Update on the Investigation May 3, 2018
On Wednesday evening, May 2, Fox 9 News aired an investigative report related to the allegations surrounding Pastor Mark Darling and Evergreen Church.
The timing of this story is very unfortunate, as we are likely in the final weeks of an extensive independent investigation into the matter by Joan Harris, Esq., of Ogletree Deakins.
We would like to express concern for everyone involved; it is hard to see people in pain, particularly people we know.
As you know, there are always at least two sides to every story. While the Fox 9 News story portrayed one of those sides, the independent investigation will cover multiple sides and perspectives.
Please pray for all involved.
Fox 9 News did request interviews with both Mark Darling and Brent Knox and here was our response:
We understand that you have approached some of our pastors for comment on an ongoing investigation. We can provide the following statement on behalf of our pastors and Evergreen Church:
Allegations by one individual have arisen claiming inappropriate sexual behavior prior to 2001 by Mark Darling, a pastor at The Rock in South Minneapolis, which is one of five Evergreen locations. General claims against Darling were first shared by this person through social media on January 5, 2018; more specific allegations were posted online on January 24, 2018. In addition, this person has implied that Evergreen Church was aware of the offensive behavior and did not act appropriately.
Evergreen first learned of these allegations on January 26, 2018, and has moved quickly to address them. Effective January 30, 2018, the Evergreen Board of Trustees placed Darling on paid administrative leave.
We take all allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously, although we are mindful that an allegation alone does not assign guilt. In an effort to discern the truth of these allegations – impartially and without bias – Evergreen hired a reputable, third party investigator, Joan Harris, Esq., from Ogletree Deakins, on February 9, 2018, to independently investigate the facts surrounding these claims. This investigation is ongoing.
Darling denies these allegations and is cooperating fully with this process. He is not performing any pastoral duties during the investigation, including teaching, counseling, or oversight. At the close of the investigation, the findings will be submitted to the Board to determine the appropriate next steps.
We have shared the news of these allegations and are providing updates at http://www.evergreenchurch.com/update/ on the status our current investigation with the congregations at all five of Evergreen’s locations.
In an effort to protect the integrity of the investigation and those impacted by this process, please understand that it would be inappropriate for us to discuss the allegations with the media, or any other third party, while the investigation is underway. We will, however, be happy to provide you with updates to our congregations on the status of the investigation as they become available.
Update on the Investigation April 10, 2018
We know that many of you have been patiently waiting for an update. Here is what we can share with you at this time.
According to Evergreen’s charter and by-laws, its Board of Trustees has final authority over financial and legal oversight, including employment decisions and policy matters. In these areas, the pastors submit to the authority of the Board. This governance authority is designed to provide oversight, accountability and operational integrity for the church. On January 30, 2018, upon learning of the allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior against Mark Darling (alleged to have occurred prior to 2001) including the charge that the matter was handled inappropriately by pastors, the Board made the decision to recuse all pastors from the investigative process. The Board also placed Mark Darling on administrative leave. The Board chose not to conduct its own internal investigation of the allegations because they believe that this matter needed to be investigated by someone outside the church, with complete independence and without bias. After thorough due diligence, a highly qualified, independent investigator was selected and retained on February 9, 2018.
The investigator, Ms. Joan Harris, has over 20 years of experience and has conducted hundreds of investigations. She is a lawyer, but her role in this investigation is as an investigator, not as a lawyer. She is not a litigator in this matter and she is not a legal advocate or counselor for Evergreen Church, Mark Darling, any pastors or Evergreen’s Board. She was retained by the Board to investigate the facts surrounding the allegations that have been made, independently and without bias, and to report those facts to the Board. Ms. Harris was specifically retained to independently investigate: 1) allegations of sexual abuse by Mark Darling 2) allegations to the effect that Evergreen Church was aware of the abuse allegations and did not act appropriately, and 3) any related claims that arise during the investigation. The Board has not met with or discussed any of the allegations with Ms. Harris. The investigation is being directed by the investigator not by the Board.
Approximately two weeks after the investigator was retained, on February 20th, the person making the allegations informed the investigator by email that she would participate in the investigation by way of her attorney. A week later, a request was made to this person by email asking her to provide their attorney contact information so that the investigator could set up a meeting with the attorney. The response back from this person by email was that her attorney would reach out directly to the investigator. Accordingly, the investigator continued with her investigative process. Five weeks went by with no contact from this person’s attorney. On April 5th, two Evergreen Board members met with the person making the allegations to inform her that the investigation was continuing with Ms. Harris and to inquire on the status of her planned participation in the investigation by way of her attorney. At this meeting, she indicated that she would not be participating in the investigation.
