[Editor's Note]: This piece has been updated with the inclusion of a few extra links that have come out since the original publication of this piece as an attempt to include as many perspectives as possible. Just to be clear, I continue to stand by my own position as described below.
The major story in the integral world over the last week has been the controversy surrounding Marc Gafni. Some would say scandal. This is not the first such controversy in Marc's teaching life.
Here are some links as background:
Bill Harryman's initial post which broke the story.
Pelle Billing on teachers and conduct.
Diane Hamilton, who formerly defended Marc and in this post essentially breaks with him.
And, to my mind still the best piece written in the integral world on this subject matter, In Defense of Chastity by Emily Roy (nee Baratta), published here at Beams earlier this year.
I encourage folks to read and consider various perspectives.
This is a difficult one for me to talk about as I'm close with a number of folks on various sides of this issue.
So separating out my personal relationships for the moment, I'll speak more from my professional capacity. As an ordained member of a religious organization this is my world of experience. I have some experience with this kind of thing.
When I was trained in seminary, I was taught that clergy were never to have sexual relations with members of their congregation (or students of spiritual teachers in this case). In my case I was already engaged in a monogamous relationship by the time I entered seminary so this was a non-issue for me, but I think the standard is valid.
If a couple is already married or in a committed relationship and then the teacher starts a new community or moves to a new congregation and the partner is involved in that community, that's a different matter. I'm talking about dating or entering into sexual relationships. The complexities of such an issue are only magnified (by like a trillion) in cases of multiple partnering and multiple partnering within the same circles of people, including community members.
I guess I'd put it negatively: I've never seen a situation in which the clergy/religious teacher had intimate sexual relation with a member of the congregation and it turned out wonderfully (overall). Even in the situations where such individuals end up in long lasting beautiful relationships (and in my experience those are rare), they come at great cost to the community. My experience isn't exhaustive to be sure. Perhaps such a case does exist somewhere. Nevertheless, I've been in the world of religious communities essentially my entire life and have never heard of such a case.
A better model it seems to me is if a spiritual teacher or clergy want to date or be in a sexual relationship with someone in the congregation or a student, then one of the two to move to a different location (usually the student).
My view seems to be a minority position within the integral spiritual world. For example, an alternative view to my own, this piece by Junpo Roshi.* Certainly Marc disagrees with the view I hold.
On the other hand, integral teacher Robert Masters wrote this on his Facebook fan page the other day:
So-called "informed consent" is centered by the myth of consenting adults. In sexual circumstances many of us may not be clearly considering what's really going on and what's at stake, instead making choices from a desire (likely rooted in childhood) to get approval, love, or security, or to be distracted from our suffering. At such times we're acting not as consenting adults but as adult-erated children whose "consent" is mostly an expression of unresolved woundedness or unmet nonsexual needs.
I connect much more strongly with Robert's work on this topic (and many others besides) than say a Junpo or Marc.
In relation to this case with Marc, I think it's a sad event. I think his teaching on The Unique Self is an extremely important teaching whose contours in many ways are just being drawn and formed. I think the teaching has the potential to be one of the supreme offerings of an integral spirituality for the 21st century. I worry that the teaching will come under disrepute because of Marc's actions.
I'm also sad for those hurt.
I don't feel Marc is a villain. I don't think he should be made into a scapegoat. While I can understand (even appreciate) why such responses occur, I still find them immature. In Christianity we would say, "all have fallen short of the glory of God." This includes me, Marc, those who are hurt, anyone. I don't find any place to stand in self-righteousness, even against those who are standing in what seems to me self-righteousness.
That said, I think Marc has committed serious ethical violations. I don't feel he's acknowledged his own culpability and until such a day occurs, I don't think he should be in a position to have private students. I think he should still write, give lectures, etc. But I don't think he should work in any other regard as a spiritual teacher.
I think the admonition against sleeping together is meant to protect both teacher and student. It's so important that due consideration be given to protection of both teachers and students. Otherwise we end up in frameworks in which teachers have all the power and therefore students (no matter what happens) are definitionally off the hook. They have no power and therefore no accountability. Power might in some cases by asymmetric but that doesn't mean it's completely one-sided.
My sense is that the calling and inquiry is how best to live out the polarity of forgiveness and justice. We want both healthy boundaries (The Relative) and no boundaries (The Absolute). Both are true.
* Full Disclosure: I sent a note to Junpo after reading his defense of promiscuity piece telling him I disagreed strongly with his position and found his argument flawed in many respects. He very kindly responded and we had an interesting back and forth on the subject. I sensed that neither of us changed views really, but it was a good dialogue nonetheless.