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Recent weeks have produced tumultuous news in Toronto and, unfortunately, around the world. Six months ago Mayor Rob Ford was accused of smoking crack cocaine. Two Toronto Star reporters who published an article claiming to have seen a video of one such event could never acquire the video. Mayor Ford denied both the allegation and the existence of that video. The police began an investigation.

Several weeks ago Toronto’s police chief held a press conference. Police computer hackers had found a video containing “images in keeping with those previously reported in the media” on laptops seized in the course of their investigation. The following week Mayor Ford admitted that he had smoked crack cocaine, “maybe a year ago, in a drunken stupor.” He apologized for that and other subsequent even more egregious behavior and language in the last two weeks. He concluded by claiming that he wants to “move on and continue to serve the people of Toronto.”

Late night talk show hosts have feasted on the platefuls of dirt about Mayor Ford taken from police reports of the questioning of former Ford staffers. The mayor denied most of the allegations and threatened to sue those who made the allegations. All Toronto city councilors who supported Mr. Ford before and since his election have now called for the mayor to resign—all except Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother. The mayor has adamantly refused to step down even for a time to deal with alleged addictions, becoming ever more belligerent in his insistence to stay. No legal mechanisms are available in Toronto legislation to remove a mayor unless one has been convicted of a crime. Premier Kathleen Wynne, however, cautiously has opened the possibility of provincial intervention. Rob Ford will soon be “a mayor in name only” until the end of this term, unless his threatened legal action against those decisions reverses them. In any event, is it wise or morally right for Rob Ford to continue as mayor?

Maybe you’ve figured out by now how Rob Ford’s situation is connected to pastors—Christian Reformed or otherwise. 

For two decades ever more frequent scandals involving clergy have surfaced in many communions. Many of those crimes were covered up by bishops or other denominational judicatories, sadly the very individuals or bodies responsible for safeguarding against such behaviour.  Small wonder that surveys that measure trust in people in public positions of authority have ranked clergy as low or lower than politicians. Given the current malaise of politics in both the US and Canada, one wonders why anyone would wish to become a politician or pastor.

Oh yes! I DO know why. It is that we experience in some way God’s call to do so. Many of us have little idea of the pressures and stresses that will test that calling and our personal integrity. Yet we all know how long the casualty list is of pastors leaving for other careers—real estate, teaching, carpentry and more. I’m sure those callings have their own stress factors, but perhaps not so publicly or with such widespread potential damage to persons or institutions.

In fact, some of those who have left the ministry voluntarily are among the most honest, self-aware people I know. It wasn’t that they’d answered a call they didn’t have. No, they’d heard one. Yet having rendered good and noble service, some for a few years, some for many, they didn’t leave ministry because of scandal. Rather, they left to take up new lives with guiltless integrity, before harming parishioners, their families or themselves, should they have succumbed to one or other of the myriad temptations the devil has specially designed for clergy in stressful situations because of overwork, insecurity and insufficient accountability structures: power trips, success for its own sake, embezzlement, moral failure, addictions—the list goes on. I respect such courageous people no end.

Yet what about the not inconsequential number of clergy who do fall victim to one or more of the devil’s wiles? In my nearly four decades as seminary student and pastor, I can name without digging deep into my memory at least ten colleagues who have been deposed for falling to one of the last three temptations. There surely are many more whom I don’t know or can’t recall.

Thanks be to God, several of those have submitted to deep spiritual and psychological therapy. After several years they were reinstated as clergy and went on to serve congregations well. Fitting accountability structures protected all involved in their ministries. For its part, the Christian Reformed Church has developed rigorous Church Order procedures to facilitate such processes.

Many deposed pastors never return to the ministry or even care to. Perhaps they honourably recognize their own weaknesses or simply can’t think of facing the potentially damaging pressures of ministry again. They are as wise as those who voluntarily leave the ministry after hearing God’s call lose its once-compelling volume.

