate gender segregation and the stereotypes that come out of them, this is my argument for having a women’s group and a men’s group that is open to all adults (you could do both genders, but then isn’t that just like your regular service?). The one I am part of is full of women from 18 to 70+, single, married, widowed, separated, with children and childless, stay-at-home types, employed and self-employed. We have all sorts of role models around us to ask for mentorship from and to develop friendships with. True, organizing and focusing a group like this can feel like herding cats, but the benefits are absolutely there. It also has the advantage that, at no time, do you age out or feel like you no longer can belong due to a major life event (it also helps that I belong to a church that believes the gender you were born with is your gender for life, but we also don’t do genital checks when you turn in your membership form).

        In a way, I wish there was a better way to help us self-divide that allowed us to always feel like we belong in a sub-group but I haven’t come up with it yet.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        +1 … and sadly you just reminded me of something. When I became pregnant while going to a Christian college, I wanted to return afterward and finance my housing but they were like “nope, you can’t have a baby in the dorms and the other housing is for married couples.” So I gave up on finishing there and resented them ever since, not sure if they’ve changed or not. Sorry that’s school not church but it just triggered my (painful) memory.

      3. CADMonkey007*

        This kind of mentality can really bog down a church. Eventually you have to have the college age young singles, the out of college young singles, the older singles, (because lets face it, the young singles do not want to hang out with the older ones) the young marrieds, the older marrieds, the families with young children, families with school age children, the single parents, the weekday morning group for SAHM’s, the empty nesters, the seniors etc etc. I don’t know who people expect to run all these groups, but you’d better expect lots of complaints if a single one of them is missing!

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Exactly–this is one reason I don’t socialize at church (that, and vastly differing viewpoints). It’s all about family, etc., which doesn’t make it easy to meet people who don’t have kids or find someone to date who is not overly religious.

    3. OP*

      I like to have an inter-generational aspect to the church in general but yes, the young adults group should be look and feel young. We’re trying to cultivate an atmosphere where young people can come, learn, hang out, drink a beer, maybe flirt with each other. The pastor sometimes brings his two young kids, which is okay when it’s just two of them playing quietly. But when more kids come, the tone shifts to “family friendly” and young people lose interest. The “aged out” group (except James) are friendly people and add to the atmosphere but I don’t think it would be a tragedy if they stopped coming.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        The pastor sometimes brings his two young kids, which is okay when it’s just two of them playing quietly. But when more kids come, the tone shifts to “family friendly” and young people lose interest.

        The pastor is sounding more and more tone-deaf.

      2. TheAssistant*

        Could you maybe have semi-annual or quarterly “mentorship nights” or what have you to incorporate the aged-out folks and the young folks mingling together? That way the aged-out folks can still contribute to the group, but you have a reason to keep the young professionals group…well, young.

        I would personally feel very awkward attending a young professionals night with folks in middle age. It would feel odd. Even if James wasn’t there.

  5. Laura*

    It sounds like OP’s pastor let her down when he was called on to stand up for the group. The guy shouldn’t be attending any group events, period. It’s a bummer this happened, especially because I’m concerned that the issue is far from over…

    1. Artemesia*

      And James now has been reassured that the OP has no authority and that the ‘boys’ still run things. And he is just sooooo pleased about it

      1. Not me*


        James sees that OP has been “put in her place,” his creepiness is “a perception…” This sucks.

  6. Analyst*

    “Perception” that he’s creepy? HA! If it quacks like a duck….

    I hope the pastor continues to back you up and eventually does the right thing in banning this dude when he totally backslides into full-on creepiness again. But for your part, you did well! Good job OP. Keep a clear log of all this guy’s creepy episodes in the future to keep a strong, fact-based case against him.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      Right? With creepiness, perception is reality. If you’re perceived as creepy, guess what: you. are. creepy.

      1. A Non*

        I think it’s possible for individual people’s perceptions to be off, either temporarily or permanently, in which case mutual avoidance is probably the way to go. But overall, yeah, the measure of whether you are creepy is whether other people find your behavior creepy.

        1. INTP*

          However off the perceptions are, though, if your reaction to being perceived as creepy is to justify why you should be able to continue your actions rather than change the way you interact with the creeped out parties so you stop causing them discomfort, or if their request is extreme, try to find some sort of compromise, you’re probably a creep.

          1. A Non*

            Oh totally. That’s pretty much how you learn whether your perceptions about the potential creeper were off or not!

      2. AnotherDan*

        Exactly — I’d be tempted to ask James a more philosophical question like “who do you think gets to determine whether a given Person X is creepy or not creepy? Person X, or everyone else who knows Person X?” Hint, hint …

      3. Hiding on the Internet Today*

        I’m actually really uncomfortable with the idea that “creepy” is inborn and perception inherent. I believe that it is behavior and, for lack of a better term, manners dependent and can be chosen. These people can typically have discussions with police officers, their bosses, and their pastors without staring at their chests, grabbing them in awkward places, standing too close, or giving overly personal compliments. (“You always smell so nice!” GAHHHHH… I bet you didn’t say that to your CEO!)

        And because these behaviors are choices, they can stop, they just choose not to when they don’t think it will have a negative impact on their lives. They aren’t inherently creepy, or even creepy in all situations, they are choosing bad behavior. They can choose to stop.

        (Choosing to stop won’t mean that the people you’ve creeped out will instantly invite you to dinner and the invite only beach parties, but it will mean you might not get thrown out of Tuesday night bingo as well as Thursday night Book Club.)

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          Rephrasing Gandalf, then: Perception is reality. If you’re perceived as being creepy, you. are. being. creepy.

          The point is that the intention of the person being creepy doesn’t matter.

        2. Gandalf the Nude*

          Disagree. If you choose those bad behaviors, you are creepy, even if you choose different behaviors in different situations. If you’re touching me inappropriately at a bar, you are a creep, even if you would never tell your CEO she smells nice.

          1. Kelly L.*

            If anything, it’s worse. If someone is obnoxious to every single person in the world, maybe they just don’t know how to act, and can be taught. If (for example) someone is respectful to men, and respectful to authority figures, but disrespectful to young women, then they know how to behave respectfully but choose to be a jackass when their libido gets involved.

          2. INTP*

            Exactly. Just like you can be a murderer without murdering everyone that you meet, a rapist without raping people in your workplace, or a thief who usually pays for your purchases, you can be a creep who manages to moderate their behavior in specific situations according to your own self-preservation needs. It describes a specific type of inappropriate behavior, not just a personality trait.

