NDA

#NDAfree Launches to End Christian Community’s Use of Non-Disclosure Agreements

By Sarah Einselen

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) have been increasingly used to muzzle people within evangelical churches and Christian organizations. They also can hide misconduct or suppress evidence and testimony.

Now, a group of advocates are asking churches and Christian organizations for a pledge to put away the muzzle — and to take it off where it’s already been used.

#NDAfree launched today as a movement to draw attention to the use of non-disclosure agreements and similar gagging contracts in the evangelical world. The campaign advocates against their misuse within Christian organizations. Its website shares stories of individuals who’ve been subject to NDAs and offers a pledge that organizations can take to avoid using NDAs and release others from existing NDAs.

“This is Christians clearing up their own backyard,” said Lee Furney, one of the four launch team members. “We need to do some housekeeping really. If we’re going to invite other people into the house and say to our non-Christian friends, come and hear something about Jesus, we need to deal with these things and lead the line on clearing this stuff up.”

Furney is an advocate for reform in how the Church of England handles abuse allegations. He hasn’t been subject to an NDA himself, but has spoken to many people who have.

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NDAs and their cousins, non-disparagement agreements, can legitimately be used to protect intellectual property or some personal data, according to the #NDAfree website. They may appear as a clause in a settlement agreement ending a dispute.

But NDAs are rarely needed in churches, Furney and the other advocates say.

Many legal jurisdictions already have adequate legal protection for privacy and confidentiality. An NDA is usually unnecessary when intellectual property isn’t in question, the campaign’s website explains.

 “Too often, these tools are used to silence people following abuse or whistleblowing” in churches and other Christian organizations, according to the #NDAfree website.

In the U.S., an NDA can’t prevent someone from cooperating with law enforcement investigations or blowing the whistle on illegal conduct. “Yet despite these protections, NDAs are sometimes used in ways that allow the cover-up of abuse, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, or other immoral actions,” Joe Carter wrote last year for The Gospel Coalition.

Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist and advocate for victims of abuse, noted that NDAs she’s encountered have “always been an agreement to exercise power over and hide sin.”

“In my experience, such a requirement is demanded for the sake of a system – usually a ministry of some sort,” Langberg wrote earlier this year. “So a Christian is asked to agree to cover-up wrongdoing for the sake of the system – or worse, for the sake of God’s reputation. It suggests that to speak truth is to hurt God and his name. How can this be?”

NDAs have been used in a host of major stories The Roys Report has covered.

  • Lori Anne Thompson, the first of Ravi Zacharias’s victims to speak out, had been bound by an NDA. She wrote it felt “dehumanizing.”
  • Former staff with the Acts 29 church network recounted being fired and forced to sign non-disclosure agreements after alerting leaders in 2015 to bullying and abuse of power.
  • Survivors of abuse at Camp Kanakuk, one of the country’s largest Christian camps, suggested that NDAs “concealed the truth in order to preserve a ministry brand and economic engine.”
  • And the new church founded by Mark Driscoll requires volunteers to sign an NDA, a former security director said.
  • Even Classical Conversations, which produces homeschool educational materials, has required contractors to sign NDAs. Whistleblowers said the company amounted to a multilevel marketing scheme exploiting parents and low-level contractors.

Furney himself is the only survivor so far to speak out on the record about horrific abuse carried out by prominent vicar Jonathan Fletcher. Fletcher has been called the “pope of evangelical conservatism” and is now at the center of a massive scandal in the United Kingdom.

Lee Furney
Lee Furney

The moral problem with NDAs, Furney said, is that they muzzle a Christian who feels called to tell the truth.

“We need to read God’s word and also discern through our conscience what God’s telling us. What the NDA does is bind the conscience, so if you think God’s telling you, you really need to share this with someone, you can’t do that because there’s all sorts of legal repercussions,” Furney said.

He noted that in some cases “if you follow the letter of the law in some of them, you can’t even tell your Christian therapist . . . It’s just appalling.”

Biblical mandates to care for the poor and oppressed also conflict with the silence mandated by an NDA, Furney added. But he acknowledged that many who have signed NDAs did so under difficult circumstances, often with their family’s livelihood at stake.

The #NDAfree movement spans continents. Furney is based in Malawi in East Africa, and other launch team members hail from the U.S., the U.K. and France. One, Ben Nicholson, blew the whistle in 2018 on a U.K. charity. Another, Christina Ruiz-Stigile, was events director at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

“It really is a global campaign,” Furney said “There’s no limits to it, so we think that every church and every organization really needs to be asking itself this question, working out what its policy is ahead of time before they have to deal with these issues, hopefully.”

Response from other advocates and NDA signers has been “fantastic,” Furney said. He didn’t claim any particular expertise, but said the team is simply trying to pull together in one message the recommendations many have made.

“There’s loads and loads of victims who are really encouraged and enthused by this,” he said. “It’s just difficult for them to say that they’ve got NDAs and say how enthused they are. But some will do that nonetheless.”

