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.
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