AN ordained pastor has spoken to The VOICE regarding the sex scandal involving two Seventh Day Adventist pastors who were charged by police last week for indecent assault and unlawful sexual connection.
Pastor Richard Beckford is a pastor with the Church of God in the United States but has been serving in St. Lucia for the past four years with the Evangelical Church of the West Indies. He also lectures at the Southeastern Caribbean College.
Pastor Beckford spoke out against the nature in which the matter was handled, saying that the way it was done and over with so silently should not be the case.
He said that although he is not privy to most of the details of the case, he was left puzzled by the way in which the situation was handled, and hopes that the organisation they belong to addresses the matter to the public.
Pastor Beckford said: “When I heard about it, I asked my wife, ‘Why was this hush-hush? Why didn’t we hear about this?’ This needs to be exposed because the pastor is a public figure; he is someone who is not only a church leader, but also a community leader. People are trusting their children, their teenagers, their family members with somebody like this and if you know that there is someone in your community who is toxic — whether it be the pastor, the police, the teacher — they are to be exposed.”
He continued: “I don’t think you need to have one way of dealing with the matter for this particular person over there, and for this person here, you have a different standard. I think there should be a standard for everybody, especially community leaders, and I don’t think the pastor should get a pass because he is a pastor. Absolutely not! And I speak so as a pastor and I say if that should happen to me, expose me; put me out there and then the congregation or the church that I work with now has a responsibility to deal with that.”
Pastor Beckford, who has worked in Jamaica, the US and now St. Lucia, spoke about a similar matter in Jamaica where a pastor was accused of sexual relations with a minor and another one in the Moravian Church in Jamaica.
He said there is a serious lack of accountability within the church where members of the clergy, who are human, face private issues that are not dealt with.
Pastors, he said, are tasked with taking on the problems of their communities, yet are not debriefed, and so, these issues are unwittingly piled up onto their own personal issues, and they have no outlet or means of dealing with their own personal stresses.
Pastor Beckford said: “Pastors are found wanting because they are not given a platform to share their weaknesses and voice their concerns and get that kind of support. Normally, the people who suffer from that are the congregants. The pastor has to do what the pastor needs to do in terms of offering care and counsel, and if you have a pastor who is broken, hurting, has family or financial issues, if you have a pastor who has not dealt with his struggles or his areas of brokenness, if that’s not happening, then he’s going to prey on the congregants who themselves have their own issues and are looking to him.
The trust factor where pastors are concerned is high yet fragile, according to Pastor Beckford, who said that in most cases, the members of the clergy are trusted by congregants more than their closest friend or family member.
He said: “That carries over into the Protestant, Pentecostal Adventist communities as well. People find the pastors as an outlet to pour out what they are dealing with, and if the pastor does not have an outlet himself, he can be very destructive.”
Pastor Beckford said this case only stands to make people either lose hope and faith in the church, and to those who already did not believe in the church, it stands to make them hate the church.
He said: “It causes people to be angry, but it also makes people lose trust in what I think is a trusted calling. People will ask, ‘Can I trust the pastor with my children or can I go share what I want to share?’ People lose trust and I think it could make people step back away from the church because they see it as a dominant institution of control sometimes. Religion is also getting a lot of bad press and people see religion now as part an establishment and they want to get away from that. So when they see things like this happening, it’s just more impedance for them to say that they don’t want to be a part of it.”
Coming back from a situation of this nature, he said, would be extremely difficult, especially in a small nation like St. Lucia where people don’t forget.
He said: “The church may be forgiving, but the community may not be, and people may hold that against them for the rest of their lives.”
Speaking on about accountability, Pastor Beckford said the organisation that the accused are part of must put in measures to ensure that they help to restore the pastors because whatever they have done, it is coming from a place of brokenness that has to be identified so that they could receive counselling. This, he said, is also the case for their families as well because they, too, will be affected.
He, however, stressed that the organisation needs to pay attention to the victims as well, and that they should do all they can to offer hope, care and restoration to the victims and their families.
Both pastors involved in the incident were granted bail, and the nature of the case remains unclear.