Ministry Abuse Controversy • Churches and Political Donations • Lawsuit Settlement Reached: News Roundup
    This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
    Ministry Abuse Controversy • Churches and Political Donations • Lawsuit Settlement Reached: News Roundup
    Image: Samuel Branch / Unsplash

    Ministry Challenges Comments About Dismissed Abuse Lawsuit. “Comments by Larry Nassar accuser Rachael Denhollander in a Christianity Today interview have revived debate over a dismissed abuse lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) dating back to 2012. Last week, Denhollander referred to the SGM saga as ‘one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse’ and ‘one of the most well-documented cases of institutional cover-up I have ever seen.’ The 33-year-old said her former church’s stance toward victims and involvement in restoring former SGM president C. J. Mahaney led her family to leave the congregation. Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) issued a statement dated February 2 calling her characterizations untrue, citing the 2014 dismissal of a civil case against SGM. (In a separate case, a former youth leader with SGM had been convicted of abuse)” (“Sovereign Grace Disputes Rachael Denhollander’s Remarks,” Christianity Today).

    Read the original CT interview with Denhollander here, and read a preview of attorney Richard Hammar’s latest research on sexual harassment in the church here.

    Virginia Churches Revealed to Have Donated to Political Campaigns. “For years, national Christian conservative activists have argued that churches and other houses of worship should be allowed to endorse or donate money to candidates running for office. Such support is prohibited if a religious organization wants to keep its tax-exempt status. A church opposed to abortion rights, for example, cannot donate to a candidate that backs its point of view. But in Virginia, dozens of churches have been donating cash to campaigns for several years—and often to liberal Democrats, according to an analysis of campaign reports compiled by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. Most of those donations are to one candidate in Hampton Roads: state Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., a Chesapeake Democrat. Spruill received almost two-thirds of the $31,500 that churches have given to Virginia candidates in the past two decades. Spruill acknowledged that the money was paid, but he argues that the checks weren’t campaign contributions. The churches were buying tickets for their members at a reduced price to his annual campaign fund-raising dinner, he said” (“Dozens of Virginia churches have been donating cash to campaigns for years, despite law,” The Virginian-Pilot).

    Find out more about what churches can—and can’t—do in the political arena with this downloadable resource.

    Settlement Reached in South Carolina Church’s Sexual Abuse Lawsuit. “Columbia's First Baptist Church has settled a child sex-abuse lawsuit that allegedly involved a church volunteer and a young church member. The church and its minister, Wendell Estep, issued an apology to the victim, who is now 17 years old, and have agreed to pay the family $300,000 to settle the lawsuit. In the civil suit filed in October 2017, a minor referred to as Joel Doe and his parents, Jane and John Doe, sued the church, Estep, youth assistant mentor and small group leader Andrew McCraw, and church student minister Phillip Turner. The suit states youth leader McCraw had inappropriate communications with the minor including sexual text messages, dinners, and sleepovers where nobody else was present. The abuse reportedly started when the minor was 11 years old and part of a youth group led by McCraw. The suit also alleges that the church officials knew about the abuse and failed to report it” (“Columbia’s First Baptist Church settles sexual abuse lawsuit with apology,” WISTV.com).

    The newly revised Reducing the Risk training program can help your church set necessary boundaries to prevent abuse.

    Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine Prevents Texas Court from Taking on Church Director’s Case. “In Kelly v. St. Luke Community United Methodist Church . . . a Texas state appellate court applied the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to dismiss most of the claims brought by a fired church Director of Operations. The court said in part: [‘. . .] the substance of Kelly’s claims for negligence, fraud, misrepresentation, age and sex discrimination, and defamatory statements published within the church community relates to internal matters of church governance and each of those claims is “inextricably intertwined” with those internal matters. . . . While the elements of those claims can be ascertained using secular principles, the application of those principles to impose civil liability on appellees would impinge upon the church’s ability to manage its internal affairs’” (“Most of Church Director’s Claims Dismissed Under Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine,” Religion Clause).

    Read more about the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine in this Recent Development.

    We're always preparing the best and fastest ways to bring you the news in the context of expert advice. For more regular updates, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.

    Emily Lund is assistant editor for Church Law & Tax.

    This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

    Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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