I will not engage in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with any minor child or unwilling adult.This is pretty controversial, because there are a lot of compelling reasons why it should be more strict, less ambiguous, about sexual relationships between ministers and members of their congregations. We all know of ministers who have behaved unethically and people who have been very badly hurt by those unethical actions. We all know of congregations which have struggled in the wake of clergy ethical misconduct, as well. The damage that has been done should not be underestimated.
I will not engage in sexual contact or sexualized behavior in potentially exploitive relationships, including with any person I am counseling, with interns, and with any staff person I supervise directly or indirectly except my spouse or partner.
I will respect the relationships of those to whom I minister, and not engage in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with any married or partnered client or member of the congregation, agency or enterprise I serve, or with the spouse or partner of a client or member of the institution.
If I am married or in a committed partnership I will not engage in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with any person whom I serve professionally except my spouse or partner.
In pursuing any special personal relationship of friendship or romance with a client or member of the congregation, agency or enterprise I serve, I will recognize the potential negative consequences for my ministry and/or the institutional system and I will consider the advice of colleagues.
But there are also compelling reasons why the UUMA body did not vote in stronger language. We also all know of situations where single ministers did date someone in their congregations, and did so with great precautions and attention to the ethics, and those relationships led to healthy, happy marriages with no seeming damage to individuals or congregations. Those relationships which were entered into with the knowledge and advice of colleagues, with a relationship that was not a secret hidden from the congregation, and where neither party was married at the time the relationships were entered into, well, it's a hard thing to ban two consenting adults from entering into this type of relationship.
Personal relationships wouldn't be allowed if we were doctors, or therapists, but clergy are neither of those things. We are involved in being leaders of religious communities, and as such we can't be entirely separate from the community in the way that a doctor or therapist can be from his or her clients. And for those clergy in isolated locations, it may be that just about anyone with whom they would be compatible are members of the congregation. And for ministers of large congregations, there are members with whom they have very little relationship with at all, honestly. There are just too many members to think that the minister can be counseling all of them, and some members hang on the edges of congregations, only coming to worship and not being involved in the other programs or committee work of the church.
In the end, this is a good code of conduct which is much more specific on this issue than previous editions. We need to keep talking about this, of course, and the last point of the code calls us to be in communication with our colleagues about our relationships. And of course, the flip side of this is that, as ministers, we must all be willing to confront colleagues acting unethically, as well. And any code that encourages ministers to talk to their colleagues about their thorny ethical situations rather than encouraging them to keep those relationships secret because they know they're violating the code, is ultimately going to produce more healthy behavior.