Protestant church leaders rarely reprimand members for moral failings, a new study reveals

Leaders of Protestant churches in the U.S. apparently rarely reprimand or discipline members for their moral failings, sins and misconducts, according to a new study.

(Reuters/Patrick Sweeney)Members of a Protestant Church take part in the Sunday service.

LifeWay Research released its findings following a phone survey of 1000 senior pastors that took place from Aug. 30 to Sept. 18, 2017. It showed that eight in 10 pastors in Protestant churches don't discipline erring members, and nearly half of the respondents (49 percent) said they were not aware of a member who has been reprimanded for their misconduct.

Some 16 percent of pastors, however, said they disciplined members with moral failings — 3 percent members disciplined within the last month of the survey, 5 percent reprimanded members in the last six months, while 8 percent disciplined members in the last year.

No formal or strict process or policy, however, was in place in most churches. A few stated that the disciplining must come from church elders (14 percent), pastors (8 percent), board members (4 percent) and deacons (1 percent). Sanctions also vary per church, which might include suspension or restriction in membership, such as barring the member from receiving communion, or expulsion from the community.

Churches that do follow a formal system in reprimanding members are usually seen as autocratic, thus prompting erring members to leave the church altogether than to face sanctions.

"There's some red tape involved for churches," Scott McConnell of LifeWay Research stated in the report. "It is not easy to be kicked out of a church," he went on to say.

In 2017, details of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and his aide's affair became public. Court records showed that while the government processed his impeachment, his church asked him and his paramour to leave the community.

Bentley used to be a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Tuscaloosa's First Baptist Church. He was also in its different advisory boards for the youth and for family counseling.