Updated: Jul 21
The relationships and connections we build through our church community can be some of the most impactful in our lives. Clergy provide guidance, teaching, and counseling to laypeople while laypeople support the vision, ministry, and missions of clergy. Trust is a foundational piece for these interactions and a level of intimacy can be developed with the growth of our relationships. To ensure the safety of everyone involved The United Methodist Church makes clear the standard for acceptable interactions.
The Book of Discipline (¶161J ) defines sexual harassment and misconduct as “any unwanted sexual comment, advance, or demand, either verbal or physical, that is reasonably perceived by the recipient as demeaning, intimidating, or coercive.” Prevention of sexual harassment is imperative for Christian organizations to display the love of Christ to the world. One way to help keep harassment from occurring is to maintain boundaries and ensure everybody feels safe.
Keep lines clear
Establishing and reinforcing boundaries for healthy interactions between clergy, laity, supervisors, and employees continues to build the foundation of trust and help protect the ministry against sexual misconduct incidents.
Leaders must maintain these lines to ensure any interactions with the people they serve are appropriate. The UM Sexual Ethics website states that it’s essential that relationship lines aren’t blurred because people in leadership must “protect and act in the best interest of others with whom [they] are in [leadership over].” It is also important for individuals being served, whether a church member, community member, or employee, to maintain these lines with leadership.
If an incident occurs where boundaries are crossed, it is important to remind the individual that is committing the offense of their responsibility to the organization. Documenting the behavior will help to ensure an appropriate resolution to the issue is developed.
For assistance with developing policies for your church and developing policies for sexual misconduct incidents visit umsexualethics.org/policy/.
Confirm Your Sexual Misconduct Insurance Coverage is Appropriate
For the reasons outlined above, ensuring that a church secures and maintains appropriate sexual misconduct coverage is extremely important. If a church is unsure if its sexual misconduct insurance is adequate or has questions regarding what the coverage entails, contact an insurance agent as soon as possible. They will be able to review a church’s coverage and provide guidance and recommendations on solutions.
Opportunity to learn about boundaries and more
The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women of the United Methodist Church (GCSRW) has developed several free resources to help your ministry understand the complexity of sexual misconduct and implement procedures that are designed to both prevent and respond to sexual misconduct.
One of the resources is a curriculum entitled Sexual Misconduct in the Church- Understanding the Role of Power. This curriculum explores the trust and power dynamics between clergy and laypeople and outlines common myths about sexual misconduct. Follow this link to view this other curricula around this issue.
Sharing resources like these with your ministry and community will help to ensure a safe environment for anyone who encounters your ministry. When everyone works to keep boundaries clear, everyone can feel comfortable as they travel on their spiritual journey.
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