***For context, if you are unfamiliar with the situation mentioned in this blog, please consider listening to Season 2: Episode 2 of the Shipwreck Over Safety Podcast (available anywhere that podcasts are found or at http://www.shipwreckoversafety.com)***
Dear Christian and Missionary Alliance,
Hey, it’s me. You know who I am, and at times I’ve felt like I knew you well. I spent 30 years in your denomination. Within your walls. Within your arms.
Although I no longer call you home, you will always be part of my family. You will always be one of the largest parts of who I am. Literally, within days of being born, I was blessed by a pastor in one of your churches. I rarely missed a Sunday school class, youth group event, or opportunity to play in the worship band, pray, or preach.
You are one of the reasons why I know Jesus.
You are one of the reasons why I’ve grown up with an appreciation and respect for scripture.
You are one of the reasons I felt the call to ministry for most of my life.
You are responsible for a lot of the good things in my life.
This is why it pains me to be the one to write this letter, but it’s also why I feel like I must be the one to do it.
Even though I no longer participate in your church and hold some major theological differences from what you say in your doctrinal statements, I honour you. I hope to see you succeed in being (in your words) “all that Jesus envisioned you to be”.
This sucks to write. Yet, because I know far too many of you personally who were involved in the situation we’re addressing on Shipwreck Over Safety, here I am.
My goal in writing this is to implore you, both as a denomination and the people within it, to do right in this situation and by these women. I believe in a God that is seeking restorative justice, not retribution. So even though this situation is messy, and the lack of communication and accountability has made things even worse, I believe you can still do right by all involved.
Here’s how we believe you can set things right. This will come across as telling you what to do, but please see it in the spirit in which it is intended, with a desire for things to be made right. These are suggestions for how to move forward in a way that can bring restorative justice for all.
1. The Pastor involved should be removed from his position of leadership. Not only was he accused of sexual harassment, but your own investigation found him guilty. He should not be in a position of power over women.
There is more than one woman this has happened to and it’s much more than a simple mistake. It’s a pattern of grooming. The fact that he wasn’t removed from leadership as part of the original investigation is unacceptable. That there were few consequences and a severe lack of accountability and clarity around this situation shows the primary concern was about the reputation of the church more than the women involved.
Removing him from his position is not to be vengeful. It’s to protect him and others, including his family. It’s to hold him accountable and allow him to start getting the help he needs. He should not be abandoned in the way his victims were. Whatever is required in terms of therapy and financial support for this pastor AND his family to get the help they need, the church should pay for. He’s one of yours, and so is his family. You are a large denomination with plenty of resources and access to the right kind of help they need to find healing as a family. Help them heal. Who knows…maybe full restoration into a pastoral position one day is an option. The longer this goes on, the harder and less likely that option will be. Look for therapy outside of your denomination. If it means paying their mortgage and bills so that they can fully focus on healing and restoration, I think that’s reasonable and what justice can look like in this situation.
2. You need to apologize publicly, personally, and profusely (the Alliance taught me about the beauty of alliteration!) to the women you have hurt and alienated.
An apology is more than just words. Repentance requires action. You should offer any assistance that may be needed for them to find healing, whether through therapy or otherwise. The harm and disillusionment some of those involved feel is partially your fault. Own the parts you can own and seek forgiveness through action.
3. Develop a real and more effective policy on sexual assault, sexual harassment, grooming, etc…
The biblical model from the book of Matthew only works if the repentance is genuine and justice is truly served, neither of which happened in this case. Any accusations of this nature should go immediately to an outside party for investigation. Some denominations are already changing their policies to go immediately to Police to ensure it is handled correctly.
These policies need to be heavily influenced, led and discussed by women before being implemented. A group of men should not be the ones deciding how to make this situation better. This may not seem relevant, but if women can’t serve in equal capacities to men, like lead pastor or elder, you are setting up more situations like this.
Perhaps sending staff and elders to conferences that deal directly with church abuse to understand how prevalent and deep this problem is in faith communities. Here is one local example, but there are so many different options https://mbcm.ca/churchtoo2019/
4. Believe women.
You had numerous accusations. You received or had access to the same documentation and evidence that we did. You had cries for help and many people in your church seeking justice. A significant amount of women left this church. A female pastor on staff not only left the church, but surrendered her Alliance ordination over the lack of action and real justice. Believe women and take things seriously the first time.
This letter is addressed to you as a denomination, but it’s meant for all those (including myself) who have to change the way we view and treat women, both in the church and society.
Looking forward to seeing your response, both in word and action.
Tired (but hopeful),