What is the responsibility of pastors for those they deem have “gone astray?” Do pastoral confidentiality rules apply even when someone resigns their church membership?
The other day, I read an article, Stabbed in the Back by a Cult Leader and it left me feeling sad and angry. “Sheldon” is a young man who met with the pastor of his church of which he was a member for 12 years. The pastor barely knew Sheldon as he had only been there a couple of years. The purpose of Sheldon’s visit was to resign his church membership and to explain some very personal details that led to his decision:
Since the abuse of my past played a role in the life experiences that led me there, I told him about how I was beaten until I was about 11 years old, forced off medication for my depression, barricaded in the house of my “parents” and threatened with violence when I tried to leave at 21 years old, and about the most recent of the abuse, “The Confrontation,” where just this past December, when I was forced to cut them out of my life, and they tried to break into my home and nearly assaulted me in front of a police officer.
I told him even if I could believe in Christianity again (which is a massive remove possibility), I couldn’t go back to a church as conservative as that church, and I definitely could not return to that church, for my own safety. When I told him this, I explicitly told him that I expected this to be confidential, my exact words were “this should not leave this office.” He never once objected to this, and I went on with the presumption that it would remain confidential.
There is a lot that we can tear apart in Sheldon’s post: the way the Christians deal with mental health issues, corporal punishment, the idea of adult children as personal property, etc. Each one of those topics can get my ire up, especially as it crosses the lines into abuse. But what I’d like to discuss is this:
The pastor did in fact reveal Sheldon’s personal details to the church body without Sheldon’s permission.
Sheldon contacted the pastor to ask for confirmation that he had in fact revealed Sheldon’s personal information, and here is a the pastor’s response (pastor’s name removed).
Therefore, I wrote you to communicate my intentions as you resigned the day of the business meeting. Once again, it is out of deep love and in obedience to God’s Word that I have performed these actions. You are more than welcome to touch base with me about this issue if you like. I have tried to go by your house to see you, but have been unsuccessful thus far. You are in our prayers.
I corresponded with Sheldon to get more information. Sheldon was not in church discipline. He voluntarily left his membership. The pastor sided with his parents.
What is the appropriate Biblical response to Sheldon’s situation?
Was the pastor within his right to disclose personal information to the church body?
Is it ever appropriate to share personal information to the church body?
If you were Sheldon’s pastor, how would you have handled this situation?
If you could say something to Sheldon (I have a hunch he’ll be reading), what words would you share with him?
Update: Sheldon sent me a photo of the letter that his former pastor dropped by yesterday. This is ongoing harassment. Sheldon has already resigned his membership.
I am deeply sorry for the misunderstanding associated with our encounter and my responsibility toward God and the church. The last thing I want is for there to be something else in the way of you coming to the truth. Please know that I care very much for you as many at Grace also do, and I would welcome an in person conversation with you.