Frequently Asked Questions: Click on Questions to view Answer Panes
The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women:
- is able to receive your call and document your information;
- can inform you of the policies and procedures and your options within The United Methodist Church;
- can train people within annual conferences on how to walk with people through the complaint process as their support person;
- may serve as a support person for a complainant;
- when invited, can inquire regarding a complaint process, to see if processes have been followed appropriately and, if not, can sometimes take necessary steps to seek justice and healing in the processes and for all parties.
Sexual misconduct is inappropriate, no matter who initiates it. The Book of Discipline addresses chargeable offenses, including sexual misconduct by one lay person against another, even if the other person is clergy, in ¶2702.3. The trial process for lay members of a local church is discussed in ¶2714.
It is not advisable or encouraged for single pastors to date single persons within their own congregation. We support and encourage single clergy to seek romantic relationships outside their own congregation. There is a difference in power between a person in a ministerial role and a member of his or her congregation or a counselee. As a result of this difference in power, one cannot give meaningful consent to the sexual relationship. If a religious leader becomes interested in dating or romance with a member of his or her congregation (though this is complicated and not advisable), the clergyperson must remove him/herself from a ministerial role in that person’s life before ethically pursuing a relationship of this nature.
Questions that need to be asked to evaluate if it is possible to pursue this type of romantic relationship include:
- Was the ministerial relationship minimal in nature (no counseling involved)?
- Is the religious leader willing to remove him or herself from the ministerial relationship?
- Is the religious leader willing to be open about the relationship with the congregation?
While policies vary from conference to conference in the UMC, the denomination states clearly, “Sexual abuse is a form of sexual misconduct and occurs when a person within a ministerial role of leadership … engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a congregant” (The Book of Resolutions 2012, p. 136). To attempt this form of dual relationship (pastoral and sexual) is a betrayal of the sacred trust of ministry and affects the entire congregation, not just the couple in question
As stated in the United Methodist Book of Resolutions, 2044, “The continuum of behaviors called sexual misconduct within the ministerial relationship represents an exploitation of power and not merely ‘inappropriate sexual or gender-directed conduct.’ Sexual misconduct in any form is unacceptable in church and ministry settings whether it is clergy-to-lay, lay-to-clergy, clergy-to-clergy, lay-to-lay, staff-to-staff, staff-to-volunteer, volunteer-to-volunteer, or volunteer-to-staff. Anyone who works or volunteers under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of sexual misconduct in any form.”
The church process does not involve lawyers. You are welcome to contact a lawyer if you are pursuing a civil or criminal case. However, a lawyer trained in state or federal law may not have any knowledge of the law of The United Methodist Church.
There is no way to accurately predict who is most likely to commit child abuse, and it could be anyone, including the most respected, trusted members of a church community, young or old.
The sexual ethics policy should be a part of the official annual Journal of each Annual Conference. This policy may also be on your Annual Conference’s website. You may contact your district superintendent or the office of the Annual Conference for a copy of the policy.
Under ¶363f of the Book of Discipline, a bishop has 90 days to either resolve the issue from which the complaint arose or refer the matter to the trial process.
If you have simply shared concerns with the district superintendent about the behaviors of clergy, you might consider following up with the district superintendent by telephone or other means.
There may be a statute of limitations on some behaviors controlled by the Book of Discipline. However, in the matter of sexual or child abuse, there is no statute of limitations. In 1992, the United Methodist Church voted that there would be no statute of limitations beginning January 1, 1993, for charges of sexual or child abuse, along with immorality and crime. However, prior to this time, there was a two year statute of limitations. Therefore, if an incident of sexual or child abuse occurred before January 1, 1993, there is a statute of limitations of two years (the Church cannot bring charges against a person for whom the incidences occurred prior to January 1, 1991).
You may call and talk with your district superintendent in regards to an alleged incident, and should expect to receive a person who would listen to your concern. Yet, a signed, written complaint – that would begin a judicial process – cannot be received if the allegations of sexual misconduct predate the change in Discipline mentioned above.
(I can’t find the book mentioned below on the new website. GBOD does have a Safe Sanctuaries page we should link to if we don’t already)
See the book Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Child Abuse in the Church by Joy Thornburg MeltonLink to this page): http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/leadership-resources/safe-sanctuaries
The Book of Discipline outlines the procedure for filing a complaint through resolution. Paragraph 2706.5(b)(4) indicates that the respondent has thirty days to respond, following the time they receive the bill of charges.
If you are in doubt as to whether what occurred falls within the scope of a chargeable offense under the Book of Discipline, contact our confidential toll-free number 1-800-523-8390.
Yes. The person against whom the complaint is filed may choose another person to accompany him or her (but no legal counsel shall be present at this time). (The Book of Discipline, par. 362.2c).
What is a complaint? What do I need to put in writing and how do I write it?
A complaint is a “written and signed statement claiming misconduct or unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties.” (The Book of Discipline, par. 362.1a) If you are mailing your complaint to the district superintendent, bishop, or appropriate person assigned by the bishop, send it by certified mail.
Paragraph 363 of the Book of Discipline states: “A complaint is a written and signed statement claiming misconduct as defined in ¶ 2702.1.” If a person mails a complaint, they should also keep a copy of all documents submitted for their file. This could be rewritten and incorporate the following question.
If you are filing a complaint, you will need to have it in writing. The definition of a complaint is a “written and signed statement claiming misconduct or unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties.” (The Book of Discipline, par. 363) It is also good to have a chronology of the incidences of the sexual misconduct, along with the names of persons involved. You have the right to receive in writing the processes and stages of the investigation
Remember that any sexual abuse you have experienced is not your fault. Contact your district superintendent immediately. If you have time to take notes about what happened, do so as soon as reasonably possible following the event, including the date of the incident, the names of any persons present, details of the misconduct, and any other information that you think might be helpful to a person reviewing the facts at a later time. This information does not necessarily need to be provided to the person to whom you report the incident, but will help you remember the details of the initial time period after it occurred.
Your concerns and experience should be treated seriously, and you should be treated with respect and dignity. Any negotiation or mediation should have as “its primary purpose a just resolution of any violations of this sacred trust, in the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Christ. A just resolution is one that 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.” (The Book of Discipline 2012, par. 363.1). You will have an opportunity to meet with persons in regards to your complaint.
Some of the annual conferences have trained support persons; ask your district superintendent. If there are no trained support person, you may ask a person of your own choosing to walk with you through the process. Lawyers are not permitted to be a part of the supervisory process.