Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blogging GA: More on Ministers and the Code & Standards

Okay, so I've now figured out what was unclear to me before.  Here's what we've voted in that is now in our "Standards of Professional Practice" (our unenforced part of the document, or "best practices):

G. Personal or Romantic Relationships
1. A minister of a congregation, or a community minister affiliated with a congregation, who engages in personal friendship or pursues a romantic attraction with a member or participant of that congregation, or whose family members or existing friends join or participate in that congregation, must take into account the following considerations:
 a. Such relationships will change the dynamics of the congregation as well as of the ministry, potentially in negative ways that may persist beyond that minister’s tenure.
 b. Members of the congregation who have special relationships with the minister must often refrain from positions of visible leadership or systemic influence for which they might otherwise be eligible.
c. It may be advisable for a potential romantic partner to refrain from visible leadership or systemic influence for which they might otherwise be eligible in the congregation, agency or enterprise, at least until the nature of the relationship with the minister is clearly established and can be made public.
 2. Ministers who pursue such relationships should seek and heed the advice of colleagues as to how the conduct of that relationship may affect their ministries and their congregations.
 3. It is unfair and destructive to congregations for the minister to ask them publicly to accept a succession of several romantic partners, whether or not these partners have been previously connected to the congregation.
4. Community ministers should be guided additionally by the expectations of the agencies or enterprises where they work, and by the standards of professional organizations to which they may belong, regarding the establishment of personal friendships or romantic relationships with those they serve.
 5. In all cases, ministers must be careful not to take advantage of those they serve, or damage the integrity of the congregation, agency or enterprise in which they serve.

And here's the stronger language under review (with the agreement that the final language would avoid he/she language in preference to the use of "they" as a non-gendered third person single pronoun.  The justice advocate in me agrees.  The grammarian still has problems with the singular use of "they" and would prefer other work-arounds such as consistent use of a full noun or pluralizing of the entire sentence):

1. A minister who initiates or responds to sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person he/she serves or serves with professionally must take into account that such relationships will change the dynamics of the congregation/work site as well as of the ministry, potentially in negative ways that may persist beyond that minister’s tenure.
2. A minister who initiates or responds to sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person he/she serves or serves with professionally agrees to:
 a. Either the minister or the other person will leave the congregation/site of ministry for 6 months before the relationship can be pursued
 b. Fully disclose to the potential romantic partner the implications for that person of a relationship with the minister, including the change that the person could lose his/her congregation or work site regardless of the success of the relationship.
 c. Fully disclose such decision to the chapter Good Officer of the UUMA.
d. Fully disclose such decision to the congregation/work site if at the end of 6 months the relationship is pursued
 3. It is unfair and destructive to congregations for the minister to ask them publicly to accept a succession of several romantic partners, whether or not these partners have been previously connected to the congregation.
4. Community ministers are guided additionally by the expectations of the agencies or enterprises where they work, and by the standards of professional organizations to which they may belong, regarding the establishment of sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person served professionally.
5. In all cases, ministers must be careful not to take advantage of those they serve, or damage the integrity of the congregation, agency or enterprise in which they serve.

It may also be under review for the "Code of Professional Conduct" (the enforceable part of our document) to read: "I will not engage in sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person I serve professionally."  That piece of it was still confusing.  We didn't vote on this, I believe, but it seems like adding this is the goal that we're still working towards.

At any rate, what is clearly the difference between what was voted in and what is under review is that what was voted in has much more to do with the role of the minister's partner in 1.a-1.c., and the review version is very explicitly laying out steps that should be followed if a minister is to date a member of the congregation in 2.a.-2.d.  While we'll take this year to review it, I think the proposed version is very good, and these steps of contacting good offices, ending the pastoral relationship, and disclosing to the congregation, are important and necessary.  People might argue over the six month period, I suppose. And I can certainly see that if one was dealing with a very new member to the congregation that this might be excessive, but this is also "best practices" and, as such, in consultation with good offices, it seems that sort of case-by-case situation could be negotiated. 

Special thanks to James Kubal-Komoto whose comment on my last post prompted me to go back and read through it all to understand it.  Balancing my laptop on my knee and trying to see where the differences in the two versions were proved not to be the most effective way for me to do business.  Now that I can look side-by-side, the situation is more clear.  That one sentence deal in the whole explanation threw me off and was, I think, unnecessarily confusing, but perhaps only to me. 

7 comments:

Kenneth said...

I'm grateful for the specifics!

And not to take away from the seriousness of the subject matter, but I do believe thou art destined to lose the argument about singular "they."

Robin Edgar said...

:3. It is unfair and destructive to congregations for the minister to ask them publicly to accept a succession of several romantic partners, whether or not these partners have been previously connected to the congregation.

Forgive me for asking Rev. Cyn, but does this mean that engaging in polyamory would be a big No-No for U*U ministers? ;-)

:5. In all cases, ministers must be careful not to take advantage of those they serve, or damage the integrity of the congregation, agency or enterprise in which they serve.

What a shame that this clause is in the *unenforced* part of the document in question. . . Considering just how many "less than perfect" U*U ministers seriously damage the integrity of the U*U congregations they serve, to say nothing of the intregrity of the greater Unitarian*Universalist religious community, surely U*Us would be well advised to ensure that this clause, and similar clauses, are actually properly enforced in a manner that honors and upholds U*U principles and ideals rather than disregarding them and even outright violating them. . .

No?

Cynthia Landrum said...

@Kenneth,
Yes, yes I am. And when it is fully lost I shall be graceful about it. I do believe language is an evolving thing. Perhaps I should just give up now at this moment and let the standards that govern me as a UUMA member trump those that governm me as a teacher of MLA Style, or lobby the MLA to change their recommendation. Perhaps they are doing so momentarily -- the AP has. Once the MLA goes, I shall definitely follow suit if I haven't before.

