Is Your Pastor an Elmer Gantry? Are You Sure? How Can You Know?
Churches attract all kinds of people with varying motivations for being a part of a particular religion. I spent fifty years in the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. When it comes to other religions, I only know what I read in the media. The experiences and observations I share in this post come from the fifty years I spent in the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church, first as a parishioner, and later as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years in the pastorate, pastoring churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.
While I am no longer a Christian or a pastor, I do keep myself informed about the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. Just because I no longer believe doesn’t mean that my experiences and observations are now, suddenly, invalid or lack value. Some Christians try to marginalize or invalidate my writing by suggesting that since I am no longer a Christian, or may have never been a Christian, my experiences and observations can safely be ignored or ridiculed. I will leave it to the readers of this blog to decide whether what I write has value. I suspect, knowing my readers as I do, that what follows will resonate with many of them,
The Christian church attracts people with ulterior motives. Generally, Christian people are very trusting. When someone gives a testimony of redemption most Christians readily embrace the lost sheep that is now found. Tales of addictions, sexual immorality, prison, violence, and the like find a sympathetic ear with most Christians. The worse the sinner, the greater the testimony of God’s wonderful, saving grace.
There is no doubt that many sinful, fallen people have found deliverance through what they believe is the saving work of Jesus Christ. Many vile people now live productive, grace filled lives as born again Christians. They are to be commended for the change that has taken place in their lives. While I no longer embrace the Christian church and its message of saving grace, I am quite ready to admit that religion transforms and changes multitudes of people.
Because Christian people are trusting and accept people at face value, they are an easy mark for people who have evil intentions. In among the sheep are criminals, thieves, child abusers, and sexual deviants, to name a few. These people make an outward show of Christianity, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves seeking sheep to devour. This is true not only in the local church, but also in Christian camps, group homes, and Christian schools.
Churches make it easy for deceivers to set up camp in their midst. The deceiver quickly embraces the church family, begins to regularly attend services, and even gives money to the church. They are soon embraced as brother or sister. Before too long they are given access to places of responsibility within the church. They now have access to the treasures of the church. (monetary, physical, spiritual)
Countless churches, after just a short time, readily appoint newcomers to positions of authority within the church. The reason for this is simple. Most churches need a steady supply of new workers. Sadly, many churches practice the four W’s: win them, wet them, work them, waste them. It’s not uncommon for Baptist churches to turn over their membership every 5 or so years. It is not uncommon to find new church members quickly appointed as deacons, Sunday school teachers, Jr church workers, youth workers, nursery workers, etc. Rarely is the past life of the new church member examined, either through an interview or background check. All that matters is that Jesus saved them.
What I have written above also applies to pastors. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I candidated at a number of churches. Not one church did a criminal background check. Several churches did check my references, but the references they checked were the references I gave them. Who would ever give a reference of a disgruntled church member or board member? Every church I candidated at readily accepted the information on my résumé. I found every church to be trusting, and while this is a trait that should be commended, it is a trait that often results in churches hiring men who are deceivers.
Bad people are those who become members of a church for ulterior reasons or they are pastors who have a secret past; who go from church to church preying on unsuspecting churches. Bad people do bad things to trusting children, teens, and adults. They physically and sexually abuse people. They scam people out of their money; sometimes their life savings. They wreak havoc wherever they go. After getting caught, they pack up their wares and go down the road to another church and set up shop. There is no shortage of supply of sincere, trusting, honorable church members.
There are some things that churches can (must) do to keep themselves from being easy marks:
- Do not allow a person to become a member of the church for at least one year. Do not allow them to hold any office of authority or responsibility. Time will likely expose them for what they really are.
- Require federal and state criminal background checks on every person who will be in a place of authority or will have contact with children or teenagers. This must be a “no exceptions” policy. These background checks should be repeated annually.
- Pastors should have an open door policy. Church members should be encouraged to share any concern they might have.
- When someone reports abuse of any kind an immediate investigation must be done. This investigation should be performed by someone outside of the church; someone who does not have a vested interest in the church.
- ALL criminal activity should be reported to the police. ALL abuse should be immediately reported to the police or children services. In Ohio, people in places of authority are REQUIRED to report any abuse they are made aware of. They can be held criminally liable if they do not report it.
- Churches should thoroughly investigate candidates for the pastorate. State and federal background checks should be done. References should be thoroughly checked. Phone calls should be made to the churches previously pastored. I would even go so far as to send people to the churches he previously pastored or is currently pastoring.
- Candidates for a church’s open pastorate should be just as diligent, Churches are notorious for hiding their dirty laundry. Why did the last pastor leave? Churches, as a whole, can be just as abusive as a pastor or an individual church member.
- Churches must be diligent in their investigation of new church members and prospective candidates for the pastorate. The unasked question is often the the very thing that ends up biting the church in the ass. Personally, I would record all interviews, along with ANY meetings the church has. Recordings put an end to the he said-she said fights that are far too common in Christian churches.
- Every church program or class should have a minimum of two workers who are not related. No person should be permitted to teach a class, work with the teenagers, or man the nursery by themselves. If possible, every room should have a window in the door or hall wall. This allows people walking by to look in at any time.
Just because someone is a teenager or a pre-teen doesn’t mean they should be exempt from the things mentioned above. Many churches staff their nursery, Jr church or vacation bible school with young people from the church. (and sometimes from other churches) Churches assume that young people are safe. This assumption can prove to be deadly. Years ago, we had a teenager in our church who was a nice young man. Likeable. Easy going. Oh, and he spent two years in a juvenile detention center for sexual abuse.
The church attracts bad people who do bad things. Unless churches are diligent in protecting themselves, they will continue to be easy targets for abuse. The old adage is true, better safe than sorry. A genuine Christian will not be offended if the church is diligent in its protection of its children and teenagers.