  7. misplacedmidwesterner*

    I’ve been in so many church groups with this as an issue. Church groups can be even worse than geek groups with the geek social fallacies http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html

    I used to get pushback when I had private (in my home) social events that included only a few friends and not every member of our church’s young professional group. It can be hard (basically impossible) to say “I’m your sister in Christian love but honestly other than that we would never be friends”.

    When my young professionals group was gradually aging, we had a lot of trouble because there wasn’t a good group with similar schedules for people to “graduate” to. We actually ended up making a new younger group (called College and Barely Beyond) for that reason. It was expected that people would graduate out of singles/young professionals into young families and that didn’t always happen. Is it possible to get someone to start a singles/profesionals/ 40s and 50s group and get James and all of his friends to be the core of that group. I have found with these groups that people tend to “graduate” themselves in chunks but it can be a hard process. And if the only group for their age group revolves around family activities and they’re still single, there is no where to go.

    1. Jade*

      This is what I was thinking, too, but part of the problem seems to be that he is involving himself in *multiple* areas of the church he doesn’t belong in because he see himself as some sort of goodwill ambassador to everyone. He just needs to be taught boundaries and needs someone higher up in the church, like the pastor or the board, to enforce those with him.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        If he thinks of himself as a good will ambassador or an ambassador of any sort, then he must adhere to the goals and the rules of the group. He cannot be creating his own goals and rules and running his agenda inside the church agenda.

      2. TL -*

        I mean, he has to want to learn boundaries before he can be taught them. And it doesn’t sound like that’s a strong motivator on his part.

    2. anonymous here*

      When the 40s/50s got jealous of the 20s/30s group at my church, they started one their own and called it Midlife Christis. Cracks me up.

      1. Alma*

        Hah!! I was at a church in FL where 30 years ago there was a group called “More than 40” – when I was there it was the same group, 30 years more than 40. They exerted a lot of pressure for there not to spring up a younger group. They had all retired to FL to retire, and couldn’t admit time had passed. THAT was a sacred cow.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I don’t think it would stop the behavior in this situation–only accommodate him doing it in another group. While this is a good suggestion for the other 40-somethings, the issue with James is a separate problem and needs to be handled separately.

  8. Rocket Scientist*

    The pastor absolutely failed you and the group, specifically the woman that have to put up with his sexist behavior.

    Do people complain to you directly about him? The next time that happens I would say, “Please let the pastor know that this is a continuing issue.” If the pastor hears about it repeatedly, from multiple people, it might make talking to this guy **less** painful than ignoring it and hoping it the problem goes away by itself.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Or, if they seem to not want to make that effort, say, “I need for our pastor to hear this from other people than me. If I arranged for him to call you, would you say these things to him?”

    2. Laura*

      Excellent advice. I am also frustrated that the pastor chose to handle the situation that way, and directing further issues straight to him in the future will let him know that things should have gone differently.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      This. People should be giving their complaints directly to the pastor. How will he know the best way to counsel this guy if he does not have a firm handle on the problems? He needs to hear the complaint first hand, he needs to discuss the particulars of the complaint for clarification so he can move forward with accurate information.

  9. Katie the Fed*

    Well, it’s good you guys took a stand, but I think you included the age aspect as only a way to soften the blow, and it majorly backfired. By using that as the issue, instead of JUST his behavior, you opened the door for him to walk through and he totally did, by citing that you were being inconsistent.

    I learned this the hard way in management. Instead of telling people that I wasn’t selecting them for a special briefing or opportunity because I didn’t think they were ready for X, Y or Z, I looked for “easier” outs that weren’t the real reason. And it made me look inconsistent. It sucks but you have to be really honest in these kinds of situations.

    1. KT*

      Agreed-it sounds like the age issue was used as a way to soften it, but he had a perfectly valid point in saying “well X, Y and Z are forty and they go!” and that took the power right from under you.

      I know it’s an uncomfortable convo to have, but I think it needed to be direct. “You are not welcome and cannot attend because you make others uncomfortable and your behavior is unacceptable>”

      “-But Jane and Joe go…”

      -“Jane and Joe act appropriately. You do not, which is why you cannot attend”.

    2. hbc*

      This is especially true if they wouldn’t put up with this behavior from someone in the demographic–which I hope they wouldn’t. I have a sinking suspicion that they’d just let a 25 year old creeper keep on creeping because s/he’s a young professional.

      1. OP*

        I hate to think that but you might be right. The church has been declining in membership for a while and there’s a big pressure to promote! promote! promote! So the pastor wants as many people to come as possible. For me, a big crowd looks like success but if it contains creepers or the wrong demographic, I don’t like it.

        1. KH*

          Yeah, it’s sad that the Pastor and others involved can’t understand that this very well could be a big part of WHY the membership is declining. If the Pastor won’t stand up for the safety and comfort of ALL members of the church, then why would people want to go there.

          OP is there any way you can express this more directly to your Pastor?

          Because as I see it, although you faced up to a really difficult task and did it to the best of your ability (and kudos to you), your Pastor totally fell down in supporting and protecting the young women in his church.

  10. Librarian*

    Wow. I am tired on your behalf. It is very difficult inciting change when people are in denial of the problem they are creating.

    Sometimes folks like this need rules to help them judge boundaries better. Perhaps as he does creepy things in the future, you can pull him aside in the moment and say, “When you do X, it makes other people uncomfortable. If you are going to come to our group, I need you to not do X. Ok?”

    Also, it may help to understand that for some folks, negative feedback hits at their very sense of self, which is very painful and leads to denial. Maybe there is some area where he is an asset that you can help build as his identity in the group.

    Good luck!

  11. Minion*

    One of the things that I love so much about this site is that I have seen it pointed out, many times, that when you’re nervous about approaching someone about inappropriate behavior you should remember that you’re not the one who created the uncomfortable situation; they are!
    I haven’t had to confront anyone about inappropriateness (is that a word??), but I think that framing it that way in my mind will help me when I eventually do.
    I’m glad you worked up the courage. I’m very confrontation averse, so you’re my hero now. I hate that it didn’t fully work out like you wanted but it was, as you said, a good start.

  12. TootsNYC*

    I think my next step would be to have someone (a man, sorry to be gender stereotyping–and preferably the pastor) shadow James at the next event, and the moment he steps too close to a woman, have that person step in and say, “This is exactly the sort of thing we’re talking about, James. You need to take a step backward.” And then say, “James, do you realize you haven’t spoken to any of the men in the group–you cannot speak to any more women here until you’ve had conversations with men.”

