NEGLIGENT HIRING AND “THE CALLING”

Churches want clergy that are “called” to be clergy. What that might mean in any given individual or church context may differ, but the idea is that somehow the Heavenly Father made this choice and not the individual candidate or the church. Determining when someone has such a “calling,” without an objectively observed and verified Divine action, is a subjective determination. Sometimes, it is simply assumed.

In Doe v Apostolic Assembly of the Faith, Order, 2020 WL 1684227 (WD Tex. 2020), the federal district overruled a Motion to Dismiss. Motions to Dismiss are heard by courts at the inception of a lawsuit so that the court can exercise a gatekeeper function to prevent legally prohibited or frivolous lawsuits from proceeding. If the motion is overruled, the case proceeds through the pleading and discovery stage and may be disposed of by summary judgment or trial. Jane Doe, an underage female, was photographed in the nude with her youth pastor by the youth pastor at a hotel during a youth event. The photograph was posted to social media. The youth pastor pled guilty to interstate travel to meet a minor for illicit sexual conduct and was sentenced to 71 months of incarceration, post-incarceration probation of fifteen years and sex offender registration. The Plaintiff alleged that the church hired and ordained the youth pastor without conducting any interview as to training or fitness. This seems to have occurred because the youth pastor’s father was a pastor and a denominational officer. During travel events, the youth pastor was not otherwise supervised.

Failing to interview and screen church staff that will be charged with ministering to minors is all but indefensible. Churches that can afford to do so but do not have staff Human Relations professionals can engage an “HR” firm to conduct initial screening and background investigations. As to youth pastors and staff teachers, churches and church schools should impose strict written rules about communications with minors and children. Violation of the rules should result in immediate termination. Youth pastors and teachers that are permitted to interact with minors or children via social media should be restricted by policy to using only approved platforms and approved devices. Personal devices and unapproved social media platforms used should result in immediate termination. Parents should be made aware of these policies, approved devices, and approved social media platforms. Approved devices and approved platforms should be routinely inspected by other church staff for policy compliance.

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