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Christian Family Church, sex, scandal, pastor, owatonna
Our Savior’s issues ‘safety’ letter in light of CFC’s sex case
Kay Fate, Staff Writer

Leaders of at least one local church are taking steps to let their members know that they have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to allegations of abuse.

A letter from the three pastors and the youth director at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Owatonna sent a letter to “members and friends” of the church after the Steele County Times’ reporting of alleged pastoral abuse at Christian Family Church.

It addresses the story of Luverne Daniel Zacharias, 46, of Medford, who stands accused of sexually assaulting a former student at El Shaddai Christian School, where he served as a teacher and principal. The criminal complaint against him said the abuse continued into the victim’s adulthood, including an incident at the church, which is affiliated with the school.

Zacharias has been charged with one count each of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, as well as two counts each of third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, all felonies.

The letter begins by calling the local charges “serious and damaging to the child … We pray for the victim as they deal with the abuse that was inflicted upon them, and try to recover from this pain.

“Whether it is in Sunday school, Confirmation, youth activities and trips, or just hanging out in the building, children’s safety is a primary focus for the staff and volunteers,” the letter goes on to say.

“At Our Savior’s, all staff and anyone who works with children and youth are required to complete a background check, processed by a third party,” the pastors wrote.

The safeguards are part of the church’s policy, as well as a requirement of its insurance company.

The pastors, specifically, “have gone through a more rigorous criminal and work history background check,” they said.

The staff members at the church are also required by the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America to attend a Boundaries Training Workshop every three years.

Like most denominational churches, Our Savior’s is governed by several larger bodies, with oversight for everything from finances to policies to personnel, provided by committees on the local, state and national level.

“There is a zero-tolerance policy for any type of abuse by pastors in the ELCA and staff of congregations,” the letter says. “If there is any proven abuse in a person’s history, they are not allowed to work in an ELCA congregation.”

Non-denominational churches, including Christian Family Church, are not formally aligned with, or part of, any specific Christian denomination. As a result, there are no hard and fast rules for what a non-denominational church is or how it operates.

As such, they are self-governing entities.

Former CFC church members have told the Times that the majority of people who sit on its governing board are members of pastors Tim and Cherrie Peterson’s family.

The Petersons have not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The leaders at Our Savior’s close their letter by saying they take “every good and feasible step that we can to guard against abuse of any person” within their ministries.

It is signed by pastors Mike Walerius, Lisa Carlson and Ron Huber, as well as Mandy Stockwell, the youth director.

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