Burt, who initially joined the Adult Misconduct Taskforce, resigned from the group in May 2022 over concerns that denominational leaders were relying on volunteers to draft the sample policy and were unwilling to hire third-party experts.
“I think this approach to tasking volunteers within the Province with this, volunteers with adjacent expertise, is irresponsible and exploitative,” said Burt. “It shuffles the organizational costs down to lay people and overworked clergy.”
Burt says she’s already seen a small number of dioceses like her own, the Diocese of the Rocky Mountains, adopt comprehensive safeguarding policies in the last three years.
Last fall, the Upper Midwest Diocese approved minimum child protection policy standards that member churches are expected to comply with before 2024. Some of its churches, including Church of the Resurrection, the diocesan headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois, have already adopted their own safeguarding policies. The diocese is also working to update its bylaws to secure more lay involvement and accountability.
But critics of Ruch have said its current structure consolidates too much power in the hands of the bishop, and they argued that the lack of checks and balances has allowed Ruch to fill key diocesan roles with relatives and friends.
Heather Griffin, who stopped attending an ACNA church in North Carolina because of her concerns about church leaders’ response to abuse allegations, worries that until there are specific, mandated policies for preventing and responding to abuse at the denominational level, too much is left up to chance.
“I think part of the reason they don’t have good policies for holding themselves accountable is they thought they could just work it out,” Griffin told RNS. “And that no one they trusted who had good doctrine and good intentions could mess it up this badly.”
Churchgoers often trust clergy to act forthrightly when abuse allegations crop up; in practice, clergy may be prone to give both parties’ testimony equal weight or keep quiet, thinking that admitting to a problem will open them up to liability.
“With any kind of sexual misconduct you have to take into account the power differential,” said Margo Stone, director of Midwest Ministry Development, which conducts assessments for church leaders. Fairness, she said, must tilt toward the person alleging abuse.
Krehbiel called silence on the part of leadership “one of the most spiritually damaging things that a church can do,” as is the impulse to maneuver survivors into nondisclosure agreements, “which is also incredibly spiritually violent.”
While experts agreed that no denomination can be said to be more prone to mishandling than any other, they note that a denomination’s approach often grows out of its theology regarding women and children.
Krehbiel said that in her experience, churches that ordain men alone more readily foster cultures where abuse can fester. “I see a pattern of devaluing violence against women and not seeing it as a real impediment to spiritual leadership,” she said.