For full reports and exact statements of the denomination's position on this issue, the reader should look to the references provided.
Abuse is a sin against the biblical directives that govern human actions and relationships. It is striking evidence of the misery that pervades human life as the result of sin. The failure of men and women and of adults and children to relate to each other in a biblically healthy, affirming manner is the root cause of abuse.
Church councils should publicly acknowledge that the sin of abuse exists even in churches and should take positive steps to make their congregations safe for all persons. They should support efforts to address abuse promptly so that the abused and the abusers may experience the healing power of God's grace, should become aware of the laws and procedures applicable in their areas, and should create continuing-education opportunities for church leaders to become informed and sensitive about abuse issues. They should also adopt procedures to deal immediately and decisively with situations in which a person in a position of authority or influence in the church is alleged to have committed abuse. Synod has encouraged all classes of the CRC to establish Abuse Response Teams (also known as Safe Church Teams). Synod has also urged that the CRC create a culture that prevents abuse of power by affirming the core values of (1) mutual respect for all persons as created in God’s image and responsible to use their gifts in building up the church, (2) servant leadership that emphasizes mutual submission in honor of Christ, and (3) mutual accountability through checks and balances built into governing structures.
Abuse prevention guidelines were reviewed and revised by various synods and adopted by Synod 1997. In 1994 synod established an Abuse-Prevention Committee, to which a director was appointed. In July 1999 the committee was made accountable to the Board of Trustees and became known as the Office of Abuse Prevention until 2009, when its name changed to reflect its work more comprehensively as the Safe Church Ministry. Synods 2000 and 2001 encouraged all classes to establish Abuse Response Teams. Synod 2002 adopted a policy of zero tolerance in cases of abuse and drafted a resolution expressing empathy with the Roman Catholic Church over its struggle with and the need for healing from abuse. In 2004 the CRC adopted guidelines for handling allegations of abuse against a church leader, and revised procedures were adopted in 2005, 2010, and 2019. The role of advocate established in 2005 was expanded in 2009 to include facilitation of restorative justice measures and equitable remedies for victims. Synod 2010 renamed this position to claimant advocate (Safe Church Trained). For information on restorative justice, see a report on the topic adopted by Synod 2005 (crcna.org/SynodResources). Synod 2009 also approved the development of regional advisory panels to enhance accessibility, training, and networking for advocates and abuse victims. Synod 2006 called for the appointment of a task force to consider how the denomination ought to be responding to consequences of sexual abuse. The Abuse Victims Task Force reported its recommendations to Synod 2008, which referred the report back for refinement on some issues needing clarification. After distributing a refined report to the churches, the task force reported to Synod 2010, which adopted all of the task force’s recommendations. In summary, synod agreed to
- urge councils to
- provide for pastoral care needs in situations of abuse, ensuring that such needs receive immediate attention, drawing on the resources of neighboring congregations, if necessary.
- develop a plan for providing financial assistance for counseling, when needed, and to follow restorative justice guidelines for restitution in sustained allegations of abuse by a church leader.
- engage in yearly review of policies and training on abuse prevention and guidelines.
- reaffirm support and application of restorative justice principles, encouraging churches to do the same and inviting the use of pilot projects to be coordinated by the Safe Church Ministry.
- urge the development of accessible educational resources and a clear handbook for council members to use in responding to allegations and situations of abuse.
Synod 2010 also issued a declaration confessing that the CRC has "not always justly and compassionately helped those who have been sexually abused" and has "not always justly or adequately disciplined church leaders who have been abusers" (Acts of Synod 2010, p. 867).
In 2014 synod adopted a revision of the Judicial Code of Rights and Procedures (Church Order Supplement, Article 30-c) that takes into account the CRC-adopted statements on abuse prevention and restorative justice.
Synod 2015 received an overture requesting that Church Order Supplement, Article 84 be changed “to include address of sexual abuse,” and, in response, synod instructed the Board of Trustees “to ask Safe Church Ministry, in concert with other denominational entities” to review and recommend changes, if needed, to Church Order Articles 82-84 and their Supplements regarding suspension, deposition, resignation, and reinstatement to office “in cases of sexual misconduct and sexual abuse” (Acts of Synod 2015, p. 644). In response to its mandate, the committee reported to Synod 2016, recommending various changes after considering imbalance and misuse of power, definitions of terms, and gradations in severity and victim impact, and after consulting with legal experts and with other denominations and agencies regarding their policies (Agenda for Synod 2016, pp. 675-76, 683-85, 699-717). Synod responded by adopting changes to Supplement, Articles 82-84; a new Supplement, Article 83; and changes to Supplement, Article 84. In connection with these changes, synod also adopted a new Supplement, Article 14-e. (See Acts of Synod 2016, pp. 863-66.)
