Pastor Left Jobless After Mishandled Sexual Abuse Investigation Has No Recourse

By Anne Stych
Neil Taylor Jesus People mishandled investigation
Pastor Neil Taylor, formerly of Jesus People in Chicago, Illinois, lost his position at the church years ago—and now has lost a court appeal to reclaim it. (Video screengrab)

A Chicago circuit court has dismissed an appeal from a former pastor in an Evangelical Covenant-connected church who said he lost his position after the ECC took too long to investigate a sexual abuse claim against him that was eventually dismissed.

Neil Taylor was suspended as pastor of Jesus People USA in 2017 after an individual he and his wife had cared for as a child accused him of sexual abuse in the 1970s, before he became a pastor. Taylor was credentialed as an ECC pastor in 1989 and ordained in 2004.

According to court records, Taylor reported the accusation to the ECC in June 2017 and was subsequently told he was not allowed to preach, teach or attend church until the matter was resolved, leading Jesus People to hire a different pastor.

In late June 2017, Taylor met with ECC’s Board of Ordered Ministry at the church’s annual meeting to discuss the allegations against him. The board upheld the suspension at that time as the investigation continued.

Taylor said in his complaint that throughout the remainder of 2017, he frequently inquired about the progress of the investigation and when he could expect his suspension to be lifted.

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In June 2018, he again met with the Board of Ordered Ministry at the church’s annual meeting, where ECC finally “acknowledged that the accusations that had been made against (plaintiff) were malicious and that the investigation had been carelessly handled.” ECC’s executive director, Richard Lucco, said the ECC investigation lacked “care and due process.”

ECC lifted Taylor’s suspension in June 2018, but Jesus People declined to rehire him, and as of 2020, he was still “not serving in a pastoral position,” the complaint said.

In 2020, Taylor sued ECC for breach of contract and intentional interference with economic advantage, asserting that he should have been reinstated as pastor of Jesus People after the ECC completed its investigation and found no basis for the accusations.

ECC filed a motion to dismiss Taylor’s grievance under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, which says civil courts must accept a religious entity’s interpretation of canonical text, and the ministerial exception, which says the court does not have jurisdiction over how a church follows its own rules of ministerial investigation and discipline.

A circuit court dismissed Taylor’s complaint, noting the ECC bylaws state that the Board of Ordered Ministry “has general supervision over all ordained and licensed ministers including their ordination, license, commission, consecration, standing, and discipline, and the maintenance of high standards in their ministry” and that a minister “may be disciplined by the board” by “temporary suspension of ministerial or missionary credentials and removal from ministerial functions” while charges are being investigated.

Taylor appealed, and on Jan. 12, the Illinois 1st District Appellate Court upheld the ruling.

“Different religious organizations may have different views regarding what constitutes fitness to serve as clergy,” the appeals court said in the decision. “We cannot review such decisions without violating the first amendment by approving some views and rejecting others. Thus, because plaintiff’s complaint directly challenged defendant’s internal investigative and disciplinary procedures, the circuit court lacked jurisdiction and properly dismissed the case.”

This story originally appeared at MinistryWatch.

Anne StycheAnne Stych is a freelance writer, copy editor, proofreader and content manager covering science, technology, retail, and nonprofits. She writes for American City Business Journals’ BizWomen and MinistryWatch.

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13 thoughts on “Pastor Left Jobless After Mishandled Sexual Abuse Investigation Has No Recourse”

  1. Thomas Williamson

    Neil Taylor has quite possibly been treated in an unjust manner, but unfortunately, if the courts had the power to reinstate him as pastor, then in theory they might also have the power to force any church to reinstate any staff member fired for good cause. This court’s decision appears to be in line with the US Supreme Court decision on the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School case in 2012, in which the court decided 9 to 0 that “the Establishment Clause prevents the Government from appointing ministers, and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own”. Justice Clarence Thomas stated that he would prefer to “defer to a religious organization’s good-faith understanding of who qualifies as a minister”.

