As we’ve learned all too well in the #MeToo era, one of the reasons some victims of abuse don’t always come forward with their stories is because they’re legally prohibited from doing so. That’s because they signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) preventing them from speaking about their former companies even when they were subject to harassment.
The same problem exists in many churches and ministries, but as the evangelical world confronts its own sexual abuse crises, those NDAs are coming under new scrutiny.
Writing for Christianity Today, Daniel Silliman (who helped break open the sex abuse scandal involving the late apologist Ravi Zacharias) reports that a new coalition is working to pressure ministries into getting rid of their NDAs — at least for common sense reasons.
A growing number of ministers, missionaries, Christian workers, abuse victims, and victims’ advocates are publicly objecting to the non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses used by major religious organizations. They say the legal tool that was designed to protect tech industry “trade secrets” is widely misused to conceal abuse, preserve secrets, and protect powerful reputations without regard for the human cost.
The #NDAfree website will attempt to raise awareness about the problems with confidentiality clauses, which are now frequently included in employment contracts, severance agreements, and legal settlements. The campaign will also seek to give people who have a signed [NDA] a few tools to help them pressure Christian organizations to stop using NDAs. The website includes sample templates of letters asking for release, an #NDAfree pledge, and questions that organizations can ask as they evaluate the use of confidentiality clauses.
This shouldn’t be complicated. We’re not talking about trade secrets. This is about abuse and overreach, which cannot be rooted out unless people are made aware of the problems. It shouldn’t take whistleblowers speaking with secular reporters to get churches to take sexual abuse seriously.
More importantly, for many abuse survivors who can’t get legal justice — or even have their abusers fired from their leadership roles within ministries — talking about their experiences can be a form of healing. NDAs aren’t just a convenient tool for churches to cover up abuse but inflict further pain on victims by punishing them for doing something they should have a right to do.
After all, we’ve seen time and again how uncommon it is for celebrity pastors and megachurch staffers to face real consequences for their actions. They know that a carefully curated apology — always including key works like “grace” and “repent” — is often all they need to be reinstated. Not to mention that countless survivors who speak about their abuse aren’t believed or taken seriously.
NDAs are just another way for church leaders to exhibit absolute control over their flock. People are more valuable than reputations; they’re the ones who deserve protection.
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