When a Pastor Is Suspected of Misconduct, Should the Congregation Know?
Consider the legal concerns of communicating the allegation.
When a Pastor Is Suspected of Misconduct, Should the Congregation Know?

A false allegation [of a pastor's misconduct] could lead to a lawsuit for slander—especially if the pastor denies the allegations, said Frank Sommerville, a Houston-based attorney who specializes in legal issues facing churches.

“You are walking a tightrope in those early days,” said Sommerville. “It’s easy if the pastor says, ‘Yes, I had an affair.’ If the pastor denies the allegation, you need some kind of investigation to figure out who is most likely telling the truth.”

That investigation should go quickly. Sommerville suggests churches have a process in place in case there are allegations of misconduct. That includes taking possession of the pastor’s work email, cell phone, and computer.

The process should take about 10 days, and Sommerville suggests the pastor step down with pay during the process.

“It’s easy to explain that the pastor is unavailable for one week,” he said. “It’s harder to explain if it takes three months.”

He suggested church leaders—the church board, presbytery, council, or other leadership group—keep the allegations confidential until the investigation is over. After a decision is made, they can inform the congregation about some of the details.

This post is adapted from "Survey: Few Pastors Say Adulterous Ministers Should Face Permanent Ban From Pulpit" and first appeared on LifeWayResearch.com. Used with permission.

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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