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In my opinion, the way to avoid problems is to have well drafted documents in place - in this case the Church Order. Well drafted does not necessarily mean lengthy but the more interpretations that can be made the more problems will arise.
I am praying that Synod 2010 will move positively forward in prayerful and serious consideration of the Belhar Confession.
The Office of Social Justice has provided some very helpful resources here: http://www.crcna.org/pages/osj_synod2010.cfm, including FAQs and statistics. Thanks OSJHA!!
Well, Nick, I wish the Network well, and I have participated - but I will say again that you are missing out if you don't participate on CRC-Voices - with its 189 members (many of who are lurkers)- and its history of 16 years or so. It's a community. We've been averaging about 50 posts a day lately. Maybe one day the Network will be become like Voices, but I have my misgivings about a denominationally-run forum.
I've wanted something similar in the past, wishing that there was a blog-like forum for discussing CRC-related issues. I haven't subscribed to CRC-Voices because it seems like a very "old-fashioned" way of online discussion. I don't want to be bothered with emails (Dave mentioned some means of viewing messages without subscribing, but from the Yahoo page, it isn't at all obvious how to do that.) A blog is, arguably, a much better system for online discussion.
It occurs to me, however, that THIS is that forum we're looking for. The Network is a discussion-board/blog/forum platform to discuss things important to the CRC.
Let's just hope that some of the CRC-Voices crowd migrates over here. Spread the word about the Network!
When a pastor manipulates an abuse response team in order to get them to meet with a complainant about allegations without council knowledge or approval, there is derailment of process.
When the abuse response team meets with a complainant about allegations without the accused council’s request or knowledge, there is derailment of process.
When chair of the team requests to meet with the accused – and the chair admits to the accused this has nothing to do with sexual or physical abuse allegations – there is a derailment of process.
When the team was directed by the CIC to stop their work, but the team continued anyway –and sent out a letter of findings - process is derailed.
Now the abuse response team process is the abuser.
Sadly, this happened.
Because of this - and there may be other cases similar to it - I ask you to consider challenging the denomination about a different way to do the investigative/fact-finding process. One idea would be to go to an "Outside the Denomination" Professional Investigative/fact-finding Services. Here are some reasons why:
1. Increased objectivity. Since many of our people and churches know each other, teams often run into difficulty with objectivity because of how we are related to one another. Effective outcomes and better recommendations for both the accused and the complainant are more likely when objectivity is present. Using an outside of the denomination process could increase objectivity.
2. Reduced liability. When a professional team is hired by a church, mistakes with the process are not charged to the abuse response teams. Mistakes are instead held by those who provided the services. Therefore, this would reduce the possibility of our teams and churches from being sued. Outside the denomination process could reduce liability.
3. Reduced cost of the running of the Abuse Prevention Office. Because there would be no teams, there would be no expenses for the director to do trainings and re-trainings, including plane, car, hotel, rentals, and other. Costs for professional services would be channeled by another means. Pastoral ministries would be saving themselves some money.
4. Reduced time and energy. The maintaining of teams, with the current number at about 20 and with the potential of it being more, is too difficult to do, especially when team members change over time. Let the professionals do it and pay them for it.
5. Increased confidentiality. Because outside services are used, it is very unlikely that the investigative process would become a source of slander, libel, or breach of confidentiality. This would actually make the process safer – something we are striving to do - to make church and its processes safe.
6. Professional, competent services are needed for such crucial and critical work. A little 20-hour training does not adequately equip or prepare team members to handle the important work of investing abuse allegations. No person “gets it” by doing a little training, having a few conversations, read an article, and then be equipped to handle abuse allegations.
A different way of stating it would be:
1. Human nature wants to believe the worst. There are too many preconceived ideas about what happened before anything has been determined. Our human nature wants to quickly believe the bad and wrong of others and once that happens, ministry for the person (accused) is often over. Trust is lost for the accused even if the party never did anything wrong.
2. Teams run a high risk of being sued. Teams, because of their incompetence and ill-equipped and ill-trained background, run a high risk of being sued. Their failure to understand how liability works and what typical issues can lead to lawsuits increases their possibility of being sued. When a team (and the director) fails to follow Synod-adopted process for investigations and defamation has occurred, you can be assured litigation will soon follow.
3. Poor stewardship. Monies for training and retraining have reached a place where we need to question stewardship. Wasting money on a project that has shown itself not to meet a good enough level of success calls us as Christians to stop and evaluate about what we are really doing.
