Responding to sexual misconduct

EDITORIAL: A situation of when, not if

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As reported in this issue, former Pacific District Conference minister Gary Wall’s pastoral credentials and license have been revoked by the PDC and U.S. Conference Boards of Faith and Life. Reflecting on the ways individuals responded since word of Wall’s sexual misconduct surfaced in the fall of 2019, as someone who wants the best for our faith community, I see four lessons.

Resources: Pat Coyle, chair of the PDC restoration team that investigated Wall’s departure, notes that without a plan leaders can lose their way when responding to sexual misconduct. That’s why USMB offers a resource for dealing with clergy sexual misconduct.

The resource can be downloaded at https://usmb.org/pastoral-licensing-documents/ Additionally, experienced and trained individuals in the USMB community can advise and guide. The problem is not that we don’t have resources; it’s that we don’t always use the resources we have.

Bias: I’ve wondered why leaders fail to follow guidelines for responding to sexual misconduct. One reason is that when we know the person accused, it is hard to believe the allegation, and so we don’t respond the way we should. We can’t imagine that a respected leader, friend or colleague would do something like this. When we know someone, it is easy to believe their claim of innocence.

Perspective: The USMB resource on dealing with sexual misconduct outlines a process that involves members of the pastoral staff as well as an investigative team. But because we often believe the best of people we know and work with, it is important to involve an impartial third party to investigate sexual misconduct. Determining the truth should be a priority, and a third party can help accomplish this goal.

A turning point in the response to Wall seems to be the restoration team’s decision to hire Telios Law Firm. Not only did the law firm have access to public records that were not circulated, Telios provided an outside perspective and information that those who know Wall well found convincing.

Effort: Dealing with sexual misconduct takes effort. It involves educating ourselves and our congregations. It means pursuing the truth, which can be time consuming and reveal things we’d rather not know. Dealing with sexual misconduct can cause us to wrestle with tough questions about forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. It requires a level of honesty and transparency that can be uncomfortable. Knowing that the challenge isn’t if, but when we will face a case of sexual misconduct, let’s be prepared to do the hard work.

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