“Money being offered in non-disparagement agreements can be a messy and sometimes profoundly evil transaction. At times people are asked with an offer of money to hide acts that are wrong, evil, and even criminal; some are asked for money not to talk about a corrupted institution.”
Steve Rabey (MinistryWatch)
Please share your insights by commenting below this post.
There is a worrying trend among churches.
Big churches are paying big money (your tithes and offerings) to hire attorneys to legally bind employees (and former employees) with non-disclosure agreements, non-disparagement clauses, separation agreements, severance agreements, and similar legal tools in order to SILENCE them.
MinistryWatch’s Steve Rabey said regarding “Nondisclosure agreements — and their cousin, non–disparagement agreements… Money being offered in non-disparagement agreements can be a messy and sometimes profoundly evil transaction. At times people are asked with an offer of money to hide acts that are wrong, evil, and even criminal; some are asked for money not to talk about a corrupted institution.
…no one with a theologically-informed ethic should be thinking of non–disparagement agreements when the issue is dirt on the floor in the church. Such a person, instead of advocating silence, should be advocating rebuke and repentance and a return to basics, including unflinching truth telling.”
Others have criticized NDAs on moral, ethical, and legal grounds, arguing that:
– They are virtually unenforceable;
– Their real purpose is to intimidate people into silence;
– In churches and ministries, they can foster working environments and cultures that prioritize privacy over transparency, concealment over accountability. (link)
I’ve worked in the business world where these tools are legitimately and appropriately used. The problem arises when these agreements are used by church organizations.
From the outset, I am NOT claiming ALL church organizations are doing this. Most local churches (of all sizes) operate in humility, faithfulness, and fidelity to Scripture. However, we’re seeing a trend (see resource links below this post).
I’m going to address this issue and bring it to light. Hopefully, this will lead to healing and restoration in the church. Biblically, church leaders are accountable to their congregations, employees, and God.
“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God;” 1 Peter 4:17
“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” Luke 12:2-3
“For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:22-23
There is a growing awareness that church organizations are implementing coercive binding agreements and other legal devices. These agreements are directly tied to financial compensation and/or severance packages, the purpose of which is to legally bind a former employee to silence. Some church organizations see themselves more as business entities than the body of Christ.
– Are these agreements ethical or moral?
– Are these agreements biblical?
– Does this belong in the church?
– What would Jesus Christ say about church organizations using such agreements?
NDAs, Separation Agreements, and other similar such agreements have ZERO place in the church.
They are coercive and toxic. They put former employees in bondage to their former employers. They cause harm to those with the least institutional power (the employee). These agreements are used to bully former employees. Once implemented, former employees are forced to separate from their church family and/or are shunned by staff. These agreements do not edify the church nor do they glorify God.
Forcing an employee to sign an agreement tied to money in exchange for their silence is evil (period). After all, what does a church organization have to hide that requires the coercion of an employee to sign a document that forces them to be silent in exchange for money?
Beginning today, this is going to stop.
Beginning today, I encourage church organizations to rescind all such agreements immediately.
“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear…”
If you are a pastor, church officer, church executive, elder, etc. and you have used non-disclosure agreements, non-disparagement clauses, or other coercive separation agreements tied to compensation in exchange for silence, you’ve been put on notice.
The Light is coming and church organizations have a choice…
Repent of the harm you have inflicted and rescind these agreements or “whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light.”
“A contract in which one or more parties promise to keep information confidential, and not disclose it to any other party without proper authorization… Also referred to as an “NDA,” “confidentiality agreement,” or “proprietary information agreement,” such a contract outlines the nature of the confidential information, without disclosing it specifically… NDAs are most commonly used in businesses when the need to establish a confidential relationship with employees or contractors arises. Such information may include trade secrets, proprietary information, client lists, database information, or any other information considered to be vital to the business.” (source)
Non-disparagement clause (or agreement):
“A part of an agreement, such as an employment contract, separation agreement, or marital settlement agreement, which stipulates that the involved parties are prohibited from making any negative statements, remarks, or representations about each other. Such clauses are in prevalent use to prevent (ex) employees from adversely affecting the business of employers with disparaging public statements either during or after the employment period has ended.” (source)
“The other place you might encounter a non-disparagement clause is in a separation agreement—a document you may be asked to sign if you’re being fired, laid off, or are otherwise leaving on bad terms… “Companies will make signing the non-disparagement clause a condition of getting your severance money and/or benefits.” (source)
“Most employee separation agreements require the employee to waive any potential legal claims. These could include employment law, compensation, and discrimination claims. For employers, this is often the primary purpose of the agreement.