Yet the sad Rob Ford events convulsing Toronto have recently helped me frame a long-nagging issue related to deposed pastors’ viability for any official church service. When I hear about pastors who fall, are deposed and never return to the ministry, I honour such self-awareness and humility. Yet I cannot fathom the reasons why one who has been deposed is years later nominated for and elected as elder.   All officebearers are in positions of power and authority and often work with vulnerable persons.

I was never a perfect pastor; no one is. I thank God that I was never faced with temptations to which other colleagues have fallen. My mother told me often that she prayed for me every day—and I’m sure she still does. By grace alone I was permitted to serve as a pastor for 35 ½ years. I claim no superiority, but I am bothered greatly by actual events such as those just described. I hope that, had I ever fallen in a similar situation and had never gone through the process of restoration, I would have not entertained the thought of becoming a church officebearer; it’s just too risky.

I strongly believe in confession, repentance, forgiveness and restoration of any and all sinners. Yet on earth I also believe that once a boundary is crossed in certain public, delicate situations or vocations that the person involved should not be permitted back into the positions of the authority she or he abused. Rob Ford’s city council colleagues have effectively made that decision for him, much against his profoundly immature will. That local church council should have been as wise by respecting the once-deposed pastor as a repentant and forgiven sinner, but also by not placing him once again in a position of possible temptation that could endanger fellow members and worshipers. Sometimes final restoration ought to be left to eternity. 


Thank you, Jim.  Frankly, your posting almost leaves me (literally) speechless because my heart is so full. Yes the pressues on pastors (and other public leaders as well) are enormous.  And yes we only sometimes do a decent job of responding and following up when leaders fall.   God help us all.  The enormity of this challenge facing the church is daunting, and it's growing right along side the increasing demands on pastors in a time of big change in the Church.  Are we attending to preventative measures with urgency?  Are we committed to a healing process for all involved?   Can trust be restored?  You suggest there are limits to the extent we should assume the answer is Yes.  Jim, on the one hand I want to say that OF COURSE complete restoration is possible - even to the extent of return to public leadership.  On the other hand I feel the force of your cautionary word.  I know that even though a person can be forgiven, healed, restored, yet it makes sense to avoid situations that are filled with temptation.  Until I read this, I had always just assumed that full restoration always included at least the possibility of return to public leadership.  In fact you even leave open the option of "reinstatement as clergy".   So where you ended up surprised me.   But the bigger thing about your posting is this - how will the church deal in more Christ-like ways with leaders (not only clergy) who sin in public ways that betray their families and congregations and their Savior?  That seems like a terribly urgent question.

Thanks, Jim, for a well put argumentation that reflects what I've been thinking. I'm glad you put it "out there."


Pastor Dekker:

The compassion and understanding that permeates your posting confirms you have seen a lot of pastoral failings in your 35 1/2 years of ministry.   I am certain your family, colleagues and the angels in heaven rejoice that you (and many others) were able to stay true to your calling.  However, ...your responsible behaviour is the expected and normal behaviour of every human being, no matter what his/her calling is.

We wish to believe that these failings of people who are in responsiblei positions are the exception but each day the papers report on people who have broken the law, broken a trust, swindled investors out of money or repeatedly made public promises on a variety of issues that turn out to be flat out lying.     Unfortunately, this type of behaviour, both within and without the pulpit  will continue until  The Lord returns.

With respect to Mr. Ford,  he was elected by the people of Toronto to do a job for them and he is doing it.   Does he have personal failings? Yes.  Is his personal behaviour appalling  and disappointing?  Yes...but not to all.   Many people have said to me that they let their hair down every so often;  why  they ask, shouldn't the mayor do the same thing?   Should he resign?   The jury is still out on that one but as you indicate, no legal avenue exists to fire him.

In defense of Mr. Ford, I think his idol may be Mayor Hazel M, next door in Mississauga.   She claimed two or three years ago that her City is debt free and has " $750,000,000 in the kitty".  The City of Toronto on the other hand is a bloated beauracracy with significant debt.    Ron Ford set about to reduce redundancy and reduce debt and thereby made a number of enemies who would love to see him go.    That does not excuse his personal failings but it may explain why he is stil mayor and why his popularity with the people who elected him remains high.   


