Ontario Classis Asks Church to Depose Pastor

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Maranatha Christian Reformed Church, Belleville, Ontario, has been asked to depose Rev. John Visser for breaking confidentiality and for abuse of office.

Classis Quinte’s request follows an investigation and recommendation by an independent assessment team appointed by the classis in September 2010 that included three members appointed by the Christian Reformed Church’s Pastor-Church Relations office, one member appointed by the council of Maranatha, and one member appointed by Classis Quinte.

The investigation followed allegations by Bradley Thompson that Visser had used his position of influence, trust, and authority for his own financial gain. Thompson had been in counseling with Visser.

In 2008, Thompson filed a lawsuit against Visser; the council of Maranatha; Classes Quinte, Toronto, and Eastern Canada; and the CRC in North America for $1,000,000 but later dropped the suit.

It is the responsibility of the local church council to supervise and discipline its pastor. However, the council of Maranatha is not in agreement with the classis decision, and a special classis meeting will be held June 2 for further discussion.

About the Author

Brenda Visser is the Banner's regional news correspondent for classis Eastern Canada.

See comments (19)


Some questions:
1. Was the investigation thorough and proper or was there biases that interfered with good perspective about what happened?
2. What caused Thompson to withdraw the lawsuit?
3. How does the subjectivity to any of the direct parties involved create problems with coming up with a decision of what to do?

For me, subjectivity in dealing with cases like this is the blind spots we have when CRC investigates CRC problems. Depending on where this is really at – I have a name of an outsource (non CRC) that is credible, Christian, and objective that could investigate again, if needed. If you want that info., please find a way to post your contact info and I can share with you what I know.

Please pray for our classis, and Maranatha CRC as classis meets on June 2 to discuss this matter.

Response to concerned questions:
1. How can there be a bias with straighforward information such as disclosing of information for the sole purpose of showing the concerned member is a liar, manipulator, and deciever.
Pastor John stated this in no uncertain terms that the person behind all the concerns was just that, and that is why he disclosed the information. The concerned members over the past 10-15 yrs. are too many to count, and many have moved on, for John Visser to even think just one person is behind so many ongoing concerns is reason for concern in and of itself, not to mention providing the information to discredit someone's voice is again a way of avoiding the issues.

2. Thompsons lawsuit is just another symptom of ongoing concerns years before it evolved into a lawsuit. Many concerned members warned council and staff of lawsuits ahead, without proper accountability in place. These documents and letters of concern were included in the 4 volumes presented to the team (or at lease I would hope so)

3. I cannot understand how an outside source would help this situation, except prolong the process further.

I would recommend to anyone reading this that before making a judgement on the matter, to contact the stated clerk of classis quinte to request the recommendations report (at least) that the committee created. If you read between the lines of this document, you will see that the situation is far more complex than can easily be described even in 12 pages. The process that was followed was not sufficiently thorough or fair for delivering a verdict as severe as the one presented in the report. As one who has some additional insight into the situation it is fair to say that more scrutiny of the accusations and the accusers is required before any decision should be made. The accusations were vague in nature, the process one-sided, and the recommendations more severe and far-reaching than are described in the above article. I pray for wisdom for everyone present at the June 2nd meeting and for a fair and just outcome.

Wow! Where to start - how many inaccuracies can there possibly be in one 5 paragraph article??

First of all, Classis Quinte did request Maranatha Council to depose Pastor Visser, but the article neglects to mention the 2 week deadline also imposed. Failing which Classis Quinte planned to depose all of Maranatha Council! If anyone is interested, that has only happened twice in the history of the CRC, and certainly never once over disciplinary issues.

Secondly, the committee report does not once mention the Bradley Thompson lawsuit, but strictly deals instead with issues related to concerns and disagreements with regard to the Maranatha Healing Ministry model.

Thirdly, the article fails to mention that the Maranatha representative on the "assessment" committee resigned his position when he disagreed with the direction the committee was going and is on record disagreeing with the final report.

Fourthly, Thompson was not, and had not been personally counselled by Rev. John Visser. And again, the "assessment" committee was not struck as a result of lawsuit. A lawsuit dropped because it was unsubstantiated, could not have been won and should never have been filed in the first place.

Finally, the article does not mention that this motion to depose an otherwise highly regarded CRC Minister of the Word and the Sacraments, was presented without any prior notification to any members of Classis Quinte, nor any prior notification to Maranatha Council.

In other words, Pastor Visser was charged, convicted and sentenced in one 3 hour session at the end of a long Classis meeting without anyone even knowing a trial was about to occur!

