Clergy Ethics

Sexual Ethics Policy And Procedure Statement

Basic Assumptions

The church is a unique environment created by God.

The church (as institution and congregation) is a unique environment in which we can expect no harm to be done one another. The church seeks to give evidence of wholeness and healing, a unity expressed as the Body of Christ. Where unity prevails, there is no exploitation, no humiliation, no abuse. All of God's people can expect that their person, their dignity, and their integrity will be respected and protected.

The church is a community predicated on seeking the truth in love and facilitating the fundamental principles of justice, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. This requires prayerful attention, time, and patience and may include civil and/or criminal action apart from the church proceedings.

The pastoral office is one of covenantal accountability.

Persons called to the pastoral office are expected to dedicate themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life for the sake of the mission of the church and the most effective witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To this end, clergy agree to be responsible to one another and to the church and to maintain "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness."1

The pastoral role is one of power and responsibility.

The conduct of clergy, both public and private, is as important a witness as the sermons preached, the rites celebrated, or the counsel offered. The significance of clergy conduct is based on the fact that the pastoral office is one of power and trust, which are derived from divine call, training, and institutional credentialing.2

Pastor-parishioner sexual contact is never appropriate.

Sexual contact between the pastor and a parishioner or other person over whom the pastor has authority is never appropriate and is an exploitation of the power differential between them. Such action often preys upon persons when they are most vulnerable. Using the authority of the pastoral office to initiate sexual contact is categorically rejected and shall be adjudicated according to The Book of Discipline and the policy of the Annual Conference.

Accusations will be considered seriously.

Accusations of a pastor's breach of trust and authority through sexual contact shall be considered with the utmost seriousness. Any person bringing such an accusation shall be heard with sympathy and empathy. Each accusation shall be investigated thoroughly. All appropriate measures shall be afforded the accuser, the person(s) accused, the families, and the congregation or agency involved (see below).

Appropriate processes shall be implemented.

The disposition of the complaint shall proceed as specified by The Book of Discipline and outlined within this policy statement without regard to the person, the appointment, the office held, or the service record of the clergy person involved.

Our Goals

This statement of policy and procedure is intended to affirm the willingness of the Annual Conference to respond appropriately to the issues of sexual contact with persons over whom clergy have authority and power. The Conference expects the highest degree of personal character and professional behavior among those appointed to the pastoral office. This policy and procedure states the forms of response that will be followed in the event clergy stand accused of a breach of the pastoral office. Thus, clergy and those whom clergy serve, have the necessary information to make informed decisions.

It is the intention of the Annual Conference to be sensitive to all parties involved when accusations of sexual contact between clergy and those they serve are made. We recognize that there are many such persons---the accuser, the accused, their families, and the congregations of which they are a part. Sensitivity, however, does not imply the thwarting of justice, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, nor the processes effecting their accomplishment. The Annual Conference shall require clergy accountability and offer appropriate response to those persons who have experienced inappropriate sexual contact, harassment, or abuse.

The External Environment

There is an increased sensitivity on the part of society as to how our actions, intentional or not, can negatively affect another person. It is the perceptions and feelings of the individual against whom the action is directed that deem such action inappropriate. in addition, out judicial system is addressing charges of sexual contact between professionals and their clients more seriously than in the past. All persons, regardless of their profession, will be held more strictly accountable for their actions, by society and by our courts of law.

The Internal Environment

The Church of Jesus Christ is in the world, and therefore, must be increasingly sensitive about how the actions of all its clergy can negatively affect another. More importantly, the church (institution and congregation) must do so for its own integrity. "Sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse are violations of the integrity of the body of Christ. Scripture specifically states that we are one connected body in Christ, created equally. Where one part of the body is injured, physically, emotionally or spiritually, the entire body is rendered less than God's intended potential for wholeness."3 Therefore, for the well-being of all, the

church must deal promptly and impartially with all complaints of sexual contact between its clergy and those whom they serve.


Sexualized behavior is that which communicates sexual interest and content to another. Sexualized behavior in itself is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, ethical nor unethical. Its ethical status derives entirely from the balance of power in the relationship of those individuals involved,4 and its appropriateness derives entirely from the perceptions of the recipients of the behavior. Sexualized behavior is not acceptable between persons of unequal power, such as clergy and those they serve,

Clergy sexual misconduct is any sexual contact (not limited to sexual intercourse) between a pastor and a parishioner, client, or employee with whom the pastor has professional, pastoral relationship.5 It is a violation of several covenants: with God, with one's marriage partner, with the Annual Conference, the local Church, as well as with the community at large.

