This is the response Matt Boedy wrote to Glen Schrieber, EFCA Southeast Superintendent in regards to his situation of alleged spiritual abuse at Acts 29 Riverside Community Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
“Mistakes are always forgiveable if one has the courage to admit them.”
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
1 John 1:9 NLT
This is going to be a long post, and this is Matt Boedy’s letter to EFCA Southeast Superintendent Glen Schrieber in response to his decision. You can read about that decision in “EFCA Southeast Director’s Response to James Walden’s Alleged Ethical Violations: Is Glen Schrieber a Tool of the Acts 29 Network?” After this situation Matt would then appeal his case to the President of the EFCA William Hamel.
***Note in this letter RCC refers to James Walden’s Riverside Community Church in Columbia, South Carolina***
I received your letter on 9/16. There are strikingly different professional opinions on the issue from yours. Let me begin with them.
Loren Townsend, Henry Morris Edmonds Professor of Pastoral Ministry, Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and author of the 2009 book Introduction to Pastoral Counseling, writes to me: “Many denominations have codes of ethics that require pastors to maintain confidentiality with their parishioners. This would mean that no information about a parishioner could be disclosed to anyone without the parishioner’s express, usually written permission. Some denominations do not have written codes of ethics or standards for clergy conduct. However, even in these cases there is a well-established, reasonable expectation of confidentiality between pastor and congregant. In our teaching of all of our ministry candidates at LPTS, we stress this ethical principle: Congregant disclosures and information about congregants that a pastor may have are to be kept confidential unless express permission is given to disclose information to a third party. Then, it can be disclosed only to that third party and must be carefully limited to disclosing information to which the congregant agrees.”
The Rev. Mark Roberts, Senior Advisor and Theologian in Residence of Foundations for Laity Renewal near San Antonio and who for sixteen years before was the Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California [IPC left the PCUSA recently due to the denomination’s denial of basic Christian tenets and joined ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians], wrote this to me: “I’m disappointed in the response of the denomination. Your pastor clearly went against your wishes. This would almost always be wrong, unless there was some risk that you would harm someone, including yourself. Honestly, I’d be surprised if the denomination would change its tune. It is not your responsibility to police their pastors when they are in the wrong. You did the honorable thing in contacting them. If they are unwilling to act upon what you shared with them, that’s too bad.”
The Rev. Dr. B.J. Phillips, Pastor of Grace Chapel in Chapin, SC, and Board Certified Professional Christian Counselor practicing in the Columbia area, wrote me: “It is illegal and unethical for any counselor to speak to anyone about your personal information without your express written permission via a form called a ‘Release of Confidential Information.’ Any licensed counselor can neither confirm nor deny that you are a client to anyone who just calls to ask for information about you. Your pastor was acting in a very unprofessional and unethical manner by trying to go against your wishes. You told him/her that you did not wish them to speak to your counselor that should have been enough. I don’t blame you for complaining to the denominational administration about this pastor’s actions. My personal and professional opinion is that this pastor was acting inappropriately. ”
Warren Throckmorton, professor of psychology at Grove City College and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at the Center for Vision and Values and who is better known as the Patheos blogger who played a significant role in forcing Mark Driscoll to step down, wrote: “In general, the pastor should not have violated your confidence and revealed information to your therapist. If he was counseling you, then he should respect your confidence. There are exceptions. If he believed you to be suicidal or homicidal then he would have reason to provide the info to a counselor… with what you have told me, the pastor should not violate your confidence even to a therapist.”
David Hayward, ordained Presbyterian minister for more than 30 years, and better known as Naked Pastor online, wrote: “That is definitely a violation of therapist/ client privileges! The therapist knew this and to protect him/herself, they killed the attempt.
The denomination should know this. What if this should set a precedent? Imagine the fear members would walk in even thinking about engaging a therapist!!! You are totally right to see it for what it is… invasion of your privacy.”
