Sunday, February 10, 2013

Giving a pastor the benefit of the doubt or not

I am often asked what a church should do when confronted with a pastor who is accused of a crime. Most people who ask think that because the accused is a pastor and the allegations are unproven, then the accused should be given the benefit of the doubt. In other words, until the allegations are proven, pastors who are accused of raping children or abusing congregants should be allowed to continue working as a pastor until they are convicted of an actual crime. My advice is simple, but often rejected; place the accused on administrative leave until the facts of the case are clear. This is a prudent and safe course of action that protects the institution, the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator. But in case-after-case, the church elects to stand by the accused pastor, in some cases, right up to prison and sometimes beyond

How a church handles an accusation is one of the things I track when writing about clergy sexual abuse. I have a checklist.

  • Was the accused pastor suspended?
  • Where church members notified by mail?
  • Where church members notified by meeting?
  • Was there an open forum discussion of the abuse charge?
  • Did the church post information on its website?
  • Are new visitors notified of ongoing cases?

The list goes on and on. I'll publish the full list at some point if readers are interested. 

I am pleased when a church does the right thing. I try to give them credit when they do so. Let's look at a recent case from South Africa. Church dismisses pastor accused of rape

A Soweto trainee pastor who was arrested for allegedly raping a woman in his church was dismissed, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God said yesterday.

"Following this arrest the church leadership interviewed the person and has summarily dismissed him from the body of pastors," spokesperson Nametso Mofokeng said in a statement.

The unnamed trainee pastor was dismissed soon after the accusation. The rest of the case will remain unclear as it is in South Africa and outside of my ability to investigate further. I am happy to note that the church acted swiftly to protect its members from an alleged rapist. It is the right thing to do and they did it in Africa. Why can't we do the same thing in America?