February 12, 2018
An Open Letter from the Pastoral Staff of San Diego First Church of the Nazarene
For the most part, our work as ministers calls our attention to right here, right now. We visit her in the hospital, guide them through premarital counseling, pitch in to interview homeless people for the county, plan a lesson for children’s church, find him the right support group, rework the budget for another fiscal year and get enough sleep on Saturday to be fresh for Sunday. These everyday tasks, local issues, and beloved people joyfully fill us - and we humbly pray we serve them well with integrity and love. Yet, there are times when we must address a wider audience, consider the world as our parish, and speak simultaneously for and to the Church. This is one of those times.
Two weeks ago the San Diego Reader ran an article about a young woman accusing a pastor of rape. The article has caused quite a stir in the small circles in which we live. We thank the Reader for running the piece and for giving a platform to a woman whose voice needs to be heard. Our hearts and spirits are crushed by the news. The storyline is regrettably familiar. It makes perfect sense why people would say they never want to step foot in a church again. We feel the same way, and we pastor a church.
We grieve for and with the victim. She has been courageous and strong. She has inspired us to seek the same courage and strength so that we might be agents of change in our circles of influence.
The shock waves of this breach of the trust between a pastor and parishioner continue to deeply disturb all those affected. There are so many of us reeling with doubts, questions, frustrations, fear, and anger. All of this is legitimate and proper response; it is lament. Lament is both grief and an act of radical trust in God who promises all things will eventually be made new.
Lament also compels us to tell the truth in times of distress and turmoil. Silence of church leaders to such violations within the church is shameful. Any shaming of victims by people in the church must be confronted. We are part of a broken system, part of the problem, when our silence leaves victims standing alone. We are part of the problem when we don’t demand accountability from those in power. We are part of the problem when we don’t use whatever influence we might have to challenge leaders who are coercive, change systems that are abusive, and contribute to causes that are redemptive.
We live by the ethic that the truth sets us free. In this spirit, we name the following:
- The church must be a safe place for all people at all times. A minister’s primary role is to be a guardian of the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and psychological safety of those they have the privilege of leading.
- A minister is a servant of God, responding to a call to witness to the life of Christ, invest in the Church, and declare God’s love for all creation. It is a position that requires constant self-evaluation, humility and accountability. These disciplines, lived within community, protect us against the vices and weaknesses we all possess.
- Shame and harm flourish in secrecy and privacy. Christian community must be marked by vulnerability and confession.
- Ethical counseling never involves sex.
- Abuse within a religious context creates a unique and terrible weight of trauma, psychological pain and spiritual confusion. We validate the deep suffering of those of you who have experienced abuse or assault (particularly at the hands of religious authorities) and champion your fight for healing and wholeness.
- We have much work to do in confronting the patriarchy of our religious systems, texts, and settings.
- When we find the courage to speak out against injustice and sin, God fills us with even greater courage, strength, and love.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, time and time again, Christians witness the confrontation of injustice and perverse power. We live according to the conviction that Christ’s life and death reveals the unjust methods and practices of the religious elite. And so, we join with other churches and communities in our city and region in praying for a faithful response to these abuses. We pray for the hurt, confusion, and suffering that has been left in the wake of the revelations of the past weeks. Our hearts break for the victims of this injustice and for those who have relived the trauma of their own such violations. We pray that God will be merciful to all who seek clarity, justice, and peace. We pray for our own congruency, placing our own policies and behavior under the examination of faithful witness to Jesus Christ.
We want to be a community of faith that can hold this tragedy together as we grieve, pray, and take care of each other. We want to be a community of faith that proclaims human dignity and flourishing for all. We want to be a community of faith that tells the truth.
The Pastoral Staff of San Diego First Church of the Nazarene