4. Abuse is a complex issue. Abuse has so many areas and avenues for understanding. Spending time and energy on something that has not met enough success is a lost cause. We could better use that time and energy to educate church leaders and members about the subject of abuse in hopes of helping a greater number of people. Let’s put our energy into something that actually has better and greater results.
5. Confidentiality in the CRC is a big problem. Confidentiality is often non-existent in the CRC. From denominational personnel to team members to pastors to councils, we struggle with silencing confidential information of others. This again can lead to defamation. This leads to the church becoming abusive again – and the betrayal of trust comes on a whole new level.
6. Investigations of allegations are a critical and crucial matter. Lives and futures are in the hands of team members who have at times shown themselves to be incompetent and ill-equipped to do this work. A little 20-hour training will never prove itself worthy of service in comparison to professionals who are trained in this field of expertise and who know what this is all about.
7. Frivolous allegations. Just as there are attempts to do frivolous lawsuits, so are there attempts by dysfunctional people, usually women, to bring forth frivolous allegations. Their need for attention and their skewed perceptions, (such as "he flirts with me or came on to me") usually from women who have been sexually abused as children, will be decreased and even eliminated when the council has to decide if they need to hire the outside resource to investigate. Along with this, if the council chooses to hire the outside investigative services, professionals can pick out a Borderline Personality Disorder Woman easily - and will be equipped to deal with her dysfunction far better and more effectively then teams would. Also chances are that there will be less attempts for Borderline Woman to manipulate the system because professionals can recognize their manipulation and address such behavior appropriately.
If the argument – and I have heard this – is that councils would more likely not use an outside source because it is not as easily accessible, then we need to ask -- - - what is better?
to use our own response system (which cannot guarantee safety and could show itself to be abusive)
using a professional service (which would be safer ) which councils may less likely utilize because of a lack of convenience
other ideas that need to be explored
Judy De Wit
AMEN!! shorter....very well put; not only for this document but the whole back end of PsHymnal
One of the challenges we're seeing is that hosting a "discussion" is a very complicated thing, especially when it comes down to owning a "confession". A denominational organ that takes a position of endorsement naturally has certain advantages in promoting their point of view. When that organ also appears to have a degree of control or influence also on the process by which a discussion is supposed to take place it understandably looks to some as if a fair and free discussion is impossible.
This is enormously complicated by the fact that adoption of a new confession has never taken place within the lifetime of any of the participants today. Adoption of a new confession, which in terms of our ecclesiastical machinery is far more consequential than say adjusting the rules regarding women serving in office, seems to be a matter of an up or down vote at a synod a few years away, not unlike deciding on a church order article. It seems disproportionate to wrestle with women in office for a generation while we adopt a confession within 3 years.
Also within this discussion is the reality of how our current confessions actually play out within the life of the church. We increasingly don't know what to do with the three we have, why add a fourth now? Bringing the Belhar forward now is probably a good opportunity to lead the church in a discussion about what it means to be a confessional church, this at a time when these issues are as hot as they've been for a long time in terms of discussions in the broader church (the rise of the emergent vs. young-and-Reformed).
Granted, a lot of this broader leadership responsibility is beyond the purview of the mandate of the ERC, but one might ask where we might find this broader leadership perspective in our denominational structure if in fact it can be located anywhere?
In the directive from synod to capture additional decisions and regulations in the CO, exactly the wrong direction is being held to. The first objective of any CO changes should be to reduce the size and length of the CO by 50%. It should be made smaller, not bigger. The process should be to put a garbage can beside the CO and ask, what can we do without? What can we eliminate. Do we really need more rules, more conditions, more categories, more, more, more??? Everytime an additional rule or category or condition is attached, there is another potential and cause for division, for separation, for exclusion, for reducing the freedom in Christ to serve him.
On the one hand we want ecumenicity; on the other hand we create more rules that make ecumenicity either impossible, or make it more and more necessary to ignore the CO.
Reduce, reduce, reduce. Then perhaps we will come to a better understanding of what the CO ought to be all about.
And, as a further note, the CO should not be organized around the demands of the Pension Fund. That is ordering things in completely the wrong order. Rather, the Pension Fund should be made to fit the requirements of the CO. If we have all these various staff positions in the CRCNA then the Pension Fund should be reorganized to include them all, including janitors, secretaries, etc.
