When A Pastor is Accused: Is He Innocent or Guilty?

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Obviously, when a pastor is accused of sexual misconduct there are many opinions about his guilt or innocence. If you are reading this article, it is likely you know of such a sitution.

At this point, the only people who know the truth with absolute certainty are the accused pastor and those who have accused him. For everyone else, all we actually have is speculation and opinion.

But this is an opportunity to look at some issues. I would venture to guess that for most, if not all, of the individuals who are being personally touched by this event, the issue of clergy sex abuse has not previously crossed their awareness. So, here are some things to think about.

Is he guilty?

Ultimately, there is no way any of us can say with complete certainty at this point. I’m going to play devil’s advocate both ways, for the purpose of highlighting the global problems facing the church when a clergy member is accused of abuse or sexual misconduct. So don’t get mad at me yet! 😉

It is still far more likely – in general – for clergy sex abuse to be unreported than to be reported. When sexual misconduct is reported against clergy, the incidence of false allegations is extremely small. And almost universally, the people directly affected by charges within their own church refuse, at least until a guilty plea, to believe the allegations could be true.

It is earth-shattering to consider that someone whom you have trusted completely could be a grossly different person behind their visible face. But reality is that pedophiles, sexual predators, and abusers are almost impossible to discern, even for their closest family, friends, spouse and parents. We all think we have some sense of what a person is really like and discovering we can be utterly deceived is devastating. It is common for the closest family members and friends of people as depraved as serial killers to have no idea of the person’s real nature. And it isn’t because these people are foolishly blind.

Abusers in powerful positions necessarily hide their true selves to protect their territory of predation. I have personally known about a dozen predators fairly closely that I can think of off the top of my head (and knew many others more distantly but directly) and only a couple did I have any “off” feelings about prior to finding out they were secretly abusers. After that happened a few times I stopped being shocked. ANYONE is capable of ANYTHING, while looking like the most wonderful, sensitive and wise Christian.

One example of this was with a couple who had been married for between 20-30 years (I can’t remember exactly). They travelled around the country doing marriage seminars for churches and church functions. I met them when they travelled with the organization I worked for, teaching marriage seminars around the country over a 6-week period. They had many books published about marriage and parenting and were well-respected. A few months after the tour, the wife called our office (I worked in the office that planned the tours). She was calling to let us know before we found out through the news or word of mouth, that her husband had been arrested for sexually molesting their foster children throughout their marriage. She never had the first clue anything was wrong and the children involved never told until after they were adults.

You know what she said that struck me most strongly? She said she found out about the accusations against her husband the week before they went out on the tour with us. But she chose to say nothing because she said her husband’s message was truth and would be a life-changing blessing to those who heard him, and she respected that. Even when abuse struck that close to home, literally, she covered for him because “God’s message” was more important. Her husband was proven guilty, admitted his guilt in court, and went to jail.

There is a tendency in churches to put God’s message before honor and justice – and that’s not in agreement with God’s standard for righteousness. If an allegation of misconduct is made against a leader in the church, it must be investigated. Even if everyone is sure the allegations are false, they must be investigated.

While they are investigated, it is appropriate for the accused party to at the very least voluntarily refrain from pastoral duties. The qualifications for pastoral leadership include being free from any appearance of evil and being blameless. It is not an admission of guilt for a church leader to work with a process of evaluation rather than insisting everyone should take his word about his innocence and let him continue his church role without question.

It is also very important in churches, for the sake of all those out there who are being abused, that any allegation of abuse be taken seriously. An accuser needs to be treated supportively, even if the accusation seems appalling and unbelievable. We can safely let the process take care of determining whether the accuser is lying. It will be time enough at that point for a false accuser to bear the consequences of their lies.

Is he innocent?

Again, no one other than the parties directly involved know for sure. But false allegations do happen. And multiple accusers can collude in their accusation, too. Let me give you a couple examples I personally know, along with why the false allegations were made

First, was my cousin. When he was a late teen, a younger girl from his church accused him of molesting her. He was reported to child services, the allegations were determined to be true, and he had to bear the punishment and rejection resulting from the charge. Since they were both minors there was no jail time involved. Years later the girl finally told the truth. At the time of the original accusation, someone suspected she was being abused and she blamed my cousin to protect her abuser. It is extremely common for an abuse victim to protect an abuser. So if faced with exposure, it would not be outside the realm of reasonable possibility for a victim to name someone else as the perpetrator.

In the other case, a man in the church was accused of rape by three girls. One of the girls claimed to have been raped by the man and the other two claimed to be witnesses. They had letters “from him,” photographs of the girl’s bruises, and a story that was very plausible. One of the girls’ father was a man of some significance and he testified in court in support of the girls. However, the authorities were able to unravel the girls’ case in court. Eventually it was revealed that the girl claiming to be raped had gotten caught being promiscuous and she made the accusation to get her parents’ eyes off her behavior. Her friends thought it would be fun, and a jab in the collective eye of the adults in their life, to fabricate this story and evidence. The accused man and his wife moved away after the trial. The man who testified for the girls lost his job as VP of an international Christian ministry.

