Love Listens

Love Listens

Higher Ground Church Sexual Harassment Policy

Policy established January 23, 2020 as voted upon and approved by the Board of Trustees

This is policy for future sexual harassment claims against an elder. This policy shall be known as the “Love Listens” Policy. In the history of the American church many women have been sexually abused by those in positions of power. While the sexual abuse has also extended to men, the victims are overwhelmingly female. Higher Ground Church believes it is appropriate to establish this policy so as to

  • Listen carefully and respectfully to women making a claim against a man in leadership and
  • Move forward decisively alongside those women

This policy relates to accusations toward the elder/pastors at Higher Ground Church, but the same process can be used for sexual abuse accusations between church members that take place in the context of Higher Ground Church (on the grounds or at church functions).

First, Higher Ground Church acknowledges that our leaders strive to live godly lives, yet are susceptible to temptation, as are all other believers. At those times that they do not walk in the Spirit they may cause harm to those around them. At those times that they do cause harm, there may be incidents that occur, incidents that are not acceptable behavior for those in church leadership; for example: lascivious comments, inappropriate and unwelcome touching, expressions of adulterous or fornicating intentions, or even acts as horrendous as rape are certainly not things that should come from church leadership at any time or perceived as coming from church leadership at any time.

Second, Higher Ground Church wants to listen to those women (or men, or minors) who have been exposed to the type of incidents described above. If such behavior occurs, we want people to be able to come forward to identify the leaders that have behaved in such a fashion.

Third, Higher Ground Church wants to balance the desire to listen to women affected by such behavior with the desire to act biblically towards the Injured Party and the Accused. We acknowledge that, in a small minority of cases, a person may make false accusations towards a leader. We have concluded that all complaints must be properly listened to, because if they are not, legitimate complaints will also not be properly heard.

Fourth, our bylaws have been established procedure for removing any leader for cause. No person is above the law.

Fifth, our research shows that, when a leader is acting inappropriately, a pattern is often formed. By setting up a procedure for listening to accusations of inappropriate behavior, we hope to identify such a pattern as expeditiously as possible. The Scripture calls for matters to be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15), but two or three witnesses need not be a witness to the act itself. All injured parties must bring their matters to the Advocates to identify the pattern.

Sixth research has shown that a women will usually only want to bring the matter to the attention of another women. Accordingly, because the accusations will usually be made by a female, other females should be the initial point of contact for properly addressing these accusations.

For the purposes of this policy, the term “Injured Party” is used to describe a person with a sexual harassment claim toward church leadership. The term “Accused” means the church leader that is being accused of acting improperly.

Our procedure is therefore as follows:

From the beginning, we will put in place training on this matter, to be conducted at a leadership meeting from time to time as the board of elders deem appropriate. If nothing else, the church needs to be taught about sensitivity regarding this very important subject, and the church must be aware of the existence of the following protocol regarding accusations:

  1. Upon learning of any sexual harassment (which, by definition, can include the following: lascivious comments, inappropriate and unwelcome touching, expressions of adulterous or fornicating intentions, attempted sexual assault, requests for sexual favors, sexual assault, rape, improper sexual exposure, or related offenses), any member of the church may bring the incident to the attention of the Higher Ground Response Team “Advocates”. At least two women should be serving at any time as the Advocates. The Advocates must be women of esteemed character at Higher Ground Church. For practical reasons, they may not be the spouse of any current Pastor/ Elder.
  2. Advocates will listen to the Injured Party seriously and thoroughly.
  3. Advocates should bring the matter to the attention of the Board of Trustees minus the accused elder. However, both Advocates will have discretion as to what order the individual Trustees are informed of the accusation.
  4. The Board of Trustees will investigate the matter keeping detailed notes on their decisions for legal purposes. (the board will not get involved if the Injured Party is the current spouse of the Accused; that is to be resolved by other means.) After speaking to both parties, the goal of the Board will be healing for each party, reconciliation for each party, protection of the church, and biblical correction of any offending leader, including any disciplinary measures deemed appropriate. The Board of Trustees may need to obtain the services of an attorney or speak to the church insurance provider.
  5. The Board of Trustees may wish to ask the congregation for input, by publicly stating, “An accusation has been received, please contact a member of the Board of Trustees if you know something”. Again, a pattern should be looked for. This does not mean, however, that an incident must repeat itself before something is done.
  6. Upon making a decision, which may take some time, the Board of Trustees will inform the Injured Party in question of the board’s decision through the Advocates.
  7. If the accusation is regarding any Advocate, which is unlikely, any member of the church can bring the matter directly to any member the Board of Trustees. The Board will then appoint another person to be contact person with the Injured Party
  8. If the accusation is brought by a minor, Advocates should still be the point of contact where possible. The Advocates may be approached by the minor, or the parent of the minor, or the guardian of the minor. Communications with the minor should be made through the parent/guardian where possible.
  9. Whatever comes of the accusation, let all things be done in love to both parties.