Dr. John Sester, church consultant and founder of Barnabas Group, a nonprofit organization committed to promoting a healthy church workplace, writes to me: “As I read your email it seems that you have been doing a good job managing the situation. Saying NO to the pastor contacting your therapist was your decision to make. Leaving the church and reporting him to his supervisors (when he defied your request) also seems appropriate.”
Lisa Cataldo, M.Div., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pastoral Counseling at the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University, called me on the phone (after an initial email from me) to express her strong disagreement with the communication by James Walden. She said such communication was an “abuse of power.” She adds, “If [the pastor] were my student, I would be completely upset.” I also read to her the relevant portions of your letter. Her conclusion: “They are circling the wagons. If this is the view they have of clergy power, it is problematic.” She specifically rebuked your contention that this was a personal issue and not ethical. “A boundary violation is by definition an ethical problem. It is just wrong. This taking advantage of his position of power is not appropriate.”
Finally, two powerful rebukes: Dr. Philip Monroe, professor of counseling at Biblical Theological Seminary, licensed psychologist and practicing counselor, wrote: “It sounds like an abuse of power.” And Dee Parsons, editor of The Wartburg Watch, wrote: “I sure hope you have gotten the heck out of that church!”
I want to believe that with your request for more professional opinion that you are open to changing your mind. But sadly you ignored the American Counseling Association’s code I cited in my first letter. You also ignored the professional judgment by Doug Ronsheim, Executive Director of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. Let me remind you of his professional resume: Mr. Ronsheim served for 17 years as the director of the Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute, a licensed Community Based Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic in Pennsylvania. He is a Presbyterian minister, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and has held faculty appointments in the schools of Social Work and Public Health, University of Pittsburgh; Department of Psychiatry, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical School; and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
With those facts, I find it troubling that you wrote: “James violated no ethical standard in contacting your counselor in this manner.”
Beyond the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, there is the Common Code of Ethics for Chaplains, Pastoral Counselors, Pastoral Educators and Students Section 1: (1.2) “Provide care that is intended to promote the best interest of the client and to foster strength, integrity and healing.” Next, is the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Virtus, whose “Model Code of Pastoral Conduct” states: (1.6) “Pastoral Counselors and Spiritual Directors assume the full burden of responsibility for establishing and maintaining clear, appropriate boundaries in all counseling and counseling-related relationships.” And: (2.1) “Information obtained in the course of sessions shall be confidential, except for compelling professional reasons or as required by law.” [And if you or James thinks that there exists a compelling reason (which has not been argued), then (2.1.2) this applies: “Before disclosure is made, if feasible, the Pastoral Counselor or Spiritual Director should inform the person being counseled about the disclosure and the potential consequences.” Certainly you cannot deny such informing of me was feasible.] Furthermore, (2.2): “Pastoral Counselors and Spiritual Directors should discuss the nature of confidentiality and its limitations with each person in counseling.” This was not done.
And finally, (7.2.2.): “Pastoral counselors should not provide counseling services to anyone with whom they have a business, professional, or social relationship. When this is unavoidable, the client must be protected. The counselor must establish and maintain clear, appropriate boundaries.” Surely James’ counseling of me and me being a member of his church is clear and so an unavoidable conflict. But then it is the pastor’s responsibility – not merely the other counselor, as you insist – to establish and maintain appropriate boundaries. Even if you argue James saw no ethical boundary (an untenable position), you cannot argue he made it clear. At no point was I ever told James thought he could contact my therapist.
Of course it is not only this group that says this. The American Association of Christian Counselors’ code of ethics states (1-410): “Christian counselors maintain client confidentiality, privacy and privileged communication to the fullest extent allowed by law, professional regulations and ethics, and church or organizational rules. Confidential client communications include all verbal, written, telephonic, audio or videotaped, electronic, or Internet and web-based communications arising within the helping relationship. Apart from consented to, regulatory, mandatory or legally required disclosure, counselors shall not break confidentiality regarding client communications without first discussing the intended disclosure and securing written consent from the client or client representative.”
As you will note here, “confidential” includes everything. There was no “information” James could give that was not confidential. A pastor giving information is unethical because all information – unless mandated by law or safety as something to divulge – is privileged.
