Is “Above Reproach” Its Own Qualification, or a Qualification of the All the Others?

"Our elders were forced to consider this qualification in the heat of the moment. A pastor of our church had not crossed any one line." - 9 Marks

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T Howard's picture

So, given what the article states, would this pastor make the SBC naughty list if the issues were sexual in nature? Curious what others think.

Jay's picture

Given the paucity of details in the story, it seems to me that the author and other elders made the correct call.  The idea is that nobody can make a serious accusation or that there is nothing in this person's life that would make others question his ability / character.  Foolish isn't the same as sinful but both can disqualify. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

....well, apart from churches finding themselves really on the wrong side of everything, a sexual misconduct allegation would generally be one of the "dynamite" accusations that get people fired quickly, no?

My church let a pastor go for "other reasons", and I know he was hired by another local church (something of a "buildings & grounds pastor), but I have no idea whether the other church asked for a reference, or what kind was given.  I do know that there was some concern over his personal character and his aptness to teach.  He's a much better fit for "building engineer", IMO, and I think he's happier, too.

And really, I've never left a church because of "atomic bomb" kind of revelations, thankfully, but rather for mostly that lack of aptitude to teach, generally accompanied by a "my way or the highway" attitude that did not allow for new ideas or reproof.  And so I wonder if we ought to pay more careful attention to these factors--it's not like our Lord put it in the Scriptures for no reason, no?

Part of the problem, I think, is that too many pastors approach the pulpit with something of an agenda--"here is the ministry model I learned at Bible college, we're going to do it this way always" and the like.  Even attempts at exegetical preaching may not survive the pastor's tendency towards his soapbox, and then we wonder why his preaching is powerless and ineffectual.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

....well, apart from churches finding themselves really on the wrong side of everything, a sexual misconduct allegation would generally be one of the "dynamite" accusations that get people fired quickly, no?

Bert, my question was primarily directed at your statement on another thread that when a pastor repeatedly raises red flags but hasn't been proven to have committed sin, he should be fired and put on the SBC naughty list.

Now, in this case, we don't know what caused people to question him and bring their concerns to the elders. But, if it were relational in nature (e.g. multiple people witnessed the pastor spending a lot of time with, driving in a car with, or having lunch with women who were not his wife), would this be enough to put him on the SBC naughty list?

Where there's smoke, there's fire, no?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

T Howard wrote:

Now, in this case, we don't know what caused people to question him and bring their concerns to the elders. But, if it were relational in nature (e.g. multiple people witnessed the pastor spending a lot of time with, driving in a car with, or having lunch with women who were not his wife), would this be enough to put him on the SBC naughty list?

If something like this happened, I would, like those in the article, chalk this up to being unwise (maybe even go as far as calling it foolish, though the Bible makes such an accusation one we must do with care), and definitely not above reproach.  That's enough reason to ask someone to step down, but without further details, there's no way I'd support putting such a man on a list of people guilty of sexual sin.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

Tom, my comments in the other thread are where there is clear evidence of "fire" (e.g. actual fornication), not just smoke, so I don't think it specifically matches what the SBC is trying to do.  That noted, if a church DID have someone with "excessive familiarity" but short of "sharing a hotel room" and the like, I think it's entirely appropriate for the deacons and elders to take the person aside and say "this just doesn't look good, and we are to avoid the appearance of evil".  If the person doesn't take proactive steps to reduce this, it's entirely appropriate to terminate and then notify future employers that it was done for cause.  

Again, we're not going to catch everything, but I think we can do better.  And it's a brilliant example of how we act quickly if it's adultery or drunkenness, but other behaviors that violate 1 Timothy 3/Titus 1, we're not so good with.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
That noted, if a church DID have someone with "excessive familiarity" but short of "sharing a hotel room" and the like, I think it's entirely appropriate for the deacons and elders to take the person aside and say "this just doesn't look good, and we are to avoid the appearance of evil".  If the person doesn't take proactive steps to reduce this, it's entirely appropriate to terminate and then notify future employers that it was done for cause.

I agree it's appropriate to ask for his resignation and/or fire him. However, the question is how far does the church go to notify other churches about his questionable conduct. Let's say he goes to another church and does end up committing adultery clergy sexual abuse with a woman in the congregation. Couldn't the victim accuse his former church of covering up his "grooming" behavior and shuffling him off to another church by not reporting him to the SBC naughty list?

Bert Perry's picture

Couldn't the victim accuse his former church of covering up his "grooming" behavior and shuffling him off to another church by not reporting him to the SBC naughty list?

I guess you can accuse someone of anything, but I'm guessing you're actually referring to the question of "would it be reasonable to make that accusation?"  If you look at the articles linked, the SBC is using a "credibly accused" standard that includes conviction in a court of law, civil judgment, or confession.  So this would not fit that.

Regarding the question of "did the church cover up grooming behaviors?", I don't think courts would assume that a former employer has the responsibility to warn every future employer of a man shown the door about his behavior.  So if they showed the man the door based on grooming behaviors, but the next employer did not call to ask about their experience, I don't think the former church is on the hook.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Most private companies are incredibly loath to fire anyone for cause, so if it were clearly actionable to suppress evidence that someone was not on the up & up, some enterprising lawyer would have figured out a way to make a company pay who'd allowed a serial sexual harasser to go on to another company, or some such thing.  So I'm guessing that in this case, suing a church for failing to "flag" a groomer would simply be throwing money down the toilet by the billable hour.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

"When it came time to communicate the matter to the congregation, we wondered how much to share. We needed to communicate that he had fallen below reproach, yet not unnecessarily drag our brother into further public disrepute."

