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DYK - The UMC speaks to sexual harassment

Posted: January 18 2018 at 01:34 PM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christopherson, Ass't to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries


Rev. Arlene Christopherson, Assistant to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries

Almost 30 years ago I attended my first mandatory Clergy Boundary Training. I had been in ministry for a few years before being invited to this event. I had no idea it was a “new thing.” However, it didn’t take long to feel the resistance, anger, even resentment in the room as our presenter offered a lecture on the dos and don’ts of clergy behavior.

In the 1990s this was a new horizon for pastors, understanding the difference between being pastoral, co-dependent, even abusive in our use of the sacred power and authority of ministry. Fast forward 30 years and Northern Illinois Conference clergy are seasoned veterans of Ethics and Boundary training.

It can still be a tense conversation as we struggle to define the difference between pastor and friend, between personal and public, between compassion and co-dependence. Clergy ethics and boundaries have become even more complicated as we experience the power of social media. We struggle to understand how social media can “complement” or “compromise” the trust we strive to cultivate in our ministry.

Clergy training has evolved. While always including a list of dos and don’ts, we now understand that balance in our personal and professional lives, good habits of self-care and healthy relationships all factor into good judgment on the part of a pastor. Just a week after our most recent training concluded, the conversation about sexual ethics and harassment became a national focus. Tragically, we have been reminded that abuse of power and authority is not only a problem for the church but for the whole of our society.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill will now participate in mandatory boundary training, companies are reviewing their policies and practices, and many who have been harassed or abused are finding strength and voice in this moment of public reflection. The local church, well versed in Safe Sanctuaries for the protection of children and youth, has also begun to take notice of how we engage in healthy respectful relationships between adults; laity to laity.

Click here for a fact sheet concerning sexual harassment and the Local Church. The sheet includes definitions from our United Methodist Book of Resolutions for sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and pornography as well as resources for our work. Other resources on the website include a helpful article that outlines the spectrum of sexual misconduct from non-offensive actions to egregious behaviors. Click here to read.

If your church leadership wishes to learn more and equip your congregation to be a safe place for all ages there is a 3-session SPRC training video series on the Missouri Conference website for SPRC boundary training:

The tragic stories of harassment and abuse in the news have heightened our awareness. Now is the moment to learn more, go deeper and work to be a church that fosters safety from harassment and abuse for all ages. As the church models respect for each other and care of one another, we can be a positive influence in all our relationships, within and beyond the congregation.

Update 1/23/18 -The Council of Bishops and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women are responding to the recent #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. 

The Council of Bishops is committed to leading The United Methodist Church in the prevention of sexual misconduct, to offering healing to the victims, and to finding paths for Christ’s love to be shown to the perpetrator while maintaining standards of accountability.

The Council of Bishops joins with The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women to strongly encourage and support the reporting of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment allegations within the Church. Our denomination’s website, offers information and a toll-free telephone number for confidential support through the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Click here to read more.

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