Responding to Abuse Toolkit: Denominational Position Statement and Summary of Church Order Related to Abuse

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As the #MeToo movement hits the church, many churches are requesting information about how to respond. Safe Church Ministry is working on a toolkit for churches in responding to situations of abuse. We hope that this handy guide to our denominational position statement about abuse, and summary of related church order will be helpful, especially to church councils, in responding to allegations or disclosures of abuse.

CRCNA Position Statement on Abuse

Abuse is a sin against the biblical directives that govern human actions and relationships. It is striking evidence of the misery that pervades human life as the result of sin. The failure of men and women and of adults and children to relate to each other in a biblically healthy, affirming manner is the root cause of abuse.

Church councils should publicly acknowledge that the sin of abuse exists even in churches and should take positive steps to make their congregations safe for all persons. They should support efforts to address abuse promptly so that the abused and the abusers may experience the healing power of God's grace, should become aware of the laws and procedures applicable in their areas, and should create continuing-education opportunities for church leaders to become informed and sensitive about abuse issues. They should also adopt procedures to deal immediately and decisively with situations in which a person in a position of authority or influence in the church is alleged to have committed abuse. Synod has encouraged all classes of the CRC to establish Abuse Response Teams (also known as Safe Church Teams).

From CRCNA Church Order and its Supplements – 2016

Article 2

The church recognizes the offices of minister of the Word, elder, deacon, and commissioned pastor. These offices differ from each other only in mandate and task, not in dignity and honor.

Article 14 and its Supplements 

Article 14

a. A minister of the Word shall not leave the congregation with which the minister is connected for another church without the consent of the council.

b. A minister of the Word who resigns from the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church to enter a ministry outside the denomination shall be released from office by the classis with an appropriate declaration reflecting the resigned minister’s status and with the concurring advice of the synodical deputies.

—Cf. Supplement, Article 14-b

c. A minister of the Word, once lawfully called, may not forsake the office. A minister may, however, be released from office to enter upon a non-ministerial vocation for such weighty reasons as shall receive the approval of the classis with the concurring advice of the synodical deputies.

—Cf. Supplement, Article 14-c

d. A minister of the Word who has entered upon a vocation which classis judges to be non-ministerial shall be released from office within one year of that judgment. The concurring advice of the synodical deputies shall be obtained at the time of the judgment.

e. A former minister of the Word who was released from office may be declared eligible for call upon approval of the classis by which such action was taken, with the concurring advice of the synodical deputies. The classis, in the presence of the deputies, shall conduct an interview that examines the circumstances surrounding the release and the renewed desire to serve in ministry. Upon acceptance of a call, the person shall be re-ordained.

Supplement, Article 14-b

Declaration regarding ministers who resign from the CRC

a. Synod directed the churches and classes dealing with ministers who depart from the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) in order to seek ordination in the ministry of the Word in another church to take note of the statement made by Synod 1978 that “Synod has instructed all our churches and classes that in all cases of resignation a proper resolution of dismissal must be adopted with the concurring advice of synodical deputies” and to realize that this statement allows for a broad degree of flexibility in responding to such situations (cf. Acts of Synod 1978, p. 73).

b. Synod directed the churches and classes to take into account the manner and spirit in which a minister has acted during the time leading up to and including departure from office when determining what action to take. (Some situations may require a deposition; others may require only a simple release from office.)

c. Synod encouraged the churches and classes

1) To recognize carefully the conditions and circumstances of a particular case that may come to their attention (e.g., whether it be a formal or a de facto resignation) and, having done so,

2) To make a declaration reflecting the resigned minister’s status that is appropriate to the way and spirit in which the minister acted during the time leading up to and including the minister’s resignation from office. Such a declaration could reflect one of the following:

a) The resigned minister is honorably released.

b) The resigned minister is released.

c) The resigned minister is dismissed.

d) The resigned minister is in the status of one deposed.

C. The Admonition and Discipline of Officebearers

Article 82

All officebearers, in addition to being subject to general discipline, are subject to special discipline, which consists of suspension and deposition from office.

Article 83

Special discipline shall be applied to officebearers if they violate the Covenant for Officebearers, are guilty of neglect or abuse of office, or in any way seriously deviate from sound doctrine and godly conduct.

Article 84

Persons who have been suspended or deposed from office may be reinstated if they give sufficient evidence of repentance and if the church judges that they are able to serve effectively. Requests for reinstatement to office by those deposed for acts of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct shall be dealt with according to guidelines adopted by synod.