This is an example of why we can’t jump to conclusions. While most allegations end up being true, there are times when the allegations are false and it can be very difficult for anyone, sometimes even the authorities, to tell. The fact that there are multiple accusers, with easily proven or disproven detail, doesn’t ensure guilt. Especially in our modern culture, teenagers are very aware of sexual detail. They can come up with anything, especially if they put their heads together. The younger they are the less likely the accusers are to include unusual details in a false allegation. At the very least, in young children you would have to look to see who had abused the child because they came by that information somewhere inappropriately.

But by the time our kids reach middle school, many of them are more sexually aware than their parents – scary thought. I remember being shocked several years ago when my 6th grader came home from the bus with a newly-acquired awareness of the details of homosexual intercourse and bestiality. As parents and adults we need to ditch the naïve blinders. Our kids are not living in the society we grew up in.

So, is he guilty or innocent?

I think we need to accept the potential that any of us can be deceived, while maintaining the assurance that God can work this out. No matter the outcome, God’s nature is REDEEMER. He can use this event to accomplish purposes we cannot conceive. And He can be trusted.

I also think it is right for friends of the accused to stand by their friend unless/until proven guilty. And it is right for the friends of the accusers and their families to stand by them unless/until proven wrong. That’s the nature of true friendship. Where betrayal hurts is when someone wrongly accused is abandoned by friends or when someone making a legitimate complaint is not believed by their family and friends.

As a church, we are responsible to take every accusation seriously. Taking an allegation seriously does not inherently include either believing or disbelieving the charge. It means we address it properly, through the correct legal channels. And we remain mature adults and Christians who don’t need to stoop to name-calling and mud-slinging everywhere.

If an accusation is proven true, we will all need each other for comfort and support. And a guilty party can be loved in truth, without sheltering that person from the consequences of their actions. I knew of a family several years ago, where the grandfather (my friend’s friend’s father) was accused of molesting his granddaughters. When they knew the accusation was true, the family collectively turned him in to the authorities, then proceeded to sit by his side – and the granddaughters’ sides – through the trial, and then visited him in jail throughout his sentence, and helped enforce his long-term consequences after he was released, including never being allowed alone with children. Their love didn’t end but they didn’t protect him from judgment either.

And regardless of how this case ends, we all need to keep in mind that the issue of clergy sex abuse is a very serious one that is plaguing the church and could even lead to its downfall as an institution. I know that seems impossible, but I don’t think it is. I don’t think anything will ever stop God’s Word and real Christians from living as Christ intended. But the religious institution of Christianity – yes, it could crumble under the weight of its own resident evil unless we stand up and do what is right.

7 Responses

  1. I think it is very important watch what we say in cases like these. The Bible clearly advises us to touch not God’s anointed and do his prophets no harm. Sometimes we do more damage with our mouths speaking what we don’t know. I would recommend praying for both the accused and the accuser that the truth and just ice will prevail. Even in cases where they are truly innocent, how can they get back what they have lost? With there name all over the internet and a society ready to condemn the church and God’s workman’s at anytime, how to you recover from a lie of this magnitude? I encourage who really believe in the innocence of their Pastors/Leaders to stand with them through thick and thin. It really makes a difference to know you are supported.

  2. God demands righteousness. God’s word never says to “touch not God’s anointed and do his prophets no harm” when those claiming to be His anointed and His prophets are false prophets, liars and deceivers.

    God also promised to keep all of us through trials and to use all these things for good – including for those of His truly anointed ones who are falsely accused as a byproduct of the times of our culture that we are in today.

    We cannot fail to root out unrighteousness in order to protect the few who will be falsely accused from a trial in which God promises to stand by them. We do need to be careful not to make hasty personal judgments, but at the same time we cannot fail to do as the law demands of us when an accusation is made.

    — Danni

  3. Sorry, but you are advocating using the secular legal system as a substitute for church discipline as outlined in Scripture. This is all too common and often results in many a good (and innocent) man’s reputation and integrity destroyed. Speaking as a police chaplain, there is always a rush to judgement at the mere public mention of accusation. The alleged perpetrator is already found guilty in the eyes of media and public scrutiny. The secular legal system should NEVER take priority over the Bible in these matters ….. unless or until the leadership in the church has been proven to be neglectful or turning a blind eye to such accusations.

    I can tell you from nearly 30 years of lay ministry and church leadership roles ……. including eight years of prison ministry ….. that cases such as this ARE for the most part taken VERY seriously and investigated.

    I am deeply sorrowful for those who have been legitimately abused and cast aside by church leadership. That is without excuse on their part and I do believe God will judge them harshly!!! But, in the same breath we cannot allow the minority of neglected cases to represent the vast majority of those case that ARE taken seriously and resolved on the church level.

    Secular “justice” should only come as a last resort, and then only IF the accusation against church leadership has been determined to be true. The Matt. 18 process should take precedence over the ways of man.

    • Sorry, but you are advocating violating the law, which God demands that we obey.

      When an accusation of abuse is made, the law requires that accusation be taken to the authorities. This is called mandated reporting, which you should know as a police chaplain. A failure to report is a violation of the law.