In response to an overture asking synod to address issues related to abuse of power by church leaders, Synod 2018 reaffirmed actions by Synods 2010 and 2014 on abuse awareness and called for annual reporting to identify classes and congregations with and without Safe Church teams and policies. Synod lamented “the ongoing failure of some classes and congregations to implement safe church practices” and urged all classes and congregations “to learn from the best practices of others and to utilize the resources available through Safe Church Ministry” (Acts of Synod 2018, pp. 474-76). In addition, synod called for a team to bring recommendations to Synod 2019 “regarding how the CRCNA can best address patterns of abuse of power at all levels of the denomination” (Acts of Synod 2018, pp. 523-24). In response, Synod 2019 called for several measures toward creating a culture that prevents abuse of power. Such a culture would affirm the core values of (1) mutual respect for all persons as created in God’s image and responsible to use their gifts in building up the church, (2) servant leadership that emphasizes mutual submission in honor of Christ, and (3) mutual accountability through checks and balances built into governing structures. Synod called on the Council of Delegates to develop training for pastors on abuse of power, to draft a code of conduct and review abuse-prevention training for CRC ministry staff, to strengthen Safe Church Ministry, and to develop a policy regarding nondisclosure agreements that limits their use to serve the best interests of abuse victims. Among other recommendations, synod also urged classes and congregations to conduct abuse-of-power training and to ensure that abuse survivors have access to appropriate counseling services (Acts of Synod 2019, pp. 794-99).
References to Agendas and Acts of Synod
Agenda for Synod 1989, pp. 309-10
Acts of Synod 1989, pp. 548-49
Agenda for Synod 1992, pp. 138, 313-58, 482-85
Acts of Synod 1992, pp. 560-61, 567, 671-77, 709, 731
Agenda for Synod 1993, pp. 23, 27, 55, 65, 286-87
Acts of Synod 1993, pp. 544-45, 579
Agenda for Synod 1994, pp. 32, 34, 48-49, 146-54, 191-97
Acts of Synod 1994, pp. 466, 517-18, 527-28
Agenda for Synod 1995, pp. 178-81, 555-65
Acts of Synod 1995, pp. 672-74, 678, 767, 779-88
Agenda for Synod 1996, pp. 161-62, 322-24
Acts of Synod 1996, pp. 374-81, 562-72, 578-79, 634-42
Agenda for Synod 1997, pp. 187-88, 195-207, 466-79
Acts of Synod 1997, pp. 674-86
Agenda for Synod 1998, pp. 139, 238-40
Acts of Synod 1998, p. 401
Agenda for Synod 1999, pp. 157-58, 453, 466-67
Acts of Synod 1999, pp. 554-55
Agenda for Synod 2000, pp. 32, 36, 523
Acts of Synod 2000, pp. 619-20, 684
Agenda for Synod 2001, pp. 36, 77-78
Acts of Synod 2001, p. 524
Agenda for Synod 2002, pp. 35-36, 47-49, 393
Acts of Synod 2002, pp. 538, 543
Agenda for Synod 2003, pp. 37, 51-53
Acts of Synod 2003, p. 682
Agenda for Synod 2004, pp. 39-40, 56-58
Acts of Synod 2004, p. 551
Agenda for Synod 2005, pp. 35, 54-60, 529-65
Acts of Synod 2005, pp. 761-62, 775-77
Agenda for Synod 2006, pp. 30, 70-73
Acts of Synod 2006, p. 642
Agenda for Synod 2007, pp. 33, 130-32
Acts of Synod 2007, p. 581
Agenda for Synod 2008, pp. 31, 35, 49-51, 324, 329-61
Acts of Synod 2008, pp. 457, 480-81
Agenda for Synod 2009, p. 86
Acts of Synod 2009, pp. 586-87
Agenda for Synod 2010, pp. 475-509, 707-708, 717
Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 862-67, 870
Agenda for Synod 2014, pp. 30, 72-84, 237
Acts of Synod 2014, pp. 559-60, 569-70
Agenda for Synod 2015, pp. 436-40
Acts of Synod 2015, pp. 644-45
Agenda for Synod 2016, pp. 675-76, 683-85, 699-717
Acts of Synod 2016, pp. 863-66
Agenda for Synod 2018, pp. 282-307
Acts of Synod 2018, pp. 474-76, 523-24
Agenda for Synod 2019, pp. 554-57, 587-615
Acts of Synod 2019, pp. 794-99