Is there any question why Maranatha Council vehemently disagrees with the process used and the verdict rendered in this situation? Having fully investigated the entire situation, Maranatha Council is firmly on record as being fully supportive of both it's pastor and the Healing Ministry. And the vast majority of the congregation shares in this support.

For more information on Maranatha Church, visit: www.maranatha-church.com

I think it is important, that if an article is to be written of such sensitive nature, that a clarification of all the facts would be made, and a clear picture presented from all parties concerned. There is the potential for more harm being done when things end up in print which are not exactly complete. I urge all readers, "not to contribute to idle gossip" but to pray, and to go to the sources, when there is a need for questions to be answered.

I would like to address the comments made by Maranatha Member June 1, 2011. First, the two week deadline was imposed because it was found that people are at risk from untrained counsellors using questionable techniques. Council had been stonewalling classis for quite some time leading up to this. How could classis assure the safety of the congregation if council that had already proven themselves uncooperative were kept in place. Classis only said they would replace any council members who did not comply with their request to depose Visser.
Second, the report does not mention the lawsuit but the investigation certainly did stem from it being filed.
Thirdly, the writer fails to mention that the maranatha representative on the committee was not a member of maranatha but a professional counsellor willing to compromise his certifying colleges code of ethics by endorsing John Vissers dangerous theories.
His fourth point is just false, nothing more need be said on this one.
The balance of his comment misrepresents the situation as well. He fails to mention a decade or more of serious complaints and accusations levelled at John Visser and council. Letters have been written to local pastors, classis and synod, this after serious attempts to solve the problem within the church. There was even a lawsuit. Further, classis and council has resisted and been critical of all who suggest their policies and practices are innapropriate and put persons in their care in danger.
Within Maranatha John Visser intentionally keeps the congregation in the dark about the real issues he is being accused of. I suggest that "Maranatha Member" get his information from more than one source from now on.

At least "truth" admits the Banner story is misleading. Unfortunately, in attempting to clarify my comments, "truth" has confused things much more.

Yes, various individuals have been making suggestions regarding the Healing Ministry at Maranatha to Council over the past 10 - 15 years. And Council has acted on many of those suggestions - the Ministry has matured and professionalized over the years. However, at the end of the day, these Concerned Members are more worried about lawsuits than anything else, so no change except removing the Ministry will be sufficient. Many of us supporters at Maranatha believe that following the mission of Jesus is far more important than the threats of man.

In fact, the Banner site itself has a very informative article about the importance of being a healing community: http://www.thebanner.org/features/article/?id=3067 That's the kind of church Maranatha tries to be!

With the exception of the Thompson lawsuit, (and no, Brad was being counselled by a separate "professional" counsellor not Pastor Visser, although they did have a close relationship and friendship) there have not been any lawsuits or even threats of any, as far as I am aware. Maranatha tries to help broken people, and for the most part is very successful. Want examples? This was from last Sunday: http://bit.ly/j5nS2k

What there is a lot of from the Concerned Members is the whispering "If you only knew what Pastor Visser has really done, then you wouldn't support him." And we hear that again from "truth" below.

So please, Mr. "truth" - enlighten us! Tell Pastor Visser and Council, for the very FIRST time, what is it really that he is being accused of? We, and especially Pastor Visser, would really like to know!

I almost forgot to respond the most curious (and outrageous) comment by "truth" when he responded to mine.

I'm referring to this quote: "Thirdly, the writer fails to mention that the maranatha representative on the committee was not a member of maranatha but a professional counsellor willing to compromise his certifying colleges code of ethics by endorsing John Vissers dangerous theories."

Hmmm. I am sure this individual will relish the opportunity to speak for himself, but to correct the record: He HAS regularly attended Maranatha for the past 6 years, although I'm not sure what "truth's" point is.

He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, a Masters Degree in Social Work, he is a Registered Social Worker, a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner, and a Certified Executive Coach. He has worked in Community Mental Health for the past thirty years, and is presently the Director of Clinical Services directly overseeing over 100 staff members for a large Municipal Mental Health and Addiction Services organization.

If I am understanding "truth" correctly, we are supposed to believe this individual is willing to risk ALL of that just to endorse "John Vissers dangerous theories"?

Wow. Pastor Visser is much more omnipotent than I thought. Why is he wasting his superpowers in little ole' Belleville?

