I recently reflected on the importance the church practicing the highest standards of honesty and transparency by citing public allegations of influence peddling in the Vatican.
This is an issue of utmost importance for all congregations — Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and other religious bodies — and since that column I have become aware of a trust issue involving a sensitive personnel matter (not sexual) in a Protestant Church in Georgia. I will not identify the church, the city or the denomination, but the short story is that a church employee engaged in illegal activity, was offered a chance to demonstrate redemptive behavior, repeated the offense and was summarily fired.
Many who have been involved in church long enough have probably known a situation where a pastor or lay employee stole from the church, lied to the congregation or used his or her power inappropriately in the context of ministry. Such behavior sullies not the church so much as those who, called by God, serve the congregation.
Is it easier to hide one’s misdeeds from a church than from a private business? Church members want to be trusting and loving, believing the best about another person, a stance does not go unnoticed by those who choose to take advantage of a congregation.
Being around money, for example, is tempting. Congregations ignore this truth at their own peril. Few churches audit their books, either because they implicitly trust the personnel or because they can save money by avoiding this common practice. I suspect there are congregations who choose not to purchase a bond for their treasurer, again demonstrating complete, maybe naive, trust in the person handling the money.
My own denomination has a rule that two people must count the offering every Sunday, neither of whom can be the church treasurer. This rule protects the church, the counters and the treasurer from false accusations. Some Methodist congregations ignore this rule as being too inconvenient. Most people want to go home or to the restaurant after church rather than sit in a back room and count money.
Even when a person is discovered to have been breaking the law over an extended period of time, some congregations will ignore the behavior, preferring to turn a blind eye or letting the person quietly resign with a nice retirement party. The same persons who demand that Washington or Atlanta deal fairly with immorality remain strangely silent when they discover it in their own midst or their own family.
This particular congregation acted appropriately, although I suspect they’ve reviewed some of their procedures. Confronting the offender, they offered him/her a second chance. When the offender was discovered thereafter to be engaging in more unethical behavior they acted swiftly and decisively, holding the personnel matters in confidence but making it clear to the congregation that a line had been crossed.
What policies does your church have in place to guard against employee misconduct?
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.