What does 2023 hold for your ministry? Of course, no one can predict exactly what each year brings, but we can expect a unique mix of opportunity and adversity.Your primary mission is to seize the ministry opportunities in your field and capitalize on them. At Adventist Risk Management, Inc. (ARM), our primary mission is to anticipate adversities, to help you avoid them, or at least afford them.
This year, regarding adversity, ARM is seeing a new configuration of the usual suspects: auto liability, weather, and wildfire losses. For decades, we have offered customer service, resources, and educational platforms to help minimize risks and support you. However, there are a couple of new issues in the mix. We are seeing how bad decisions by church leaders and members can lead to serious issues for the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a whole.
Here are key developments worthy of our attention and some practical ways we can turn them into opportunities for growth:
Ancient ClaimsIt’s very possible you could see molestation claims from years long forgotten. Many jurisdictions are repealing statutes of limitation on sex claims. Some are opening limited windows to bring claims from many years ago, and others are eliminating the statutes of limitations completely. We have seen claims from the 1970s and before. The perpetrators are often deceased and witnesses have overlooked these events for decades.
The insurance coverage for these ancient claims can be impaired in four ways. First, there may be no coverage. Sexual molestation wasn’t a covered liability on many policies until recently. Second, the coverage may have been with a carrier who no longer exists. The passing of time can reveal weaknesses in insurers, and many have failed. Third, the coverage may have been depleted in the aggregate for the year of the claim. Most insurance policies provide for a per-occurrence limit and an aggregate limit. Aggregate limits ultimately get depleted and no more coverage is available for future claims. Fourth, the per-occurrence limit may be inadequate. Insurance limits are written in the time, culture, and currency value of each particular context.
As a result, many policies, if they exist, will have limits in the six figures; these amounts are insufficient for a modern jury award. What can you do? Immediately report any claim and let ARM research our archives for policies and coverage remaining.
Unofficial OrganizationsThere are, in every field, private ministries being run by Seventh-day Adventist church members with the very best intentions. Many times, however, they lack the training, experience, or qualifications necessary for the activities they are pursuing. From cutting and pruning trees to specialized athletics and residential care, sometimes Adventists attempt things that are beyond the frontiers of their expertise.
When these activities are sponsored by the church congregation, they must be undertaken with extreme prudence and care. We may share in the liability for accidents and incidents that happen, even if these are only perceived to be part of the official structure of the Adventist Church. When undertaken outside the church’s control, the church must create an awareness of the independence of these activities, organizations, and entities. ARM has developed a document to help you protect the assets of the church in your field from the slippery slope of adopting the liability of others.
Pattern BehaviorsPattern behaviors come in several varieties. One is an institution or entity that continues to produce similar liability events. These events could be related to trips, athletic injuries, chronic falls, or multiple sex claims. A creative plaintiff attorney can tie these events together in such a way as to inflame the anger of a jury to award astronomical or punitive damages. Any time a liability is seen a second time, it is a good time to step back, reevaluate, and have a conversation with ARM about the trajectory of your loss experience.
Another possible pattern claim might come from messaging that appears to support improper behavior. Recently, a video of a pastor’s sermon went viral because he downplayed the sexual autonomy wives have over their bodies. Imagine a claim against some member of the pastoral staff of such an organization accused of disrespecting a woman’s sexual autonomy and the plaintiff attorney exhibiting the video of the sermon to the jury. This could lead to a runaway verdict or punitive damage (which is not covered by insurance most times).
A most dangerous type of pattern claim involves the retention or rehiring of individuals who have demonstrated inadequate behavior or judgment in the past. This is the long-standing complaint against the Roman Catholic Church and has resulted in unimaginable costs to that church, including the liquidation of churches to pay judgments. Likewise, the Boy Scouts of America and the Southern Baptist Convention have been severely injured by claims of patterns of behavior that endangered vulnerable persons after the perpetrator had been once exposed.
We must not be guilty of this practice! We must maintain a zero-tolerance policy for behaviors and poor judgment that disqualify individuals from Seventh-day Adventist ministry. We need to be diligent to perform background checks and consult references for employees and volunteers alike. If violations are uncovered, we must exclude these persons from gaining access to vulnerable persons under our care, custody, and control. We must perform investigations and return findings whenever we receive allegations. When asked about our former employees, we must give honest references.
ConclusionThese developments can set a negative tone for the year. However, if we do our part to educate ourselves and take the necessary actions, we can turn these issues into opportunities for growth. Adventist Risk Management is doing everything we can to prepare your ministries for the worst. However, we also need your ministries to do their part.
If you have questions about these developments or any other risk management issues, or if you would like training for your personnel, please let your account executive know. ARM is blessed to serve you with our expertise, support, and prayer, helping protect your ministries and advance the gospel.