Another group, the National Christian Counselors Association, writes in its code of ethics: [Standards of Professional Practices No.7] “Members will be open, truthful and factual to counselees…” Furthermore, [Standards of Counselee Confidentiality No. 1]: “A counselee’s confidential information, obtained during the pastoral counseling relationship, may be shared with another professional by the pastoral counselor only with a counselee’s written consent.” [No. 5]: “All members of this association will carefully protect the privacy and identity of their counselees and their situations. The counselor will avoid revealing information about counselees, whether publicly or privately, unless the counselor has been freely given informed consent of the adult counselee or legal holder of confidentiality privilege for minor counselees, in the form of express written permission, and the release of such information would be appropriate to the situation.”
Again I draw your attention to the lack of ‘confidential’ as an adjective for information. There is no distinction here between confidential and non-confidential. Even more directly, James and RCC leadership were not truthful in this communication because they did not inform me of it before or after. They still haven’t.
And another group, Association of Pastoral Counselors: [A.4]: “If a client is receiving services from another mental health professional, counselors, with client consent, inform the professional persons already involved and develop clear agreements to avoid confusion and conflict for the client.” This was not done.
Lastly, and the one I think should resonate most: the National Association of Evangelicals’ Code of Ethics for Pastors (which EFCA is a member of) which states, “Guard confidences carefully. Inform a person in advance, if possible, when an admission is about to be made that might legally require the disclosure of that information.” Here not only does it call the lack of informing a breach but also it states the only requirement for disclosure of “confidences” or “information” of all stripes is legal mandates.
It is just not true that no ethical standards were broken. James Walden broke every single code above and has been condemned by every single professional I contacted, who are from a wide swath of the Church. You stand alone in aiding and abetting this behavior.
It is interesting to me that while you sought advice from LPCs and other ministers, and then concluded there was no ethical breach, you did not once cite any ethical standard. [If there is an EFCA code, you do not mention it.] James not only violated the confidentiality codes above, but also ones about boundaries, communication, and integrity. If indeed James had followed any of these ethical standards, he would have made that clear when we began counseling with him. These codes are in place to define relationships and to draw boundaries. James had none that he stated. You are either approving him having no code and therefore no one who speaks to him should have any expectation of privacy from him or you are suggesting there is a secret code only he (and you) knows.
Certainly I do not doubt you sought counsel in this situation. But it is surprising to me that none of the people you talked to expressed any negative opinions, especially in light of the fact that every professional I contacted saw it in some negative light, from unethical and unprofessional to an abuse of power. I want to believe you told those counselors a fair and accurate version of the story. But because of the 100% percent condemnation from my counselors and 0% negative comments from yours, I reasonably conclude you told them a different version of what happened. I specifically asked about this kind of misunderstanding on your part when you emailed to me say you were sending me your report and had not talked to me to “hear” me correctly. If of course these counselors did use words like “inappropriate” but claim because James was not operating under any code and therefore his actions were not unethical, you had a duty to report those comments to me. But also I cite Dr. Cataldo’s rebuke. She noted: “Even if there was no specific code, it is still unethical.”
What is also troubling is that because now as an administrator of the EFCA you have approved of this communication and its manner (not telling me) by calling it ethical, it has then become an approved move for all pastors in your denomination. This means other pastors can do this to members of their church. Let me remind you of the opinion of David Hayward, former pastor: “Imagine the fear members would walk in even thinking about engaging a therapist!!!” You are to blame for that.
That being said, and knowing you don’t agree with that judgment, let me address it from a perspective with whom you agree: James Walden’s. If he has the right and duty as you say ‘to give information’ there was no reason to ask me if he could. In fact, James could have done this all along and had a ‘clear conscience.’ Why didn’t he? If he truly believed ‘giving information’ to the therapist would have helped me early on, then he went against his own conscience in not doing it early on. His asking draws attention away from that certainty of no ethical standard compromised you proclaim. It also draws attention to the fact that James violated his own conscience. The violation is he declined to do something he thought was needed. And when he finally did act, it was at the most unhelpful time. And I was not standing in his way, according to you.
