Hello GRC –
Yes, it’s summer, with beach, pool and vacations on the brain, with lazy mornings for kids and shorter weeks for some workers. But life goes on, including the parade of news that reminds us of the depravity of the human heart, and, unfortunately in some cases, the loss of confidence in the church.
Yesterday, a Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, detailing systemic sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests – and intentional hiding by supervisors – over decades, involving 1,000 known child victims. Who knows how many didn’t have the courage to come forward and report the abuse? A couple of weeks ago, additional and more serious accusations were levied against Bill Hybels, founder of one of the largest and most influential evangelical churches in the country, Willow Creek Community Church. Allegations have involved sexual harassment of female staff members and one accusation of sexual assault. The credibility of the fresh allegations was such that the two lead pastors and the entire elder board resigned, realizing they had failed to respond adequately to the earlier allegations. Some of you heard news that a ministry leader at Redeemer NYC was fired because of evidence of some inappropriate behavior that occurred years ago. If you go looking for more, sadly, a few easy clicks would lead you to a handful of articles detailing church/pastor scandals all around the country. And, of course, we’re aware of the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment in our culture at-large that has led to the #MeToo movement (whose leaders are not immune to the same brokenness they are fighting to expose).
Why this heavy article in the middle of the summer? Because you need to know that we, GRC’s Session (currently six lay “ruling” elders plus the Senior Pastor, all of whom provide formal spiritual and organizational leadership), are taking very seriously the question: “Are GRC’s policies and accountability structures strong enough to minimize the possibility of such things happening in our own congregation?”
The naïve position would be, “Wow, that’s horrible. But that would never happen at GRC.” Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” (1 Corinthians 10:13). In other words, the same desires, the same sin-roots, the same idol patterns, afflict us all. In the prior verse, Paul warns: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Biblical wisdom involves taking seriously the reality of sin’s power and influence along with the weakness of the human heart. We are not immune, but we will not passively stand pat. At this past weekend’s annual Session retreat, we spent a good bit of time considering these matters. We have more to pray on and think through, but for now, I want you to be aware of steps that have been in place, and new action steps we’re considering:
- Our Children’s Ministry has had in place, for many years, a vigorous Child Protection Policy (CPP). This involves background screening of ALL staff, ministry leaders and volunteers who have any contact with our children. The CPP requires an application, an interview, and training. It mandates practices such as: two adults in a room at all times. Our new building was renovated with these concerns in mind (e.g. including new bathrooms in the children’s area for potty-trained toddlers through Kindergarteners). That’s just a glimpse. If you have ANY questions about the CPP, don’t hesitate to reach out to Karen Jacobsen, our Children’s Ministry Director.
- There are windows on all classrooms and offices. The pastoral staff abide by what has been known as the Billy Graham-rule, to minimize the chance of inappropriate behavior in private, especially when a pastor counsels a woman. In a prior, two-part Voice of Grace, I shared details of my personal practices (click to read Part 1 and Part 2).
- As pastors and counselors, we’ve talked through mandatory reporting rules, how we’d handle a serious accusation, etc. We’ll now work on incorporating those thoughts into a formal church policy which, once approved by the Session, will serve as expectations of behavior and communication by staff, officers and ministry leaders. We’re already looking into outside experts who could provide training and verification that our current policies are strong enough.
- Presbyterian government means that authority is not concentrated in any one person. Shared leadership greatly minimizes the likelihood of cover-ups or fear of reprisal by an accuser/reporter.
In due time, we’ll share much more detail. But for now, in a time of “peace” and vitality in our community, know that we are aggressively looking at any potential weak areas of our practices and organization so that nothing impairs the healthy, joyful growth of the Gospel in and through Grace Redeemer Church! Please pray for us as we seek the Lord’s wisdom in all these matters.
For the Session,
Peter Wang is our Senior Pastor.