Bill Riedel from Redemption Hill writes an article in The Gospel Coalition about building in accountability into a church plant. In the process he also pushes for “meaningful membership” and church discipline. Redemption Hill in Washington D.C. is a part of the EFCA and Acts 29. This blog believes that even if a church has these policies in place sex abuse would still occur. What Bill Riedel should have done is reach out to Washington, D.C. law enforcement and consult with them in building a solid program to prevent sexual abuse.
“While some church plants belong to denominations with clear accountability structures for churches, pastors, and other leaders, plants from free church or baptistic traditions that value local church autonomy must be thoughtful and intentional to have clear accountability structures in place from the earliest days.“
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV
The sign for Redemption Hill in Washington, D.C.
Sex abuse is a common problem in evangelicalism, as this news report from Florida shows.
This blog wants to focus on Bill Riedel’s Redemption Hill in the Washington, D.C. area. Its both an Acts 29 and EFCA church that this blog has been following. Bill has been busy as he has published a couple of articles at The Gospel Coalition recently. I provided commentary on his last article about gentrifcation and churches in Washington, D.C. You can read that response, as well as Bill’s article in, “A Response to Acts 29 Bill Riedel and Shaun Cross on When Church Planting Harms a City.” This article today is going to look at the issue of sexual abuse which is a major problem in evangelicalism.
The Houston Chronicle Series on the Southern Baptists and Sexual Abuse
On February 10, 2019 the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News did a ground breaking expose and investigation. This investigation looked at the crisis of sexual abuse inside the Southern Baptist Convention. This article will be to evangelicals what the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Roman Catholic church did in 2001. The stories by the Houston Chronicle detail and look at the issues inside the Southern Baptist in a very disturbing light. The first article which you can read here looked at the long problem of sex abuse inside the SBC and how for 20 years the convention knew about it and chose to do nothing. It looked at pastors or volunteers who engaged in abuse who quietly left only to pop up in another church down the road. The second article which was published on February 12, 2019 dealt with the issues of repeating offenders and how the Southern Baptists would regularly hire people who left other churches under suspicious circumstances only to go to another. This article also looks at how law enforcement deals with the topic and the Houston Chronicle created a database that tracked sexual offenders who were pastors or who worked inside the organization as volunteers. The last article by the Houston newspaper was published on February 13, 2019. It dealt with youth pastors who prey on young children. Its also looks at how the Southern Baptists lack uniform hiring regulations.
Bill Riedel’s Article in The Gospel Coalition
While the Houston Chronicle was proving how the Southern Baptist Convention is in a crisis with sex abuse Bill Riedel published an article at The Gospel Coalition. On February 14, 2019 the Acts 29 pastor wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition that looked at abuse inside churches and ways to prevent it. The article is called, “How Church Plants Can Ensure Healthy Accountability.” Bill points out that while denominations have checks and balances in place those churches in the Baptist and Free Church (meaning EFCA) do not have such systems in place. Accountability is the answer and can be built into the local Free church. Bill wrote about that measures that can be implemented into a church plant to make a church secure. Those methods are as follows.
From the earliest days of planting a church, policies and procedures for accountability and church discipline ought to be expressed—with clarity and precision—in a church’s bylaws and policies. In my experience, existing churches are often open to sharing their policies with new church plants. There is no need to reinvent the wheel on these matters, especially for church plants with a direct relationship to a sending church.
These policies and procedures ought to include, but not be limited to, the following:
- Conduct criminal background checks on all staff and ministry leaders. This is essential for all volunteers who serve in children’s ministry—for anyone who participates in church nursery/child care on any level.
- Develop and enforce a child safety policy for adults serving in children’s ministry and nursery/child care. This is the type of policy that states two adults must be present with minors at all times, etc.
- Train children’s ministry volunteers to recognize signs of abuse, and give them clear channels for reporting abuse.
- Know your state’s mandatory reporting requirements. These are a baseline minimum for reporting. If you have any doubt at all, report to authorities, and tell the victim that you intend to do so.
- Require mandatory reporting on any child abuse. Have a clear policy on how to handle adult victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse as well. Be prepared to contact authorities and to help victims through the difficult process of reporting to police and considering whether to press charges.
- Have a clear policy on how the church will handle registered sex offenders.
- Never guarantee confidentiality. In our discipline policy it is explicit that appeals will be made to authorities when necessary (Rom. 13:1–7).
- Develop relationships with local counselors and therapists for the sake of referrals and a resource to get advice.
Even with the best policies and procedures in place, it is essential that accusations of abuse be addressed with seriousness and sobriety.