Ed Tigchelaar





I think it is unwise (and more anabaptist than reformed) to say that a person who has fallen is unsuitable to ever serve again in the same or a different capacity.  If that were the case, Jesus made a mistake reinstating Peter as lead apostle.  To say nothing of David who according to OT law should have been executed but was able to continue in his office.   Each case needs to be evaluated individually, rather than following rigid harsh rules.

John Zylstra on December 12, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Curious I am, as to why this is more anabaptist than reformed.   Could you explain? 

Wow, thanks Jim for being bold and brave bringing this up...  I've been warned (and have experienced) that I won't make friends when I talk about stuff like this, so hopefully you will fare better =)

In the last 2 years, I've been very intentionally researching one specific sexual sin in the Church, and that is porn...  I have attached an article that I think we might find quite disturbing with the information shared (encourage you to read comments as well)...

I have found statistics that the % of those in the church (primarily men) struggling with it, was 40% in 2002; 50% in 2008 and 60% in 2012, but the estimate of spiritual leaders, based on anecdotal evidence, is even higher with 80% and 90% being suggested by numerous leaders (Including in the article linked to below).  I know synod 2012 endorsed the overture to take an active stance against porn, and, well, we'll wait and see what that might look like...   because it is a huge, huge issue in the Church.

the following quote breaks my heart, and unfortunately, this verifies what I along with several other women that I know have experienced regarding ungodly conduct by leaders in the Church....   cover it up, keep it quiet, minimize it, circle the wagons, shut it down pretty much at all costs for a number of reasons...  and the spiritual leaders doing the inappropriate behavior end up staying in leadership (at least in the situations I'm personally aware of).  Maybe a few here and there are quietly asked to leave once their secret sin is discovered, but it's very rarely a public rebuke (generally only when it's a crime and the police are involved) even though I TIm. 5:20 states that is what is needed so other leaders can take warning (which is ironically humorous that I'm being the one warned that I won't make friends when I talk about it)...

BOQ...Many of those crimes were covered up by bishops or other denominational judicatories, sadly the very individuals or bodies responsible for safeguarding against such behaviour.  EOQ

what we have found is that those in power protect each other at the expense of the weak/victims, and that abuse thrives in a culture of shame and silence.  the exact opposite of what the Church is called to do.  we have found that even though the Church is called to a higher standard than the world, we are not even up to the world's standard on holding spiritual leaders accountable for ungodly conduct, in the situations i'm aware of.   To have any level of accountability has been a battle, and at this point it seems the victims are losing.

here's the link to what our church order has to say about reinstating office bearers in article 84 ...  (page 99 or so - I hope the link works, it did for me a while back, but for some reason not today)

of course, this assumes the leader resigned, or was suspended or deposed in the first place.


anyway, that's the tip of the tip of that iceberg,,,





John Zylstra on December 27, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Bev, you are bringing up touchy subjects, and an area which has a lot of shades in it.   I think it is good you courageously bring it up.   If what you say about 60 to 80% of spiritual leaders struggling with this issue is true, then how do we deal with this issue?   I think it goes further than just accessing stuff on the internet, although that is the most pernicious.   What was salacious and covered in brown paper fifty years ago, is now plastered on billboards along the highway, it seems.   Stuff on the internet comes up uninvited, and for some, it is like giving candy to a baby, or alcohol to an alcoholic.    

Perhaps it is all part of a larger picture, which tolerates shacking up, premarital sex, easy divorce, immodest dress, R rated and PG rated movies.   The more that this permeates the church, the harder it is to fight against porn as well.   It seems if 60% of leaders are struggling with this probably at a variety of levels, then we need to find ways of combating this problem in a generic way.   We have a safe church committee for protection of young children, and protection of churches from liability.   But perhaps we should have a specific group or committee or program developing and promoting safeguards for internet viewing, prayer for combatting this vile sin, and materials explaining the whys of it, and also the ways of conquering it, perhaps like the AA twelve step program.  