      A separate evaluation under Matt. 18 is also appropriate under the Word.

      If the law ever changes, then perhaps your words would be true.

      — Danni

  4. “…that cases such as this ARE for the most part taken VERY seriously and investigated.”

    In response to Happy Promise Keeper, I think you have hidden your head in the sand. How could you claim that the most abuse allegations brought against pastors are taken seriously and investigated? Do you have statistics to back up that statement? In my experience, I have seen repeatedly that pastors have a tendancy to protect one another. One case in point, a pastor was accused of sexual misconduct with a woman. It was investigated and dismissed. The allegation was brought again a number of years later, largely because something in the pastor’s attitude wasn’t right, and the congregation could sense it. This time, pastors from outside the state but part of that church’s conference were brought in. They, too, found the pastor not guilty. Meanwhile, the church continued to decline. People left, disgusted at the things that were going on. Finally, the handful of people that were left brought in still another set of pastors to investigate the repeated allegations. This set questioned the pastor’s children, and found there indeed WAS misconduct. That team of pastors then required that pastor to step down from his pastorate.

    This is only one case. In nearly every case I have ever heard of (I’m not talking about cases in the news, I am talking of cases of a church in my own community, or from a community that includes someone I know and am close to) where the pastor was investigated by his peers, he was judged not guilty. (with the exception of the above case where the same pastor was “investigated” at least 3 times. The only times I have found this not to be so, is when the pastor(s) themselves have a bone to pick with the accused pastor. Then, the pastor is required to step down nearly every time.

    Besides it being the law, the reason for reporting the allegations to the secular authorities is that there is less likihood of favoritism, or the “good-old-boy” attitude of “boys will be boys, let’s let this one pass. She/he probably liked it anyway.” Furthermore, the police and child protective services are trained to specialize in investigating allegations of abuse. Pastors are not.

    May I advise you, Happy, to be careful what you say on a blog. Your protests suggest that you may have reason to be concerned that someone would report you to the secular authorities, whom you know would ferret out the truth, while your pastor buddies would give you a free pass. Your protest about the court system being bogged down is baloney. A bogged down court system is NO reason to not report abuse. Furthermore, such an allegation does not go directly to the court system. It is first investigated. And then if any truth is found in the allegation, charges are filed. At that point, it becomes part of the court system.

    I am incensed by your attitude. It appears your aim is to silence people from reporting abuse to anyone but to their pastor, who will then “investigate” (likely without any training in investigation strategies and techniques, and with a full-blown bias against any female who claims to have been abused by a male, and a pre-conceived notion that she is a liar. I gather this from comments you have made on other threads) and “decide” the accused is not guilty–when it is actually a pre-decision.

    You claim to have a wife who was abused. From your own statements, if she had been a member in your church, you would have dismissed her as a liar and sent her home to continue to endure abuse–daily. Even bruises and broken bones can be discounted.

    Don’t you know that most abused women are not interested in leaving their husbands or their churches. They just want the abuse to stop. And if the abuser was a pastor, they want to ensure that he does not have opportunity to inflict such pain and heartache on another vulnerable person. Victims of abuse tend to be very slow to make their humiliation public. That just intensifyies and prolongs their pain, and forces them to relive it all over again. Only those who are willing to endure the added pain of the investigation process and possible court proceedings will step forward and disclose the abuse they endured. Most women feel extreme shame for having been abused. That the abuser chose them, suggests something is inherently wrong with them and they don’t want to divulge that to their whole church and community. They’d rather stand tall and act like nothing happened.

    Please, please reconsider your bias against women. Emotional, verbal, spiritual and psychological abuse are horrendous. The woman ends up getting ill from the constant relational toxicity of her environment. You don’t do her abuser any favors by protecting him. He will pay indirectly–through his wife’s frequent doctor visits and sick days, through the emotional distance his family will keep between him and them.

    I invite you to read my novel, Behind the Hedge, which shows a Mennonite family whose husband/father is non-physically abusive. The story shows the effect of abuse on the couple’s 3 children, too. You can contact me through my website, http://www.wanetadawn.com, and as long as you are in the continenal United States, I will send you a free copy. If you are not in the continental US, I would like postage reimbursement. You can also order through Amazon.com or through any bookstore.

  5. Too often, people quote the “touch not mine annointed” line without realizing where it comes from. It isn’t the passage where David won’t kill Saul. It’s a passage where “the annointed” means all God’s people. And that includes innocent victims of abuse. From I Chronicles 16: 17And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,

    18Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance;

    19When ye were but few, even a few, and strangers in it.

    20And when they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people;

    21He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes,

    22Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

    He’s calling the Israelites, his chosen, his anointed and his prophets. Not some special protected class that can get away with anything because they are somehow better than God’s unspecial people.

    Also, even if the passage were the one where David won’t kill Saul, all it would mean is that you shouldn’t kill leaders. Not that you can’t criticize them or expose wrongdoing.

    Time to put an end to misusing those passages to cover for abusive leaders.

  6. Great work buddy, continue the good work.

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