Nearly a year ago, I wrote a public statement entitled “Addressing Our Past” in which I disclosed past sexual abuse by a former TCPC pastor named Brad Waller. We shared all we could at the time and then backed away from communication while Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) conducted an independent investigation of our church. After a long and thorough investigation, we have received their findings, and we are as committed now as we were before to utmost sincerity and transparency.
Addressing our past is important, especially as it gives way to addressing our present and future. Therefore, I would like to follow up with another public statement in response to the investigation.
You may access GRACE’s full report by clicking the button below (NOTE: at the request of the victims, we have chosen to redact any identifying details).
Allow me to share some additional words in response:
First, we are humbled and grateful for the commendations from GRACE, and even more thankful to hear that victims have felt cared for and loved by our actions. However, we are not without fault, and I want to begin by publicly confessing our institutional failures that were revealed in the report. Specifically, we believe there were two issues that need to be owned by us—the first issue is about policy, the second issue is about culture.
Policy: We have no record of protective policies in place while Brad’s abuse occurred at our church. This is unacceptable, and we are heartbroken at the thought that formalized policies and procedures could have prevented much of this abuse. Even in the years after Brad’s departure, we still failed to implement policies. We have always had standards of how our staff are to conduct themselves, but these standards were not officially formalized, as they should have been. Informal expectations are insufficient to protect a congregation from abuse, and it was not until May of 2018 that we took those actions. We are ashamed that it took a public scandal for us to seriously revisit policies and procedures, but unfortunately that is the case. We are deeply sorry and ask forgiveness, especially from the victims who were hurt.
Culture: We did not create a culture of awareness at our church that gave people under our care an understanding of abuse. Because of the unconventional nature of Brad’s misconduct, it was difficult for victims and others to identify and comprehend his abuse. However, it is clear from the report that there was a pervasive feeling of something being “off” with Brad’s behavior. We believe that if our people had an understanding of the nature of abuse, particularly from those with spiritual authority, it could have been identified and prevented. Unfortunately, that was not the culture of our church at the time, which allowed Brad to act out abusively in ways that went undetected. It is obvious from the report that victims and those who witnessed Brad’s misconduct are bearing guilt for not knowing and speaking up, but that guilt belongs to us as a church. We did not give them the training and empowerment needed to identify and report abusive actions. It’s our fault, not theirs. Again, we are deeply sorry and ask forgiveness, especially from the victims who were hurt.
Secondly, we receive GRACE’s recommendations with the seriousness they deserve and will be acting quickly to implement all six of them. Allow me to share from the report their suggested steps and our plan of response for each.
1.) “GRACE recommends the full implementation of these proposed policies. Training for regular employees regarding the policies was listed by TCPC to be implemented. Since a common theme from witnesses and survivors was an unawareness that abuse was taking place by those that witnessed it, GRACE recommends additional advanced training on the recognition and detection of abuse for all employees, regular employees, and volunteers.”
RESPONSE: An ad-hoc committee has already been established to ensure implementation of this recommendation.
2.) “GRACE recommends that all TCPC campus pastors complete a seminary course on sexual abuse.”
RESPONSE: All campus staff of the campus ministry under our authority, Campus Outreach, along with the staff of the campus ministry under the authority of our presbytery, Reformed University Fellowship, will complete a seminary course on sexual abuse, paid for by TCPC.
3) “As TCPC has been faithful in keeping the congregation informed, GRACE recommends a sermon be presented to the congregation regarding the issues surrounding abuse.”
RESPONSE: I will be preaching a sermon regarding the issues surrounding abuse on June 23. In addition, we will host a meeting in our sanctuary between services to speak more in-depth on the issue.
4.) “GRACE recommends that TCPC develop a Safeguarding team that will:
a) Facilitate a support ministry for survivors of sexual abuse.
b) Work with child protection experts in developing safeguarding policies and response protocols for the church that satisfy best practice standards.
c) Conduct annual audits of the safeguarding policies and response protocols, and revise as needed.
d) Facilitate ongoing training.
e) Play a central role in responding to reported safeguarding policy violations.
f) Develop relationships with community partners who work in the field of addressing issues related to adult and child maltreatment.“
RESPONSE: Our permanent Safety and Security Committee will implement all the above recommendations.
