“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ― Voltaire
This post is written for the members of Highlands Community Church in Renton, Washington. From what I can tell, this is your average, nondenominational church with a large staff. This is also written for the many members of other churches who have had to deal with abusers in their midst. Consider this a tutorial on how to look beyond carefully constructed words that might be leading you in a direction away from the actual problems at hand.
I have received communication from members of this church who asked me to take a look at what happened. Yesterday, I contacted the church and said I would be posting on this matter today. I asked to speak with someone in the church administration who could answer my questions. I did not receive a callback.
The more I read, and reread, the following letter and viewed the video, the more I realized that a number of questions have not been answered by the pastors. In the end, maybe everything is hunky-dory. However, I personally watched a church which, in my opinion, mishandled a pedophile situation. I wished I had asked a lot more questions. Since that time, I’ve written a multitude of stories on abuse in local churches. I believe that every church member has an obligation to ask the tough questions and not assume that everything is being “handled.” I believe that every church leader has an obligation to answer the questions of members.
I will be posting my comments and questions into the body of the letter sent to the members of the church. My comments will be bolded and italicized. The video precedes the letter.
The video from the church
Pastors/leaders: The reason your church members shared this with me is quite simple. They have questions and are uncomfortable sharing those questions with you. Maybe you all can figure out why that is.
The letter from the church
June 11, 2020
Highlands Family, we have some difficult news to share with you today regarding the termination of Derek Nelson’s employment at Highlands and the circumstances surrounding his termination. Please watch the video above as Lead Pastor Jesse Campbell and Chairman of the Elder Board Glenn Joslin share a statement from Highlands.
It is my understanding that Derek Nelson was responsible for the high school program in the church. If this is wrong, could someone correct me?
Within the last two weeks, Highlands leadership was made aware of accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior committed by Derek Nelson against multiple adults. The very minute we were approached with this information, we took action. The accusations have been investigated and confirmed to be accurate, including by Derek’s own admission. Immediately upon confirmation that the accusations were true, Derek Nelson’s employment at Highlands was terminated.
It is good that Derek Nelson admitted his sexual behavior because it gave instant credence to the stories of the victims. It appears the victims came forward to the church leadership.
As a church and as an organization, we will not tolerate sexually inappropriate behavior committed by staff.
We grieve for the adult victims and recognize their courage in coming forward. Please join us in praying for them. We will be doing everything we can to provide them with ongoing care and support, including professional counseling independent from Highlands.
Please note these two words: adult and victims.
What does the church mean by adults? Does this simply mean that all of the victims were of consenting age? The age of consent in Washington state is 16. Were any of these adults 16, 17 or 18?
Were any of these victims members of the high school program at the church? In other words, they were of legal age to give consent to a sexual act but were still in high school?
If they were victims, did they consent to these sexual acts?
If they did not give consent, this would be a matter for law enforcement. Was law enforcement contacted?
Has the church counseled the victims not to ask for legal redress in this matter? According to their stand on abuse in marriage, it appears that they do not believe the victims should seek any legal redress outside of asking for the involvement by law enforcement.
Has the church asked an independent, third-party investigative group like G.R.A.C.E. to review the steps the church took?
Were these victims female or males? This is not made clear in the letter.
How many victims were harmed?
Will the victims be allowed to seek counseling outside of the *approved counselors* of the church? Here is a statement from the website.
COUNSELING: Highlands pastors provide counseling for individuals and couples, offering biblically-based solutions, encouragement, and prayer. Highlands also provides referrals to Christian counselors who have been prescreened in accordance with biblical standards.
Do these Christian counselors hold actual degrees in counseling such as MSW, Ph.D., etc? Have they received trauma-informed training?
We also recognize that Derek and his family will have a difficult and painful road ahead. We are heartbroken for them. We are likewise coming alongside them, and providing them with independent professional counseling, and all the support and care that we can. Please pray with us, for each of them. For Derek, we pray specifically that spiritual restoration would one day be possible. Because we love Derek and his family- the hurt runs deep.
What does the church mean by *spiritual restoration?*
Does this mean restoration to the church body or restoration to the pastorate?
Since this sexual activity took place while he was a pastor and involved men, women, or students, why should he be allowed to return to his position? (I suggest that they don’t use the *David was forgiven* argument because it will make them sound Biblically illiterate when I have to write a post about it.)