The concerned members,
two sets of church visitors,
a four person, independant assessment team,
the church ministry committee,
and classis itself,
have all come to the same conclusion.
They have received plenty of information from Maranatha council as well as copies of reports from four church visitors, private confidential information from concerned church members, a detailed report from the assessment team as well as spending a day to hear what Maranatha's staff and council had to say. It sounds like the decision made was fair to all parties, everyone had a chance to be heard. Sometimes justice is a tough pill to swallow. This complicated and painfull process is why we have our accountability structures set up as we do. God help Maranatha if they withdraw from the denomination and have no accountabilty whatsoever.

Member of Maranatha

Thank you for your comments Mr. Smeenk. I too am quite sure that God will help Maranatha should the congregation decide to leave the CRC.

Anyone at all familiar with the inner workings of CRC politics knows that there is often nothing remotely "fair" about how decisions are made. This entire episode is so steeped in back-room deals and secret agendas that it should make even the most calloused CRC'er blush.

What happened to the comment I posted?

It seems the concerned members have way to much power My question is when do the unconcerned members get to be heard

How can so many oversight groups come to the same conclusion and yet still people are blinded....maybe the unconcerned should become MORE concerned and take notice of some the serious issues.
The one that shocks me the most is the people doing the counseling are not qualified to do so.....
HOW does that make sense? how can this be justified?
on another note...I have never fixed a car in my life....but i just opened up a new car repair shop......all are welcome.....

"Shocked" - feel free to look into the facts of the matter before commenting.

There are many other oversight groups/professionals that have looked at the Healing Ministry at Maranatha and have very positive things to say. The classis committee was side-swiped by the Church Visitors who have a very deliberate agenda.

I'm happy for you and your new car garage - but Pastor Visser has been helping people for 40 years and has hundreds of changed lives as a witness to his effectiveness as a counsellor. I'm not sure I understand your point.

how do you defend someone counseling vulnerable people when that said person is not qualified to do so....
does the church have the right to just make anyone a counselor?..........you mentioned in your last post that i should check the facts first...duely noted.........so i respond to you by saying please do not pick through the facts and choose which ones serve you best....and what about the lives of the people who have been negatively affected by the counseling at maranatha?....not part of your facts I guess.......

Have you ever asked what the qualifications of Maranatha Staff are? You will be very surprised if you do. And I am sure you will agree that 40 years of experience fixing cars or fixing people is worth a lot on top of that!

I would be very interested in the facts that you have regarding people that have been hurt by Maranatha and its Healing Ministry. Please share them with me - if I am unaware of them I would be happy to add them to my perspective. If I am able to tell you the other side of some of those stories, will you be open to hearing them?

To maranatha member and all participants: I just want to mention a few things.
1) I have asked the council to provide me with a list of qualifications of its staff to practice what amounts to psychotherapy and have done so more than once. So far I have been ignored or as you have just said I was told I would be surprised by the qualifications they have. John Visser has also made the same statement you have made, from the pulpit, at one point he even said " Doesn't it surprise you ( speaking to the congregation during a sermon some time ago) that up until now no one has asked about our staff's qualifications. Now I am telling you that I had asked prior to this point in time twice and am aware of six others who had also asked the same question, verbally and in written form. I asked again last week and still no answer.So yes I would be surprised at how qualified they are if only someone would tell me their qualifications.If you know what they are please share them with me so I can add them to my perspective.
2)Fourty years of pastoral counselling is one thing, the last 15 years or more its been psychotherapy.
3)I am aware of many painfull experiences by members and former members at the hands of staff and council.I no these peoples stories because I looked in our churh directory and listed all the people no longer attending and I went to as many as I could to find out why. If you really care about What THE TRUTH IS YOU NEED TO GO OUT AND DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. After you have done so and hoping they will speak to someone they feel is safe which you may not be, then you can come back and tell us all the other side of the story which I and many others,I am sure, would be very open to hearing. Of course only John Visser would know the other side of the story as a lot of the pain was caused without a witness. So if you know the other side of the story and you are not John Visser that means he is guilty of breach of confidentiality, over, and over, and over, and over again. These people will not go public for fear of how they will be demonized from the pulpit and have their personal deepest secrets be used to attack their character. All of us know he has openly done it before.

So let me get this straight - you consider it research to go out and talk with those who have left Maranatha to get their perspective and their story. Fair enough.

But you realize it is impossible for you to ever hear the other side of the story from Pastor Visser since it would be a breach of that person's confidentiality.

Hmmm... you don't see a problem here? You have to believe whatever that person tells you, don't you? You don't think they might twist the story around just a little bit to make themselves look a bit better?

I suggest to you that people don't come forward with allegations NOT because they fear being demonized from the pulpit, but because they know their stories won't hold water when confronted with the facts in the light of day. Why else are they so afraid of Restorative Justice with a trained, third party counsellor?