The California church, Echo Church, is defending its decision to keep former employees under a non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement.
According to The Roys Report, a petition is circulating, calling for the church to release employees from the NDAs amid allegations of abuse by former pastor Andy Wood.
The group “Echo Survivors” claims the church is using the NDAs to “silence” victims of the alleged abuse. The petition had about 1,200 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
The church, however, said in a statement that the NDAs are about “avoiding gossip” in the church.
“Some of our separation or termination agreements in the past asked employees to agree ‘to not disparage or slander the reputation of the church, its directors, pastors and staff, or any church members/attendees’ and also stated that the church ‘agrees to abide by this same condition’ toward the staff member,” the statement said.
“The heart of this was to serve as a reminder for the church and the Christian employee to act in a Christ-like manner, avoiding gossip and destructive slandering that causes division, rather than unity.”
Pastor Wood, who is set to succeed former pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church, has recently come under fire for allegations of bullying and spiritual abuse.
Saddleback Church commissioned an independent investigation into the allegations and has since rejected the claims, but victims say it is because the Echo Church’s NDA prevented them from telling the whole truth.
“Echo does not use NDAs in this manner,” the website says. “In fact, Echo puts a lot of emphasis on staff safety, transparency and professionalism.”
It also said the NDAs are “not intended to prevent anyone from sharing their experience at Echo, whether positive or negative,” but instead, the agreements refer to passwords and other personal information.
Christian psychologist and advocate Diane Langberg told The Roys Report that she worries the NDA shows a willingness to try to hide sin.
“In my experience, such a requirement is demanded for the sake of a system – usually a ministry of some sort,” Langberg said. “So a Christian is asked to agree to cover up a wrongdoing for the sake of the system– or worse, for the sake of God’s reputation.”
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Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.