    And, “James, please be quiet; the speaker has the floor.” Just basically correct him at every turn.

    That’s a HUGE time investment for that person. But once they get started, other people can join in.

    I don’t know–it’s just so hard, when people are like this.

    The one thing I kept wishing as I read your update was that you’d used the “anti-rules-lawyering” techniques from the other thread and said, “James, I am certain that you know exactly what I mean about targeting young women and being too familiar with them. You’re not stupid. So don’t come to the next event.”

    1. KT*

      So–if I was an attendee at an event and a creepy guy had a handler tailing him and correcting him, I would be beyond creeped out. Creepy guy is bad enough, throw in someone correcting him, and I would assume he was a recently-released sex offender or something being monitored.

      It just doesn’t fix it and isn’t a sustainable solution.

      1. AW*

        It just doesn’t fix it and isn’t a sustainable solution.

        The idea isn’t that this would suddenly make everyone else comfortable with him, it’s that it keeps *him* from getting what he wants. He doesn’t get to creep on women because he’s getting called out on it and he doesn’t get to waste everyone’s time by interrupting the speaker. It also minimizes the amount of time people end up trapped by his monolouging. If he stops getting what he wants then maybe he’ll choose not to come.

        If it also encourages women to stay away from him faster than usual, that’s probably good, but I think stepping in when he starts creeping or wasting everyone’s time is a good Plan B if the OP is up for it.

        1. TootsNYC*

          And it might prove a tool to wedge him out.
          “We had to intervene so many times, so you can’t come at all anymore.”

          Or the 2nd time in the same night that the “minder” has to say something, then the minder takes him aside and tells him he has to leave.

          Or, it just flat-out drives him away.

      1. Port of Indecision*

        How about a squirt gun instead? Air horns would annoy everyone, a squirt gun would only get him.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Again, a creepsitter is not the solution. It doesn’t fix James, it doesn’t really protect the women – what’s going to happen when the poor guy tapped to watch him has to run to the men’s room? – and it creates the impression that James can do as he likes as long as he doesn’t get caught.

  13. #Survivor*

    As someone who’s a survivor of sexual assault as well as stalking (two different instances… yea, pretty unlucky) and who is strongly grounded in my faith… I would be appalled. I have read The Gift of Fear. I don’t speak up about someone being a creep unless they are A CREEP. There is a difference between socially awkward and CREEPY and I understand the different 100%.
    If I were to go to a church event, I should feel safe there. If anyone made me feel less than safe I would hope it would be 100% addressed, immediately. The fact that this guy is BULLYING the pastor into relenting that it’s ‘just about age’ shows that he is CALCULATED AND MANIPULATING the situation. HE is praying (pun intended, har har! yes, I can laugh at myself) on young women here. Young women who are also dues paying members, and should be able to feel safe, protected… and most of all RESPECTED by their church.
    If this was my church and my pastor Wussed out it would be my EX church in a heartbeat.

    1. #Survivor*

      This is just an example of Victim Blaming – though they aren’t victims yet (I hope, as far as we know) at it’s finest. Women are ‘trained’ to be nice, not to speak up, not to ’cause a fuss,’ and this is especially affected by the fact that he’s an older person at a young professionals event – maybe someone who is offering to help them out professionally, who they don’t want to offend, etc.
      Again, I’m appalled and sickened by this.

  14. Elizabeth*

    Does your church have a policy specifically designed to ban people who make a nuisance of themselves? I’ve seen them called ‘Disruptive Persons Policy’ and basically it’s a way for the pastor or other church staff or members to take a nuisance person to the board, say ‘these are the disruptive behaviors we see,’ and have the board formally ban the person from coming back or contacting the pastor or church members. They usually have a process for the person to have the ban repealed after a certain amount of time IF they can show they changed. If your church doesn’t have such a policy, now would probably be a good time to create one.

    1. Meg*

      Agreed, as a number of us said in the original post, this church needs a harassment policy and to enforce the policy. James is making this about his age, but his age isn’t really the issue. The issue is his harassing behavior and unwillingness to change. The pastor really missed the boat on this one.

  15. Hlyssande*

    It’s awesome that you were able to speak up, OP! I know how hard that is when you’re generally conflict-avoidant. (I am the absolute worst at this)

    However, this is a temporary relief at best. He’s going to come back and be just as bad or worse. I agree with others – bringing the age thing into is opened a door for him to push back and he walked right through, legitimately. The pastor didn’t back you up completely. Backing up would be a ‘no, you’re not welcome at these anymore because of your behavior, not your age.’

    1. janice*

      I manage a church office as well, and would NEVER consider this kind of conversation my job. This is a job for the church leader – whether it’s the minister, pastor, or parish board president. I’m so sorry you had to tackle this on your own.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, OP never, ever should have had to start that conversation with this man. The pastor or the men in her church should have handled it. This marshmallow style of leadership is why people leave churches and other groups.

  16. Erin*

    Haha, yes I am mentally cheering you on! Holy crap you handled this better than I would have. People like this do not take hints, and need to have things blatently laid out for them – it sounds like you did this to the best of your ability.

    The only thing I can think of is to, if possible, unite the women he’s creeping out so they all have a similar, united reactions to his advancements. I’m talking something super blunt like, “Please stop doing that, you are creeping me out.”

    Obviously, you’d have to get the women on board, and I assume new members come along all the time and etc that would make this challenging, but if you can get some women to use language like that with him I feel like that might make a difference.

    I think sometimes when women are nice to men (forgive me for generalizing here), even if in a small capacity, men take that as a sign they’re interested. James clearly thinks when women are polite to him that means by definition he can’t be being creepy, and in fact probably believes they like his attention.

    So if there is any conceivable way for you to get women to literally and bluntly say, “You are creeping me out,” that might be the only thing to hit home for him that he’s creepy and acting inappropriate. Because obviously you and the pastor saying so means zilch.

    1. #Survivor*

      Yes. That’s how my stalker got his ‘in.’ During my first week at work he asked me about my weekend plans, what I liked to do, etc. I thought it was friendly getting-to-know-the-new-coworker things… other people asked similar questions! But then he took it to a weird level and because I’d been nice the once he suddenly thought we were best friends. It took being cold, blunt, abrupt, having nightsweats and stressing about any interaction with him until I eventually reported him to HR – at which point he did stop.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I think OP could encourage her pastor to do group discussions on things like boundaries. Maybe get a group discussion on one of the boundaries books. Start teaching people what is boundary pushing behavior and teach them how to respond to it in an effective manner.

