The recent rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements reveal the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, and as further evidenced in the even more shocking #ChurchToo hashtag, churches are far from immune. A recent free ECFA webinar, co-sponsored by the Christian Legal Society, entitled “Creating a Safe Culture” addresses this sensitive yet crucial topic.
Hosted by ECFA Executive Vice President and Legal Counsel, John Van Drunen, and David Nammo, Executive Director and CEO of CLS, the webinar covers the basics of what every church should have by way of rules and administrative procedures to prevent harassment and assault against employees, volunteers, and participants, and to properly address situations that may arise.
John and David are joined by attorneys Sally Wagenmaker (Wagenmaker & Oberly, LLC) and Theresa Sidebotham (Telios Law PLLC). Here are a few highlights from the discussion…
On Why Creating a Safe Culture is Important:
“As Christians engaged in ministry, we must acknowledge our fallen condition, our sinful nature, our need for a Savior, and thankfully, the gift of Salvation through Jesus Christ. We have people working together and doing ministry together, and there are many opportunities for misconduct, misunderstandings, and serious problems. The Bible says we are to flee from such conduct. Sexual harassment is unacceptable, especially in any church or ministry, and accusations of harassment are devastating, even if they are wholly unfounded.” – David Nammo
“When you have a culture of accessibility, people feel like they can raise their concerns and not have things pile up – instead of the ‘me too’ and ‘me too’ which is the last thing you want to have happen…Like so many ministry matters, this really boils down to stewardship. How do we care for each other? And particularly recognizing that people are God’s most precious resource, we’re here on earth to serve Him, with each other, co-laboring for Christ.” – Sally Wagenmaker
On Anti-Harassment Policies
“[With a good anti-harassment policy] people can expect that the problem will be investigated with confidentiality, with no retaliation or backlash, and some remedial measures to fix the problem. The whole policy should reflect the culture of accessibility.” – Sally Wagenmaker
“Not only is it a great idea to have a policy for practical reasons, but it carries enormous legal implications and benefits for the employer.” – Sally Wagenmaker
**A sample anti-harassment policy is available in the handout materials provided when you view the free webinar-on-demand**
On Church and Ministry Standards
“For [church] employees, you can have Christian standards as a bona fide occupational qualification [BFOQ], not just what they believe, but how they act according to Christian standards.” – Theresa Sidebotham
“We want to be above reproach. Think about what your spiritual standards are – they are not going to be the same for every [organization]…but in this age of ‘#MeToo’, increased religious liberty challenges, and plain old risk-management, this is a great time for you to think through your biblical standards of sexuality and other forms of conduct.” – Theresa Sidebotham
On Avoiding Mistakes and Taking Next Steps
“It’s important to be very thorough and methodical in addressing each component of an allegation to review what has actually happened.” – John Van Drunen
“Pray for wisdom and discernment. Pray that God’s protection will be on those within your organization, but then be thinking through, ‘what can we do to create a safer culture within our church? Do we need to undertake training or clarify policies? Are things we could be doing better to create tone at the top, so that it is well-known within our organization how we handle these matters? Are staff aware of how leadership wants decisions to be made if a potential question comes up?’” – John Van Drunen
Churches must not only be vigilant and responsive to minimize legal liability, but also to prevent a culture which opens the organization or its leaders up to the accusation that inappropriate actions were allowed or even encouraged. We invite you to view the full free webinar-on-demand to dive in to more details on legal protections, reporting requirements, and investigation procedures as well as links to policy resources and sample employee handbook excerpts.