Sexual Abuse and COGIC Policy:
A proposal to address the issues of sexual abuse victims by COGIC clergy
by Supt. Harvey Burnett, New Bethel COGIC
The Church Of God In Christ (COGIC) is arguably one of the greatest Pentecostal Holiness
churches in America and has given rise to great tradition, dynamic ministry and the
opportunity to serve the community at a grass roots level physically, materially and
spiritually through prayer and righteous living.
For the past 100 years, it has marched steadily towards recognition as apex in spiritual
leadership among US denominations, the COGIC embodies a certain hope for oppressed
peoples both at home and abroad.
Having noted the aforementioned, for almost five decades this "Grand Ole Church" has not been without its challenges in dealing with multiple cases of clergy sexual abuse, improprieties, and clergy sexual sins and inconsistencies. In recent times, as documented by various media outlets, clergy sexual abuse has reared its ugly head within the Church Of God In Christ causing much fallout and damage not only to the financial assets of the church, (at minimum lawsuits totaling 110 million dollars in lawsuits have been filed against the church for clergy sexual abuse) but to the most important resource of the church, the human resource of the believer.
Souls have been damaged and cases have been highlighted in almost every region of the country. Although, COGIC has not been the only organization or church that has suffered from this terrible sin, the situations have been especially disappointing to the African-American community which, until modern times, has held churches within the community in high esteem.
These problems have not gone overlooked by the Presidium of the Church Of God In Christ, prompting the following statement from the Presiding Bishop of our church:
Though highly critiqued, (and rightfully so) this statement does encourage a higher standard in dealing with cases of clergy sexual abuse. It is within that slither of opportunity that this proposal attempts to address.
On February 4th 2009, a proposal entitled Church of God in Christ National Victims Advocacy Program was submitted by Supt. Harvey Burnett (copyrighted April 2008). The 23 page proposal was faxed successfully to the following leaders of the Church of God in Christ with requested response:
The Most Reverend Charles E. Blake Sr., Presiding Bishop
The Right Rev. Phillip Aquila Brooks II, First Assistant Presiding Bishop
The Right Rev. Jerry Wayne Macklin, Second Assistant Presiding Bishop
The Right Rev. Roy LH Winbush, Assistant Secretary To The General Board
The Right Rev. Chandler David Owens, GB Member, Former Presiding Bishop
The Right Rev J. Neaul Haynes, GB Member
The Right Rev. Samuel L. Green Jr., GB Member
The Right Rev. George D. McKinney, GB Member
The Right Rev. Nathaniel W. Wells, GB Member
The Right Rev. Sedgwick Daniels, GB Member
The Right Rev. Robert R. Sanders, Illinois 3rd Jurisdiction
Judge Enoch Perry, COGIC General Counsel
None of the listed individuals (with the exception of Bishop Robert Sanders) comprising COGIC's presidium responded within a duly expected period of time. However, on May 19th 2009 the General Counsel of the Church Of God In Christ posted the following articles to the denomination's official website at www.cogic.com.
It is unclear whether the articles were posted in response to the proposal.
The proposal that we submitted encouraged the church to establish an advocacy plan clearly in favor of and in support of individuals and families that have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of COGIC clergy, ministry personnel, and adjunct church representatives. The outlined plan sought to create an accessible and user-friendly system whereby complaints could be heard, assistance would be provided directly, and a clear path of correspondence would be established between the victim, church hierarchy and social and legal authorities.
The Victims Advocacy Plan that we proposed was a viable and adaptable national plan including many elements. The following would be some of the necessary components of a successful Victims Advocacy Program: (pg. 15-16)
- The establishment of a national grievance procedure and process centered on the victim.
- The establishment of a Centralized Victims Advocacy Dept. broken into regionalized teams to ensure efficiency in dealing with issues in multiple locations simultaneously.
- A National Call Center or toll free access - National coast-to coast access is essential to the success of this sort of program.
- A National Inter-Active, Web Site designed and developed to disseminate information to the public on how to identify the signs of sexual abuse and better explain the processing of sexual abuse claims and the grievance procedure within the Church Of God In Christ. The web site should also provide organizational statistics and helpful information as it pertains to dealing with and overcoming sexual abuse for those outside of our organization.
- Complete and full disclosure to the Victims Advocacy Leadership of the current and potential sexual abuse cases within the church so that potential hot spots and trends can be assessed, and an action plan established to address problems early.
- A clear and consistent educational program as a process for all Bishops, Superintendents, Pastors, Elders, Ministers, Mothers, Missionaries, and Evangelists. This educational process should include information on the Victims Advocacy Program, current sexual harassment and sexual abuse procedure and should assist the church in the establishment of a National Sexual Abuse/ Harassment policy. This process should be conducted in conjunction with the Victims Advocacy Dept. and networked throughout all State Jurisdictions and assemblies. Further, this program should be a MANDATORY requirement within ALL Jurisdictions for the admittance of all churches, pastors and ministry personnel, both male and female.