      We do boundary discussions at my church. This is one of the things I like about my church because we talk about real world issues. It has become woven into our congregation because we can openly discuss such things. Maybe OP or her pastor can find Christian counselors who are well-versed on the subject of boundaries and invite them in for a group presentation/lecture as part of the study group series.

      What I like about this is that it could break the culture of passiveness that is going on in this church by arming people with descriptions of inappropriate behaviors and words to use when they encounter boundary crossers. Teach people how and when to say NO or STOP.

      1. Artemesia*

        People who need these discussions never recognize themselves. Unless someone stands up and puts their foot down this guy will continue to be a nuisance.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I think Not So New Reader means the discussions aren’t for the creeper, but the people being creeped (or anyone who may need this in any other situation). Many times, folks don’t know how to handle people like James. That’s the first thing you learn in self-defense classes, how to overcome your natural inclination to avoid a confrontation, and say “STOP THAT!” In this case, it’s verbal self-defense.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yes, teach the church members to say “stop”. Sorry that was not more clear. Ideally, the pastor would collect materials and teach the course himself. I doubt he could get through it without doing some self-examination.

            And, no, this should not be in lieu of dealing with James. James should be dealt with- ideally-told to leave the church AND the congregation should have a general discussion about boundaries as a group.

      2. Dynamic Beige*

        I think OP could encourage her pastor to do group discussions on things like boundaries. Maybe get a group discussion on one of the boundaries books. Start teaching people what is boundary pushing behavior and teach them how to respond to it in an effective manner.

        Since this is a Young Professionals group, I say take it one step further: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

        How many people who post here put up with creepy behaviour because they were young and didn’t know any better? How many look back now and see that when BossX did BehaviourY that made them feel sick, they didn’t know that that was contributing to a hostile work environment? What are the strategies for dealing with harassment in small, family owned companies? Steps to take when your employee reports that they are being harassed by another employee or customer. Oh… I’d love for James to show up for those meetings. “Do any of you know someone who engages in inappropriate boundary pushing behaviours?” All heads swivel to look right at him.

        I mean seriously if they don’t teach this in high school or college and you have to learn it as you go and get better/smarter why not have a series of discussions about it among the people who need to understand this? I think it would make an excellent discussion series.

        1. Brisvegan*

          This would backfire, I think.

          The utter hypocrisy of having a session on sexual harrassment, while deliberately allowing a known, repeat, deliberate* harrasser sends a clear message: we know this is wrong, we are going to let it continue and its on the victims to stop creepy James, because the pastor won’t. It would just rub salt in the wound for me.

          * kept it up after Melissa’s warnings.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            It’s late but I see I wasn’t clear enough. I meant that *after* they enforce the no-one-over-35 rule, they could do topics about what it’s like to be in the workforce/manage people/run a business/deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. Heavens, no the pastor should not lead or teach workshops like that! All I was trying to get across was that if there were presentations or other things, that would make a good subject to bring someone in on.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I agree. I think that if the church is discussing boundaries as a group it would be perfect for each special focus group to talk about boundaries in regard to their area of focus.

  17. Emma*

    As a woman, I find this resolution incredibly off-putting. By not banning him outright, you are telling women that your church is not a safe space for them and that you will not protect them.

    1. The Butcher of Luverne*

      I have to agree. I know OP tried to take a stand, but the result is this: James has not been called out on his highly inappropriate behavior that is alienating other members.


      1. #Survivor*

        I agree. As I said above, this would be an ex church to me. They’re valuing James over the women’s feelings of safety.

        1. Rocket Scientist*

          Agree to all of the above.

          It’s revolting that this sort of thing is tolerated in society and much more so by the church.

          OP- would you consider letting the pastor read the initial thread and this one as well? It might open his eyes to how women in this situation feel.

  18. Chickaletta*

    I agree that the result is a little disappointing. I think the best thing to do is to act very quickly the next time James does something creepy. Call the pastor that day and let him know exactly what happened. Then, take charge! Let the pastor know that James is banned from these events, don’t put the ball back into the pastor’s court, and ask the pastor for his blessing. If he still doesn’t want to do that, focus on how the women feel at these events rather than how James would feel if he was banned. I also think the call to James should come from the pastor and not you because it would carry more weight and he clearly has some persuasive abilities with James.

  19. CM*

    That must have been a nerve-wracking call! Congratulations on working up the courage to have this very difficult conversation. I hope you’ll treat this as a first step, and that next time you observe or hear about this behavior, you’ll (or ideally the pastor will) take the next step and tell him he is no longer welcome to attend these events at all. And I wonder whether the pastor totally has your back, or whether he’s also either not taking these claims very seriously or is reluctant to have a difficult conversation himself.

  20. lowercase holly*

    along with Erin’s solution, could the pastor attend these events as well as like a babysitter? then when James does a creepy thing, he could call him on it right then? is this a terrible idea?

      1. lowercase holly*

        ehhh good point. just trying to figure out a good way to protect new members who don’t know this guy.

  21. Chriama*

    I have to say, I think your pastor has failed his church here. And I wish you would pass on this message to him if you’re able to.

    The entire conversation with James has conflated his age with his inappropriate behaviour, and that gave him a loophole to slip through. Bottom line is that his behaviour towards young women is inappropriate. And instead of addressing that, they’re letting him slide on technicalities and a promise of counselling to seem ‘less creepy.’ As a young woman who has experienced this on a smaller scale in the past, if I knew this had happened I would stop attending those events. Your pastor is allowing James to save face at the cost of making the church a safe and welcoming place for everyone to attend. Maybe James will never rise to the level of sexual offender. But maybe someone else is in this group and has seen how James was handled, and is now reassured that if they choose to prey on anyone here, the victim’s complaints will be brushed aside.

    I suspect none of the attendees have spoken up so the pastor hasn’t really had to face the implications of his decision. But as a young woman who has avoided church functions for exactly this reason, I wish he could understand what it’s like from my perspective. And for young adults who might not be Christian but were brought along by a friend or as part of an outreach initiative this could absolutely be the difference between coming back and eventually being saved or just avoiding the church altogether.

    Anyway, good on you for trying OP. This update just makes me… sad.