At a recent meeting of transitional pastors, the speaker, Susan Nienaber, said, "The healthiest churches have the least tolerance for bad behavior". The quote stuck with me as it seems to apply to some "messy" situations in which Safe Church involvement becomes necessary.

Of course the Lord has the power to forgive and to transform lives, and churches need to welcome sinners. But that doesn't mean that everyone has the right to become a pastor, Sunday school teacher, or other church leader. I would maiintain that certain behaviors would prevent someone from holding those sacred positions of trust and power in our churches.

As a licensed social worker in the state of Michigan, I'm required to adhere to a professional code of ethics. There are certain behaviors that would cause me to lose my license and never get it back. I'm also required to take 5 hours of continuing ethics education every 3 years. The ethical questions and dilemnas that arise are not always easy and it's good to consider these along with other professionals. We challenge one another and hold one another accountable. It helps us maintain healthy boundaries, which create a container for effective work. That's true for ministry too. Where do CRC pastors and church leaders go for ongoing ethical education? Who can they confide in, and consider ways to create and maintain healthy ministry boundaries? Who will hold them accountable in their day to day ministry?

Does it seem right to you that CRC pastors are held to a lower standard than other professions? It doesn't seem right to me.

Thanks so much for your well put addition to Jim's original statements. Our history verifies your questions and our continued "
"protectionish" is often enough to our shame. Great closing on leaving "final redemption to eternity." We're due for a little more accountability and consequences for our behavior.

Bonnie's comments that the healthiest churches have least tolerance for bad behaviour is a good one.   Her comments about having lower standards than other professions, while well intended, seems to miss the main point of not tolerating bad behaviour.   It is not because of a professional title, or occupation, but because of the main purpose of officebearers such as pastors elders and deacons, to teach, lead, exemplify the grace of Christ and the obedience that comes with it.   Since everyone struggles with sin, we all need to encourage each other (mutual accountability) and this encouragement can be positive, as well as negative encouragement (not tolerating sin).    What is the point of having a pastor preaching the gospel while he denies it in his life, in his visible witness?  Same applies to an elder.   That doesn't mean that elders and pastors are perfect, and we need to live in an attitude of forgiveness.   But grace comes with repentance and change and newness of life.  In some cases, if the personal struggle is too long and too big, then that would be a clear sign that God has another calling in mind for the individual.   If the offense is against a vulnerable person based on position of trust, then probably that also is quickly a sign that God has another calling in mind.  

The fear of not being forgiven ought to be greater than the fear of changing an occupation.   The fear of idolators, adulterers, fornicators, homsex practicers, not entering heaven, ought to be greater than the fear of losing prestige or position with mere men.   Grace requires repentance.   By not addressing these issues, we may be condemning some pastors, elders, deacons or even any self-professed christian to hell.    Jesus said there will be those who say, "Lord, Lord, didn't we do miracles and heal and cast out demons?"   And God will say, "I never knew you".   why?  because they were not obedient, and worshipped other idols, of self, or sex, or other things.   This is much more serious than comparing standards to some of the professions.  "he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins:  James 5. 

Thank you, Friends, for the thoughtful comments on my admittedly unpleasant blog. Your observations are helpfully provocative and appropriate for this difficult discussion. I, though now have an addition—really correction—to make. The examples I noted show that there were rules and careful processes to re-store and ordain once again Christian Reformed officebearers. I can name at least five Christian Reformed colleagues, living and late, who followed that rigorous process of submission and discipline. After years that included repentance, forgiveness, regular spiritual direction and peer accountability, they re-entered ministry and served faithfully, albeit imperfectly like all of us forgiven sinners.

You’ll notice, however, that above I said “were rules and processes.” Those changed in 2004. Perhaps I should have looked in my apparently not well-enough-used Church Order and Its Supplements--2013. A colleague phoned me after reading my original blog, recalling that he had been on a synod advisory committee in 2004 in which this very situation was at issue. In brief, at that point, supplements to Article 84 of the Church Order were added, forbidding re-entry to church office for office bearers who had been deposed because of sexual offenses.

