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.