  22. Jeanne*

    It’s difficult because this is a church not a business. The OP did a great job by being direct. Some are saying the pastor didn’t back her up. He may consider their conversation confidential and not tell OP exactly what was said. The counseling offer is normal and pastors mostly want to try to help rather than throwing someone out of the church. The only thing now is to be vigilant. If the problem person shows up at this event again, go directly to him and ask him to leave.

    1. Observer*

      No, the pastor did NOT have her back. For starters, even before James talked to him, he balked at banning him from all meetings, and from outright recognizing and naming the bad behavior for what it was. And, the end result is all the OP, and we, need to know that things went downhill from there. The simple fact is that he is NOT banned, and not even really restricted since he gets to decide when he shows up. AND, by officially basing attendance on age factors, the pastor explicitly backed down from the fundamental behavioral issue that should have been at the heart of this. It doesn’t matter what either of them SAID. That is what the decision means.

    2. G*

      Good job OP on having the courage to address this issue! I agree that a big part of this is because it’s a church. I agree the Pastor fell short. I would imagine there’s a challenge being felt because churches are meant to be inclusive and accepting and having to ban someone from a church event feels harsh, or un-Christian-like. But, everyone, especially women, should be able to feel safe and comfortable in their church. I’d like to be optimistic that once James gets out of the habit of going (since he’s supposedly only going a couple times a year now) he may lose interest in this group over time but I think he will dig his heels in on the issue. Please do another update!

  23. Observer*

    I’m having a hard time not voicing my opinion of your pastor, but it’s not terribly respectful.

    The bottom line here is that your pastor abdicated his responsibility. This man is mistreating others, and you pastor is allowing it. That’s it in plain English.

    Please encourage people who complain to you to go straight to the pastor. But, also keep a record of every single complaint you get and every instance of misbehavior you see, even if you don’t get an official complaint. Once you have a list together, please show it to the pastor and ask him why James – who is the one misbehaving! – is more important than x number of people who are NOT misbehaving? Also, show him the responses of people here who talk about their response to this type of thing, so that he understands that by allowing James to continue his behavior he is both victimizing innocent people AND actively sabotaging his attempts to reach out and grow the church.

  24. Mando Diao*

    I admit to being very disappointed in how this worked out. I’m taking a hard line on this: Women who are being harassed and go so far as to seek help from people in their church, they deserve to feel safe and to see results. You should tell the well-behaved older people that they are no longer welcome either if it helps, and you need to tell James that he is no longer the church promoter. Why work around this weird idea of his? Why protect it? If you can’t get rid of James, you should call up the women who complained about him and inform them that James can’t be banned from these events. They deserve the right to make an informed decision about whether to attend.

    There is a lot going on right now in the media and popular culture that is making women feel like no one believes them or takes them seriously when they take the emotional risk of coming forward about these things. I’ve never been a fan of moral relativism, and even less so when people respond to outcries of abuse and harassment with, “Welllllllll we should look at it from both sides.” I appreciate that the OP tried and did what she could, but she needs to be aware that the effort didn’t work, and for reasons beyond her control, she can’t consider it a victory or even a little bit over. James will keep pushing limits, and I doubt he’ll only come to the events that he’s been approved for. He’s feeling threatened, and he’s going to come to every event now. He’ll probably even start trying to intimidate and harass you.

    1. G*

      I agree he may get worse. He brought up Melissa multiple times during OP’s conversation with him. Animosity towards the OP and Melissa is probably going to be evident. This may be what it takes for the Pastor to see how toxic the situation is an ban him altogether if his behavior escalates.

      1. Mando Diao*

        I disagree that this scenario would make the pastor see reason. Things got so bad for Melissa that she found a new job. The pastor decided that keeping James as a member was more important than retaining his staff or making it possible for Melissa to do her job.

        OP, I suggest that you reach out to Melissa and find out what really happened in the weeks leading up to her resignation. It might be unrelated, but I think it’s incredibly likely that you don’t have the full story.

      2. LQ*

        Or do the easy thing and take the OP out of this position and let James run wild and harass and creep away because it is easier.

    2. OP*

      Thanks for your response. I wanted to take a hard line but the pastor wanted to soften it and I didn’t push him on it. I should have.

      About James making me a target: Ironically, he sent me a message afterwards apologizing if he was rude. I wanted to yell, “Don’t you get that I was trying to be the bad guy here!?” He may flip to hating me like he hates Melissa but at this point, I’m just baffled by his delusion.

      1. plain_jane*

        He’s trying to get you to reply saying that he wasn’t rude so that he can point to you being inconsistent and that you don’t really mean what you said. He wants you to absolve him and apologize.

        It may not be conscious, but it’s certainly a tactic he is exceptionally comfortable using.

        1. KH*

          plain_jane and I cross posted, but yes, I also agree with what she said. He wants you to apologize back to him (or at least say something like “you weren’t rude” and “it’s ok”) so he can use that as further ammunition.

          1. dawbs*

            there are ways to accept an apology without saying “it’s OK”

            “Thank you for the apology and the attempt to keep rudeness under control in the future” works well.

        2. plain_jane*

          You know how charities first get you to sign a petition, and you do, because that doesn’t cost you anything, but then they come after you for money, and you’re more likely to give because you’ve said that you’re the type of person who supports x? http://www.thehumaneleague.com/changeofheart/e_foot.htm

          He’s doing that by trying to get you to say that his behaviour in this case was fine. By saying that, you’re more likely to extend it to all his behaviour – even if you don’t mean to.

      2. KH*

        OP you’re probably baffled because he’s NOT delusional.

        It’s pretty clear from your description that he is well aware of his behavior and also well aware of all the rules-lawyering he does to talk around it. Sending you a message apologizing “IF” he was rude is a non-apology meant to disarm you and make you more sympathetic to him. Along the lines of: See I really am a nice guy and gosh we got off on the wrong foot and I’m sorry that YOU don’t see what a great guy I really am.

        Don’t be baffled. Take this exactly for what it is, a manipulative creeper who is obviously an expert at the game.

      3. Artemesia*

        I would have emailed back ‘James, I am not really the issue here. The issue is your very inappropriate behavior towards young women in our young professionals group. I hope you can control that behavior in the future.’ or some such. Subtle isn’t going to work with this guy.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This. This. This.
          And cc the pastor. OP, do not engage in emails with this man that no one else is aware of. This whole thing should not be on your shoulders to begin with. I would cc the entire board for your church, if it was me.

        2. TL -*

          Oh, yes.

