September 12, 2011

BREAKING: Marc Gafni’s Sexual Impropriety Re-emerges—Will Integral Leadership Step Up this Time?

[NOTE: It’s been many months since I have posted here, and this is not exactly an uplifting topic on which to make my return – but it needs to be said, and as many people as possible need to read it. This originally appeared at Integral Options Cafe.]

There have been two recent developments regarding Marc Gafni, already a controversial, polarizing figure following a very public sex scandal five years ago. While many organizations and teachers would have nothing to do with him, the Integral world did seem to believe his version of events and took him back.

What’s new:

  • Integral life has removed Gafni as a contributor to their website and as MC of the Integral Spiritual Experience 3 Conference.
  • Sounds True has cancelled publication of his upcoming book and severed ties with his Center for World Spirituality.

In an effort to discover what might be behind these developments, I have been in conversation with both Robb Smith, CEO of Integral Life, and Tami Simon, owner and publisher of Sounds True.

Robb and I have not had a chance to speak personally, but Tami kindly sent me the following response (posted with her permission):

When I first started working with Marc a couple of years ago, Marc and I spoke openly about his history and what he claimed were false accusations against him related to alleged sexual improprieties. Several influential people spoke up in his defense and equally several people warned me not to trust Marc. I came to believe that whatever had happened in the past, Marc was beginning a new chapter in his life. Marc explicitly stated to me that he was not going to be involved in sexual relationships with students, that even if he deemed such relationships to be consensual, he did not believe that engaging in relationships with students would support his efforts to be an effective teacher. In considering publishing Marc’s work, the most important thing to me was the actual quality of the written work. When he submitted “Your Unique Self” in its edited form, I appreciated the content and message of the book. The quality of the book combined with the force of his conviction regarding how he would conduct himself as a teacher moving forward convinced me to take a risk on publishing his work.

In the past several weeks, new and incontrovertible information came to light that made me aware that Marc was involved in a sexual relationship with a student and that the relationship was shrouded in secrecy. There was an obvious lack of alignment between Marc’s words to me and his actions. I learned about Marc’s sexual relationship with a student from another woman who was having a sexual relationship with Marc. This woman was also asked by Marc to keep her relationship with him a secret. In talking with this woman, I learned how emotionally damaging this secrecy was for her, how it cut her off from emotional support and connection. I also learned quite a bit about how she felt manipulated by Marc, about how often she witnessed Marc telling lies to cover his tracks, and how upset she was to find herself caught in such a web of lies.

Discovering this new information, it became clear to me that it was not in integrity for me personally or for Sounds True as a company to publish Marc’s books or to support him as a spiritual teacher in the world. I do not trust Marc Gafni. I do not trust what he says, and I do not trust that he acts in the best interests of his students or his professional alliances.

Just to be clear here, Gafni was sleeping with two women, both of whom were in a power differential to Gafni – one was a private student.

However, the other woman was receiving marriage counseling (as was her husband, separately) as her marriage was ending. To my knowledge, Gafni is not licensed to provide counseling in Colorado (Colorado Mental Health Practice Act), and if he is, sleeping with a client is grounds for censure or the removal of his license.Both women wish to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons.

All of this was happening while he was “partnered” with Mariana Caplan, who is the mother of his child, and who risked her own reputation to write a chapter in her book, The Guru Question, arguing for his supposed innocence regarding the Israel incident in 2006; even Publisher’s Weekly questioned that final chapter.

That a very intelligent woman who has written a book on discernment around spiritual teachers was taken in by one is ironic, but it is also testament to Gafni’s ability to seduce otherwise intelligent people. Her fate serves as a stark warning to others who think they are immune from his seduction.

As is his pattern, Gafni has sworn both women to silence (as Tami described above) – and, according to sources in contact with the victims, in this case one of the women came forward and “failed to hold that space.” If you look back through the record of allegations against Gafni (this article contains statements by his early victims), it is always the women who come forward who are to blame for not being able to maintain his bohemian, “post-conventional” lifestyle.