Assuming that there's no accusation of sin (as appears to be the case here), what would y'all do if the accused-of-below-reproach-elder said, "No, I'm not resigning. What I did wasn't wrong."

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Most private companies are incredibly loath to fire anyone for cause, so if it were clearly actionable to suppress evidence that someone was not on the up & up, some enterprising lawyer would have figured out a way to make a company pay who'd allowed a serial sexual harasser to go on to another company, or some such thing.  So I'm guessing that in this case, suing a church for failing to "flag" a groomer would simply be throwing money down the toilet by the billable hour.

At my fortune 500 company, the only official information we are allowed to give out when asked about former employees is the date of their employment. Of course, there are many unofficial ways of providing additional info.

In reality, Bert, I'm not asking about what is legal to do but what is reasonable to expect from a former church. Much of the outrage surrounding the SBC clergy sexual abuse scandal isn't about illegal activity. It's about the reprehensible attitudes and actions of certain members of the EC as they tried to shield the SBC from legal liability.

How does a church like the one in the OP remain above reproach and blameless in warning other potential churches regarding a former pastor who was either asked to resign or fired because of repeated and concerning grooming behavior? The pastor didn't actually commit clergy sexual abuse, but he repeatedly engaged in behaviors that set off red flags.

Craig Toliver's picture

No one is "above reproach" to everyone.

The phrase "you're not 'above reproach'!" is a trump card to end all conversations.

By the way, if your taxes are even moderately complex, you've probably broken the law. See Donald Rumsfeld's annual letter to the IRS: ‘The tax code is so complex and the forms are so complicated, that I know that I cannot have any confidence.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/notable-quotable-donald-rumsfeld-on-known-u...

https://www.dontmesswithtaxes.com/2014/04/what-would-you-say-in-a-letter...

 

 

Jim's picture

I'm a vocational minister of the gospel.

2 years ago I paid an accountant of a top ten accounting firm  $ 900 to prepare our taxes. I reviewed it before it was submitted and caught an obvious mistake.

This year I went with another CPA ... paid $ 550. He made a mistake that I caught on review

I know this is a bit off topic

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Jim wrote:

2 years ago I paid an accountant of a top ten accounting firm  $ 900 to prepare our taxes. I reviewed it before it was submitted and caught an obvious mistake.

This year I went with another CPA ... paid $ 550. He made a mistake that I caught on review

Because my family has international taxes to worry about, not just U.S., I also hire a tax firm to do my taxes each year.  There's no way for me to know if they get it right as to the percentage of taxes due to each taxing authority.  That's why I hired them -- I expect them to know their jobs and do their best to get it right.  Once I've done that hiring, it's not my job to go over hundreds of pages of tax forms returned to me to see whether each line is correct.  If I were doing that, there would be no reason to hire them.

I generally check the total income, total deductions to see if the numbers are reasonable, and then sign the forms allowing them to file.  If they get anything wrong, legally it's not up to me to find it, even if I'm responsible for any extra taxes/penalties.  I don't know if that makes my taxes done that way "above reproach" but I've taken all reasonable steps to handle it legally, and I've paid to leave the small details to others to get right.  Honestly, I see that as no different than hiring a company to fix my car, and leaving it to them to make sure that everything follows the relevant safety standards and best practices.  If my car or taxes are not "above reproach," its not because I didn't do everything both reasonable and legal, even if I didn't check over every little detail.

No church is going to be able to get everything 100% right with every situation that could have moral, ethical, or legal consequences.  What they do need to do is to the best of their ability, follow agreed-upon best practices, stick to them even when it's hard, and then leave the rest up to God.  And they need to not be afraid to modify things as times and recommendations change.  This won't be easy, but our testimony demands that we do everything reasonable we can.  Will some things still get missed?  Assuredly.  However being above reproach doesn't mean perfection, because if it did, we could never be 100% above reproach as was mentioned above.

Edit: I see that Larry was making the same point about perfection as I was editing my comment.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

No one is "above reproach" to everyone.

Isn't this confusing "above reproach" with "perfect"? 

Dave White's picture

Larry wrote:

No one is "above reproach" to everyone.

Isn't this confusing "above reproach" with "perfect"? 

Exactly! ... The way the average guy in the pew thinks!

Bert Perry's picture

First, I liked what Craig mentions.  Everybody's got a scruple or two that he could use to shoot down just about anybody, and since none of us is without sin, we might joke "we ought to just shut everything down."  No?

But to the question  Tom raised, I think that we ought to scale our response to the level of sin or misconduct that's been proven, as that seems consistent with how Scripture treats offenses.   If it's criminal or ministry excluding for life, e.g. sexual sin/rape/etc.., put it in a database for all the world to see in the way Paul calls out Hymeneaus and Alexander, or John called out Diotrephes.  Sexual sin/assault in the church poses an existential threat to the witness and very existence of churches, so that's a huge deal.

Refusal to adhere to child protection policies, say being found alone with kids?  I think that's more "if someone calls and asks about Bob, we tell him we told him to go his way because he wouldn't adhere to child protection policies.  Never found him abusing a child, but we felt it was significant enough that he was modeling bad behaviors for child protection."

That noted, I still can't make head or tail of the case in the original article.  It would be tremendously helpful if someone that's in these situations spoke clearly about this, but with anonymnity, to illustrate other ways besides "pastor caught in bed with secretary" for dismissing a pastor.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.