5.) “In response to the allegations, care has also been given in guarding against inappropriate physical contact. GRACE recommends TCPC conduct a policy audit of The Child Protection Policy by an outside entity and experts in the field.“
RESPONSE: We will seek on outside independent audit of our Child Protection Policy.
6.) “GRACE recommends that consideration also be given to guarding those of the college age/young adults from one-on-one situations with those in leadership when on TCPC property as well as when away from TCPC property. While these individuals are adults, they are still at a vulnerable age when it comes to being under the mentorship or leadership of older adults. This investigation revealed this population was also being taken advantage of because of the position of authority held over them. Some felt uncomfortable in reporting or doubted their instincts because of Brad Waller’s position of prominence. Mirroring the “One on One” contact policy for TCPC property similarly to that proposed for underage individuals may provide a safeguard for the college age/young adults and for the workers who meet with them. Policy for the college age individuals could exclude the requirement of parental consent or notification, but could reflect the practice of open doors or uncovered windows. Off property meetings could also be enhanced by requiring “two deep leadership” or the requirement of public meeting places.”
RESPONSE: The ad-hoc committee from response 1 will give special attention to our policy regarding all college and youth workers.
Beyond our response to the investigation, I would like to repeat what I did in our initial statement by returning with a world to those same four groups of people:
To the Victims
As I said in our first statement, my deepest apology is reserved for you. I am profoundly grateful to those who participated in this investigation, and I want to thank you for your kind words in the report. However at the same time, I do hope you will accept our apology for the failures I have confessed. Both in policy and culture, our church failed to protect you. I wish so badly we could go back 20 years and change things, but all we can do is move forward in repentance. Please know your courage to share has been the prophetic rebuke we needed to repent. I also realize there are many others who were not comfortable sharing or participating in the investigation, and I want you to know that we completely understand. There is no pressure at all to come forward, but we do want you to know that we are always here and available to listen to every single story. In particular, if something happened to you that went “beyond” the stories listed in this report, I want to personally assure you there is nothing to be ashamed of with your abuse, and we are willing to confidentially get you the help you need for healing. To any and all victims, we do not view this as the end, but the beginning of a redemptive journey, and the invitation to receive help will remain open-ended.
To the Outside Community
Once again I want to apologize to our city that this happened at our church, and we hope our actions demonstrate to you how serious we are about ensuring this never happens again. We want to be a church that the Bluegrass is proud to name as a local institution that stands against the evil abuse and welcomes with healing arms the abused. We promise to do better in our vision to live “For the glory of Christ and the good of the Bluegrass.”
To the TCPC Community
In my original statement, I charged our congregation to prioritize “righteousness over reputation.” This is still my request, but now in different way. Initially my concern was that you would fear this investigation because of what it would mean for the reputation of our church. Now my concern is that you will boast in this investigation because of what it means for the reputation of our church. I join you in thanksgiving over the multiple statements of commendation in the report, along with national outlets and public figures pointing to us as a model of response. However at the same time, I fear the temptation to congratulate ourselves in the midst of such darkness. First, let us not forget that we failed to protect in the past, and there is still much work to be done in the present, specifically GRACE’s six recommendations. But most importantly, let us never, ever, exploit stories of the abused to craft a congratulatory story of our own. What happened at TCPC years ago was horrific. Remain humble, teachable, and vigilant, lest it happen again.
To the Media
Thank you for being patient with us in our silence throughout the investigation. As promised, we are committed to public transparency now that it is complete. Our leadership has named me as the exclusive point person for all things media, so I am the only one free to comment. I will do my best to reach back out to those who have made requests, and anyone else is free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I do want to state upfront that I will not be sharing any further abuse stories that were not voluntarily submitted by victims to GRACE’s investigation.
Please join us in praying for the victims and all those hurt by this situation. I am reminded again that no church is able to commend its own faithfulness, but only the faithfulness of its Savior.
Yours in Christ,
Robert H. Cunningham