          And when you talk to him, don’t let him bring up age or Melissa or anything. Every derail gets circled back to, “James, you’re making many women very uncomfortable with your behavior and you haven’t improved with feedback. You’re not welcome.”
          Literally, every derail. It doesn’t matter how old he is or what Melissa said or how much he does for the church. The only thing that matters is he is making women feel unsafe. So respond to every sideline or every response with, “You’re making women uncomfortable for that reason you’re not welcome.”

          1. So Very Anonymous*

            “Hope” also strikes me as too emotional-labory, like you’re depending on him to live up to your “hope” for him. “Expect” or “require” are clearer and more detached.

            1. Artemesia*

              Yes that is a good point. But the OP has no power here since her Pastor cut her off at the knees — he will laugh at anything she ‘requires.’

              1. Kyrielle*

                I would suggest the OP use ‘expect’. It’s stronger than hope, but doesn’t take on the authority the Pastor won’t give her, as “require” would suggest.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I agree with this, actually. In all measured thinking, and not in knee-jerk “get him” mode.

          Restate the boundaries. And don’t “forgive” him.

          And yes, CC: the pastor. And then no more contact with him.

          TL – is right–don’t ever let him derail. In fact, pick a script (TL -‘s is nice), and repeat it to him verbatim every single time. Cut and paste.

          “James, you’re making many women very uncomfortable with your behavior and you haven’t improved with feedback. You’re not welcome.”

      4. Mando Diao*

        What you need to learn to identify (in life and in this job) is when a manipulative man delivers an answer in the conciliatory tone of a compromise. I can see from your response that you think something has been accomplished, and a lot of commenters are taking your tone at face value and inferring that your actions were successful. What’s happening here is that:

        1) The pastor responded to you in a very nice way, so you’re (wrongfully) assuming that he took your concerns seriously and worked hard to solve the problem. You got caught up in the nice tone and exited the conversation with a “positive” feeling. He distracted you with niceness so you wouldn’t question that he wasn’t addressing the concerns at hand.

        2) No compromise has actually been reached. The pastor will “work with” James? And James will still be allowed at the events?

        In any case, a compromise isn’t good enough. Any survivor of assault and persistent harassment will tell you that under no circumstances is it appropriate or acceptable for the response to be, “He will still be allowed at some of these events, and you have to deal with it when his actions don’t change.” No they effing do not.

        I suggested it in the last post: Tell him that you will call his wife and invite her to the events if he insists on coming to them..

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yes, everything here. Yes, yes, yes.

          I can’t even speak/write in full sentences. That’s how much this thread is depressing me.

        2. TootsNYC*

          Just repeating stuff to agree with it:

          “What you need to learn to identify (in life and in this job) is when a manipulative man delivers an answer in the conciliatory tone of a compromise. I can see from your response that you think something has been accomplished, . . .The pastor responded to you in a very nice way, so you’re (wrongfully) assuming that he took your concerns seriously and worked hard to solve the problem. You got caught up in the nice tone and exited the conversation with a “positive” feeling. He distracted you with niceness so you wouldn’t question that he wasn’t addressing the concerns at hand.

  25. De Minimis*

    The pastor should have handled this better–this is not that unusual a problem in church groups. I used to belong to one and the leaders always seemed to watch out for “creepers,” though they did not refer to them as that.

  26. Aunt Vixen*

    I nth all the impressions that the pastor biffed this one in a big way. Among the various suggestions for ways to keep James’ targets safe from him in future, I want to ask about this:

    James will only come to events where his other aged-out friends are going

    Do I understand from that that James is legit friends (or at least friendly) with the well-behaved over-40s? Can they be recruited as allies in any way? I don’t mean following him around narrating his missteps as if he were a trainee waiter or a medical student; I agree with those who said that would not be an improvement. But there have certainly been times in my life where I’ve witnessed Helpful Interference from other people. This can be indirect (“Hey, James, how’s it going? How about that local sports team?” before he can get where he’s going), semi-direct (“Hi James, hi Georgiana, what are you guys talking about?”), or direct (“Georgiana, are you okay? Oh, isn’t that your brother over there?”). Bonus points if the helpful interferers have ever in their lives been thought of (even by themselves) as “socially awkward” but know how not to be creeps.

    1. G*

      In the moment this may be appreciated by those trapped in conversation with him, but they are temporary distractions and won’t fix the problem long term. I would also imagine that the other older members would feel like this is babysitting and would become resentful of it. Judging by his behavior, I would assume his opinion of who his friends are and how many of those people consider him their friend are not the same.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        It depends on what the goal is for a long-term fix. If the goal is “young women are not pestered by James,” whether that’s achieved by his being banned, his being present but not able to bother people, or his cleaning up his act makes no real never mind to me. Put another way: I care more about the victims here than I do about the creeper.

        1. Observer*

          In theory I agree with you. In practice, though, I don’t think it’s going to work, because it’s going to mean that someone is going to have to be watching him all. of. the. time. Not so practical.

      2. Aunt Vixen*

        w/r/t the second part of your comment, though, yes, I agree that his read of his friendship with the other over-40s may not be accurate. “I’ll just come along when Fitz and Brandon are going to be there, then,” and meanwhile Fitz and Brandon are rolling their eyes and planning to ditch him.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          Also, if Fitz and Brandon are behaving appropriately, they shouldn’t be punished for being in the same age cohort as James by being stuck babysitting him. Even if they do view him as a friend, having to babysit him seems unfair (unless you want them gone, too, and even then, that’s a pretty passive-aggressive way to enforce the age limit).

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Agreed. This would piss me off royally if I were them. I do not want to attend an event and be unable to focus on the reason I’m there because I’m stuck following some asshole around.

    2. Aunt Vixen*

      I should have made the second thing (“What are you guys talking about” and then don’t leave) semi-indirect, the third thing (“Georgiana, your brother wants to talk to you”) semi-direct, and a fourth thing straight up direct: “Georgiana, is this guy bothering you?”

      In sports terms, sometimes you have to set a pick, and sometimes you have to throw an elbow.

    3. AW*

      I agree with those who said that would not be an improvement.

      Why not? This seems pretty close to that except you’re allowing him to save face by pretending you’re interrupting for some other reason.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        Because in my thing the refocusing is coming from a peer rather than a mentor or instructor. If I’m a 20-year-old woman at a church social and I see a known creep coming towards me and someone else heads him off at the pass, I feel relief. If I am being creeped on and someone comes in to dilute the conversation, I feel relief. If I am being creeped on and someone offers me a way out of the conversation, I feel relief. If I am being creeped on and someone *gets* me out of the conversation, I feel relief.

