New policy established January 15, 2020 – voted on and approved by the Cornerstone board of elders.
This policy, referred to as the “Love Listens” policy, addresses possible sexual abuse or harassment claims at Cornerstone Community Church. In American churches, many women have been sexually abused by men in positions of power. Cornerstone believes it is important to establish this policy to address two priorities:
(1) Listening carefully and respectfully to women making a claim against a man in leadership.
(2) Moving forward decisively alongside these women.
The “Love Listens” policy applies particularly to accusations against an elder/pastor at Cornerstone, but the same process can be applied to sexual harassment or abuse accusations against other church members where the alleged incident occurs at a church function.
The following six observations are the foundation for the “Love Listens” policy:
First, Cornerstone acknowledges that, while our leaders strive to live godly lives, if not walking in the Spirit they can be susceptible to temptation and behave in ways that cause harm. In the realm of sexual behavior, harmful conduct would include inappropriate and unwelcome sexual comments, touching, or expressions of sexual intention. Such behavior is clearly unacceptable for anyone in church leadership.
Second, Cornerstone is committed to listen to any woman (or man, or minor) who has been exposed to any of the sexual behaviors listed above. In any such incident, we want the person affected to be able to come forward to report what happened and identify the leader or leaders at fault.
Third, Cornerstone must balance the priority of listening to women affected by such behavior with a desire to act biblically towards both the injured and accused parties. We recognize that, in a small minority of cases, a woman may make false accusations against a leader. We have concluded that all complaints must be properly listened to. Otherwise, legitimate complaints will not be properly listened to.
Fourth, the bylaws of Cornerstone and/or our church association (Great Commission Churches) stipulate an established procedure for removing a leader for cause. No person is above the law.
Fifth, it is well documented that when a leader acts inappropriately, often it is part of a pattern. By establishing a procedure for listening to accusations of inappropriate behavior, we hope to identify any pattern as soon as possible. The Scripture calls for accusations against an elder to be confirmed by two or three witnesses (1Timothy 5:19), but the two or three need not have witnessed the same occurrence. To identify a pattern, it is important that all who have suffered harm come forward.
Sixth, women often are unwilling to come forward with an accusation unless they can report it to other women. Since accusations of abuse are usually made by women, the initial point of contact for properly addressing these accusations should be other women.
“Love Listens” Policy Details
In the policy details that follow, the term Injured Party refers to a person making a sexual harassment claim against church leadership. The term Accused refers to the church leader accused of improper behavior. The Advocates are women appointed by church leadership to receive reports or accusations of sexual harassment. The Advocates must be of esteemed character at Cornerstone and not the spouse of any current elder/pastor in the church. At any given time at least two women should be serving as Advocates.
Sexual harassment includes, by definition, any of the following: inappropriate and unwelcome sexual comments, touching, or expressions of sexual intention.
Our procedure is as follows:
- Upon learning of an incident of sexual harassment, any member of the church may bring the matter to the attention of the Advocates.
- The Advocates will meet with the Injured Party and listen to the accusation thoroughly and respectfully.
- The Advocates will bring the matter to the attention of the elders. The Advocates will have discretion concerning the order in which individual elders are informed of the accusation. Exception: The elders will not get involved if the Injured Party is the current spouse of the Accused; accusations of this type are to be resolved by other means.
- The board of elders will investigate the matter, speaking to both parties and keeping detailed notes on their interviews and conclusions for legal purposes. The elders’ goals after hearing from both sides are as follows: healing for each party; reconciliation between the two; protection of the church; and biblical correction of any offending leader, including any disciplinary measures deemed appropriate. In some cases the board may need to obtain the services of an attorney and/or speak with the church insurance provider.
- The board of elders may choose to ask the congregation for corroborating input—for example, by publicly stating, “An accusation has been received; please contact ____ (a member of the board of elders) if you know something.” The board should be alert for a pattern to emerge, but this does not mean that an incident must repeat itself before action is taken.
- Upon making a decision (which may take time), the board of elders will inform the Injured Party of its decision through the Advocates.
- Whatever comes of the accusation, let all things be done in love to both parties.
Note: The following additional points apply where the Accused is someone in the church other than an elder-pastor:
- In the unlikely event that an accusation is made against an Advocate, any member of the church can bring the matter directly to a member of the board of elders. The board will then appoint a contact person for the Injured Party.
- If the accusation is brought by a minor, one of the Advocates should be the point of contact where possible. An Advocate may be approached by the minor or by a parent or guardian of the minor. Communication with a minor should occur through a parent or guardian where possible. The church should comply with legal requirements for reporting to civil authorities.