The Rev. Amy K. Butler, who was recently ousted from New York City’s famed Riverside Church due in part to a controversial visit to a sex shop in Minnesota, is expected to receive an exit package worth at least $500,000, as some congregants call for her reinstatement.
Riverside Church announced earlier this month that it would not be renewing Butler’s contract after five years with her as the first female leader at the helm. It did not state a reason. But the New York Post pointed to issues concerning her leadership, as well as a formal complaint that she took two Riverside Church assistant ministers and a female congregant to the Smitten Kitten sex shop in Minneapolis.
Butler was also reportedly pushing for an increase in her salary, which the New York Post reported was $250,000 a year plus an $8,000-a-month housing allowance and more than $55,000 in yearly pension contributions.
The 1,750-member church previously told The Christian Post that it would not be commenting on the specifics of Butler’s departure but documentation seen by the New York Post suggests that she will be moving on from the church with at least $500,000.
The payout is expected to include a full year of salary, six months of housing allowance, three years of annual $59,000 retirement contributions, a $100,000 “separation payment,” $10,000 for her lawyer’s fees, plus unused vacation for a package totaling $594,530.
The New York Post reported last week that Butler, a mother of three, reportedly gifted one of the assistant ministers who accompanied her to the sex shop, a $200 vibrator and purchased pleasure toys for herself and a female congregant.
The visit occurred during a trip to the 27th annual Festival of Homiletics where the 49-year-old presided over the closing worship service of the weeklong conference.
A source that spoke with the New York Post alleged that the single mother who was celebrating her 40th birthday when her boss gifted her the vibrator didn’t want it. She reportedly accepted the gift because she was afraid.
The second minister, a gay man, was also offered a toy but he reportedly declined. Butler allegedly told the uncomfortable ministers that they didn’t have to accompany her to the sex shop but they allegedly “felt pressured” and feared professional retaliation, the source said.
A recent report in The Washington Post said prior to the complaint about the sex shop trip which occurred in May, Butler had been pushing for a $100,000 increase in her compensation package to match the salary of her male predecessor.
The progressive Riverside Church has hosted iconic political and cultural figures like Martin Luther King Jr., former President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.
The Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton
The Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton, who was senior pastor prior to Butler, resigned from the post after less than a year on the job. While his salary and benefits package was reported to be $600,000 in 2009, the church later confirmed that the actual figure was $457,000.
The liberal church, which embraces an interfaith style of Christian theology for all comers, whether Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, gay, lesbian, transgender or none of the above, had issues with Braxton’s evangelical bent, The New York Times reported.
“It’s about all the issues confronting the progressive tradition within the church,” Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary and a member of the Riverside congregation, told the Times of Braxton’s exit. “Liturgy. Theology. Finance. Race and class. This is a tragedy.”
Critics complained that Braxton, who is an ordained Baptist minister, called on worshipers to come forward to bear witness to their faith, favored the gospel choir over the church’s traditional choir, and preached that Jesus and only Jesus was the way to salvation.
He is currently director of the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life and the supervisory curator of religion at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Petition to reinstate Butler
According to The Washington Post, about 11 congregants introduced a petition at the church Sunday seeking to reinstate Butler.
The congregation “should be the ones to decide whether Pastor Amy continues as our Sr. Minister, and we should be able to make that decision based on facts and information,” a copy of the petition obtained by The Washington Post said. “Through Pastor Amy’s leadership and our work together, our beloved Congregation is vibrant and growing.”
The congregant who was a part of the trip to the sex shop explained from a written statement that everyone who decided to visit the shop had done so freely.
“No one indicated otherwise to me for the duration of the trip to the conference or at any time after,” a copy of the statement shared with The Washington Post said. “If anyone had indicated discomfort, the trip simply would not have continued.”
The congregant, who requested anonymity, also slammed the investigation into the sex shop trip as incomplete as no one reached out to her about it.
“It’s important that you hear this directly from someone who was there, instead of via rumors or the papers,” the statement read. “I am speaking to you today because this is what I want for us: a community where we tell each other the truth of our experiences.”
Butler’s supporters said in an earlier report in The New York Times that her ouster is retaliation for speaking out about sexual harassment at the church, specifically regarding an incident involving a former member of the church’s governing council who left a bottle of wine and a T-shirt on her desk, both bearing labels that read “Sweet B----.”
“There is absolutely no doubt that sexism played a role,” the Rev. Kevin Wright, who was recruited by Butler in 2015, told the Times. He had served as executive minister for programs but left in 2018. “I don’t understand how anyone could think anything different.”