I guess I'm a little disappointed by your comments. Classis Niagara did not request to have a presentation. The ERC requested that you would come to make a presentation. This request and our approval of that request was made before the Overture was presented. Your comments are somewhat misleading. I also find it interesting that you claim our overture will not be discussed at Synod. That's the first I've heard about it. You'll also notice that our overture is still asking for Synod 2012 to make the decision. We're simply trying to add to the discussion.
Peter, are you saying the overture has been ruled out of order? The program committee report shows it going to Advisory Committee 7.
OK David - so you are the one who asserts that 2850 is far to one-sided. You say that despite the fact that the CRCNA provides you with the capability to express your opinion. Hmmm. No, I do not think the articles in Christian Courier need to be posted on the CRCNA website since these articles are available elsewhere. If the CRCNA would begin to post other publication's materials then there would be no end to the material that could be gathered. I am reading (have read) the articles and am appreciative of the contribution they make to the general discussion. That is not the same thing as saying that any writer has the last word - and I disagree with some of John Bolt's reasoning. But, it is part of the discussion and we will be discussing our diverse viewpoints publicly at a Belhar Confession conference in London, Ontarion one week from today (May 29).
Synod 2010 will not be receiving any overtures about the Belhar Confession because that is scheduled for Synod 2012. There may well be some discussion about the state of the denominational process as the Belhar is considered - and it is true that a few churches/classes have addressed alternatives to adopting the Belhar Confession as a fourth standard of unity, but Synod 2009 explicitly decided that the discussion will precede a decision.
It is interesting to note that the classis that approved the Riverside "overture" has also requested a formal presentation by the Ecumenical Relations Committee about the Belhar Confession. That presentation is scheduled for this Wednesday (May 27) at the meeting of classis Niagara at 7 p.m.
I have also noted some posts that "2850" (whoever that is) is presenting a one-sided view of the Belhar. No evidence of such one-sidedness is offered in support of that conclusion. I have made many of the presentations so I take a comment like that very seriously. The fact is that both the pros and cons are presented in discussion but it is also true that the Ecumenical Relations Committee is currently on record for favoring the adoption of the Belhar. Simply endorsing the Belhar Confession as if it were like the Contemporary Testimony is not officially on the table. ERC considered that option in its earlier consideration and rejected that as a recommendation to synod.
Enough for now.
Dr. Richard Mouw (former Calvin College prof, President of Fuller Seminary, and Calvin College commencement speaker this year, has written several musings on the Belhar
A good overture from Riverside CRC in Canada is before Synod - to adopt the Belhar as a Testimony rather than as a Confession
The 6th and final segment has also been posted. I could wish that every delegate to Synod would read this before attending. I think that Synod Office would only be fair to have made this resource available to delegates - link it on the CRC's Belhar resources site, etc. Everything else 2850 has done is far too one-sided.
Dave in Kent, WA
Evaluating and addressing the current abuse response team process and its overall functioning in responding to abuse are not new. Back in 2002-2003 the BOT was faced with concern about the effectiveness of our current process with discussions of other options of how else it could be done. Nothing ever came of it. Then three years later, in 2006, Attorney Jonker addressed the Synod by stating that there needed to be a mechanism – a vehicle - that needed to be explored to see if something better could be found to respond to abuse and abuse cases. There may be others.
Now we come to Synod 2010 and again faced with nearly the exact same question leaders have faced before: is this the most effective way for us as a church system to respond?
Part of the work of the Abuse Victims Task Force report was to invite write-ins by victims to express their experiences of coming forward with allegations and how the church responded. Understanding that write-in information was assured to be kept confidential, in a general way, I would be curious to know if the write-ins favored, were neutral, or were harmed by the abuse response process. Complaints about the process and those who lead the process are pieces of information that would be helpful for us as a denomination to make a more informed decision regarding how effective our current response process is.
Somehow the current abuse response system seems protected. Issues have been brought up in the past, but little change ever really occurs. I’ve been told by others that “there are mistakes,” but then those mistakes are excused easily. I wonder if objectivity on the effectiveness of the process hasn’t been lost. It seems that some individuals are more focused on their own acceptance and approval by the abuse response administration then honest evaluation of how well the process is working. I even observed this need for approval on the floor at Synod 2008.
If we are serious about addressing abusive leadership, then let’s use our voices at Synod 2010 to have an open and transparent discussion about the loop-holes, flaws, and breakdowns of our current system. Courageously let’s not call the current abuse response team process “good enough.” Instead let’s be sure – this time – that the process is something safer, stronger, and more objective for those who need it when they come forward with abuse allegations.
