Ex-UCC President & GM Thomas Leaving Wife for Another Woman
Sunday, August 22, 2010
It is now public knowledge that Rev. John H. Thomas, recently retired President and General Minister of the UCC (1999-2009), is seeking a divorce from his wife and is presently in an adulterous relationship with another woman, someone with whom he worked at the denominational headquarters in Cleveland.
In a carefully worded UCC press release, the Collegium of Officers--who oversee the national ministry--announced Thomas' admission and urged support for the process that handles matters affecting the larger church. While the statement described in detail how Thomas' case might be reviewed, it did not say that an evaluation was pending. There was no mention how the revelation has affected Thomas' status at Chicago Theological Seminary, where Thomas serves as Senior Adviser to the President and Visiting Professor in Church Ministries.
The press release is intriguing for what it says and does not say. It does not explain the process that brought this information to light. It does not pass any moral judgment on Thomas. Even more, it does not express any emotion of grief or disappointment over Thomas' action. The only religious speak is the mention of "prayerful support for all parties involved."
What the press release does say, in its opening paragraph, is that Thomas is, "now in a committed relationship with a woman with whom he worked while he was general minister and president." Why is the word "committed" used to describe Thomas' relationship with this other woman? Don't worry, this is not some brief (and socially unjust), sleazy fling. It's a committed and deeply entrenched adulterous relationship!
Adding to the moral confusion is a curious phrase from the Collegium's statement. While claiming, "it is not appropriate to discuss details of this matter publicly," they disclose that when they talked to Thomas and his in-office lover, "Both parties have informed the Collegium that the relationship is entirely consensual." Why is this said? Are we to believe that even though Thomas held the foremost position in the entire organization, there's no abuse of power because it was consensual?
The release does not say how this affair started. Maybe it began when the two still worked in the office, or, after one or both left. The circumstances matter, especially if Thomas' lover has a change of heart and decides to sue. Either way, boundary lines were crossed. Two consenting adults doesn't make this right. A marriage covenant was broken and quite possibly, so too were personnel policies. What does the Collegium know about this situation? If they do not protect the employees of its denominational headquarters from sexual advances and/or harassment, they fail the organization and contribute to its dysfunction.
As is often the case, the only UCC folks offering moral clarity is the Biblical Witness Fellowship. In its statement, they declare that Thomas' action, "deepens the crisis of integrity in the UCC with consequences well beyond the tragic dissolution of his own family...The whole church is deeply hurt when our leaders fail to keep their vows and engage in this form of duplicity. It compromises the witness of all of us in the body of Christ."
In a 2010 address at Chicago Theological Seminary, Rev. Thomas declared that, "Distracted ministry occurs when we quit paying attention to what truly matters." Sadly, this truth is illustrated by Thomas' own sordid personal life. Rev. Thomas, if you are reading this, you need to repent. End this illicit relationship and return to the wife of your youth. Don't let this become part of your legacy. Turn to our gracious and merciful Lord for forgiveness and restoration.
The question of Thomas' fitness for ministry is now the responsibility of the Church and Ministry Committee, of the Western Reserve Association, a smaller and more local setting of the larger Ohio Conference.
Let's hope this committee has the courage to confront Rev. Thomas and hold him accountable.