Common Terms: Alphabetical Lexicon

Sexual Misconduct | Sexual Harassment | Sexual Abuse | Sexualized Behavior | And More

Click on Words for Definition Panes

 

Accused
The person against whom a claim of sexual misconduct is made; also called “respondent”.
Accuser
The person claiming knowledge of sexual misconduct; the accuser may or may not be the victim of alleged sexual misconduct.
Administrative Complaint
A signed, written statement (complaint) that is based on allegations of clergy incompetence, ineffectiveness, or unwillingness or inability to perform ministerial duties.
Advocate
One who actively assists and supports a victim of clergy misconduct/sexual abuse through the denominational complaint process, to the end that the individual is empowered to reclaim her/his own voice and that the church may once again be a place of sanctuary.
Alleged
Declared, but without proof.
Annual Conference
When you hear the term “annual conference,” it could be referring to any one of three things. The annual conference is a regional body, an organizational unit AND a yearly meeting.
Appointment
The annual assignment to a field of service of licensed local pastors or ordained ministerial members active in an annual conference. The appointment may be to a setting in specialized ministry or local church.
Bishop
Bishops of The United Methodist Church provide spiritual leadership to almost 12 million persons in a broad range of settings on four continents, including North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. In the United Methodist tradition, bishops are not “ordained” as bishops, but are clergy elected and consecrated to the office of bishop.

Historically, bishops play an important leadership role in ordering the life of the church and helping set the direction to fulfill its mission in the world. All bishops share in teaching, equipping, and encouraging mission and service. They serve as shepherds of the entire church, providing a prophetic witness for justice and unity. All bishops are members of the Council of Bishops, which collectively is charged with the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church. Bishops are specifically assigned to preside over the work of a regional area. Find your bishop.

Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, The
The fundamental book outlining the law, doctrine, administration, organizational work and procedures of The United Methodist Church. Every four years, the General Conference amends The Book of Discipline. Often referred to as the Discipline.
Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, The
The book containing all valid resolutions, adopted by the General Conference, reflecting the United Methodist Church’s official stance on current social issues.
Boundaries
A dedicated space, a place or relationship or agreement devoted to protecting what is vulnerable and safeguarding what is valuable. Boundaries in relationship are a gift from God and work to keep us faithful to the purpose of that relationship. The layperson can reasonably expect that whatever the pastor does in the course of their relationship is done somehow, in some way to serve the Gospel, and to serve the layperson with the Gospel.
Cabinet
The leadership team in the annual conference made up of the bishop, district superintendents and, sometimes, other conference staff.
Care Teams/Response Teams
A multi-disciplinary team of persons from an annual conference who have been prepared to serve at the time of clergy misconduct of a sexual nature. They provide healing and care for victims/survivors and congregations. They do not administer the complaint process. The team works at the call of the bishop and may be called upon at any time during the complaint process or following its resolution.
Chancellor
The legal adviser to the bishop and the annual conference. This person is a lawyer, member of an appropriate bar of a state, and member of the United Methodist Church. They may be lay or clergy.
Chargeable Offense
When a person has been accused of one of the listed transgressions of the Book of Discipline (Found in Par. 2702.1 for clergy; Par. 2702.3 for members of a local church).
Child Abuse
Non-accidental act which harms or threatens to harm a child’s physical or mental health or a child’s welfare; committed by a parent, caregiver or person in a position of trust (even though he/she may not care for the child on a daily basis). See “Safe Sanctuaries” in this list.
Church
Spelled with the first letter capitalized, refers to The United Methodist Church; when spelled with the first letter lowercase, refers to local churches.
Church Trial
A hearing and a deciding of a case before a court of peers within The United Methodist Church, which occurs only after meditation, a supervisory process, and failure to provide a just resolution in a chargeable offense; trials remain the church’s last resort in resolving the issue when a complaint is made against a church member – clergy or lay.
Committee on Investigation
A committee of the annual conference convened during a judicial complaint. Their role is to “conduct an investigation into the allegations made in the judicial complaint . . . .. the committee’s duty is only to determine whether reasonable grounds exist to support the charges. It is not the committee’s duty to determine guilt or innocence. (Par. 2706.1, Book of Discipline)
Complainant
Person bringing the original complaint.
Complaint
A written and signed statement claiming misconduct or unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties.” (Book of Discipline, Par 362.1a)
Complaint Process
A course of action, a series of steps, implemented when a complaint has been filed; found in the Book of Discipline.
Connection
The principle basic to The United Methodist Church in which all leaders and congregations are connected in a network of loyalties and commitments that support, yet supersede, local concerns.
Counsel
A person appointed to represent the respondent during trial processes in The United Methodist Church; a clergyperson in full connection if the respondent is a bishop, clergy or diaconal minister, or a lay or clergy member if the respondent is a lay member.
District Superintendent
An ordained elder appointed by the bishop to do the work of the church within a particular geographic area. The district superintendents and the bishop make up the cabinet in an annual conference. The district superintendent is the person to whom you make contact when you have a concern or a complaint regarding clergy misconduct of a sexual nature (unless the district superintendent is the person for whom the complaint is against). The contact information for a district superintendent is available on many websites, through your local church office, or through the office of the annual conference. Find your Superintendent.  Find your Bishop.
Dual Relationships
When a clergy and layperson have additional or multiple roles; when they are connected to one another in more than one way (pastor & friend, pastor & girlfriend, etc.)
Gender Harassment
Unwelcome or unwanted conduct which is gender specific. Although not specifically “sexual,” gender harassment may be recognized in patterns of behavior creating hostile or abusive working environments. Both sexual harassment and gender harassment are exploitations of power, and considered discrimination by law.
General Conference
The legislative body of The United Methodist Church, composed of an equal number of lay and clergy delegates. It meets every four years and is the only body that can speak officially for the denomination.
Have Voice
A person who has the right to speak to an issue, but may not have the right to vote on any decision.
Judicial Complaint
When a signed, written statement (complaint) that is based on allegations of one or more of the chargeable offenses listed in Par. 2702.1 of the Book of Discipline is not resolved in supervisory processes, it can proceed as a judicial complaint.
Judicial Council
Nine persons elected by General Conference who rule on questions of constitutionality in church law and practice.
Just Resolution
Focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties. (Par. 362.1 of the Book of Discipline).
Laity/Layperson
Word used to describe members of a congregation or parish.
Minister, Pastor, Clergy
One who is ordained or licensed to specific pastoral ministry within a congregation or to specialized ministry.
Ministerial Relationship
The relationship between one who carries out the ministry of the church and the one being served by that ministry.
Predators
Those who are predatory plan, plot, and prey as well as are generally charming to vulnerable people. They often show no signs of conscience or sense of remorse for behavior. They often may be charismatic, powerful, and can potentially manipulate multiple vulnerable persons and also may be administrators of process, evading discipline. Predators often are unable to confess wrongdoing and move to repentance; rehabilitating for ministry is unlikely; protection of those who may be vulnerable is primary concern. Restoration and wholeness may be complex and long term. (FaithTrust Institute)
Respondent
The person whom the complaint is against; the alleged accused.
Response Teams (Care Teams)
A multi-disciplinary team of persons from an annual conference who have been prepared to serve at the time of clergy misconduct of a sexual nature. They provide healing and care for victims/survivors and congregations. They do not administer the complaint process. The team works at the call of the bishop and may be called upon at any time during the complaint process or following its resolution.
Safe Sanctuaries
A term used to indicate that churches are providing a safe place for children and adults, one free from abuse, harassment, or misconduct (see book of this same title under “Resources”); also a program emphasis by the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church that provides training, education, and resources in the area of sexual misconduct.
Sex Discrimination
Disparate treatment based on gender. Both sexual harassment and gender harassment are forms of sex discrimination.
Sexism
Any attitude or institutional structure that systematically subordinates persons or groups because of their sex (gender). It is a social and spiritual illness manifested in assimilation, socialization, harassment, discrimination, and oppression.
Sexual Abuse
A form of sexual misconduct and occurs when a person within a ministerial role of leadership (lay or clergy, pastor, educator, counselor, youth leader, or other position of leadership) engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a congregant, client, employee, student, staff member, coworker, or volunteer (1996 Book of Resolutions, p. 130). It can include coerced or forced sexual contact (including those unable to give informed consent), sexual interaction or contact with children or youth, and sexual exhibitionism or display of sexual visuals or pornography.
Sexual Assault
A forced sexual act against one’s will.
Sexual Exploitation
Sexual activity or contact (not limited to sexual intercourse) in which a minister engaged in the work of the church takes advantage of the vulnerability of a participant by causing or allowing the participant to engage in sexual behavior with the minister. Any sexual contact with a parishioner is considered an exploitation of the professional role and the clergy’s responsibility to his or her laity. Consent by the layperson is not a legal defense for sexual exploitation.
Sexual Harassment
A betrayal of sacred trust. It is a continuum of unwanted sexual or gender-directed behaviors by either a lay or clergy person within a ministerial relationship (paid or unpaid). It can include child abuse, adult sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual assault, sexualized verbal comments or visuals, unwelcome touching and advances, use of sexualized materials including pornography, stalking, sexual abuse of youth or those without capacity to consent, or misuse of the pastoral or ministerial position using sexualized conduct to take advantage of the vulnerability of another. In includes criminal behaviors in some nations, states, and communities.
Sexual Misconduct
A betrayal of sacred trust. It is a continuum of unwanted sexual or gender-directed behaviors by either a lay or clergy person within a ministerial relationship (paid or unpaid). It can include child abuse, adult sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual assault, sexualized verbal comments or visuals, unwelcome touching and advances, use of sexualized materials including pornography, stalking, sexual abuse of youth or those without capacity to consent, or misuse of the pastoral or ministerial position using sexualized conduct to take advantage of the vulnerability of another. Includes criminal behaviors in some nations, states, and communities.
Sexual Violence

