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Can a pastor deposed for sexual misconduct subsequently serve as an elder in a congregation? That was the question facing the Toronto classis recently. One who had been sexually abused by the pastor many years ago was upset to find out that this same man was now serving as an elder with leadership responsibilities at church. She was assured by the council that they were aware of his past infraction, that he was repentant and had been forgiven, and that extra restrictions had been placed on his activities as a result. She was not satisfied with that answer and took the matter to Classis. After investigating the facts, Classis Toronto took action, asking that the local council ask the deposed pastor to resign his term as an elder, which he then did.

The situation brings up a need for a system of accountability for pastors who have been deposed. Confidentiality must be weighed against the value of preventing future harm in these kinds of situations. Given the horrific effects of church leader abuse, it seems best to err on the side of prevention, and not allow those deposed for sexual misconduct to serve as office bearers at church. There is a difference between forgiveness and consequences for sin. Other questions arise out of what happened here. For example, whose responsibility is it to oversee deposed pastors? When a pastor is deposed, what becomes part of the record that “follows” the pastor; does that record include the reason for deposition, including and perhaps especially sexual misconduct? (Have we learned anything from the Catholic Church in this regard?)

What many don’t realize in these situations is the depth of pain experienced by those who have been abused by church leaders. I hear it often. Many years after the experience the feelings can still be raw. In any given week I may hear several statements similar to the following: “I live close to the church, and whenever I go by, I feel sick to my stomach”. “He always prayed with me afterward; whenever I hear someone say they will pray for me, I feel anger rising up deep inside.” “I can never go to church again. Everyone says the pastor would never do that; they all hate me because I said something about it; and they make me feel like a horrible person.”

We are one body, and the body is hurting. These voices must not be ignored. May the Lord give us ears to hear and courage to respond. I think Classis Toronto took a step in the right direction. What do you think?

You can read The Banner article here.


Above reproach.....   "Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money."   I Timothy 3. 

Not even a hint of....  "Ephesians 5:3...   But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people."

I'm so glad to hear the actions of Classis Toronto and the resignation of the former Pastor. I do not think that there is ever a good reason to let a Pastor deposed for sexual misconduct become a leader in the church. I also think that there is a difference between forgiveness and consequences of sin. Many carry the consequences of past abuse by others are whole life. Why should it be different for the offender. I hope that there soon is a better accountability/monitoring system and that there is better education for the churches about what is appropriate.

God may be able to remember our sin no more - unfortunately most people don't have that capacity. Being forgiven and restored to fellowship does not necessarily mean a sin is forgotten. As has been said, there remain consequences for sin.

Church leaders, especially those ordained, possess great trust that is assumed, and power that is inherent to their position. It’s in the best interest of the church to maintain high standards to protect these positions of honor. It also protects the church, as well as those who could be victimized by any re-offense. Many of us hold a professional license of some kind. We are held to an agreed upon code of ethical behavior in that role and will lose our license for violating those standards. Should we hold church leaders to a lower standard?


Ah yes we forgive but we don't forget .I forgive  you but I;ll always remember how you wronged me .How is that forgiveness

I can forgive you for cutting off my leg. But my leg will not be able to come back. So too with abuse. I can and must forgive. But I will also bear the scars of that abuse. We cannot confuse the two. That was an important aspect of the discussion.

the Church has a responsibility to protect others from being abused by the same person, especially if it's a spiritual leader, no matter how repentant and forgiven the offender/leader is, and that will include being disqualified (as long as you are crc?) from certain levels of leadership which hold significant levels of authority and trust by people.    I am encouraged that classis Toronto made this decision and are sending a latter of regret for what this person had to go through (again).  It's a start/step, and has helped bring a significant issue into the light... so, as others have mentioned, what now, to prevent similar situations from happening...  including preventing the abuse happening in the first place!

Ezekiel 34 has been heavy on my heart for the last several years as more and more abuse by leadership situations come to my attention ... v 16 talks about those (fat and strong) who have sought their own welfare at the expense of others, and v 17 is about rams and goats (people of power/wealth) who oppress the sheep... v21 talks about the weak sheep (victims) being shoved and driven out by the fat sheep (those in power)... sounds like shunning to me... and lines up with Rachel's comment how someone said that she can never go to church again as she received hate from some for speaking out, and they made her feel like a horrible person...

Church, we are called to much higher standards of holiness... from a number of abusive situations that have been shared with me, the response from Church leadership has not been acceptable, and that includes the crc, so it is encouraging to see Classis Toronto step up with this righteous decision.  It's way past time...  this case took a year, there are others that have been going on considerably longer... or the person gave up, because it was so painful and traumatizing and continued to be abusive from the leadership's resistance to it being exposed.


The matter would also be of some interest to the church's insurers if a "known abuser"  is reinstated as a church leader and subsequently re-offends.  It would be along the lines of "fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice, shame on me".  If a known offender is put in a position of authority and trust and that offender re-offends, those who placed the known offender into that position may be held personally liable in a court of law.  The civil action would seek likely seek damages from the Church and the members of Council by alleging that they knowingly placed an offender in a position of trust.... and they should have known better ("vicarious liability").   In fact, if Classis approved the reinstatement, the civil action would likely include the Classis as a defendant.  And any insurance coverage may be tenuous given that insured parties who negligently create the situation in which damage occurs might be denied full coverage

Such a council decision puts the church itself and the Council members at risk.   I'd be resigning from council.  In some instances of poor decision making by a Council when dealing with "Safe Church" matters, criminal conviction of council members has resulted..

I will try to forgive the child molester... but I won't ask him/her to volunteer as a youth leader.  

I will try to support the healing of an alcoholic... but I won't put him/her in charge of the communion wine.

I will try to forgive the fraudster....  but I won't ask him/her to be Church Treasurer. 

You make a very good point Ron. I think we, as the church, tend to minimize our legal liability in situations such as this. Abuse by clergy or a church leader is the number one reason that churches end up in court. And scandals in churches and organizations (think Penn State) have shown us that attention must be paid to those who knew about it and did nothing. It's not only the one who perpetrates the abuse that is held liable; those who know about it also bear responsibility.

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