Nondisclosure agreements have been a consistent pattern in recent abuse scandals facing major churches.
Known as NDAs, the documents were the focus of a new piece in Religion News Service by Katelyn Beaty.
"In recent months, allegations of unhealthy leadership patterns have been lodged against Andy Wood, the new senior pastor at Saddleback and former senior pastor at Echo Church, a multi-site congregation in San Jose, California," Beaty reported. "In response, Saddleback hired an executive search firm to investigate the claims and found 'no systemic or pattern of abuse under Andy’s leadership.' But critics say if former Echo employees were allowed to talk freely, patterns would emerge.
The report noted a change.org petition that currently has over 1,200 signatures.
"Those whose names appear below implore the current leadership of Echo Church in San Jose, CA to release all former employees from any non-disclosure agreements, any non-disparagement agreements, and any documents that prevent former employees from telling their stories that exist," the petition reads. "While we acknowledge that non-disclosure agreements are commonplace in many church contexts, non-disclosures can act as silencers on victims of abuse."
Beaty wrote, "in many large churches and organizations, NDAs have served to conceal the truth and to protect the image of top leaders, allowing them to continue harming others entrusted to their care."
Beaty, author of the 2022 book Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church, described being warned of by co-workers about a problem employee that leaders had not dealt with.
"Not every church or faith-based organization that uses NDAs has faced scandal. But of the groups that have faced scandal in recent years, NDAs were inevitably part of the mix. That’s true for Mars Hill Church, Harvest Bible Chapel, Hillsong Church, Hillsong College, Willow Creek Community Church, Acts 29, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Ramsey Solutions. In many of these instances, NDAs stemmed from cultures of intense loyalty and fear of leadership’s wrath. Employees felt they had no choice but to sign in order to receive compensation," she wrote. "Reliance on NDAs is entwined with the well-established phenomenon of celebrity pastors. When a church’s identity is enmeshed with that of its celebrity leader, the church will often go to great lengths to protect the leader’s image."
"Read the full report.