Or we will be having this discussion again in about four years.
Pastors and council members will inevitably be faced with abuse allegations of some sort in their future. My concern is if you as church leaders are ready and equipped in knowing how to respond when it comes to your council table. Sadly, I’ve witnessed responses by church leaders to victims to be disheartening and disappointing.
“You wouldn’t want to bring all this all up now and hurt all these people, would you?”
“He’s a family man, he’d never do that.”
“That happened several months ago, that’s water under the dam.”
“I’m not going to do anything because he’s my friend.”
“Quit making such a big deal of it.”
All of these responses say to the victim, “Go away. I don’t want to hear about it.” As one pastor said to me, “I don’t have to know anything about abuse until it comes to my desk.” To which I respond, “It already has and you missed it.”
On page 22 of the report it recommends that the Ex. Director develop a handbook that would help council members to know their function and role as council members when abuse allegations come forward. I fully support that – but also want to encourage all pastors and council members to begin now, on their own, to read, research, and get training about abuse. For by doing so, your response to a victim’s call for help will demonstrate the concern the church must have.
Correction to my most recent post: Fourth paragraph should read "A letter of apology was written by Classical leadership and received by those injured".
The proposal seems to be a significant expansion of the role of the ART/Safe Church function into more of a pastoral super-council. This idea has some merit because most councils are too close to either the accused or accuser to properly address the issue.
I note the following related to the proposal: under ART rules Classical ART teams were required to engage/respond only if requested by a "council or equivalent" however this proposal allows a claimant to talk directly to a Classical team or the denominational SC function. Under ART rules, a Classical ART could only engage if there was reason to believe that physical or sexual abuse took place. This proposal broadens the engagement spectrum significantly to include even claims of flirtatious behavior.
However, this is my concern related to the proposal. Two years ago an independent group of people including CRC Elders, mental health professionals, and attorneys researched one recent case involving a CRC ART involvement. The case involved claims made by a woman against her former employer (a man and former Elder) after her employer refused to provide her with a letter of recommendation. The group found that in this case ART had engaged for reasons other than "reason to believe there was physical or sexual abuse", engaged without "a request from council or equivalent", was "deceptive" in its phone conversations with the accused, and displayed a "lack of process integrity and accountability". The woman's Pastor was found to have "manipulated" the ART process and acted in a manner "unbecoming of a Pastor". The group made note that the Pastor was involved to an "inappropiate degree" in the process and displayed "an intent to cause harm" to the reputation of the accused. The claims of the accuser were found to be false. The group made note that the Pastor received advice and instruction from the CRC denominational ART function and that much earlier his council had expressed concern over decisions he had made that involved the accuser.
A letter of apology was received by the Classical body involved and the Pastor verbally apologized. Because of the numerous breaches of confidentiality and related rumors there is an on-going investigation. Without the threat of legal action the denominational ART/SC function and leadership have been asked specific questions related to this case by those injured. To date, the function and denominational leadership have refused to answer the questions, seemly protecting the Pastor and the denominational function. Ironically, if the proposal passes some would say that a refusal to answer such questions is in itself abusive and worthy of SC investigative involvement.
My question related to the proposal is, if we are now going to expand the power of the SC function what type of accountability (specifically) will its leadership and the CRC Executive Director have as they provide leadership in this area?
I find it interesting that where the Belhar Confession comes out of the struggle of apartheid, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada deals with the evils of forced integration and assimilation. In my ministry with the First Nations peoples in Winnipeg, I have had to allow for a separate development of a Native Christian worship style, in order to let the people worship God with the gifts of their culture.
The Belhar confession speaks to this with this statement:
"-- that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of "spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and "cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and "enrichment within the one visible people of God."
That freedom without constraint is however hard to achieve when there is a power imblanace between and established institution, and a struggling community that tries to find its own voice.
You don't have to receive all those messages in your Inbox (I don't). I joined but there is an option of just viewing messages in the "Archives" and responding to those. Voices is "the" place to go to to be informed about the CRC (unless you're a "mole" working in "The Pentagon" at 2850 Kalamazoo)
I used to be a member of CRC voices, but the messages were way too much and often went nowhere changing topics without changing headings.
I would like to see the discussion via a web service, but in no way i want any e-mails.
How can I do that?
The Agenda for Synod 2010 is in the process of being mailed this week. It is now available online at www.crcna.org/synod!