On Investigating a Predator Pastor
First, we should be very clear that this post is not talking about a pastor who yields to temptation and stumbles into sin. The Bible is very clear that in such a case, when a pastor is overtaken in a fault, the spiritual are to restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.
But our confusion often begins at this particular juncture. How are we to know the difference between a pastor who uses his position to prey on people, and a pastor who genuinely was overtaken in a fault? For starters, the pastor who stumbled in the heat of the moment will not be demanding forgiveness and restoration. Nor will he be insinuating or implying that we ought to be thinking restoration. Nor will he wait to get caught. He will come forward with his sin himself. His first desire will be to come clean, to make himself accountable, submitting to the church, and making things right. If his sin has disqualified him either temporarily or permanently from ministry (and he will not use semantics for a covering — see Psalm 51 for a sample of true confession), then he will step down immediately. It is absurd to argue that a pastor who refuses to confess his sin, who demands forgiveness and demands that we ignore his sin, who refuses to step down, should be restored to anything.
When a pastor sins and immediately does the right thing, submitting himself to the Word of God and to the spiritual authority of the church, then Galatians 6:1 comes into play; restoration can take place to the extent allowed by Scripture. In this case, we are not dealing with a â€œPredator Pastor.â€ But when a pastor is busily (and overtly) attempting to cover his sin, to diminish it, to rationalize it, and to force your hand through demands for submission, forgiveness, and/or restoration, then we have a predator on our hands. How then do we deal with such an one as this?
First, we must remember our Scriptural duty to maintain the purity of the church, and as with our children, we must not let our soul spare for his crying. Because of their position, pastors have a particularly potent ability to manipulate. We must not be manipulated. When we combine the trust normally vested in a pastor with the position of authority inherent to pastors, we get a dangerous mixture, and any attempt to go against that pastor can be fraught with danger, full of confusion and difficulty. In such a case, our love for the truth must trump any loyalty to a man.
Any charge of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. We must examine evidence. Churches often make the mistake of ignoring the obvious in favor of feelings. Church members rarely feel that their pastor is capable of sexual misconduct. But our feelings about the possibilities say nothing about the facts of what actually happened. We must weigh evidence, not feelings.
But weighing evidence, unfortunately, is not always an exact science. As has been mentioned previously, cases of sexual misconduct can be difficult or nearly impossible to investigate by their very nature. Sexual sins rarely have witnesses. Establishing two or three witnesses could require waiting for two or three victims to suffer abuse and to come forward. That can be next to impossible. Certainly, if there is more than one accuser, or if witnesses do come forth, their testimony should be heard, and if their testimony agrees, let every word be established.
Some will insist that â€œif you didnâ€™t see it happen, then you canâ€™t know.â€ Not so fast. Other evidence must also be considered. For instance, we often overlook â€œboundary violations,â€ those violations of space and time and appropriateness and ethics that always accompany any sort of sexual misconduct, and particularly are always present in the case of a predator pastor. Those investigating allegations of misconduct must always be alert to inappropriate contact and conduct on the part of the accused. Boundary violations must not be taken lightly, and certainly cannot be ignored. Does the accused admit to â€œinappropriate contact?â€ Are there witnesses who can establish unethical behavior? Have witnesses observed procedural violations? While certainly not conclusive, these are or should be obvious warning signs, and must be taken seriously.
During an investigation, church leaders should also pay attention to the way the accused answers questions. Rather than thinking that we will be able to detect a lie, based purely on feelings, we should instead look for deflections masquerading as answers. Above all else, predators wish to escape detection. We should note that goal. They do not want you to find the truth. Predators want to continue with their behavior. They want to protect themselves. They don’t care about the truth.
This means they are good liars. Not that lies can ever be good, but that they are practiced and polished in the art of lying. They are not novices in this area. And being skilled liars, they know what you are looking for. They know that they must keep their gaze steady. They have heard all about the â€œgaze aversionâ€ secret, and they will avoid that mistake at all costs. Their body language will exude confidence, nor will they show any sign of nervousness. They have practiced the poker face, and the innocent routine. Go ahead! Try to catch them changing their story! But they have an explanation for everything, and you will need providential aide to catch them in a lie.
Rather than looking for the â€œobviousâ€ signs of lying, which do not actually exist, we should pay attention to the more subtle signs of deception that are common amongst liars. Much has been written about this already, and a thorough discussion would take some time, but we should look briefly at a couple of indicators. One would be what psychologists call â€œemotional leakage.â€ Essentially, this indicator surfaces through odd emotional contrasts. For instance, a person is very warm and friendly, and suddenly shifts to cold and unfriendly. Another person goes out of their way to flatter, and suddenly insults you. Or, the happy suddenly becomes angry; Mr. Nice Guy inexplicably changes to Mr. Hateful. These Jekel and Hyde changes indicate deception.
A second subtle sign of deception is deflection and evasion. When the question is asked, does the suspect answer directly, or does he attempt to deflect and/or evade the question? There are many ways that liars will use deception. For instance, when asked, â€œdid you touch her in any way?â€ he might respond by saying, â€œI would say no.â€ On the surface, an answer like that seems straightforward enough, until you consider that he did not actually say â€œno.â€ He only said that he would say â€œno.â€ Trite as that seems, it is a world of difference to a liar. Another example of deflection or evasion would be feigned shock and outrage that the question is being asked, or that anyone would think such a thing. A good liar uses very subtle changes to deflect or evade questions that he does not wish to answer. Anna Salter lists several ways, which I will include below:
1. Unfinished business: â€œThatâ€™s about all.â€ â€œThatâ€™s pretty much itâ€; â€œThatâ€™s about all I can remember.â€
2. Answering the question with a question: â€œWhy would I do something like that?â€
3. Maintenance of dignity: â€œDonâ€™t be ridiculous.â€
4. Commenting on the question: â€œThatâ€™s a hard question.â€
5. Projection: â€œSomeone would have to be sick to do that.â€
6. Denial of evidence: â€œYou have no proof.â€
7. Accusation: â€œAre you accusing me?â€
8. Qualifiers: â€œI canâ€™t sayâ€; â€œI could sayâ€; â€œI would say.â€
9. Answers: â€œMy answer isâ€¦â€; â€œThe answer isâ€¦â€(1)
Note that none of these answers directly answer the question. Although these kinds of answers do not prove that the person is lying, they are warning signs, red flags waving furiously back and forth, bidding you to look closer.
In the absence of conclusive evidence, and when suspicion lingers and evidence is lacking, the Bible gives us another way to find the truth, one that we often overlook. Consider Exodus 22:10-11:
If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.
Numbers 5:11-21 also tells us what must be done in a case when there are no witnesses. Namely, the accused must swear an oath in the name of God that the charges are not true. Now, some no doubt will object to this advice. The Bible says â€œswear not at all.â€ But the Bible is not forbidding oaths. Instead, the Bible teaches that we should not need to swear an oath in order to tell the truth. Godâ€™s people love truth. If we only tell the truth when we swear an oath, then we are miserable liars. Rather, the truly honorable man swears to his own hurt without needing to change his story.
Whenever we have a lack of evidence but a persistent accuser, the investigators must explain the gravity of the situation, along with the serious nature of swearing an oath in the name of God. They should then require the accused to take such an oath. In doing so, we trust God to expose any lie. In other words, we put the case in the hand of God, asking God to bring the truth to light.
Above all else, we must remember that allegiance to the truth is our first allegiance. No pastor should ever put his own personal reputation or his own ambitions for position above the truth. No deacon or church leader should put his loyalty to a man above his loyalty to truth and justice. I would rather step aside one hundred times than allow justice to be perverted, or shelter a predator.