Sexual harassment is "the use of one's authority or power, either explicitly or implicitly, to coerce another into unwanted sexual relations or to punish another for his or her refusal; or the creation of an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment through (unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other) verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Note that sexual harassment may happen between a boss/supervisor and employee or between coworkers. Also note that 'working environment' applies equally to paid or unpaid workers (volunteers)."6

Sexual abuse by clergy is "when any person in a ministerial role of leadership of pastoral counseling (clergy, religious, or lay) engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a congregant, client, employee, student, staff member, etc. (adult, teenager, or child) in a professional relationship. Such misconduct is a violation of the ministerial relationship in which a person in a position Of religious leadership takes advantage of a vulnerable person, instead of protecting him/her."7

Child sexual abuse is sexual behavior of any nature between an adult and a child.

What To Expect

When a grievance alleging clergy sexual misconduct is filed, all parties are assured that the procedures used will be in accordance with the current Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Grievances will be handled with the utmost seriousness. In an effort to protect the accused, the accuser, and related parties, the accused shall receive prompt notification of the grievance and its content, and shall be informed concerning who has brought the accusation. A review of the procedure will also be shared with the accused by the Superintendent. In the initial supervisory stage, confidence will be maintained within the Appointive Cabinet. However, this Cabinet has no control over what might be said or shared by either the accused or the accuser or how subsequently such conversations will work their way among colleagues and within the church.

In the initial supervisory response, the role of the Superintendent must be primarily administrative and secondarily pastoral. Individuals against whom allegations are made are encouraged to seek a colleague for counsel.

As the procedure is applied both the accused and the accuser are subject to broader exposure. The process beyond the Cabinet may involve the Joint Review Committee, the Executive Committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Board of Ordained Ministry as a whole, the Committee on Investigation, and the Executive Session.

It must be noted that the procedure outlined in The Book of Discipline is independent of, and not a substitute for, actions which might be brought in a civil or criminal court. Church law and civil law do not preclude or dismiss each other. For example, false testimony against another that results in defamation of that person's character may result in civil action, Clergy found guilty via the process outlined below might well face further civil or criminal action.

Substantiated Accusations

If a pastor confesses to or is found guilty of sexual misconduct, several options exist, and appropriate support to exercise these options will be found. Should such guilt lead to the termination of the pastoral office, the pastor is assured of appropriate support and limited financial assistance to effect the transition out of a parsonage. Provision may also be made for short-term therapeutic care.

Those victimized by sexual misconduct are also assured of appropriate support. The Annual Conference and its designated authorities will move with swift, effective, and just action to deal with the offending clergy. Necessary efforts will be made to reduce the opportunity for any further abuse.

In efforts to facilitate healing, those abused will be afforded consultation and ongoing contact. The local church will be informed of the pastor's suspension or termination. The specific nature of the complaint will be shared with Pastor-Parish Relations Committee without disclosing to the Committee the name(s) of the accuser(s). The Board of Ordained Ministry may provide a team to help interpret the decisions and procedures of the church, and the local church is assured of the Appointive Cabinet's sensitivity to their needs during the time that a new appointment is considered.

However, it must be noted that even the best efforts to follow procedures as outlined above cannot contain the rage, anger and disillusionment often experienced by all parties involved. The process has many interpersonal and institutional ramifications and may not offer total satisfaction to the aggrieved parties.

Unsubstantiated Accusations

Should the process as outlined above lead to the finding that a pastor has been falsely accused, then the pastor is assured that any materials placed in his/her personnel file will be clearly marked with the finding of either the supervisory or Joint Review process. All parties to the charge will be informed in writing of those findings, and all parties will be offered ongoing concern and prayerful support by those administering the process.


The magnitude and implications of the issues involved require clear, specific, understandable processes which address the needs of all parties involved. it is the intent of the Annual Conference to effect justice, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation with the victims and clergy who sexually abuse them according to the covenant which joins us as God's people. Each United Methodist within the Wyoming Annual Conference is asked to remain in prayer for and moral support of those who are victimized, those who are accused, and those who must administer the process.


1The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1992, paragraph 404.4e.

2Marie M. Fortune, Is Nothing Sacred: When Sex Invades the Pastoral Relationship, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), 102.

3Sexual Harassment/Misconduct Prevention Program, developed by Risk Management Department of the General Council on Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church.

4Clergy Misconduct: Sexual Abuse in the Ministerial Relationship, (Seattle: The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, 1992), 32.

5Marie M. Fortune, Is Nothing Sacred: "en Sex Invades the Pastoral Relationship, (San Francisco; Harper and Row, 1989), 137.

6Clergy Misconduct: Sexual Abuse in the Ministerial Relationship, (Seattle: The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, 1992), 26.

7Ibid, 25.