Because background checks will take place as part of the Search and Call system responsibilities within Disciples Home Missions, the purpose of this response is to offer insight into the decision to conduct background checks and the reason for the decisions regarding the selection of the vendor contracted to perform background searches and the cost of such.
The decision to conduct background checks was made by the General Commission on Ministry (GCOM), approved by the General Board of the Christian Church, and affirmed by the College of Regional Ministers (CRM) following a year of discussion, discernment and investigation by GCOM and CRM.
Therefore, if you have questions about the decision, please contact your regional minister, the Chairperson of the General Commission on Ministry, and/or the Disciples General Minister and President. The Office of Search and Call will simply manage the background check program as defined by these other ministries of the church.
Before the request for proposals from vendors regarding background check services existed, an extensive discussion had been going on regarding the level of services needed for each background check. There are extensive reasons for the shaping of decisions that were made, but suffice it to say that, in the end, it was decided that background reporting would be limited to what was discovered about all convictions, as well as national sexual offender registry data, based on the locations of a minister’s residential and work history from the previous seven years.
However, to perform proper searches for such, each background check would need to include investigations at county and state levels for each and every county and state in which a minister has lived and worked during the previous seven years immediately prior to the investigation. It was also determined each investigation would need to include a search of any national proprietary database used by the vendor, as well as a search of the National Sexual Offenders database that will soon include data from all states in the U.S. It was also determined that any vendor would need to provide background searches in Canada that made use of similarly accurate systems.
With this search parameter in place, an extensive attempt was made to solicit proposals from nationally reputable vendors, other vendors identified through regional and other church partners, and vendors identified by searches on the Internet. As part of the understanding communicated to possible vendors, additional concerns related to a desire that the cost be as economical as possible, any and all collected databases of clergy information be secure from possible information theft, that the cost for each search would be the same (no minister would have to pay more than another minister), and that such searches needed to be done in a timely manner to avoid holding up the search and call process for any minister.
In the end, only a handful of companies responded to the proposal request. It was not that the requests were out of line. Rather, many companies are just not set up to support the comprehensive nature of our church’s request, some could not do such a service in any cost effective way, and some could not provide the data security we needed for the sake of Disciples ministers. Many other companies also did not respond as they were not equipped to provide any services through a process that is centralized to one client. Of the companies that did respond, most were in the ballpark of the $175 price, but only one (Oxford Document) rose to the level of a balance between quality, economics, convenience, and security that was needed.
As it turns out, the United Church of Christ performed a separate, if similar, process of investigation for their own denomination-wide clergy background checks to meet their own needs. In the end, their decision was to select the same company (Oxford Document) chosen by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at the same cost per search, and to also conduct their searches and include the same parameters as defined for our own denomination. Oxford Document has an extensive history of being established for providing services specifically for ecclesiastical (church) organizations.
After the initial decision was made to formalize an agreement based on the cost and services that Oxford Document agreed to, one of the newer representatives on the General Commission on Ministry noted that their institution (a seminary) contracts for background checks with another company at a much lower cost than the $175 proposed. At that time, another investigation was done to solicit a lower price for our church’s background search needs, including soliciting the company that does business with the seminary. After hearing the required parameters for inclusion in each background check, the seminary’s vendor could come close to the price of Oxford, but with some significant compromise in the level of service needed.
To put it simply, ALL the advertisements seen online and in other places, as well as leads, for inexpensive background searches turned out to be for more limited services and did not hold up to the standards deemed necessary and reasonable for a mainline Christian denomination in this day and age.
It is hoped that clergy will understand the significant value in these background checks for our ministry, as one of many efforts to care for and protect those who seek guidance from, participation in, and connection to the deeply spiritual community that is the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). So also does this effort increase the integrity of all Disciples clergy through an appropriate transparency of the lives of those who serve as vocational ministers in our midst.
Additionally, is it hoped congregations will understand the wisdom, and relatively economical cost, of reimbursing clergy for the these background checks as part of all letters of call. Secondarily, there are just too many good religious institutions in the United States these days that are at risk of losing real property because they did not use the available means to accurately screen clergy to protect their members and friends.
Certainly, the protection of God’s children, the integrity of vocational ministry in our church, and the stewardship of the gifts the church has received for ministry are all part of this concern.
Because Oxford Document Management is not able to do background checks for individuals residing in Canada, research was done regarding what Canadian ecumenical partners in other denominations were doing for such services. As a result, the General Commission On Ministry requires the following for Canadian clergy.
Each clergy-person who is currently, or has resided/worked in the last eight years, in Canada, and who is preparing Search and Call forms to enter circulation, needs to procure a Police Records Check on herself/himself from the closest appropriate Canadian regional police agency. A minister in this situation should ask the police agency for the most comprehensive type of check, the kind deemed suitable for persons interacting with vulnerable individuals; a “Vulnerable Sector Check (Level 3).” If such a clergy person has not lived in the U.S. at any time during this eight year period this Vulnerable Sector Check will be in lieu of an Oxford Document background check; but if they have lived in the U.S. at any time during this eight year period, then this check will be in addition to a background check from Oxford Document Management.
For those clergy and ministerial students with limited incomes and those who cannot afford the cost of a background check, please contact your regional minister or chair of regional Commission on Ministry to see if such a matter could be creatively addressed at the regional level so that the cost of a background check does not become prohibitive to entering the search and call system.
Warren Lynn, former director of the Office of Search and Call