We additionally recognize that you, as part of our church, will be impacted to varying degrees by this difficult news. Derek’s actions have caused broken trust, which will take time to heal. We are here for you, as you process this news and as you grieve. Our prayer for you, is that his sinful actions in the midst of otherwise fruitful ministry would not stain your view of God’s holy and perfect Word. There is hope and healing for all, found only in Jesus.
At Derek’s request, we have agreed to share the following message that he has written to our church family:
“I was recently confronted about some choices and hidden sin in my life that went unchecked that I have since confessed to, and take responsibility for. I am embarrassed and ashamed. Because of these choices, and my lack of accountability and the biblical qualifications for my position, I will no longer be part of the staff at Highlands.” Derek went on to say: “Words can’t express my heart for this church and the people who have shaped my life and that I’ve served with. Highlands has been my home and family and has a beautiful future. I am devastated, and incredibly sorry for my sin. I ask for your forgiveness for not being above reproach. I covet your prayers for me and my family as I focus on clinging to the hope and healing that is only found in God’s Word and rebuilding trust in relationships I’ve damaged because of this. I pray by His grace, I will personally experience the depths of God’s love and redeeming work over time in my life moving forward and see God use this painful season for His glory.” – Derek Nelson
Whoa, whoa whoa! Did you catch this? If you don’t know what I mean, reread his statement. I am surprised that the pastors allowed this to be read to the members. Still confused? Read it again and see if he asks for forgiveness from his victims. Remember, the church statement called them victims. Did he address the pain he has caused the victims? Nope, nada, zippo… I don’t think that this guy is repentant. This statement is self-centered. Lots of *I* and *my* words.
At this point, I would ask the church if it is possible that Derek has been involved in this behavior prior to coming to the church? He doesn’t sound sufficiently sad.
As you process all of this in the coming days, you will likely have some additional questions. In order to protect the adult victims, we are limited in what details we can share. However, we are making an FAQ section available below, which should address some of the questions that you have. In addition, we welcome you to submit any questions to our Elder board, using the form on the elder’s page of our website. For the protection of the victims, Derek’s family, and the church, we ask that you not share this information outside the church community or on social media.
Highlands Family- once again we ask that you join us in praying for all involved, first and foremost for the victims and those who have been impacted and hurt. Pray also for the hearts of those who may hear this news and call their faith into question. Even in the midst of this trial, we believe that God will build His Church and that the gates of hell will not stand against it. We love you Highlands Family.
Chairman of the Elders
Are we aware of any victims who were minors?
No. The victims who have come forward were adults when the sexually inappropriate behavior occurred. There have been no allegations or suspicions of inappropriate behavior against minors and at this point, we have no reason to think that Derek ever acted inappropriately with minors.
What do they mean by minors?
How many were harmed?
How is Highlands caring for the victims?
We are doing everything we can to advocate and care for the victims who have come forward, including providing professional counseling independent of Highlands.
How is Highlands caring for the Nelson family?
We are heartbroken for the Nelson family and recognize the difficult road ahead. We are coming alongside them, to provide them with independent professional counseling, and all the support and care that we can. Please pray with us, for each of them.
Who can I speak with about this, as I process my own grief?
We encourage you to speak with any of our staff team that you know or call the church ( ed. I deleted the phone number) so that we can connect you with someone from our pastoral team. We are here for you and desire to care for your heart as you process a range of emotions.
Who can I share this information with?
This is a matter that impacts our church family and we ask that it stay within our church community. While we are committed to transparency within our community, for the protection of the victims, Derek’s family, and the protection of our church, we would ask that you refrain from sharing about this publicly, particularly on social media.
Should I reach out to Derek?
The Elders of Highlands will be caring for Derek and his family. If you feel deeply compelled to reach out to Derek, please do so with grace and honesty.
What will happen to Derek’s former position on staff? (Executive Pastor of Ministries and Leadership Development)
The current short-term plan is that Derek’s former responsibilities will be divided among the staff.
How can I ask additional questions?
We invite everyone who has additional questions on this matter to submit those to our board of Elders, using the contact form on our elders’ page: highlandscc.org/elders.