In a long and rambling article responding to the Integrales Forum position paper on Integral Teachers and ethics, Gafni essentially offered a defense of his right as an “enlightened” teacher to have sexual relations with students. This is the defense he is currently offering for his affairs: he was involved in post-conventional relationships and the women failed to hold that space.

I have not had a chance to speak with Robb Smith directly, so the following information is based on reports from various people with access to the inner workings of Integral Life.

As mentioned above, it seems that Gafni has been removed by Integral Life from his usual leadership role of ISE3. Apparently, he will still be a presenter, but he won’t be the MC and won’t be running the event as he has for the previous two events (Jeff Salzman, Diane Hamilton, and Terry Patten will be leading this year’s event).

Robb Smith was very displeased that I implied Gafni’s material (articles, interviews, and so on) had been removed from the Integral Life site in secret. Yet, they removed the content of one of their most visible, most promoted, and most prolific teachers with not a word of explanation and that is “post-conventional governance”?

Robb and I have been playing phone tag since that Facebook conversation at the end of August. I hope he makes a public statement – and if he wants to alleviate suffering, he will join me in proposing and working to ensure that no student ever engages with Marc Gafni in ignorance of his past behavior.

Gafni’s Defenders

When Gafni first emerged from his two-year absence to resume his teaching (in 2008), his principle supporters were Robb Smith, Sally Kempton, Clint Fuhs, and Diane Hamilton. Robb offered an eloquent defense of Gafni and welcomed him back. I wonder if he now regrets those words, which Gafni has used as confirmation of his innocence and the legitimacyof his teaching.

Sally Kempton and Ken Wilber offered a long defense of Gafni and asserted that the women in Israel had lied (the letter was posted in the comments on this blog in response to my questioning of Gafni’s presence at the 2010 Integral conference). Of those mentioned in the letter, Robb Smith, Rocky Anderson, and Diane Hamilton have all moved away from Gafni.

Gafni posted a good deal of defense on his blog when he first returned to teaching. Most of it is questionable at best – especially the psyche evaluations. I documented that in a post last summer – in that same post I offered a bit of a speculative psychological explanation for Gafni’s behavior, which is not to be seen as an excuse.

Gafni has had many opportunities to confront his own patterns and seek help, but he seems unwilling to do so as long as he has supporters like Sally Kempton and Mariana Caplan who enable his behaviors and find ways to rationalize them.

Going Forward – My Personal Views

Robb seems to think – this is the message he has given to the staff at Integral Life in asking them not to speak with me – that I am “on a mission.” Yes, I most certainly am, but not the one he thinks.

My mission is to help prevent any other women from being victimized by Marc Gafni.

It is my hope that this post will offer a place for all of Gafni’s victims (many of whom have never come forward publicly because of the fear of abuse and harassment they are likely to receive from him and his enablers) to tell their stories.

It is also my hope that other leaders, especially in the integral community, will follow the fine example set by Tami Simon and make a public stand against Gafni’s lies and manipulations.

Allowing Gafni back into the Integral community – and defending him – has provided him with a platform to teach and begin his own organization – which has allowed him to bring chaos into the lives of two more women (that we know of – there may be others who are still silent). This need not have happened.

With his own organization now established at The Center for World Spirituality, it will be much tougher to discover or monitor his abuses than it would have been if he had never been allowed back into the integral community in the first place. When he is in charge, who monitors him? Who protects his students and employees?

I hold his enablers partly responsible – they willingly disregarded the experience of the women in Israelthe statements of his third ex-wife (much of what she says has been confirmed to me by other women who have been with him – for example, the “debasing sexuality” has been reported to me by other women who have been involved with him), and the statements of other organizations who had removed him from leadership positions.

However, the women willingly entered into these relationships – but would they have done so if there was a more public record of Integral leadership exposing his abuses?

So far, Tami Simon stands as the only leader willing to take a public stand on Marc Gafni. She should be applauded, but it is a sad testament to Integral post-conventional leadership that no one from that world has done the same.

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