Furney acknowledged that the #NDAfree campaign is just the start of an ongoing conversation. He’d be happy to see it reach beyond evangelical circles into the wider Christian world and even into secular spaces.

“Truth is truth, doing good to people is doing good to people,” Furney said, “and hopefully Christ gets the glory, is the ultimate goal.”

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.

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11 thoughts on “#NDAfree Launches to End Christian Community’s Use of Non-Disclosure Agreements”

  1. This is a very interesting issue. NDA’s are a key component in the business world and are entered into every day. As a consultant, if I want to do business with a company and they are going to disclose proprietary information, an NDA is required.

    NDA’s are completely voluntary under any circumstance whether in a settlement or normal business relationship. If you do not want to enter into it and you have legal recourse, you can sue the other party or enter into a complaint process as an aggrieved party.

    When you enter into an agreement, it is reasonable to live up to the terms. Jesus is clear: let you yes be yes and your no be no.

    I would think thoughtful reporting would present both sides of the issue.

    Blessings.

    1. Mr. Wilson,
      I generally agree with your belief that a Christian should adhere to the terms of an executed contract. Protection of proprietary information and intellectual property is reasonable in the business world. Churches and Christian organizations should, likewise, insist that employees not disclose names of donors or divulge personal problems of clients.

      Some NDAs, however, seem morally questionable. Examples: The NDA was not “completely voluntary” due to significant differences in power and money between the two parties. Or the primary purpose of the contract was to avoid disclosure of immoral or illegal behavior. Or one party violates the terms by speaking publicly about the other party but threatens to sue the other party for doing the same. What are your thoughts about such scenarios?

      I concur that it’s an interesting issue that deserves thoughtful reporting.

    2. The article does talk about that type of use of NDAs: “Many legal jurisdictions already have adequate legal protection for privacy and confidentiality. An NDA is usually unnecessary when intellectual property isn’t in question, the campaign’s website explains.”

      You can read more at the campaigns website. Whether you agree, is another matter, of course.

  2. I have signed 2 documents in the 46 years of walking with Jesus that I felt “pressured/trapped” to sign.
    In 1986, after 7 years of seminary, in order to get my actual masters degree/diploma, I signed a document stating that I knew for a fact that the gift of tongues had ceased in the 1st century. I reluctantly signed it even though I had several close friends who were committed followers of Jesus who assured me that they had spoken in tongues. Seven years of hard work down the drain versus signing my name and walking in the graduation.
    In 2013, after 18 years of working as a Children’s Pastor at Willow Creek, the Human Resources Department director clearly communicated to me “Tom, you will not receive your severance pay unless you sign this NDA”. Admittedly, I reluctantly signed the NDA. Why? Pragmatically speaking, because I had 2 children in college at the time and a monthly house payment.

  3. The usual pattern with campaigns to reduce corruption and malfeasance is for all but those who are most likely to fall foul of the standards being set to sign up. None of the worst ministries out there have signed up with the ECFA, for example.

    Therefore, the key thing about campaigns like this is to educate the public on the necessity of such a program in helping to reduce that corruption and malfeasance, so they will avoid ministries who refuse to sign up. Sadly, it’s those who are most likely to fall prey to those ministries who are least likely to be swayed by the campaign.

    1. “None of the worst ministries out there have signed up with the ECFA, for example.” This is absolutely not true. A good number of scandals have happened with ECFA and have been reported on here. ECFA does nothing except charge money for a logo that means absolutely nothing. Gospel for Asia was a founding member and they ignored all the warning signs of a Billion dollar scam while taking their money and putting their damned logo on the GFA website! Voice of the Martyrs, another scam, has the logo. And look them up in some of the bigger scandals that Julie has covered. Lets be clear, there is absolutely nothing useful that comes out of an ECFA audit. I have helped prepare one for a ministry many years ago. I know this first hand.

  4. An NDA is commonly called a Gag Order.

    When an NDA is conditional on receiving pension or pay or other monetary compensation, the monetary compensation is commonly called Hush Money.

    And a LOT of abusive churches and Ministries(TM) are really into Gag Orders, with or without Hush Money.
    Just check various church corruption/whistleblower blogs. It’s all over the place.

  5. Imagine Jesus or the Apostle Paul requiring an NDA before they would be willing to do “Ministry” with you….

    The extensive use of NDAs by Evangelical churches and ministries displays how much these organizations have become just like any other business entity.

    To make this work, people have to be willing to leave their churches and ministries if these organization continue to make use of NDAs.

    Honesty, Integrity, Transparency… I have failed to see this in churches over the years and NDAs add to the dysfunction that goes on.

  6. If you check the website and read the All Soul’s Langham Place story, it doesn’t make sense. I found it very confusing and unconvincing.

  7. Prior to big church pastors becoming celebrities, TV stars and best selling authors i wonder how many NDA’s existed. Probably very few since they were not needed prior to money becoming the driving force in so many ministries.

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