Maybe he thought this communication was a “consultation.” Here I refer to the American Association of Christian Counselors (ES1-300: Consent in Christian Counseling – A Call to Integrity): “Christian counselors secure client consent for all counseling and related services prior to the initiation of care or services. This includes the video/audio-taping of client sessions, the use of supervisory and consultative help, the application of special procedures and evaluations, and the communication of client data with other professionals and institutions.”
Maybe he thought it was a move of a good elder, which you don’t claim surprisingly. [In fact you cite no biblical standards in your defense. Perhaps you thought you should only respond to the ethical question. But surely if he had been biblical, you would have found scripture to support it.] In your words, you state the information was ‘given’ because it was in my best interest. But of course it wasn’t in my interest, specifically in the context of my relationship with James. You admit (though James never has) that such a move ‘disrupted’ my trust in RCC leadership and James. Knowing this in advance, and knowing how I laid out where this trust had evaporated and how it could be restarted, he still persisted. This is not a sign of a person seeking my best interest. It is a person seeking his own interest. Again I remind you of the people above who called this abuse of power.
Maybe he thought even if it went against all the above codes of ethics, it still was biblical. The AACC states: “The AACC suggests that priority values in the resolution of these conflicts [conflicts where counselors believe they must act unharmoniously against ethical standards] be: (1) integrity to Christ and the revelation of Scripture; (b) in the client’s best interests; and (c) fulfilling one’s legal, ethical, and organizational obligations in a way that is least harmful to Christ or to a client’s interest.” Surely none of these requirements were met.
Finally, let me address it from your perspective. You write it is your role to “come alongside” church leaders to counsel them. You add that this situation has “given us all much to learn and grow from.” Finally, you add that your role in James’ life is “one of pastoral growth and development.”
I will assume you have “come alongside” RCC since this issue came to light. On that assumption, it is more than strange that RCC asks you for aid after I point out issues, but you or they won’t admit to any specific need for you. If James and the RCC leadership are to learn and grow from this, it implies a previous immaturity and ignorance – with at least the former a clear sin. Yet you don’t cite any examples of those two. What was immature in their actions? What needs to change? Sadly, according to your silence, nothing. The RCC did nothing wrong, had no bad motives, and the other leaders see no “commonly occurring” issues in James.
The most obvious question then is: what are you doing in your counsel?
What is clear – this communication happened, you approve of it, and so then it can continue unabated.
Next, you write that my “boundary” was compromised. Yet you write that this was not wrong to compromise because it was done with good motives, that of the “greater good” of “better” therapy. Let me cite another professional: Elisabeth A. Horst, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist. She states in one of her books: “Boundaries are not about rules but about persons … we can’t understand what’s wrong with boundary violations until we understand that the object of the violation is a person, not a rule, not an abstract principle…”
James didn’t violate merely a “boundary” – he violated me. And so indeed it is personal. But sadly then, it is also ethical, if again ethical codes define boundaries. Let me remind you of the opinion of pastoral counseling professor Lisa Cataldo, cited above: She specifically rebuked your contention that this was a personal issue and not ethical. “A boundary violation is by definition an ethical problem. It is just wrong. This taking advantage of his position of power is not appropriate.”
And on a similar note, you leave the door open for this to be an ethical violation even after the counsel you sought. You wrote that to you it is “more personal than ethical.” This implies that this situation has some “ethical” in it. With this in mind, your claim about it not being “black and white” is hard to fathom. It is either ethical or not. It can be both personal ethical, and a violation of both. But it can’t be a personal violation and not also an ethical violation. It can’t be “some” personal and “some” ethical and not be a violation of the latter. In fact it is an “open and shut” case – you though are only ‘shutting’ the case on the side of “ethical” whereas every other professional I talked to calls it unethical and worse. Yet oddly you undercut your own judgment by leaving the door open for calling it “unethical.”
