I wanted to give you a heads-up on something so that you understand what’s happening and the reason for it. You know that when we hired Pastor Bryan Loritts, we made you aware that eleven years prior to that, there had been some allegations of sexual abuse that had been made against another staff member at Fellowship Memphis, and there were also some questions about Pastor Bryan’s handling of those accusations when they came in.
A few days ago, we engaged Guidepost Solutions to review Pastor Bryan’s response to those sexual abuse allegations at Fellowship Memphis in 2010. We did our own investigation of this matter before Pastor Bryan was hired in June 2020, and we communicated that process to you and the conclusions on May 24, before he joined our staff. As we said at the time, our elders concluded that Pastor Bryan had not attempted in any way to cover up the incidents of abuse, to protect the abusers, or discourage victims from seeking justice for their abuses.
After talking with the Church Cares team—a team that has been advising me on how to create best practices for churches to make churches safe from abuse and safe for survivors—and desiring to do everything possible to foster a culture in churches that are safe from abuse and safe for survivors, we decided it would be helpful to ask an independent firm to review our findings. That’s not because we’ve found new evidence or discovered anything that makes us doubt our previous conclusions. It’s that as a matter of best practice, we realize that having an objective, disconnected third party to help us evaluate evidence is important.
Handling issues like this well is no small matter, and following best hiring practices in these situations is important for at least three reasons:
- First, the emotional safety of those directly affected requires an open, safe channel through which victims can appeal. When survivors have been abused within the church, and particularly in cases where a church may have mishandled or covered up abuse, they may justifiably feel unsafe bringing information to a new church or pastoral team. Thus, it is important to have a channel for communication that creates a trusted place for these individuals to share what they know and have experienced.
- Second, the existence of this communication channel should be made public so that unknown victims can come forward. Without some type of public communication asking survivors or witnesses to share what they know, those who possess relevant information will be unaware of the opportunity to speak.
- Finally, we realize that at The Summit Church, with the position God has entrusted to us, it is important for us to provide a healthy example of churches handling abuse allegations with integrity. The courage of current victims to come forward is strengthened when they see churches take the appropriate steps.
Bottom line: Though we tried to be as comprehensive as we knew how, and though we felt (and still feel) confident in Pastor Bryan’s integrity, we realize we left out an important step. We regret any confusion and hurt caused by that. But we believe that it is never too late to do what is right, and as we have been convicted about what is right, we are convicted that we need to do this.
Guidepost Solutions was recommended to us by trusted advocates. That recommendation came because of their independence from any geographic location, entity, or denominational affiliation, and because of their expertise in investigations and assessing institutional processes and dynamics specifically related to sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Their assessment will be independent, and their report will be public.
Let me be clear. This decision is not a result of any new information that we have received since last May. It is, rather, a desire to do the right thing and make sure that we have all of the information, gathered in the right way.
There are people who would seek to misrepresent what is happening. I want you to hear from me exactly what we are doing.
We are acknowledging that we should have followed a better-advised protocol in vetting and hiring Pastor Bryan Loritts. We are hiring an independent firm to pursue any additional information regarding Pastor Bryan’s handling of the sexual abuse cases at Fellowship Memphis which may have been missed in our previous assessment, including creating a channel for other victims to share their experience at their discretion. And we are working with the Church Cares team to establish a protocol that will be helpful to other churches in similar circumstances.
If you want to know more, see what we did in the past, and how we came up with our conclusions, or you want to stay current with what’s going on, visit summitchurch.com/press, where we have all of this information documented and can keep you up to date.
I would ask you to be in prayer about all of this. We want to pray first for victims who, yes, even eleven years later are still struggling with the damage that these kinds of sins cause, and we want to pray for their healing, for their restoration, for justice, for God to vindicate the righteous, for God to show us justice. Let’s pray that God would use this as a healing moment for all of us. I trust you’ll join me in prayer for all of this and visit summitchurch.com/press for any updates.