Sin, Shame, and Compensatory Goodness

Like so many, I am struggling with the news of Ron Robinson's arrest for possession of child pornography. He has been a friend of mine since I was in seminary. I suggest you read Tony Lorenzen's account of his influence on a group of us. I considered him a modern hero of Unitarian Universalism, someone whose vision of ministry was a prophetic challenge to the rest of us. If you are not familiar with Ron's ministry, read this 2010 article in the UUWorld.

I do not know what happened in Ron's life to give rise to such unhealthy and dangerous desires. We don't even know how much his desires were acted upon. But there it still is, the presence of such an orientation to abusive desire, an orientation toward sin, in one I thought an exemplary human being.

We are told that such an orientation toward abuse, such sin, does not spontaneously arise, but often has roots in the person's experience. The abuser was once the abused.

But none of us now know that about Ron Robinson.

What we see is two things in contradiction. One is this sin, which has now been revealed. The other is what we have seen all along: an extraordinary ministry of service and generosity.

What is the relationship between the two?

One possibility is that a malignant sociopath created a whole facade of faithful, loving service as a elaborate ruse, to hide behind, while he sought to gratify his abusive desires.  A demon in disguise. But I have to say in my 25 years of interacting with Ron, I never saw something that seemed insincere, self-serving, manipulative, or otherwise bullshit.

Another possibility is that his secret orientation toward abusive desire was a source of shame, and out of that shame, a whole counter-life was lived, to compensate for the shame, to prove to himself that he still had worth.  A self-destructive "sainthood," because its purpose was really to destroy a part of the self that is a source of shame.

The second possibility seems kinder, but is terrifying upon reflection. It means that we ought to suspect the hidden motivations of those who seem the most heroic, and the more heroic, or self-denying, the more we should be suspicious. There are people who are too good to be true. In retrospect, should I not have seen that in Ron?


  1. Malignant sociopath or alternative identity. Isn't there a middle way? Aren't people always carping about false dichotomies?

    Maybe he is just a good guy who liked bad things. Occam's Razor; the simplest explanation is often the best.

  2. If he possessed child porn it was acted upon, by the children in the porn being abused.

  3. There is a growing amount of evidence that people who are abusers and also claim to have been abused are making a false claim. They are just trying to get sympathy. Be that as it may I am one of the people who has been shocked by this as Ron was one of the people I looked up too. He really seemed to have the whole UU Christian thing down and that he was someone who walked the talk. It will take some time for me to get to closure. In any case I pray for his family, his victims, (even if they were indirect victims created by the market for this sort of material), and for him. Echoing the theme of the pastoral letter published by UUCF, may he find atonement for his sins and peace with God. I also pray for us all.

  4. It doesn't have to be black and white. Not everyone who acts with compassion has a reaction formation (where anxiety-provoking thoughts are contained and controlled by actions in the opposite direction). Some are "wounded healers" (Henri Nouwen's phrase) — people who as a result of trauma in their lives are more open to the suffering of others. Others learn compassion through a study of Franciscan Christianity or Tibetan Buddhism. And a lucky few are just born that way.

  5. Sorry, but possessing child pornography is, by definition, acting on one's desires. Let's be grown up about this.

  6. Rev. Jay Leach10:07 AM

    Thanks for sharing these obviously pained reflections. The complex equation, yet again, calls Solzhenitsyn's commentary to mind: "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." I'm not indulging false equivalencies here. Just echoing how utterly bewildering we humans are.

  7. Anonymous8:54 PM

    Just a note from a non-UU that I know Ron too, through different progressive religious channels, and you all are very much in my prayers. This is devastating for so many people. At the moment -- and this may be different tomorrow, or ten minutes from now -- I honestly believe that he was a soul in anguish who didn't want to desire the things he desired, and in fact hated himself for it. I don't *think* all the goodness was faked. As I've learned in the last five days, existing laws make it very hard for a pedophile to seek help, even if they've never offended and want to continue never offending. Perhaps he was worried that seeking help for his own problems would endanger the ministry in Turley and thus deprive hungry people of the food they need to live. I don't know.

    But: that's no excuse for accessing the videos he accessed. And nobody owes it to him to have anything more to do with him, especially if doing so would compromise their own well-being. Several people I know who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse just need to remove him from the list of people they allow themselves to think about or empathize with, for the sake of their own sanity. I respect that, and I respect their courage in saying so. As far as all the rest, I have no idea how we get through this. For now I just pray and weep for the children who were victimized, and I pray that Ron's safety and rights are respected in jail and (presumably) prison. I'm heartbroken for all the people I know who had just begun to trust organized religion again, and now find that that trust is shattered, presumably forever. And for Turley, where the damaged trust might be the most acute. And his family... God, there are just no words.

  8. Oddly, I'm not even sure how I stumbled into this thread. But it happens that I am also acquainted with Ron, but haven't talked with him for quite some time. I'm in Tulsa but first knew him in Tahlequah, OK where I believe he was on faculty at a university and edited a newspaper.. I had a bit of interaction with him, as he was starting his ministry at "A Third Place" in the north Tulsa area. Always impressed by his commitment to reaching out to the underserved.

    I so appreciate the Solzhenitsyn quote from Jay Leach, above. It rings so true to me. My meditation space, for now, will be dedicated to Ron's well-being as well as all souls who've been abused and neglected by people they trusted.

  9. I don't know why I haven't seen this earlier. Sorry to have missed it.

    I note the absence of women's voices here.

    I have been a critic of Ron's for many years because I found him to be inauthentic and dishonest. I said it to a few people while I watched him being elevated to higher levels of reputation for his ministry. I witnessed him drop his mask a couple of times from a sideline position and I stayed far away.

    That said, it's not usually useful to armchair analyze anyone. Ask women what we know about how men compartmentalize their public persona, their internal spiritual life and spiritual self-image and how they behave around the bodies and suffering of others.

    Child porn viewed IS an act of abuse.

  10. Like Peacebang, I was not surprised. He stood up for a colleague who was a serial abuser and then gave her shelter when she had to leave the congregation --- exposing people in Turley to this sexual predator for some time. The UUA knew this about him. It raised red flags for me, but apparently not for others. This is probably because we ignore sexual abusers and excuse them or say what wonderful people they are. Usually they have masks that convince those willing to be gullible, but even in their other actions they ultimately do harm because of the hole in their souls.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Complicating the Great Reformation: Dialectical Theology (Part 11 of many)

the difference between "principles' and "virtues"

The 8th Principle

The Great Reformation (Dialectical Theology, Part 10 of many)

"What Time Is It? Questions from James Luther Adams to Unitarian Universalists of Today."