Yet this isn’t about only my boundary. In violating my boundary, James abused his position in the church. He abused the church he claims to love, the church the other leaders says he loves. He violated the boundary of every member of that church who trusts (perhaps not wrongly) what they tell him is privileged. By the way, Dr. Horst wrote those words above in the context of pastoral abuse of power. She continues, “Power abuse is the essence of boundary violation…” She adds, “A boundary violation is an action by one person that violates, crosses over without permission, the limits, the rightful territory, of another person. It is a physical and/or psychological trespass [my emphasis] of interpersonal space… Either way, the personhood of the other has been disrespected.” And we all know disrespect is a sin.
Dr. Bryan Maier, who is an associate pastor and has 25 years of diverse counseling experience, writes on a faculty blog at Biblical Seminary in Hartsfield, PA, this: “There are many dynamics behind ministry moral failure but perhaps one of the most severe is that, whatever else it is, it is an abuse of power. Somehow the shepherd who was appointed to feed the sheep suddenly feels justification to devour them.” This statement nullifies any intent on the behalf of James Walden. In fact it shows his intent is the problem. His “good motive” pushed him to abuse. This is sadly often the justification for abuse.
James also violated the boundary of the therapist. He sought to manipulate the psychological space between therapist and client, to paraphrase Dr. Horst. It is this that makes your “give information” defense most troubling. There was no way for the therapist to say ‘no’ to the information ‘given’ in that letter; he had to open it and read it (at least for the few seconds he needed to decide it was an unethical, inappropriate communication) as he had no idea what was inside. [He could have assumed the letter from RCC was another check, which they had sent to him before.] It wasn’t like James walked up to him in the street and the therapist could walk away.
If James wanted to respect the boundary of the therapist and act on the idea of equality between RCC leadership and him, James should have written the therapist and asked him if he would accept ‘information’ about me. [Of course that would have gotten the same response: silence.] The asking to give information at least would show a concern for the personal and professional boundary of the therapist. Yet James and the leaders didn’t want that. They wanted to influence without any “push-back” from the therapist. That disrespects the job of the therapist, as I wrote previously. It is also arrogance.
I find it most troubling a personal boundary was ignored for the goal of “better” care. This in your eyes seems to make the boundary crossing less than a sin. In other words, a “personal” boundary was crossed because James and the RCC leaders know better than me what is best for me. That is abusive church authority. This is of course why the professionals above described it that way. They see what you do or will not.
Most troubling James and the RCC leadership took on the role of the Holy Spirit, a role you find so important. If they believe in the Holy Spirit as much as you, then it was the Holy Spirit’s job to convince me to let James speak to my therapist. They abused their role as leaders by not only demanding an outcome but forcing it when I did not comply.
Next, you write that James and RCC leadership wanted to collaborate with the therapist. Yet their action shows otherwise. Let me remind you that this communication from James to my therapist coincided with my “ex-communication,” for among other “sins” not obeying their order to let them talk to my therapist. In this context James’ communication cannot be read as trying to collaborate with the therapist. At the same time he was communicating with the therapist, James was telling me he could do no more to ‘pastor’ me. Because of that, there was not going to be any future dialogue between pastor and therapist about me, as James had said he wanted. Here is where your words haunt you. You said if James had told me he wouldn’t contact the therapist and then did, it was a personal problem. Here you are suggesting he wanted a dialogue, but his actions speak the opposite. That is a personal problem, indeed.
If indeed communication between pastor and therapist was ‘good for me’ and would promote better care, why didn’t my therapist ask for it? James and RCC may have thought I was blocking the therapist from communicating. This assumes a certain amount of unprofessionalness in the therapist, not doing his job in challenging me. If they thought I was the problem, they had to assume the therapist was unprofessional.
This is how the RCC leadership came to believe they could put their conclusions above me and above the therapist. That would certainly not be a collaborative relationship, one based on mutual respect, as James claimed to want.
