Matt Boedy on James Walden’s Alleged Ethical Violations: The Overall Perspective on the Evangelical Free Church of America

This is the last post from Matt Boedy on James Walden’s Riverside Community Church in Columbia, South Carolina. Matt looks at the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and the many issues within. From pastoral credentialing issues to how the headquarters in Minneapolis responds to problems in the organization. Starting next week much of the corresponded associated with this incident will be published as a means to teach and learn.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around  in it.” 

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

“It’s stunning to me what kind of an impact even one person can have if they have the right passion, perspective and are able to align their interest of a great team.”

Steve Case

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.

Proverbs 12:15 NLT

Matt Boedy has a lot of wisdom in his words, lets hope that Minneapolis and SED with Glen Schrieber will listen to what he has to say.

The importance of listening….will Minneapolis and Glen Schrieber listen to the wisdom that Matt Boedy has to say?

This is the final post of Matt Boedy’s perspective on the Evangelical Free Church of America. In this last post Matt looks at issues in pastoral credentialing. He also looks at how the EFCA has a problem with listening.  Minneapolis has a profound problem listening to issues in the denomination. Glen Schrieber had a problem listening to Matt Boedy. Its foolish if any organization is not willing to listen or take feedback. The moment an organization shuts down other points of view and refuses to consider its errors then the organization becomes irrelevant. The EFCA is in the process of becoming irrelevant today. The points that Matt Boedy raises in his story are simple and profound. For example in regards to counseling and confidentiality the EFCA went against what licensed professionals, and professional organizations believe. In the process the EFCA made itself look foolish and irresponsible. Next week I am going to start to publish Matt Boedy’s correspondence. I want to break down and analyze Glen Schrieber’s response and EFCA President at the time William Hamel’s response to Matt Boedy. For example when I read Glen Schrieber’s response and his decision it leaves me to ask the following question. Does Glen Schrieber have a basic understanding of ethics? I would suggest no….many evangelicals struggle with ethics. Perhaps that is because many seminaries fail to teach ethics properly. I would propose that Glen Schrieber and EFCA President William Hamel in the end hurt the EFCA. In the end I believe they failed it and next week when I analyze their correspondence I will explain why. Having said that I will turn this post over to Matt Boedy, as always I love you guys!

The Big Picture

This blog has been played a big role in putting sunlight on some very sinful and horrific situations in the EFCA, situations HQ in Minnesota has been powerless to stop.

This is on purpose from the EFCA. It is not a presbytery system. It is a loose association of churches, so much that about 20% of its pastors are not credentialed by the EFCA. It has some theological distinctives about premillennialism and penal substitution. But the manner and means of church membership is left to individual churches, though the large majority think membership is important or very important, according to a 2014 theological survey.

But the EFCA does credential ministers and its Board of Ministerial Standards has the power to revoke credentials and discipline pastors. It even has a manual for such.

That manual lists ‘levels’ of actions that require discipline for the pastor. Level 1 is: “The offense was unintentional, the effect minimal, or arose because of poor judgment on the part of the pastor…”

These descriptions were the exact ones used by my former church’s leadership to describe, ironically, non-identified “mistakes.” The discipline for Level 1 is a letter from the BOMS or District Superintendent. My former church’s district superintendent wrote to me that while the pastor did not break “any ethical standard and violated no confidentiality,” the superintendent had been asked by the church to “come alongside” the church and counsel the pastor for “pastoral growth and development” (here quoting his letter to me). The discipline for Level 1 also states: “It is expected that confession, repentance, and attempts to reconcile will occur.” None of that has occurred because the pastor has refused to admit any sin or offense toward me.

Level 2 is: “The offense was clearly inappropriate or intentional on the part of the accused, but the offense and consequence is considered to be relatively minor…” Here the discipline is a written reprimand from the BOMS and a suggestion to the local church for a temporary suspension. I called for this but did not receive it.

It is obvious while the church and EFCA saw no wrongdoing of any type, they in some respects treated the situation like a Level 1 problem. It is also obvious that I saw the problem much more serious and my continued opinion about the serious nature of the problem prompted in part my ex-communication. The church suggested that whatever the pastor did, it was not an intentional act of mistrust. But of course, breaking the counseling confidentiality beyond the church was intentional and not telling me about the breach was intentional.

I had hoped this obvious abuse would be denounced by HQ in Minnesota. The response from the denomination was not only a double dagger to my spirit, but a doubling down on the theology that generated the move by the pastor. The superintendent justified the contact this way: The church “saw the boundary you set around your counselor as keeping you from getting the better care they hoped was possible.” Conclusion: in the EFCA boundaries set by church members are worthless to church leaders.

[Here it should be noted that the EFCA admitted the “boundary” I set up while the church seemed to deny it in the lawsuit. I did initially give consent to contact but rather quickly revoked it. When asked during the lawsuit if Mr. Walden had ever “in his capacity as pastoral counselor” contacted a member’s professional counselor without their permission, he answered, “no.” I am not sure what to make of this denial. It could be that the pastor saw his contact to my therapist not in the mode of “pastoral counselor” but as pastor or representative of the church leadership then in the process of ex-communicating me. But the purpose of the contact was to aid the therapist in helping me – something a pastoral counselor would have interest in. The answer is probably something that a good lawyer would have fun with.]

The most interesting line from the denomination on my criticisms of the pastor was this: “The entrance of [the professional therapist] could have helped [the pastor] in what you saw he lacked.” In short, they wanted me to pay the professional therapist to counsel the pastor, who had refused to admit he had any problem. This help also is what the EFCA seemed to be giving the pastor after my leaving, all the while not admitting anything.

