On misconducting ministers

I’d like to say the path to confronting misconducting ministers — whether that misconduct is sexual, financial or otherwise — was direct. Indeed, the unspoken lesson, after sundry scandals (great and banal) has been:

  1. Powerful or well-connected ministers can do what they want.
  2. If you stay in print, this is doubly true.
  3. Accusers (I’m thinking of ministers here) will end up suspect.
  4. Libertines will come out of the woodwork of offer defenses.
  5. The Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association guidelines enable this process by quieting discussion and disabling accusation.

Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Dan Harper reviewed a book about the late minister of All Souls Church, New York, Forrest Church, and focused on how his misconduct was treated therein. Indeed, since it was in the press — an example from the New York Times in 1991 — his case was one of the few cases that (formerly) young ministers could mention in mixed company without fear of reproach. I’m glad someone’s talking about it, but I’m jaded that anything will really change (short of generations changing) and it’s certainly colored my view of how the ministerial guild works. (I am, by choice and intention, not a member of the UUMA.)

But go read the carefully written post Dan wrote.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. Curious who is supposed to confront the minister? The Guild? (My experience with Unions is they do just the opposite with a few rare exceptions ). The Congregation? That’s tough as the minister and especially the savvy mis-conducters know how to sway them. Maybe a case for Bishops and Cardinals, but then bureaucrats prefer to sweep it under the rug too. What’s your preference?

  2. “Who confronts the minister” is only part of the problem. How do you judge fairly? Can a minister’s congregation be trusted to set and follow the rules when that minister (especially when “beloved”) is accused of crossing the line? Not just standing up to the minister, but making sure the process itself is not abused by internal politics.

    I recommended a protocol for dealing with this issue almost two years ago, one that would empower the District offices to step in, look impartially at the matter, and find the best course of action. It’s worked for other institutions that I know of — I don’t see why we couldn’t do the same within the UUA.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.