PAW: I’m not sure we can question the integrity of this woman based on what her husband’s business dealings were. What also really bothers me is that presumably your church would have known that they were living this high lifestyle before the fraud was exposed. Why didn’t anyone speak to them before?
The number one priority here is to support your elder and to restore her husband. We also have to be very careful that we do not rush to judgement. We need to think carefully about how we understand sin in this context, because people don’t get punished for their sins; they get punished by them. Here is an instance when someone is being punished by their sins when the judgment has been taken by Jesus. You might want to think about what that looks like pastorally.
Within the context of church life, our commitment is to both grace and truth
Ultimately, this woman is a member of your church family and therefore, as Church, we laugh together, we mourn together. This is our problem, it’s not her problem.
JC: I wouldn’t want to challenge the elder in the first place. There are different ways of dealing with this sort of difficult conversation that are more caring towards someone who appears to be a victim. There are questions to address here about how we deal with gossip and with the local media. I also want to raise the traditional understanding of the church as a sanctuary. The church used to be the place where people being pursued by the authorities could go for safety. Is your church exhibiting that quality of being a place of sanctuary?
SC: Don’t rush to conclusions on this ? newspapers don’t always get it right and nor do the police. I have discovered over theyears in pastoral situations that almost invariably there is another side to the story. Having said all that, this is serious because it involves a member of the leadership team, an elder of the church whose integrity is being questioned. There is an erosion of trust. An important process is needed here. The family need to know that you want to support them, and that whether or not her husband is guilty, there is grace and forgiveness available.
Within the context of church life, our commitment is to both grace and truth. We can’t ignore the truth bit. I would want to have conversations with the family and the wider church that explore both grace and truth.
Based upon the information that you’ve given, I think it would probably be appropriate for the elder to step back from her leadership role while this is worked through. My motivation for this is not that we are bringing a judgement, but that she needs to be free to prioritise her family life rather than the wider church at this time.
VT: I wouldn’t be so inclined to ask the elder to step back ? it’s entirely possible that this woman had no idea as to what was happening. Here is a brilliant opportunity; here is real life in which your congregation will have to grow and mature and develop. See this as a test for you as a pastor to find out how well you have done in pastoring these people. This is when it willcome back to you if they gossip too much and start to produce sin upon sin.
Paul Anderson-Walsh is the senior elder of the International Gospel Church in North-West London and founder of The Grace Project Jo Cox is the learning and development coordinator for the London region of the Methodist Church Steve Clifford is general director of the Evangelical Alliance Viv Thomas is honorary teaching pastor at St Paul’s, Hammersmith