Refers to harmful behaviors that use sex or sexuality to control, intimidate or violate others. Behaviors can include harassing jokes and comments, inappropriate touching, rape, incest, assault, date rape, sexual exploitation, misconduct, and abuse. Sexual violence occurs in public and private places: in homes, workplaces, schools, and religious communities. Sexual violence is not about sex it is about violence that misuses sex and sexuality to exert power over others. (What You Need to Know About Sexual Violence, FaithTrust Institute, 2003, Used with permission.)

“The abuse of power occurs when we use power to gratify our own needs rather than to carry out God’s sacred trust. It happens when we refuse to own the responsibility of guardianship that comes with the privilege of power. . .”

Ann Smith, “Alive Now,” Sept/Oct. 1996

Sexualized Behavior

Behavior that communicates sexual interest and/or content. Examples include, but are not limited to displaying sexually suggestive visual materials; use of pornography in church programs on or with church property, making sexual comments or innuendo about one’s own or another person’s body; touching another person’s body; touching another person’s body/hair/clothing; touching or rubbing oneself in the presence of another person; kissing; and sexual intercourse.

Sexualized behavior can be a form of sexual misconduct when this behavior is unwanted by the recipient or witness, is a violation of society’s or the Church’s law, breaks the sacred trust in the ministerial role, or violates the vows taken at membership or ordination.

Social Principles, The
A document setting forth the basic position of The United Methodist Church on important social issues. The Social Principles document is reviewed by each General Conference and is printed in full in The Discipline.
Staff-Parish Relations Committee
The Staff-Parish Relations Committee (sometimes called the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee) is a required committee in every local congregation of the UMC. This committee functions to address personnel issues within the congregation.
Supervisory Response
Actions taken by the district superintendent or bishop when a report of misconduct of a sexual nature is received.
Trial, Church
A hearing and a deciding of a case before a court of peers within The United Methodist Church, which occurs only after meditation, a supervisory process, and failure to provide a just resolution in a chargeable offense; trials remain the church’s last resort in resolving the issue when a complaint is made against a church member – clergy or lay.