Column: Quality (Control) Leadership

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How do we know if a Pagan leader is any good, is ethical, or if they are qualified to teach or lead? Today we have their writings and their reputation. This can be a lot, but the standards are inherently subjective and some kind of objective verification would be beneficial. Some matters, like lineage and certification, can be strictly factual. Can these be verified with confidence? Would it be good to have a trusted place to look up any Pagan leader’s qualifications, history and reputation?

Lydia Crabtree, has just such a project. Called Pagan Pro, the idea is to produce an on-line database to which leaders in our community can register and have third-party verification of their Pagan and academic qualifications. The ability of the public to comment on and validate the skills and character of those leaders will be featured.

Pagan Pro logoWhat are the ethics of this? What choices do we have? Our way has generally been ad hoc. Strategies of staying under the radar, out of public light, and unaccountable except to our immediate circle have been fading away as Paganism is becoming a better known minor religion. With the exposure, we, as with other societies and communities, need better ways of validating the quality of leaders with whom we wish to work. This comes with the specter of ‘professionalism’.

In the medieval period, three professions arose: medicine, law, and theology, for doctors, lawyers and (mostly) priests. To do any of them required an education and certification process, often with a licensing dimension as well. One went to a qualified school, got a degree or certificate, and then was granted a license to practice by some authority. This was hardly different than the trades, where (simplifying enormously) the apprenticeship was the education, your master administered the tests and attested to your skills, and then you were inducted into the guild as a peer to engage in your trade. What they all have in common is an educational process, validated by the educator, and then again by the members of the profession. The peer relationship is most visible in the trades and least in theology, which was subject to the authority of the church.

In modern times, these structures are still present and echoing in medical, legal, and other trade organizations which create a professional body to certify or license members of the profession. In this case, peers police themselves. They are, usually, highly motivated to protect the reputation of the profession and recognize that the bad actions of one reflects badly upon all.

Less present today, but not absent, are those organizations that have a hierarchy in place to qualify members. In this case a central organization is created that validates and vouches for the quality and character of its professionals. This is the common mode in religious professions and the Roman Catholic Church is the archetype. The hierarchy itself has institutional power to enforce its standards and, in theory, should maintain the quality of its member professionals.

As Pagan culture advances, we will need to find ways of validating the quality of our leadership. Should we choose to create professional organizations, and certainly some of the lineages attain to this capacity in some measure, this approach would require Pagan leaders to subject themselves to each other’s scrutiny, and be willing to accept the judgment of their peers. Our fiercely independent character, born of years of oppression, make it hard to yield to external authority.

Creating a centralized organization with the authority to control, deploy, and discipline Pagan leaders is even less likely. Seriously, would we ever do that? But it is the most direct method and available to those organizations and societies that have consolidated power. A few Pagan or para-Pagan organizations have this kind of structure and wield that kind of power over their membership, but the community as a whole would never stand for it. Overall our kind of authority structure most matches an immature and developing form of what we see richly and maturely in Hindu culture, with its highly distributed power and plural, diverse, centers of authority.

Since we are not going to put up with a centralized top-down power structure (and nor should we), and we may be a ways out from creating any kind of Pagan leader professional organization (if we ever do make one), we still have the problem of being able to vet our leadership.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. Crabtree [courtesy photo]

This is what Pagan Pro is seeking to find a way around. Since the primary task is informational, the seeker should have a way of looking up a leader’s qualifications in order to choose more wisely. Does a given person have the skills to lead a Pagan group or to teach a Pagan way?

The Pagan Pro scheme is to ask each leader or teacher to post their qualifications, and then have a staff member validate them though research. Did this person get trained to the level and from the person they claim? Do they have the academic education claimed? Are they members of any Pagan organizations? And so on…

The Pagan Pro organization would base and stake its reputation on the fact checking. A service like this could be a registry for leaders asserting that they follow professional standards around the treatment of students, sexual conduct, willingness to adjudicate conflicts and others. Then if they are found in violation of these principles, the breech could be published there too. More aggressively, should a Kenny Kline-type predator emerge, then they could be logged on Pagan Pro, as could any other person who failed a background check and still sought leadership status. While this is intended to be a non-judgmental resource, that may prove difficult if it does include anything other than a factual listing of a person’s claimed qualifications.

In the next months Pagan Pro will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to get the project moving. At that point you will have the opportunity to vote with your wallet communicating your opinion as to how valuable this idea is for our community. But, since we have the advantage of the blogging medium, I invite you to discuss the concept in the comments below. I’m sure Lydia Crabtree will be listening.

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Disclosure: Lydia Crabtree is the sister of Wild Hunt columnist, Crystal Blanton.