[on Acts 29: I contacted an Acts 29 regional leader. Matt Chandler did not respond to my letter. The regional leader also said the pastor did nothing wrong.]

I received a rather rude email from the EFCA president after my persistent and unwelcomed calls to HQ. He wrote: “If anyone has acted inappropriately it is your counselor, not your pastor.” He suggested if I call the office again, they would use legal means to force me to stop.

This cemented without saying it directly the policy approved at the district level. The EFCA officially supports pastors who do this sort of thing: contacting third parties that their members do not want contacted, not telling the counselee, and having no legal justification for such sharing.

This is about the role of the pastor as one to whom a member submits. It is also about pastors as counselors. The EFCA is allowing its pastors to counsel without transparent policies. It is suggesting that is both professional behavior and good theology. They seem intent on not being transparent so as to give value to the judgment of the leaders. They know what is best.

The biggest question for all of us is a scary one: who will EFCA church leaders feel ‘necessary’ to talk to about you? Would they call a boss? Would they call parents, even for an adult? Wil they ever tell you who they share information about you with? In my case, they had contacted many people outside the church without my knowledge or consent. And I never knew until I sued.

The lack of transparency is beyond troubling. The pattern shows the theology of not just church membership, but the ways in this theology defines the church as the institution of God which can mandate all aspects of a Christian’s life. Imagine considering moving for a job. You must take it to the leadership. Imagine choosing a spouse. Same thing. Imagine having children. The list is limitless because the theology is, as lawyers are wont to say, overly broad. If the “local church” is the embodiment of God’s kingdom on earth, then that kingdom is a government, governing your life, as the church leadership sees fit. Under any theology, this is a cult. This is what these groups – Acts 29, EFCA, and 9Marks – preach.

A church membership covenant (in my case not an actual document but what seemed like a single word, repeated) is, as many of us who are concerned with church abuse have noted, enforced as a legally binding document. Because the church in general has been given freedom by the government to dictate who lets in and keeps out, the ways in which the church uses these covenants is important to highlight. It also important to note how to fight them. One can begin, of course, by not signing them.

With two and a half centuries of legal history behind them, civil courts have never intervened in a purely “church affair” – anything about membership, how they operate, etc. If you want to sue your church, suing over church membership policies is probably ruled out. This is the pro and con of religious liberty.

Also ruled out most likely is any claim about the incompetence or unprofessional/unethical behavior of the pastor as counselor. Most EFCA pastors are not part of any counseling oversight group, certainly not licensed by the state, nor have adopted a code of ethics (things one could hold up as standards). The only standards which you can hold them to may be the “reasonableness” of the church’s actions as determined by that legally generic concept of a “reasonable person in that position.” This is why I sought and obtained more than 30 opinions of professors and pastors. All of them denounced this action.

The clearest basis to sue churches is from their own written church policies on counseling. And as my case shows, many churches do not have those. And of course there is no requirement, save common sense and risk aversion, from the EFCA that they have these. This is where transparency is so important.

Churches have so many policies now – on who can be a children’s volunteer, what can be watched on their internet, and of course, social issues like marriage. Sadly, policies on counseling are hard to find.

There are many churches outside the EFCA who have written policies about counseling. Many of course run counseling centers and the relationship between the two are made clear. These policies are put in place to protect the church. Hardly ever – and in direct opposition to professional ‘secular’ counseling who see policies as explicating the counselee’s rights – do these policies detail protections for the counselee. In short, there are no rights. You submit yourself to those with the ‘right’ to act on your behalf, “for your own good.”

Instead transparent policies would define the relationship between the pastor and any professional counselor he refers members to. Such policies would state who the pastor is allowed to share information with. It also would include how many sessions are to be completed before a referral. It should include specifics on the relationship between the pastor and the elders and what consent is needed from the counselee to put elders ‘in the loop.’

Here is what one agreement between an EFCA church and counselees states: “However, because we are continually training others to be effective counselors we ask that you agree to allow counselors in training to be present during your sessions. There are four other situations when it may be necessary for us to share certain information with others: (1)When a counselor is uncertain of how to address a particular problem and needs to seek advice from another pastor or elder in this church; (2) when a counselee attends another church and it is necessary to talk with his or her pastor or elders; (3) when there is a clear indication that someone may be harmed unless we otherwise intervene; or (4) when a person persistently refuses to renounce a particular sin and it becomes necessary to seek the assistance of others in the church to encourage repentance and reconciliation.”

These are common policies for those following the ‘biblical counseling’ model. They are not common to other, less authoritarian churches and counselors. But notice here the clear expectations for limiting the sharing of information to people “in the church.” There is no mention of others outside that. And yet, the EFCA approved the sharing with a party outside the church.

There is not just a transparency problem in the EFCA. There is an inconsistency problem.

The EFCA faces many outside issues. But it also faces a large internal one, one of their own making. It faces a risk it has identified but can’t abate. It faces its own pastors refusing its own advice. It faces a grassroots change in its loose associative membership through a theology that pursues aggressive church membership. It replicates this cancer by its pursuit of church planting. It faces a future of declining membership but pressure to agree that 9Marks style leadership will end that decline. It faces like many American institutions in this era a large group of retirement-eligible pastors and a cadre of younger pastors like Mr. Walden who are given broad latitude but give little transparency.

My story is probably one of many in the EFCA. Please tell this blog more.

One thought on “Matt Boedy on James Walden’s Alleged Ethical Violations: The Overall Perspective on the Evangelical Free Church of America

  1. Matt Boedy, you ever thought about picketing the EFCA HQ, places where EFCA leadership meet, the church where this occurred? It’s so difficult to win a lawsuit against a church (ask me about Scientology), you might find more satisfaction standing on a sidewalk with a sign. –dee holmes

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