In exchange for waiving the claims, an employee separation agreement can offer a severance package to the employee. Severance is not required, but it’s often a good incentive for the employee to sign the document. It can also help enhance a company’s reputation.” (source)
Typically, these arrangements are embedded in agreements issued by the church organization (usually when an employee leaves or is forced to resign or terminated).
Should churches use NDAs or other such agreements? The answer is ‘No’.
I have yet to discover a legitimate biblical reason. Someone will retort, “But, what about protecting the ‘reputation of the church’ and the ‘reputation of Christ’ against slander or negative perception?”
“These agreements ostensibly ensured that both the church and employee “act in a Christ-like manner, avoiding gossip and destructive slandering that causes division, rather than unity.” (link)
Libel, defamation, slander, etc. have to do with lying about someone or something that occurred. There are legal remedies for that type of behavior.
Furthermore, telling the truth, even if it is negative, is not slander or gossip.
Church leader, if you have a problem with an employee within a church organization, the solution is found in the Word of God not some pagan ‘best practices’ business arrangement.
Here’s the deal, don’t be evil. Don’t mistreat people or attempt to cover up unethical behavior. There is no biblical reason for a church to implement agreements that bind people to silence using financial benefits and legal threats. The legal threats and vague legal reasoning contained in these agreements make the person feel trapped while all the power resides with the institutional leaders. This leads to self-separation by the former employee and silence where conflict, spiritual abuse or worse has occurred.
Someone will say, “Oh, you’re being divisive.”
No, I’m being honest. These unbiblical agreements are divisive by nature. So, who’s being divisive? The one implementing them or the one exposing them?
I know an instance where church leaders instructed employees not to speak to a former employee or discuss anything related to the church because doing so would amount to gossip and divisiveness. So, employees who were friends with a former employee essentially shunned their former teammate. Some feared losing their jobs if they spoke to the former employee. That’s cultish behavior.
Imagine being told this by a church leader one day and running into your friend (former employee) at a store the next? Would you fear reprimand, if leadership found out you spoke to a friend? At worse, would you fear losing your job? Think about it.
In conclusion, I am NOT claiming all church organizations are doing this. But the trend is growing. There are no biblical or ecclesiological reasons for church leaders to bind current or former employees to silence through non-disclosure agreements, non-disparagement clauses, separation agreements, or any such binding agreements. Nor should the tithes and offerings of the congregation be used for attorneys’ fees or unconstitutional severance / separation packages.
Guess what? It’s going to stop. People are getting wise to the game.
The light is coming and accountability with it. It will be much easier to repent personally and ask for forgiveness privately than the alternative.
Church Leader, you can circle the wagons and attempt to protect your institutional power… But know this. The truth bats last, and he is a slugger.
Solution: Repent of the harm you have inflicted and rescind these agreements or “whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light.”
If you are a church leader (staff or elder) and you have implemented these agreements to coerce or cover-up wrong-doing or silence people, it may be time to resign. You’re most likely unfit for duty as a shepherd of God’s beloved people. Your sin can be forgiven but you’re unfit to lead ministry.
Will there be a Part 2 to this post, we’ll see…
I recommend every pastor, elder, deacon and ministry leader meditate on Ezekiel 34:1-10 “Prophecy Against the Shepherds of Israel”
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.”
Resources and links:
Thou Shalt Not Disclose: How Churches and Ministries Use Legal Agreements to Silence Victims and Conceal Sin
NDAs are a tool for toxic church cultures
Silence of the sheep – Christian nonprofits and churches have adopted practices from the for-profit world of avoiding liability, sometimes leading to devastating outcomes
Should Churches Use NDAs? It Depends.
Should a Church Use NDAs?
When Christian Ministries Ask Their Ex-Employees Not to Talk
How a corporate world practice became mainstream for evangelical nonprofits and churches.
NDAs Kept These Christians Silent. Now They’re Speaking Out Against Them.
Sign or face the consequences
Should Christian Organizations Use NDAs?
What are Red Flags For Spiritual Abuse in Your Church? with Teasi Cannon
Spiritual Abuse and the Church: Why Should We Listen? with Teasi Cannon
What Is a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA)?
What is an employee separation agreement?
Please share your insights by commenting below this post.
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