—Cf. Supplement, Articles 78-84

—Cf. Supplement, Articles 82-84

—Cf. Supplement, Article 84

Supplement, Articles 82-84

The Admonition and Discipline of Officebearers

a. An administrative leave may be imposed without prejudice by the council in order to investigate allegations of deviation from sound doctrine or godly conduct. Compensation and benefits would continue, and any duties to be performed during the leave would be specified by the council. All suspensions and administrative leaves are temporary.

b. Officebearers who confess to or are determined to be guilty of sexual misconduct will be considered guilty of serious deviation from godly conduct and worthy of discipline.

c. General discipline shall not be applied to an officebearer unless he/she has first been suspended from office.

d. The appropriate assembly shall determine whether, in a given instance, deposition from office shall take place immediately, without previous suspension.

e. Suspension/deposition of elders, deacons, and commissioned pastors

1) The suspension or deposition of an elder, deacon, or commissioned pastor shall be imposed by the council with the concurring judgment of the council of the nearest church in the same classis.

2) If the neighboring council fails to concur in the position of the council of the elder, deacon, or commissioned pastor involved, the latter council shall either alter its original judgment or present the case to classis.

f. Suspension/deposition of ministers

1) The suspension of a minister of the Word shall be imposed by the council of the minister’s church with the concurring judgment of the council of the nearest church in the same classis.

2) If the neighboring council fails to concur in the position of the council of the minister involved, the latter council shall either alter its original judgment or present the case to classis.

3) The deposition of a minister shall not be effected without the approval of classis together with the concurring advice of the synodical deputies.

g. Ministers subject to two councils

1) A minister of the Word whose membership resides with a congregation other than the calling church is subject to the admonition and discipline of the councils of both churches. Either council may initiate disciplinary action, but neither shall act without conferring with the other.

2) If the councils disagree, the case shall be submitted to the classis of the calling church for disposition.

h. The lifting of suspension is the prerogative of the assembly which imposed suspension.

i. The council of the church which deposed the minister shall declare the deposed minister eligible to receive a call upon the affirmative judgment of the classis which approved the deposition, together with the concurrence of the synodical deputies. Upon acceptance of a call, the previously deposed minister shall be reordained.

j.When a minister resigns under discipline or to avoid discipline, he or she should be released from office per Article 14-c, noting that the provisions of Supplement, Article 14-b also apply to Article 14-c, especially in these situations.

—Cf. Supplement, Article 14-c

(Acts of Synod 1991, pp. 719-20)

(Acts of Synod 2016, pp. 863-64)

Note: Councils and classes should take note of the regulations regarding suspension and/or deposition from ministerial office adopted by Synod 1998 (see Acts of Synod 1998, pp. 396-99).

Supplement, Article 83

One of the key dynamics in considering abuse of office is the imbalance and misuse of power. The power inherent in the role of officebearer represents a sacred trust and must not be misused.

(Acts of Synod 2016, p. 865)

Supplement, Article 84

Regulations for Reinstatement of Office Bearers Guilty of Sexual Misconduct

When reinstatement is requested by a former officebearer who confessed to or was determined to be guilty of sexual misconduct leading up to suspension and deposition from office:

1. Reinstatement to office shall be denied to individuals who:

a. Confessed to or are determined to be guilty of sexual misconduct against a minor.

b. Confessed to or are determined to be guilty of sexual misconduct against more than one victim in a single church or community.

c. Confessed to or are determined to be guilty of sexual misconduct in more than one community or church.

d. Confessed to or are determined to be guilty of sexual misconduct and other related ungodly conduct.

Examples of related ungodly conduct include, but are not limited to, participation in pornography, engaging in sexual contact in return for payment or any other favor, or voyeuristic behavior, displays of sexually offensive material, suggestive gestures and remarks, and other sexually intimidating behavior.

2. Councils and classes shall not reinstate a former officebearer suspended or deposed for sexual misconduct or ungodly conduct not covered in items 1, a-d without receiving the advice of legal counsel concerning the church’s liability and the advice of a Christian licensed psychologist concerning the likelihood of an officebearer’s reoffending.

Note 1: The “Guidelines for Handling Abuse Allegations Against a Church Leader” adopted by Synod 2010 (cf. Agenda for Synod 2010, pp. 503-504) define sexual misconduct as

– exploiting or grooming (preparing) a minor or an adult—regardless of consent or circumstances—for the purpose of sexual touch, sexual activity, or emotional intimacy, with the result of either sexual gratification or power and control over the minor or adult;

– unwelcome touch, sexual activity, or emotional intimacy between co-workers, co-volunteers; or

– sexual touch, sexual activity, or emotional intimacy between a supervisor and a subordinate who serve together in a church program or church ministry.

Note 2: These rules that prevent the reinstatement of deposed officebearers in particular situations also apply to those ministers who have been released by way of Article 14 and have been declared “dismissed” or “in the status of one deposed” due to those situations.

(Acts of Synod 2004, pp 611-12)

(Acts of Synod 2016, pp. 865-66)

Article 85

No church shall in any way lord it over another church, and no officebearer shall lord it over another officebearer. 

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