This incident was made public back in October. It has been reported on in the secular press on two occasions, with a third publication regarding a different incident 8-10 days ago. We report on this odd story not to condemn, but to make our people aware of propriety requirements in our schools.
We hope that the South Lancaster Academy has resolved this improper situation as efficiently as possible, and we hope that the Adventist Message uses this opportunity to sound a renewed commitment to sexual purity, propriety and moral decorum.
The 'Bathing' Incident
An incident of outdoor nude bathing during a camping trip between chaperones and students from religious private school and church may have actually been skinny dipping between a pastor and students, according to MassLive.
A state Department of Children and Families investigation was launched earlier this year after a concerned parent reported the incident to the principal of South Lancaster Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Lancaster, MassLive reported earlier this month.
Fallout from the incident led to Heather Cook, the associate pastor at the College Church of Seventh-day Adventists in Lancaster, seeking a restraining order against a congregation member after that member spoke to her about the apparent skinny dipping incident.
Cook allegedly disrobed and went into a public body of water in Maine with the female students, some of whom were minors, during an annual "senior survival" trip held by South Lancaster Academy.
Here's what we know about this odd incident:
- The investigation took place in conjunction with the office of Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. The investigation is now completed.
- According to attorney Danielle Thomason, Heather Cook has been accused of inappropriate sexual misconduct with students at the school on a trip in Maine." Thomason was referring to the audio of the hearing. We agree that nude swimming with students is inappropriate for a teacher or 'pastor.'
- The Southern New England Conference has offered counseling for the students, employee, and chaperone.
- Heather Cook preached a sermon in July 2015 titled "My Gay Neighbor" in which she makes numerous emotional calls for love and acceptance of homosexuals.
- Cook posted a photo of the trip on her Facebook page. South Lancaster Academy shared the photo on its Facebook page with the caption, "Our seniors spent this last week canoeing down a river in Maine for Senior Survival. (Notice the individual in the front row with an Antifa-style bandana over his face. That's odd.)
- Heather Cook was a speaker at the October 2017 One Project meeting in Atlanta.
- Heather Cook was placed on paid administrative leave and asked not to participate in any church activities where children would be present as the government agencies conducted their investigation.
- That leave was lifted with "careful and long consideration" before the DCF investigation was completed. In other words, Heather Cook has been reinstated as an associate pastor by the Southern New England Conference.
- Sources told MassLive, however, that the Conference decision to lift the leave has not sat well with some in the community.
- Heather Cook sought a restraining order against a fellow church member who "got involved to help the kids and parents."
- Heather Cook said she has a need to feel safe. "I need to move on and I need to go back to work and I need to feel safe and that I can do that in an arena that is not threatening and not dangerous."
- Clinton District Court Judge Robert Gardner denied the restraining order request.
- The restraining order hearing was the first time the incident at the senior survival trip was publicly referred to as "skinny dipping."
- Earlier this month, another teacher was placed on paid administrative leave from South Lancaster Academy after multiple former students contacted the principal alleging inappropriate behavior by the teacher during their time as students.
While we hope that this incident has resulted in something positive, the exposure given to the Academy by the local press has not been positive. Seeking a restraining order against a fellow church member was also unwise, in our opinion.
In our culture, people are often condemned without knowing the facts. Paranoia, political correctness, and progressivism all combine to make our culture into a graceless runway where the accused are guilty until proven innocent. At the same time, there is a growing spirit of indulgence that arises from the same evil culture. We must resist both of these corrupting impulses with the dignity of biblical truth.
This swimming incident should never have happened. It was very poor judgment and at a minimum it bears the appearance of impropriety. Let's hope that the Church and Lancaster Academy come through this trial with a renewed commitment to moral virtue and propriety. It's important. Walk with the King, and be a blessing in 2018!
"Abstain from every appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22).