In the article he then goes on to discuss how a plurality of elders can ensure accountability at the highest level of church leadership. And accountability means that you push covenant membership. Bill writes that it is important to have a direct relationship with a sending church to build in accountability. “Meaningful membership” is also raised as Bill proceeds in the article. Sin can abound when you don’t have accountability and it can hurt the body of Christ and “the local church.” The church has standards for membership and issues must be discussed in membership meetings. Child safety policies must be shared with the entire congregation and when necessary because someone is in sin; church discipline must be practiced. It is important to protect the flock as Bill Riedel believes. He closes out his article with this final paragraph. “The newness of a church plant is no excuse to leave God’s sheep unprotected from those who would do them harm. Church planter, pastoral ministry requires the courage to confront sin and protect God’s people. We must take this responsibility seriously, especially in the most severe cases. The glory of God’s name and the good of Christ’s bride are too important to do anything else.“
Recalling the Issues Inside EFCA and Acts 29 Riverside Community Church in Columbia, South Carolina
Here is a question that I would like to explore in this post. How would an issue like sexual abuse be handled in a church like Redemption Hill? When you have an organization that straddles two different denominations how would neglect and other legal issues be treated? If something happened where the law was broken who would be responsible? Which policies and procedures ultimately would be in place? Would that rest with the EFCA? Or would that rest with Acts 29? This blog has already written about one such situation that raises questions and the way it was handled was downright disturbing. This blog wrote about James Walden’s Riverside Community Church which is a part of both the EFCA and Acts 29. But what happened at Riverside was not related to sexual abuse, but instead counseling laws and ethics. What had happened is that Riverside had violated counseling ethics by contacting a counselor without Matt Boedy’s approval. The church had attempted to solicit information behind Matt Boedy’s without his consent. You can read the story in, “Disturbing Allegations of Spiritual Abuse at James Walden’s Acts 29 Riverside Community Church in Columbia, South Carolina.” The situation developed into a legal lawsuit. When Matt dealt with the situation it was almost as if each organization used each other for cover. The regional director for Acts 29 Brian Lowe defended the church. And the EFCA SE District Superintendent Glen Schrieber also cleared the church. This was when counseling professionals determined otherwise.
But when a church is involved in two organizations its almost as if transparency decreases. And the problems greatly increase. In the case of Redemption Hill where does neglect and other laws end? This is one of the positive aspects to mainline Protestantism as liability and more can more easily be determined. And this problem will not be isolated to Redemption Hill but also all other EFCA/Acts 29 churches.
The Wondering Eagle Believes the EFCA will Have a Reckoning on Sex Abuse, Will Bill Riedel’s Church Pave the Way in Problems?
Despite what Bill Riedel writes I don’t think he comprehends or is prepared for the issue of sexual abuse. To be honest and fair I also don’t think the EFCA is prepared for this topic either. The EFCA I would consider to be “little Baptist” in how they function, govern and more. And we know how the Southern Baptist Convention is struggling with this topic. In the case of Bill Riedel this blog would like to point out that even the sending church of Redemption Hill has dealt with sexual abuse. In November of 2016 George Bol was arrested for engaging in sexual battery at Cornerstone Evangelical Free. You can read the details here. Now to be fair many organizations can have strict guidelines and this will still be an issue. In the example at Cornerstone Bill Riedel will most likely point out that the alleged individual was not a member and use that as a case for covenant membership. In response I would state that even if George Bol was a covenant member of Cornerstone I still would believe that he would have allegedly engaged in abuse. What covenant membership shows is how much of an idol it is to Bill Riedel and in this case its limits. In many ways covenant membership is Bill Riedel’s god.
In regards to the EFCA this blog believes that the organization is a tinder box waiting to erupt. When you contemplate it congregationalism and the Free church model is a tempting avenue for a sexual predator. What would happen if one alleged predator goes from one church to another and to another? The EFCA didn’t do background checks after all until the late 90’s And this blog has heard stories of and incidents out in the western United States. I am still pursuing this topic and looking for someone to go on the record and let me write about it. So while I hope otherwise, the reality of the situation is that this is probably a problem as well inside the EFCA. For Bill Riedel to put such faith in membership and church discipline to stop sexual abuse this blog believes to be foolish. What he should do instead is to reach out to DC Police and ask them if they can build a child sex abuse reporting program. This is a topic that you leave to the professionals. What this article at The Gospel Coalition reveals is the level of Kool Aid inside Bill Riedel and the leadership of Redemption Hill. I would like to close this post out with a prediction. My fear is that child sex abuse will become a serious issue in the EFCA. And I fear that Redemption Hill will be affected by the issue. Why do I say that? Its always those churches that talk about how ready they and and prepared that tend to have the most problems. In this area of sexual abuse arrogance is a problem, its much better to ask for assistance from professional law enforcement. And that is what I hope this blog post generates. Because the fact of the matter is that I do not want to write about a sexual abuse incident at Redemption Hill. Cornerstone Evangelical Free in Annandale has dealt with this topic. And likewise I do not wish them malice either. I don’t want this to be an issue at either organization.