If collaboration was not the goal, then what was? It was to influence the therapist’s opinion of me, and so they expected the therapist to be unprofessional in RCC’s eyes. Yet also here your words haunt you: “they did not expect to receive any information” in reply. Not expecting a reply assumes the counselor to be professional. It assumes he would pay no attention to the communication, as he did as a professional. Yet their communication assumes a non-professional therapist, if it was to meet its goal. In order to influence the therapist, James and the RCC leaders were counting on the therapist not to be professional, and so take the information into consideration. James either ignored the professional response of the therapist OR was counting on someone else’s unethical behavior and/or sin for his goal to succeed.
Let me be clear: the only way James’ goal could have succeeded is if the professional therapist broke his code of ethics. And so let’s call it what it is: James Walden and the other church leaders tempted my therapist into breaking his ethics code and legal requirements for
their “greater good.” The principle here applies: you can’t do a good thing in a wrong way. The ends and means must be holy. The “greater” good – if indeed there is one – does not outweigh the sinful means. [Of course I argue this ‘greater’ good is bogus.]
And because you now have approved of this, we have a church policy banking on and perhaps requiring someone else’s sin.
All this evidence leads me to a conclusion that is tremendously sad to come to: your letter has made the situation worse. When church leaders act recklessly, it falls to a person in your position to check it. Your position is doubly important then. Someone in your position should be an overseer of the church. Your job is to guard the church and protect its members from abuse of its leaders. This means when you fail as you have done here, a double judgment comes upon you. My condemnation and the condemnation of the Christian community cited above is a judgment not just against the pastor you oversee but also you.
And so next I come to your very curious statements about the Holy Spirit. You belabor that role and yet not once have you written that James had any conviction of sin or immaturity or any negative quality. This could mean you don’t think he has anything to be convicted about and that you see this communication as a good idea.
What is interesting is you imply with all your talk about the Spirit that James has sins to confess, if I can assume those many statements about the Spirit are not solely directed at me. So then it comes to someone in your position to name those sins, especially sins of abuse of power. One can’t write we all need conviction of sin and not also in this situation name them. This is how you failed in your role, sir. If James sinned against me you had a duty to name it. If he abused his power, he can’t be allowed to be in a position of power while he comes to the conclusion that he abused his power. One cannot wait for the spiritual conviction of abusers. They may never come to the conclusion that the rest of us must hold. In fact, James has had months to be convicted. If you think he needs to be convicted, and yet won’t name the sins, you sir are supporting the abuse by allowing the abuser to abuse again.
So I find it appalling you speak of a spirit of conviction for all, and yet you won’t cite anything James Walden did wrong. You, sir, are protecting someone who has sins to confess. You asked me to call out personal bias in you. This is it. You coddle James because he is one of the people you oversee and you failed to oversee him. And you compound his sin with your lack of discipline.
What is odd is then your description of the situation as “personal” and not ethical. If the comments about the Holy Spirit are not directed at James, then there are no “personal” problems, issues, judgments, or sins to be held against him. There is nothing for him to confess. If however those comments do apply to James (as they should), then he has something to confess. And he has failed to do that for months. That not only shows a deformed conscience, but by allowing him to stay in office, you allow him to continue operating with such a conscience. James has always said he has had a “clear conscience” in all sins I have brought to his attention. The problem is double then. Not only does he not recognize his sin, his conscience – a key part of being a pastor, we both would agree – is deformed to the point where he calls abuse good. This is a problem for someone in your position.
If indeed you are directing those comments about the Holy Spirit to James, am I to expect some Holy Spirit-led sorrow from him sometime in the future? I can only hope. But in the present, if he is not convicted, it is your job to discipline him for sinning, even while he might not see it. You have failed – so far – in doing this. Second, if those comments are only directed toward me, then there is nothing to be convicted of, nothing to condemn as poor judgment in James. So then again I ask: why are you counseling them to learn something or to grow? If they did not do anything wrong, why do they need you?
But if those comments about the Spirit are only directed toward me, I am appalled you would do such in the same letter where you allow the abuser to continue abusing.
Perhaps you should come alongside the RCC leadership to make clear their beliefs. This power to communicate to a member’s therapist without approval and confirmation before or after should be now written into the church’s bylaws. If it isn’t, it shows a profound hypocrisy on their part. If you don’t oversee such a rewriting, the same judgment must be leveled at you.
