(I can’t stop staring at these clouds.)
“Non-disclosure agreements continue the same power dynamic that permitted sexual abuse to occur in the first place. NDAs are meant to conceal abuse in the darkness, we the people of light, should have no part in them.”-Lori Anne Thompson
NDAs and the Church: Are we ignoring the gospel?
Let’s assume Paul was writing on how to care for the members or employees (they are often the same) when they are asked to leave their employed position. (All indented items from the CHBC NDA posted here.)
Employee agrees to completely and irrevocably waive, discharge and release the Church (along with any related parties, whether directly or indirectly, including, but not limited to, elders, officers, deacons, staff, employees, pastors, advisors, representatives, any related committees and members thereof, etc.) (the “Related Parties“) from any and all claims, charges, demands, suits, complaints, grievances, causes of action and/or liability whatsoever (the “Claims”), involving any matter arising out of or in any way related, directly or indirectly, to her employment with the Church,
Now let’s suppose the formerly employed individual has been subjected to difficult circumstances during the period she was employed at the church. Maybe she noticed some concerning behavior on the part of some pastors or elders. Maybe she found it difficult to express her concerns to her direct supervisors. Abuse is hard to speak about and takes time to process. For some, it takes 45 years.
The church, according to this document, claims it no longer wants to hear about any claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Would Paul write the following? Is it the gospel? Remember, this is what CHBC is handing out to its low-level employees.
not limited to, any claim of breach of contract, wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliation and/or employment harassment or discrimination, whether in tort or in contract,
Imagine Paul continuing his “Letter to the Bible Church: On instructions for godly management.” Would he write something like “If you will agree to never, ever mention what happened when you worked at the CHBC, we will pay you some money? You get the money and payment to health insurance if you promise to never discuss some problematic areas of your employment.”
Provided Employee signs this Agreement and does not revoke it, the Church agrees to pay Employee severance benefits as follows: (i) Payment equivalent to Fifteen (15) weeks‘ regular wages amounting to Eleven Thousand Eight Hundred Eighty and 0/100 Dollars ($11,880.00 USD) less any applicable federal, social security, state and local tax withholdings and other lawful deductions. In addition, the Church agrees to (ii) continue to pay $345.41 per month toward Employee‘s health insurance premium costs up to and including November 17, 2021; and (iii) directly pay a qualified company of Employee‘s choosing up to $1,500.00 for employment outplacement services
Besides my nursing degree, I hold an MBA. I suspect that the elders who hired some lawyer(s) to write this questionable document might claim “But we are allowed to do this according to US business law.” Here is where it gets sticky to use that excuse. Many things are legal but not useful according to Scripture. I will point out one but I know you can list hundreds more.
It is legal to watch adult porn in the creepy establishments you see dotted about the landscape.
Are those NDA’s reflective of Biblical practices? Do they resemble the gospel?
I have a hard time imagining Paul telling a church to prevent a former employee from bringing forth, in the aftermath of safety,
any claim of breach of contract, wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliation and/or employment harassment or discrimination,
Of course, it doesn’t resemble the gospel in the least. But church leaders, especially the authoritarian type, are quick to adopt standard, secular, business practices to protect themselves from embarrassing disclosures by former employees.
This seems strange to me. We following the One who said he is “The Truth.” Yet some would want to conceal “the truth” in church contracts.
The letter to the church leaders by CHBC members skillfully pointed this out.
Some of us have reached out to our connections at other
like-minded area churches and have been told unanimously and unequivocally by leaders at
those churches that NDAs have no place in the Church and should be considered a serious red
flag. All eight articles on the first page of a Google search for “Church NDA” yield the same
Let’s take a look at one, #NDAfree
This organization was started by a British sex abuse survivor who called me when he started this group, knowing that I would support his cause. He is becoming quite well known in the UK due to his abuse and abuser but that is a story for another day. I highly recommend going to the FAQ section which answers many questions.
Do NDAs have a legitimate purpose?
Yes. Their original purpose was the protection of intellectual property and we believe this is the proper use for NDAs. Another legitimate purpose is the protection of personal data in scenarios not covered by data protection regulation. For example, a confidentiality agreement may be appropriate when hiring an external contractor such as an independent bookkeeper or IT support who might have access to confidential data.
Should an NDA be used to prevent an employee/ex-employee from disclosing confidential information obtained because of their job?
Certain professional staff are bound by principles of confidentiality (lawyers, doctors, ordained people, counsellors), for which they can be subject to formal complaints if they break confidentiality. NDAs should not be required in these cases. Whilst NDAs may offer a tempting solution to bind employees/ex-employees, the church/organization should ask themselves what is the role of values, trust and relationships and how are these impacted by relying on legal instruments (which in practice may not be enforceable).
What’s wrong with a non-disparagement clause – we shouldn’t speak negatively about each other anyway?
