On September 19, Rev. Esteban Lugo, former director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Race Relations, was released from the ministry in the status of one deposed by Classis Grand Rapids South. (Classis is the regional group of churches.)
Classis Grand Rapids South took the action at the recommendation of the council of Kelloggsville Christian Reformed Church in Kentwood, Mich., which held the ministerial credentials of Lugo while he was employed by the denomination.
Lugo resigned as director of Race Relations on July 22, 2016, after 12 years in the job. As reported by The Banner, the denomination’s director of ministries and administration, Colin Watson, stated that Lugo had decided “to consider other ministry opportunities following a short leave of absence.”
According to the agenda for the January 19, 2017, meeting of Grand Rapids South, Lugo had requested to be honorably released from the ministry. However, when the council of Kelloggsville CRC received complaints about Lugo from four women, it consulted with Rev. Kathy Smith on Church Order questions. The council contacted the Safe Church Office requesting its assistance and also sought legal advice.
Ordinarily when there are allegations of abuse against a member of the clergy, the approved guidelines call for an Advisory Panel to meet with both the claimants and the accused. If the advisory panel believes the allegation is probable and serious, it can then make recommendations to the church council.
In this case, since the four women refused to be publicly identified, the council of Kelloggsville requested an alternative process. A panel and subsequently a subcommittee of classis received the written statements of all four women and a written response from Lugo. Those statements were shared with the classis.
The subcommittee of classis tasked with reviewing all the information supported the motion of the Kelloggsville council to release Lugo in the status of one deposed. Classis agreed and the synodical deputies Revs. Doug Fauble, Chris De Vos, and Paul De Vries concurred.
Kelloggsville CRC’s council president, Steve Petersen, said that the denomination should have informed the council about the circumstances when Lugo left his employment. Under Church Order Article 13, when a minister is employed outside of the local congregation, supervision is shared by the employer and the church council. Church Order supplement 13-b states, “If any council, agency, or institution of the CRC involved in the cooperative supervision of a minister of the Word learns about significant deviation in doctrine, life, or duties, it shall officially inform in writing its partner(s) in that supervision about such deviation before any action is taken that affects that minister’s status and future.”
A statement from the denomination reads: “Denominational officials did initiate contact with the church after Rev. Lugo’s resignation of employment. The denomination communicated with the council of Kelloggsville CRC per the requirements of Church Order 13 (supplement 13-B) and met the obligations of confidentiality it possessed as the employer.”
Petersen said the church understands that the employer was bound by a confidentiality agreement that prohibited them from giving details. “But they knew this was deviation of conduct of life. Kelloggsville council feels the denomination violated that article,” he said.
Following the classis meeting, Lugo told The Banner that the process “was unfair and unjust from the beginning” and referred all other questions to his advocate, Rev. Peter Borgdorff, executive director emeritus of the CRC. Borgdorff was not representing the denomination. “My main involvement revolved around there being a fair process,” Borgdorff said. “My point has been throughout that the process was not fair and did not follow synodical procedure.”