        If I am being creeped on and someone says “See, James, that was the kind of creepy shit we were talking about earlier,” I feel like an exhibit.

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            That case would be an example of a variety of Helpful Interference in between indirect and semi-direct (but not semi-indirect as described above; a branch!). Once they go elsewhere, who’s to know if they’re talking about that local sports team or about James’s latest failure to demonstrate socially acceptable behavior.

  27. Liza*

    OP, I’m glad you knew we’d be cheering you on! It sounds like you really did something to be proud of, even if the outcome so far hasn’t been what you were hoping for.

  28. Tallyme Banana*

    Good, job OP! You were braved and you stuck up for other women. Good luck with this guy in the future.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      Yes, I know it’s not the ideal solution, but I want to say YAY OP! That must have been a really hard conversation for you, and you should feel SO proud of yourself – if it didn’t work out right, that’s not your fault at all.

  29. Not So NewReader*

    OP, you are handling something that should not even be on your plate. I congratulate you for working with this. You seem to have a good handle on how things should be done, too.

    Please keep telling your pastor that he needs to build a group of peers that he can talk with and he needs to find a mentor who can guide him. I can tell from his responses that he is trying to do this alone.
    Use yourself as a comparative basis. You came on here, got Alison’s excellent advice and read what we had to say. You changed, you grew stronger, your vision became clearer and when the going got tough you thought of us cheering you on. THIS is what your pastor needs to do, too. Peers and mentors buoy us up, they make us stronger, sharper, our thinking is clearer and it shows in our work/other efforts.

    My work is to support my boss who is in a quasi-leadership roll. The first thing my boss did was she built herself a list of resources to support her needs as she went along. She was at her job for about 8 months when I came into the picture. The first thing she did with me was to introduce me to someone who was my peer but with 10 years experience so she (my peer) could mentor me. What a gift that was to me. I instantly had someone to go to when I had no idea what to do and I could not find anyone to help me.

    This is what the pastor needs to build for himself. Like my boss, his job is not done alone or in a vacuum.

  30. Student*

    Have you told your pastor that by enabling this guy’s behavior, he is in fact making the one misbehaving guy more comfortable at the expense of quite a few women congregants? How many women would have to be upset this to be worthy of the pastor’s regard? Is this guy worth 3 well-behaved women at the event? 6? 12? 20? How many women does it take to equal one man in his eyes?

    1. Artemesia*

      This. It feels like the basic fundamental sexism that exists in most religions where men’s interests are the only really important ones. HE is important, all those shes are not.

    2. Kyrielle*


      Also, if I were a woman in this church and not part of this event, and found out about this and that the Pastor hadn’t removed the guy?

      If I really liked the church and Pastor I’d talk to him. But otherwise I’d leave without a further word – and if I talked to him and wasn’t comfortable with what was said, I’d still leave. And take my family with me. It’s flatly not acceptable and that’s not a safe and welcoming church. Nor would I want my children growing up partly in a place where that is considered acceptable.

    3. Brisvegan*


      How many women is James worth? How many does he get to drive away?

      Bet the pastor wouldn’t want to admit this is an issue and put a number on it. Also bet that, like many orgs, if the women go quietly, the number is basically infinite.

      (To be charitable, this calculation is probably subconscious and the pastor has not actually thought about it.)

  31. Minister of Smartassery*

    The fact that his response was all about his membership, the money he pays, his age, but nothing at all about changing his behavior, tells you everything you need to know about him.

    And it’s not unusual for people who are habitual creeps to set themselves up as a “cornerstone” of whatever organization he uses to target his/her victims. They want to make themselves indispensable. If they’re a coach, they’re the most involved, hard-working coach ever. If she’s a member of the PTA, she’s involved in every activity, every committee, every fund-raiser. If he’s a member of the church, he sets himself up as a “promoter” of the church, a deacon, a member of the budget committee, a Sunday school teacher. They make it much more difficult to get rid of them, than it is to ignore people they’re targeting.

  32. The Anonymous Pastor*

    Is your church part of a larger denomination? If so, your denomination probably has a policy on “safe behavior and relationships” That Must Be Obeyed, Amen. All leadership, lay and ordained, must take the training every 3 yrs or so. Everyone who works with children in any role Must Take The Course.

    The training addresses protecting our children from predators. It also addresses inappropriate behavior among adults, background checks for leadership, and unequal power status and relationships. It also provides a way to contact a team of people trained to step in where there is an allegation of abuse or improper relationship, or a dynamic most people in the church (including the pastor) are not professionally trained to handle. There is someone on call in this group at all times.

    Your pastor us a donkey butt for leaving you to handle this alone. He actually put you at risk. The creepy guy is unpredictable and is inappropriate with women (or with men – it doesn’t matter) and you approached the pastor because you had reached your ability to handle the situation as well as the limits of your professional training. He failed you.

    If there is this response team in your synod, session, region, fellowship, diocese, meeting, or other judicatory group, you may call them yourself. The larger issue is your pastor’s failure to be sure your congregation is safe, and the probability that other leadership has not been appropriately trained, either.

    This training program would even be appropriate to conduct with the Young Professionals group. It would benefit the members in the workplace, in social life, in dealing with inappropriate advances from creepy people – and would be a great discussion. “Creepy Guy, you are standing way too close to me, and I am asking that you take 3 steps back NOW.” “Wakeen and Felicity, would you walk me out to my car? I don’t feel comfortable…” And if he comes to your home, call the police.

    If there is nothing in place in your congregation like this awareness training, your pastor and board had best get to work establishing or adopting a program.

    In addition, it would be appropriate for any group to establish “group norms”, revisit them each year, and do some role-playing exercises with members to illustrate each point for those who learn best by seeing, rather than trying to conceptualize words on a whiteboard.

    You may also say, “I have reached the limits of my training, and I am turning this matter over to you” to your pastor. He won’t melt. (All professional clergy are trained to know the limits of their professional training.)

    Worshipping congregations are not museums for saints. They are hospitals for sinners. But it is incumbent on leadership to have safeguards in place so boundaries remain sacred.

    1. The Anonymous Pastor*

      Ya know, if there is a training program and a response team in place, and your pastor has still been a donkey butt, he should be defrocked.