This leads me to the broader charges I leveled against James. First, you and the RCC leaders both state you all do not see “commonly occurring behaviors” in James. Yet strangely, they admit they alert James to “moments where we believe he is beyond what is reasonable as well and check in with him about these specific issues…”One, this makes clear
the other leaders have no oversight of James as they cannot “check” him – only “check in” with him. This of course shows James in practice as the sole and unequivocal leader of RCC, a practice specifically denied in the RCC bylaws. Two, they note moments (and the plural here is important) where he has done what is unreasonable in their eyes. And they are so concerned about “unreasonable” moments they can’t handle on their own, they invite you in. Yet none of this adds up to any sin, unethical breach, or biblical disqualification. What does then?
On the issue of witnesses, again, I repeat I was asked by Joshua Tarbutton to meet with James’ wife, and the other leader, Landon Jones, about James. Why would they desire this meeting if not to confront him with multiple witnesses? That was the express purpose of the meeting as told to me by Josh. You ignore that fact in your letter.
And of course if you are implying there are sins to confess by James – and those sins are not merely personal but also ethical and therefore also abusive of power – then there are more than the required numbers of witnesses. In fact some of those witnesses aided him in the abuse. Here again is where your position is important and why you failed. You implied that this is not an “open and shut” case. Yet you imply there are sins to confess on a side – RCC – a group that does not see any sins. If the entire church leadership (at the time) doesn’t see the abuse, then it falls to someone like you to remove them. In fact the comments by you about the Holy Spirit are used to “muddy the waters” and aim to let you off the hook from discipline. But let me repeat: you are refusing to discipline an abuser of power.
What is clear is that James has sins to confess, specifically about this abuse of power, how he demanded my compliance, how he unethically violated my personal boundary, how he violated the boundary of the therapist, how he betrayed his church, and finally, how he has not repented of these sins for months. It is not your job to ‘make’ him see it. It is your job to discipline and the Spirit indeed will use that discipline toward that ‘sight.’ Let me cite one more professional who responded to this situation: John Setser, who I cited above. Not only does he run an organization trying to create healthy church environments, he runs a website that collects stories about pastoral abuse in the church and those stories are collected in his book, “Broken Hearts, Shattered Trust.” Furthermore I found him through his article for Enrichment Journal, an Assemblies of God publication, entitled “When Senior Pastors Abuse Church Staff.” Dr. Setser wrote me: “The Lord sees what the pastor did and God understands your frustration about it.”
If James’ confession never comes, so be it. But no one who abuses power should be allowed to stay in power. You are allowing that.
Because you don’t directly question the judgment of the Riverside leaders, sir, I believe someone should question yours.
Yet because I am not in your position, I cannot demand any outcome. I must do what James Walden did not: rely on the Holy Spirit and let God do his work. I must not repeat the sins of those I accuse.
So it comes to this: I await the conviction of James of his immaturity and abuse of power and to come with it, a true and direct apology. I await the conviction of Riverside leadership that some of their leaders are not fit for leadership. I will seek the latter by writing to those leaders who were not involved in this sin.
But for you, I await the conviction from you of your feckless response to my charges and your sin of being accomplice to abuse by approving of it. I give you 10 business days from receipt of this letter to change your mind. You asked for different professional opinions and I must believe – even lacking evidence – that you are open to changing your mind. If you do not, I will have no other choice but to take James’ abuse of power and your approval to the president of the EFCA. I will seek his removal from office and your termination. If your comments about the Spirit apply to James – and so then I can conclude you think he did wrong – then you must not let this man remain in power. If he did it once, he will do it again, unless he is disciplined and others put up barriers to his power. If you see no conviction needed, you have failed in your role of administrator and overseer of God’s church.
God have mercy on the consequences you have brought upon yourself if you do not change your mind. God have mercy on the church that languishes under James Walden and his “brothers” in sin. And God have mercy on me, a sinner.