    Perhaps it is for the best for Bro. Taylor that he is not able to continue his involvement with Jesus People USA, which is regarded by some as a cult-like group. See Chapter 7 of Ron Enroth’s online book “Recovering From Churches That Abuse.” https://www.apologeticsindex.org/958-recovering-from-churches-that-abuse-online-book

    Let us be in prayer for God’s blessings on Bro. Taylor’s future life and ministry.

  2. Chuck and Janet Chillingworth

    This a prime example of why we should not adhere to the new philosophy of “always believe the victims and react immediately”, certainly the accusing self-stated victims. As heinous as sexual abuse is, so is living with a false accusation of sexual abuse. We owe it to the accused as well as the accuser to make sure the accusation is true. This is a foundational Biblical principle. Proper due diligence takes time, so does determining the appropriate response. Our legal system, although imperfect, has its foundational structure based in biblical, Judeo-Christian ethics and as such has statutes of limitation, trials by juries of our peers, judgement and verdict appeals, reduction of sentences for good behavior, pardons and the fundamental principle that it is better to let ten guilty people go free than to convict one innocent person. James says that “the wisdom from above is at first reasonable.” Take heed leaders. The Holy Spirit demands reasonableness and due process.

    1. “it is better to let ten guilty people go free than to convict one innocent person”

      First, he was not convicted of anything, and second, I’m not sure I would rather have ten sexual predators in the pulpit, preying on the vulnerable, than one innocent pastor in jail. Both sound bad, one sounds far worse. But that’s just me.

    1. The apostle Paul had something to say on the matter of Christians going to court against each other. But nobody really pays attention to what he has to say anymore, so carry on.

      1. Loren Martin,

        It may well be that the courts can do nothing about this as Thomas Williamson points out but what do you expect this “disgraced” pastor to do, grin and bear it? His life is destroyed–nobody will want to hire a “sexual predator” to even clean their streets even if “exonerated”?

        I guarantee you that if one of your family members were destroyed like this you would feel a little more empathy.

        1. I don’t disagree with you that the man was severely wronged and deserves our support. I also understand the reasoning of appealing to the courts to address the injustice of his situation. At the same time, when Christians claim to be “biblically based” and completely ignore relevant passages, I have some questions. For example, under what conditions did Paul advise Christians “to suffer wrong” rather than going to court against each other? What are the parameters that define when Jesus’ precept of turning the other cheek become irrelevant? Are these just platitudes or are they intended to be taken seriously?

          1. And does the church intend to take seriously justice and mercy? Are they going to make good their dereliction of duty and contempt for his good name? An ex-gratia payment of compensation looks like the thing to do; say $1m. That should see him able to live for the remainder of his years.

          2. Loren Martin,

            I’m no exegetical scholar but I’m pretty sure Paul was referring to members of equal standing in the same church taking each other to court over petty personal nonsense–not victims attempting to secure justice and rebuild their lives. Any other reading of that seems absurdly legalistic.

            A lot of evil people claim to be “Christians” and have all throughout the ages. We know about the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the completely corrupt “churches” and “pastors” that Julie exposes here on a regular basis. I’m quite sure that in Paul’s day, there were “believers” turning in genuine Christians in to the Romans. Surely the profession of faith isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card.

            Even divorce–something we know God hates, and probably much more than lawsuits–has a legitimately warranted Biblical application under narrow circumstances, even between believers.

            Neil Taylor’s life has been ruined due to a diabolical conspiracy against him. Nobody will want anything to do with him ever again thanks to his unjust “scarlet A”. Who is going to give him his life back?

          3. Loren M,

            Jesus addresses this, try reading His teachings, they clear up a lot of the confusion when Paul is misused.

            KJV

            Mt 18: 15-17

            15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
            16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
            17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

            NIV

            15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
            16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
            17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

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