I had probably known that nine years ago, but had forgotten. In one case I recalled, the pastor was deposed after sexual offenses. He then entered lay status with no anticipation of entering ecclesiastical office of any kind again, lay or clergy. That is, he submitted to punitive discipline--deposition--but not to the restorative spiritual discipline and rebuilding necessary to re-enter ministry.

Although some say time heals all wounds, more than 20 years later a local the church ordained a deposed pastor as elder in 2006, two years after Synod’s decision. Victims’ wounds hadn’t properly healed, but were rather cruelly scraped open. 

I personally believe that a boundary once broken can be re-crossed after a careful, even long process of remorse, repentance, equitable restitution for victims by the offender, penitential time, forgiveness given and gratefully and graciously received. Our broader church community has decided such a process is not wise or prudent.

I understand and accept that. As Gospel believers we often live with tensions that appear contradictory. They are more readily called glorious, gracious, mysterious paradoxes of Grace and justice, in this case forgiveness, but not re-entranc into ministry. Our Lord Jesus declared truly at the end of his homily not to worry because “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). I firmly believe that he could also have added “and enough Grace as well,” even though full Grace might have to await eternity.

Bev Sterk on December 26, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

RE: CO supplement to Article 84 (this is what I meant to refer to in my previous reply, but I simply said CO article 84)...  it seems to me from researching this a while back,  the office bearer can be given a 2nd chance unless the "sexual misconduct" is against a minor (1.a.) than it's one strike they are out.  But if there is more than one incident of "sexual misconduct" or one incident of "sexual misconduct" AND one incident of  ungodly behavior (1.d.), then the door for reinstatement is closed.  (any experts on CO, such as Henry DeMoor, feel free to correct or affirm my understanding of this =)

One of the  questions I have, and the CO is not clear to me (again CO experts please clarify!), is... what if there are several known incidents of "ungodly behavior" (so there is an indication of a pattern), but not any known "sexual misconduct"?   I think with exhibitionism/voyeurism/prostitution we already know that if caught, this will result in a public criminal charge, that will most likely follow the officebearer for the rest of their life through complete background checks.   So, what about the ungodly conduct (such as looking at/engaging in porn) that does not result in a criminal charge, but where there have been several incidents for the same officebearer?  Does the CO equate "engaging" as in "habitually" viewing", viewing and physically "reacting/responding/etc" or any "intentional" viewing?  If there is any information on this anywhere, it would be helpful to know.


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 engaging in adult or child pornography, engaging a prostitute for sexual contact, exhibitionistic or voyeuristic behavior, attending a nudist camp, sexual addiction, and so forth.

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: In Church Order Article 84 and its Supplement, the expression sexual misconduct is defined as: The sexual  exploitation of a parishioner, minor or adult, regardless of age or consent, for the purposes of sexual gratification and maintaining control over the person. The expression determined abuser is defined as: An officebearer who either confesses to or is adjudicated to be guilty of sexual misconduct by a court of competent jurisdiction or an ecclesiastical assembly.

(Acts of Synod 2004, pp. 611-12)

If, as stated elsewhere, a majority of leadership is struggling with serious issues of sin, people in the pew will become disheartened, disinterested, disengaged and the membership will go into decline.....just as certainly as night follows day. 

The story is told of a well respected theologian who was asked:  if you were able to summarize the doctrines of Scripture into one sentence,  what woud that be?    His answer was "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so".   

2 Tim 2:11 says:  "Here is  a trustworhty saying:  If we died with him, we will also live with him.  If we endure we will also reign with him".  That cannot be said of any other person.  It can only be said of Christ.  It cannot be said of CS Lewis, John Calvin, Luther, Whitefield, Wesley or a host of other legendary saints....only Christ.   Put Jesus Christ first.....everything and everyone else second.

Preach it; live it....and watch the Holy Spirit go to work in your church.


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