NAE passes resolution on pastor sex abuse, calls on churches to thoroughly vet all hires

Evangelicals for Life
Attendees watch on during the 2019 Evangelicals for Life conference at the McLean Bible Church in McLean, Virginia on Jan. 16, 2019. |

The National Association of Evangelicals released a resolution advising churches to take greater measures to screen and vet staff and volunteers in light of numerous reports of sexual abuses committed by pastors and staff nationwide.

The NAE board of directors approved a resolution at its semiannual meeting on March 7 called “A Call to Sexual Purity and Child Protection.” The statement laments the “violation of trust” by pastors who have sexually abused church members, in particular children.

The resolution comes over a month after the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News released a detailed report outlining how there have been about 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse by 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers nationwide since 1998.

The resolution also comes as one of the largest megachurches in the nation is facing scrutiny over the fact that four former volunteers were charged with sex crimes against minors, including one daycare volunteer who assaulted at least 14 children in a church daycare bathroom.

NAE is an association of over 40 evangelical denominations, and 45,000 churches, schools and organizations worldwide.

“Jesus spoke in graphic terms about how God views such offenses: ‘If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea,’” the resolution states, quoting Matthew 18:6.

“Whistleblowers who bring these violations to light perform an important service to the church and to our society.”

According to outgoing NAE President Leith Anderson, many churches and ministries already have systems in place to address sexual misconduct and abuse.

“[B]ut this resolution reminds us to do all we can to prevent these horrors and to protect and support victims,” he said in a statement.

The NAE board of directors is calling on all church leaders affiliated with the network to do multiple things. Among those is a call for churches to thoroughly vet all staff hires through “rigorous background and reference checks.”

Church leaders should also screen and provide child protection training to all volunteers that have access to children. Church leaders should also establish a confidential third party mechanism for receiving reports of sexual abuse in their church and ensure that all members of the church community know how to properly report a concern.

Once concerns are reported, NAE is calling on church leaders to investigate reports “promptly and thoroughly” without any “defensiveness.”

Along with taking “decisive disciplinary action” when sexual abuse allegations have been corroborated, the NAE resolution urges church leaders to offer pastoral care and support the victims that have been affected.

The resolution also calls for every congregational leadership body to adopt its Code of Ethics for Congregations and their Leadership Teams. The code calls on leadership teams to train pastors, staff, and volunteers on methods of preventing abuse, especially to children.

The code presses churches to establish a system of church discipline to punish members who continue to engage in sinful behavior after attempts at restoration have failed.

NAE’s new resolution also calls on every pastor to sign and follow the NAE Code of Ethics for Pastors. That code calls on pastors to avoid sinful sexual behavior, resist temptation and identify a personal counselor who can minister to the pastor when needed.

As well, the code calls for pastors to address misconduct of other clergy members directly or by contacting appropriate supervisors to whom that pastor is accountable.

According to the resolution, “complacency is not an option” for pastors and churches when faced with such evil.

“No leader should assume that sexual misconduct and child abuse occurs only in other churches or denominations,” the resolution argues. “Every church needs clear policies that are consistently implemented to prevent abuses and to deal decisively with any violations of trust in full cooperation with the legal authorities.”

In light of the #MeToo movement, there has been a concentrated effort to expose the sexual abuse crimes committed by pastors and clergy.

Last year, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report outlining how leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up sexual abuse committed against children by more than 300 priests throughout a 70-year span.

That report led to other states investigating Catholic clergy sex abuse that has taken place in their borders.

In May 2017, Pope Francis acknowledged that the Vatican had about 2,000 cases of sex abuse on backlog.

A Gallup poll released this week finds that more than one-third of American Catholics have questioned whether to remain in the Catholic Church as a result of the sex abuse scandal. However, support for the church was greater among Catholics who attend mass weekly.  

As for evangelicals facing their own sex abuse crisis, a summit was held last December at the evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois to talk about sex abuse in the church.

The one-day event featured a number of prominent faces within evangelicalism. Among those to speak at the conference was Nancy Beach, the first female teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church.

Last year, the Chicago-area megachurch saw the resignation of its longtime pastor, Bill Hybels, after he was accused of decades of sexual misconduct.

Beach warned attendees about “unchecked power” in their church hierarchies. She admitted that she was part of Hybel’s “inner circle.”

"The irony is that I knew that this leader was responsible in many ways for opening up doors of opportunity for me and I was benefiting from the refracted light," Beach said, according to the Daily Herald. "So I ask you if you're in the inner circle of a leader, are you in any way complicit in allowing a pattern of abuse or abuse of power to continue?"

Last year, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is not part of the NAE, passed a new resolution on abuse at its annual meeting in Dallas, Texas. 

Last month, the president of the convention called for an evaluation of 10 churches highlighted by the newspapers' investigation in Texas. But days later, six of those 10 churches were cleared of acting indifferently toward abuse.

Pastor Rodney Brown, who leads Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Georgia, one of the six churches cleared of wrongdoing, apologized and repented. He admits that he failed his duty as pastor by "not taking action against an individual who had been accused of child abuse in the past at another church."

"This was because of my long‑standing friendship with the accused,” Brown said in a statement to The Christian Index last Thursday. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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