Wed | Jun 28, 2017

Canute Thompson | Confronting the Moravian sex crisis

Published:Sunday | February 26, 2017 | 2:00 AM
Canute Thompson

In Part 1 of this series, I explored what I regard as the issues facing the Moravian Church. I argued, in the February 5, 2017, In Focus publication, that the current crisis wherein some ministers have been charged for alleged sexual misconduct involving minors is, in some respects, a symptom of a deeper problem.

I acknowledged that there are many dimensions to that deeper problem but chose to focus on one aspect, namely, how the leadership of the Church understands and exercises power and accountability. I further suggested that the Church's handling of a 2014 report of alleged sexual misconduct involving a minor, or minors, reflected part of the overall culture of how power and accountability were understood.

I offered the painful, but necessary, critique that for far too long, many of us as members of the Church have been willing to explain or justify the actions of our leaders, which, very often, we know to be wrong or unwise.

In this final part, I offer some suggestions on how the Church might deal with the current crisis.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MORAVIAN CHURCH

 

A few synods ago, the Church, with the support of National Integrity Action and the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, held a forum on corruption. That initiative was a welcome one and served to contribute to the image of the Church as a conscious player in an important national debate. The Church has another opportunity: to step up to the plate and show that it has the courage to articulate a commitment to heal not just its internal wounds, but the nation, as it hurts.

Synod 2017 would be a good place to engage in discussions on how the Church can work through the current issues that it faces. Hiding from each other, the public, and our reality is not a solution.

The Moravian Church has a duty to demonstrate to the public that it is serious about dealing with the issues bedevilling it. Speaking only in whispers, praying in generalities, preaching in vague terms, and casting blame will not provide a credible path forward. We have to be willing to confront ourselves and each other patiently and compassionately, yet boldly and honestly.

I offer these additional suggestions for public discussion and for the Church's consideration.

(1) That the Church broaden the terms of reference for the mechanism it has announced to examine the issue of how reports that raise adverse concerns are handled. The terms of reference should include an examination of its decision-making processes at several levels of the organisation to see the extent to which they are subject to checks and balances and capable of providing a trail sufficient for external review.

(2) That the Church seek the assistance of either a committee of the worldwide Moravian Church, or a local group, in reviewing its regulations and constitutional arrangements. The purpose of this review would be to examine whether these regulations and constitutional stipulations make adequate provisions for accountability of various office holders, especially the executive, and whether there is potential for institutionalised protection for abuse of power, violation of due process, and disregard for rules of fairness.

(3) While taking the steps [as suggested in Item (1)], and given that the Church's management of the recent incidents has led the clergy to acknowledge the existence of possible weaknesses, I suggest that the leadership of the Church open recent cases, including those prior to 2016, to review. The purpose of such a review would be to examine whether, in the handling of those cases, the executive followed the relevant procedures or otherwise acted in conformity with the basic rules of natural justice, accountability, transparency, and fairness.

(4) Finally, the church should immediately engage in a series of truth and reconciliation conversations. There are deep issues that go beyond the events of the last few weeks that remain unresolved, and there can be no sustained healing without candid, caring, and courageous truth-telling. The facilitator of such a process should be someone external to the Moravian Church. This person should be highly skilled in the art of healing-facilitation, mediation, and organisational renewal.

 

SUGGESTIONS TO THE WIDER CHURCH AND SOCIETY

 

While acknowledging that the specific matters before the court are beyond public comment, the reality of child sexual abuse has been with us for a long time and extends beyond the Moravian Church. Taking that reality into account, I offer these reminders and recommendations:

- No minister or adult church worker should be alone with minors;

- Every activity involving minors shall be supervised by at least two adults;

- Every minister shall make a written report to his/her supervisor concerning any allegation of misconduct involving a minor, within 24 hours of receiving such a report, in addition to making a report to the relevant authority;

- All ministers attend sensitisation sessions on the Child Care and Protection Act, organised by the Office of the Children's Advocate.

With respect to the initiative by groups that are seeking to call attention to the persistent problem of sexual misconduct involving minors, the police and other law-enforcement authorities have a duty of vigilance to all citizens. Persons who have information must go to law enforcement, and failure to do so must be treated in keeping with the provisions of the relevant laws. Where persons who claim to have information have not gone to law enforcement, law enforcement must call them in. The objective must be threefold:

(a) To hold every adult accountable for the protection of children.

(b) To maintain public order.

(c) To ensure that no one is treated unjustly.

- Dr Canute Thompson is a member of the Moravian Church in Jamaica. His research interests are in the areas of governance, leadership reimagination, and transformational leadership. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and canutethompson1@gmail.com.