Clergy misconduct: Safety Net makes policy recommendations

I’ve not had a chance to read and ruminate all the policy Safety Net, “a Social Justice sub-committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville”, has made to the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association concerning misconduct. But I shall.

And I suggest that you should, especially if you are a member of the UUMA. (I gave up my membership years ago.) At the very least, it’s an example policy formulation, tied to principles and rules and cultivating a base of support; that’s a wise and well-recognized way to make structural change in accountable organizations (or government.)

Certainly a more robust option than Yet Another Protest or unformed calls for “education.”

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. You might not agree with this work if you’d read it. It makes any sexual activity, ever, with anyone associated in any way with a congregation outlawed activity. No exception for, say, a carefully carried out courtship between a single minister and someone who happens to be the sister of a church member. There’s just no distinction made between careful, responsible, loving relationships and abusive ones.

  2. I admire the work on this, but I would love to see the language “As a sexual being…” go far far away and never return. I realize it’s true as far as statements go, but it totally skeeves me. The rest of society doesn’t go around proclaiming this way.

    -Ms. Theologian, another sexual being.

  3. @Christine:
    I did notice that very bright line and wondered about it myself. At first blush it struck me as hard-line at best, if not extreme. I would be curious to see the follow up debate on it, if one unfolds…

  4. I would agree with DSD’s description of the recommended changes as “hard-line at best, if not extreme.” My own misgivings is that it does not take into account that ministers are human beings.

    I do not say this in terms of “human beings have sexual feelings” or even “human beings make mistakes.” No, I say so to affirm that human beings are intelligent and have the capacity to figure things out. Yes, ministers and other professionals and leaders need standards to guide them in that process — but imposing hard-and-fast rules actually hobble people’s decision-making capacity.

    So why impose such a rule? I suspect because the committee members wanted less ambiguity, as it is in such ambiguity that exploitation and abuse can happen. Problem is that life is filled with ambiguity, and while others may be uncomfortable or even frightened by it, others may find life-giving joy and an affirmation of our capacity to explore and grow.

    This is not to say that some aspects of the UUMA code do require much greater clarification, and I am frankly quite surprised that this committee did not address them. Specifically, the process by which complaints of misconduct are evaluated and dealt with has seemed to me overly murky. Where should a complainant go? What can they expect in terms of institutional response? How do we determine who is competent to evaluate and decide on such complaints? Everyone involved in any case of clergy misconduct — complainants, ministers, congregations, and denominational leaders and staff — both need and deserve straightforward answers to these questions.

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