    2. The Anonymous Pastor*

      And I’m so steamed I won’t be able to sleep.

      You certainly may print my words and hand them to your pastor.

      Please report back in, OP.

      1. anon for this*

        As a member of a 12-step program, I can tell you that we as a community watch out for our own. Steer the new women away from the predators, put a word in with another man in the group to tell James to leave Cassandra alone, stop putting his arm across the backs of chairs, etc. Have the established women in the group pull Cassandra away and clue her in, then engage her elsewhere.

        I also second what anonymous pastor says. We will need another update and your pastor needs to see this. Good luck!

    3. Jeanne*

      My church was UM. They followed Safe Sanctuary. I attended the training a few times. They focused solely on children (and I thought some policies were badly thought out). No one ever indicated there was anything policy-wise for dealing with adults. (I taught adult Sunday School for 15 years.) I think it is naive at best to say that major denominations have policies and that the pastors are trained in them. Most pastors I have known are absolutely hopeless in dealing with interpersonal conflicts, minor or major. OP may have to shove her pastor into this century but may not be able to. Pastors learn theology in seminary not managerial skills.

      1. The Anonymous Pastor*

        One of the films we used in the early years of doing this training was by the UM – and it was examples of pastors abusing their authority and trust with a person being counseled; another was a member of the congregation with a crush on the pastor; and another was with a staff member, “we can’t tell anyone about this.”

        This second part of the training was for those who supervised staff. All of my board was required to take all of the training.

        Now, the training has expanded to cover many more situations with both adults, and young people, and become very interactive and engaging.

        1. Jeanne*

          This has not made it to the local level here, either because of upper levels not pushing it or pastors not interested.

          1. The Anonymous Pastor*

            The training began because it was required…. wait for it… by insurance after the large awards to survivors of clergy abuse in the Catholic Church.

            It has since been seen as incredibly valuable. People who have been through the training feel competent when out in the world to think “I don’t like what I’m seeing – I’m going to alert the Principal right now” or ask a woman in a convenience store “Are you all right? Do you want me to stay here with you? May I call —- agency who can help?” when witnessing brutal verbal abuse from a man she is with.

            And the one time I had to call the response team, they called me back immediately, said “let me have Ms X who is a licensed psychologist call you back” and the answers and resolution was very sensitive and appropriate.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Thank you for posting this comment. I know the OP wants to do the right thing and has done well so far. I also think this situation needs escalation, and it’s good of you to provide the information necessary for it to happen.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I hope you see this comment here, OP, this is why I say your pastor is doing too much by himself. He needs resources and mentoring. There are many things he should be doing and he is not doing any of them. I can tell by what you think of to say and how you describe what is happening.

      This is how the pedophiles were handled and this is how it came to be such a big problem. He is doing the very same things, on a smaller scale with one person and, granted, the guy is not abusing kids, however he is abusing adults. But your pastor is doing everything he can think of to avoid handling the problem. In fact, he is very similar to James in that regard. “Problem? What problem? I don’t see a problem.”

  33. Shelly*

    I’m wondering how many great, inclusive people will no longer call themselves members of a church that helps provide cover for inappropriate weirdos. And if that’s the kind of church it actually truly is, that’s good. I know, for me, I’d make a fast run for the door if the moment I joined some sort of group, some guy who had aged out was macking on me, and I’d draw the conclusion that the church was filled with people like that.

  34. Mando Diao*

    Alison, is there anyway to program in a notification when a comment goes into moderation? I’ve had comments fail to post here due to the ad reload cycle (those ones didn’t end up in the moderation queue), and when a long, somewhat personal comment about authority figures condoning harassment goes into moderation with no notification (“Your comment will be posted when it is approved) it makes me think that the whole thing was lost.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Strangely, the moderation notification only works if you enter an email address. If you enter an email address in that field — even a fake one! — it will display a message alerting you if your comment went to moderation.

  35. Looc64*

    You should probably check in with Melissa to make sure that creepy dude doesn’t try to retaliate against her, either directly or by trying to get the rest of the group to shun her.

    1. Psych Chaplain/ Revered Lady*

      This. A 100 times this. Unfortunately people like Creeper McCreeper try to triangle in other people to the drama, so make sure Melissa gets a lot of loud and vocal support.
      OP, you are AWESOME for tackling this. If you need more resources, intentional interim ministry programs have a lot of educational material on this. Also, the Young Women’s Clergy Project might be able to help. Us female clergy have quite of bit of experience on dealing with creepers. I will keep asking around to see if I can find more. But honestly, you could also mention this to higher ups in the denomination. It would be completely appropriate to do so since he pushed this on to you even though it is his job.

  36. Intern Wrangler*

    I just want to say that I think you did an exceptional job, and I cannot imagine what a difficult conversation it must have been. I wish that it were over, but it reminded me that there are very few times when we get complete resolution. I hope you also feel really proud that you tackled the issue, you followed the steps agreed upon and that you did make progress. Good work!

  37. AMBAER*

    I was reading this thinking “no, no, no, no, they shouldn’t ban him if they are not banning all aged-out members!” That’s just inviting an age discrimination/equal accommodation lawsuit! Glad to hear that he has not been banned, but, if you do think that you may ban him in the future, please keep contemporaneous documentation and even witness statements!

    1. Kyrielle*

      Not a winnable lawsuit, I wouldn’t think. They clearly *aren’t* discriminating on age if the aged-out members who *are not creepers* are still allowed to be there, but he is not….

  38. The Anonymous Pastor*

    This just hit my email – an “Open Letter to Theological Schools about Sexual Assault” from Jim Wallis and the staff at Sojourners Magazine.

    (Did you know Jim Wallis is married to the real Vicar of Dibley?)

    I’ll post the link below.

  39. Chris*

    First, agreeing with others that you did a great job. And that the pastor completely failed to be a proper “shepherd” for the church.

    This is, like, TEXTBOOK on how organizations often deal with creepy, or openly racist/misogynist/homophobic people. The pastor should have said “your behavior is making a lot of people uncomfortable, and it has not changed after we’ve talked about it. Please stop attending.” His focus should be to protect people who are being harassed, not tiptoe around the creeper’s fee-fees. But, nope, he’s going to “counsel”. I bet he’ll be “checking in” with him occasionally, and “keeping an eye on the situation.” I.e., doing fuck all. This happens all the time when well-intentioned people become so obsessed with the idea of “inclusiveness” that they tolerate predators, because it makes them feel like they’re being so open-minded and tolerant.

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