The investigation will be completed and closed with the information the investigator obtains from those individuals who have agreed to participate. The investigation is likely to take a few more weeks to be completed, plus the needed time for the investigator to write her report. The Board hopes to have the findings by the end of May, but we cannot give a specific timeline since Evergreen is not directing the investigation. Given the time that has passed, one might assume that this has been a very lengthy investigation, but please know that Ms. Harris is performing other work and duties for her firm in addition to working on this investigation.
The Board of Trustees will communicate to Evergreen’s congregations the outcome of the investigation and what action, if any, they are taking based upon the investigation’s findings. If the allegations are found to be true, in the case of a leader, it will be dealt with firmly and transparently by the Board.
Investigation Update – February 26, 2018
We have created this page to communicate updates regarding the investigation related to the allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by Pastor Mark Darling of The Rock and the allegation Evergreen Church was aware of the offensive behavior and did not act appropriately.
Our church is taking this matter very seriously. It is our sincerest desire to have this matter thoroughly and independently investigated and then seek the appropriate course of action. There are three important values we are striving to uphold as we proceed.
One: It is essential for followers of Jesus to affirm the intrinsic value and dignity of every person as being created in the very image of God. Any misuse of power, including sexual misconduct, that objectifies, diminishes or devalues another, is entirely inappropriate and contrary to the Christ-like concern and care for one another we seek to live out as a community. We recognize the vulnerability and bravery it takes to come forward in cases of sexual misconduct. We acknowledge society’s historical susceptibility to protect individuals in positions of power and the interest of organizations. This must not be the case in God’s Church and Evergreen Church is wholly committed to seeking the truth in these matters.
Two: Allegations alone do not equate to guilt. People can be and have been the subject of unfound accusations that tarnish their reputation. Care needs to be exercised when accusations arise, against anyone, including Christian leaders [1 Tim 5:19-21]. The essential principle is that there should be no favoritism shown to someone making allegations or the person being accused and if sin is found to be true, in the case of a leader, it is to be dealt with firmly and transparently. The allegations should not be quickly believed without question nor should they be dismissed without a serious and unbiased investigation [Prov 18:17]. This is our pursuit.
Third: Evergreen Church will not engage this matter on social media and our refusal to respond to any social media posts should not be construed as a lack in interest or an admission concerning any of the subjects that are being discussed. The internet is a powerful tool and has given voice to the oppressed and has supported the freedom of speech that we enjoy in this country. However, it is an intrinsically difficult environment to seek resolution and the vulnerabilities for misunderstanding and speculation are substantial. We ask that you consider this should you choose to engage personally on social media. We did respond to the initial posted allegations with an ill-considered statement that was unintentionally misleading. We apologize for this.
It was announced to the congregation on February 4, 2018 that Evergreen Church was in the process of hiring a reputable third-party investigator to independently investigate the facts surrounding these allegations. We also invited any questions you may have to be sent to Lynn Newman, Evergreen Operations Manager. We are grateful for the many people that have engaged in asking questions. The updates below are related to helping answer questions that you may have. If you have further questions or information you believe is relevant to the investigation, please contact Lynn Newman at email@example.com.
• Evergreen has hired Attorney Joan Harris, Esq., from Ogletree Deakins to conduct the investigation. She has over 20 years of experience and has conducted hundreds of investigations. She was not hired to represent the interests of Mark Darling or any other individual pastor. Ms. Harris was specifically retained to independently investigate: 1) allegations of sexual abuse by Mark Darling 2) allegations to the effect that Evergreen Church was aware of the abuse allegations and did not act appropriately, and 3) any related claims that arise during the investigation. To remain reputable in this field of work, an attorney must uphold and maintain the highest degree of ethical, moral, and legal standards and, in this case, conduct an investigation without bias. Ms. Harris possesses the qualifications and experience necessary to conduct this investigation independently, and to convey the results of her investigation to the Board of Trustees.
• It is understandable that a person making allegations such as these would distrust the church’s pastoral leadership, particularly those that were engaged when the events surrounding the allegations occurred. The Evergreen Board of Trustees understands this and has appropriately recused all pastors from the hiring of the investigator and any disciplinary decisions that might be made following the conclusion of the investigation.
• Our February 4th statement noted that “At the close of the investigation, the findings will be submitted to the Evergreen Board of Trustees to determine the appropriate next steps.” The Board of Trustees cannot commit to a full release of the report out of concern for privacy and employment laws. The Board of Trustees will determine what can be disseminated in accordance with these laws.
Our commitment to you as followers of Jesus is that our resolve is to honor God, seek truth and clarity, honor the integrity of this process, to walk humbly and act justly when we have learned what truly transpired, and regard the dignity of those involved. God promises in James 1:5 that when anyone lacks wisdom, they can ask God who gives generously, and it will be given. Please join us in asking God for wisdom as we proceed, and that God’s steadfast love, mercy, and presence would surround all of those that are more deeply involved including Pastor Mark Darling and his family as well as the individual making the allegations and her family. We also wish to thank you for your prayers and patience.