Whilst we shouldn’t ‘bad-mouth’ people, however truthful those comments may be, a non-disparagement clause goes far beyond a legal restriction on gossip. It prevents you saying anything negative at all. So if you talk about a harmful company product or an abusive Executive with the aim of protecting other people, you can still be accused of disparagement.
“NDAs discriminate against the powerless and in favor of the powerful. They block truth-telling, silence the wounded, require complicity from others in power, and, upon exposure, accuse churches and leaders of manipulation and deception. The gospel counters NDAs.” Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight
Here are two important points why NDAs should not be used by the church to coerce an employee to keep silent.
- Non-disparagement clauses go far beyond restricting gossip. It restricts truthful speech. Why in the world would CHBC want to restrict *truthful* speech.
2. It is not found in the gospel about which your current pastor is obsessed.
Why have a “Pray for Pastors* even when 78 people in your church have presented the church with a petition claiming abuse of power? Is this the gospel?
Frankly, I was startled that the church leaders would present such an event at this time. The church leaders have been informed that many in the church have a concern about the power differential being used against those who have little or no power. I still remember Eric holding up his hands, showing that the congregants are under the leaders while claiming they are the same. No. At CHBC, many in the congregation are concerned that they matter little to the local power brokers.
This was not the time to hold such an event. It sends a clear message. The pastors are far more important than those who have presented a petition otherwise.
For those who don’t know CHBC: I have been told that it has a voting membership of around 500-600. This is not a megachurch. There are local college students who are present during the school year which makes it look crowded.
Frankly, this is response says what it needs to say. The pastors are the ones who need corporate prayer. The pain of the congregants which have been presented to them in the petition takes a back seat. This is worrisome to me. I think a statement is being made.
I have heard that the church leaders do not believe that all 78 signatories care about the petition. That is a mistake that will come back to bite them in the nose. Those who signed are now invested in watching the process more closely. Each of the signatories needs to be heard. Oh, yeah! It sure would be nice to have an evening for prayer for those who are concerned about the church and cared enough to present a petition. (Remember when Martin Luther did that? He was only one person and look what happened.)
At this point, I would have to say what I said before. The old CHBC has morphed into the new CHBC which cares far more about the authority invested in the pastors and elders than in the congregants.
Why there is hope
I know a great deal about GRACE. The organization understands the power dynamics in churches. They truly treat church members as equals to the church leaders. They have intervened in many churches that did not understand how the gospel is applied in the day-to-day running of the church. For example, I believe that they would have pointed out the terrible optics of church leadership planning a * Night of Prayer for Pastors* on the heels of being presented a petition outlining the concerns of church members. Maybe the leaders could quickly add a Night of Prayer for Lowly Church Members” if they get a chance?…
When to leave a church.
The gospel may lead you to leave a beloved church. I discussed how I left CHBC in my first post. I saw what was coming when my church hired two men from the New Calvinist movement which is highly authoritarian in nature.
Let me tell you when I decided to leave the church which caused me to launch this blog. Many young teen boys were molested by a SEBTS student (Doug Goodrich) who volunteered at the church. However, we heard from one who had mentioned a problem with Doug the year previously. He and his family went to the church. Their concerns were overlooked which meant that more students would continue to be molested.
A group of us went to the church. They did an internal investigation which exonerated all of the pastors as most internal investigations do. The pastors began to discuss legal issues surrounding our quest for truth. I contacted a famous attorney (Jeff Anderson) who offered his help. This caused everyone to back off. However, a rumor was started that my marriage was in trouble. Thankfully, a couple of years later, the head elder who started that rumor came to my husband and apologized.
Where did this leave us? No matter how hard we tried, nothing happened. Before the release of the exoneration report by the internal investigators, my husband and I could not tolerate it any longer. They would deny the truth, even when presented with a recording of one pastor admitting the truth.
There was no GRACE to help us at that time. if it were today, I would stay until GRACE finished their report.
Leaving the church was hard. We went on a long journey, stopping at and leaving churches, including CHBC. It was a frustrating number of years. However, God was faithful. After we saw what He wanted us to see, He pointed out a conservative Lutheran church near our home. This was quite a change from nondenominational and Baptist churches. But, it was just what we needed. My husband claims he wants to be buried there!
Leaving is hard but it is my opinion that you will know when you can’t do anything more. You will say “I have got to get out of here.” Your pastors and some elders are authoritarian so expect their current behavior. Your *senior* pastor needs 30 hours to prepare a sermon so it is clear he does not have much margin for your concerns. He will likely blow you off since dealing with you would mean he would have to spend time with you. He only has so many hours, after all, and he’s shy…
I think there is hope in having GRACE come. They get abuse and they understand the gospel better than some pastors I have known. May the truth be forthcoming. If I can ever be of help, my contact info is on my blog.
“Institutions are made in the image of God. As images, they are made to point to God and HIS redemptive work. When they point to themselves and engage in self-preservation, they become idols, not images. The NDA is the hammer the idol maker wields.” Curtis Chang