Cynthia Landrum said...

@Robin,
1. -- No, this addresses a succession of partners, not multiple partners. That is unaddressed.

2. -- There is an enforced part of the UUMA guidelines and it does address this issue. We voted on that in previous years. The part of the code we're updating this year is simply the "best practices" section. So this should not be taken to mean that the enforceable sections of the code do not address the issue.

Cynthia Landrum said...

@Kenneth,
I shall think about this today. Perhaps tomorrow shall be a new day for me and the use of "they" as singular neutral third-person pronoun.

Robin Edgar said...

:@Robin, 1. -- No, this addresses a succession of partners, not multiple partners. That is unaddressed.

Be assured that I do possess the intellectual capacity to distinguish between "a succession of partners" and "multiple partners" (at the same time). In fact, within the last month or so, a gentleman commented to me that he would happily sleep with three different women who work for a certain Montreal institution. I waggishly responded to his comment by asking -

"At the same time?" :-)

If it is considered to be "unfair and destructive to congregations for the minister to ask them publicly to accept a succession of several romantic partners" would it not be similarly "unfair and destructive" for U*U ministers to have several romantic partners at the same time?

BTW Would it be less "unfair and destructive to congregations" for U*U ministers to simply not bother to *publicly* ask their respective congregations to accept a succession of several romantic partners? They could just discreetly ask the church Board privately, or not ask them at all.

Right?

A form of "Don't Ask Don"t Tell" as it were.

As far as the actual enforcement of *any* of the UUMA Guidelines goes I do not think that it would be unfair for me to say that enforcement is incredibly lax, even when it comes to the *theoretically* "enforceable" clauses of the UUMA Guidelines. The UUA's all too aptly named Ministerial *Fellowship* Committee, which is charged with dealing with clergy misconduct complaints, has explicitly stated that it does not enforce UUMA Guidelines, while refusing to divulge which (if any) clearly stated "guidelines" it does enforce. . . It is my understanding that the only way that UUMA "guidelines"* may be enforced is if a U*U minister files a formal complaint against a "less than perfect" U*U minister with the UUMA. In my experience and observation U*U ministers seem to be quite loathe to file complaints against their *fellowshipped* "professional colleagues."

No?

It seems that U*U lay people are simply not allowed to file complaints against U*U ministers with the UUMA.

Correct?

So a victim of any form of clergy misconduct, or someone who is otherwise aware that a "less than excellent" U*U minister is disregarding or violating one or more of the UUMA Guidelines, has absolutely no recourse via the UUMA. . . They can only complain to the MFC but, as I have already pointed out, the MFC do not actually enforce the UUMA Guidelines.

Doh!

What a convenient Catch-22 situation for "less than perfect" U*U Clergy eh?

For the record I brought this rather problematic Catch-22 situation to the attention of the UUA Board of Trustees following the MFC's report to the Board during the April 201O UUA Board meeting but, in the ensuing year or so, I have seen no evidence whatsoever of the UUA and MFC, or indeed the UUMA. . . actually doing anything to address this serious problem and other serious failings with UUA clergy misconduct policies and procedures, such as the lamentable fact that clergy misconduct complainants cannot appeal MFC ruling whereas UU clergy can appeal. In fact UUA Moderator Gini Courter and ALL other UUA Board members totally ignored my follow-up emails, even though Gini had asked me to be brief in my response to the MFC report (after initially attempting to prevent any discussion following the MFC report. . .) and had publicly stated that observers could send emails to the Board.

All of *that* does not look very much like "justice, equity, and compassion" in human relations to me Rev. Cyn. Yet the UUA and MFC, if not the UUMA too. . . seem to be only too happy to allow this highly questionable situation to remain the UU status quo.

Am I wrong?




* Why does this scene from Pirates Of The Caribean come to mind here?

Cynthia Landrum said...

Hi Robin,
Sorry about the delay in publishing your post. I got it while I was away, and wanted to read it more thoroughly before posting, thinking there was something in there I had objection to posting because of off-topic or direct attack, and then promptly forgot to go back and double-check it.

In re-reading, I think I was wrong. You raise a valuable question, which is, in a nutshell:

If the MFC does not bring someone up on charges for breaking the UUMA code, and if the UUMA does not accept complaints from laity, and if UUMA colleagues are either not in the know about an ethical violation or reluctant to bring a colleague up on charges, does the code mean anything, and what is the recourse for the laity?

In answering, I think that UUMA members are not reluctant to bring charges against colleagues who break the portions regarding collegiality. My good offices person once remarked off-hand that she spends more time dealing with these than dealing with minister/congregation conflicts. And many conflicts are dealt with through good offices.

In respect to a situation of a member violating the code in regard to sexual conduct, there is an enforceable section that was voted on in prior years -- we were just dealing with the section on best practices this year.

Can a congregant or other lay person bring charges against a minister to the UUMA? That's a question I will look into. I always assumed the answer was yes. I will look into that.

Of course, the UUMA kicking a minister out of the UUMA does not necessarily mean that minister will lose their job. Most of us have in our letters of agreement that we agree to abide by the code, and congregations have the right to fire us if we break that code. So it has teeth there.

In some ways, this being a situation of congregational polity, and the bottom line is having a job, that's the harshest punishment of all. Bring charges to the church, and the church fires us. It's hard to get a next job when you were fired from your previous one for severe ethical violations. Beyond which, once you're fired, the UUA requires you to put forth the case to them of what went wrong before you're allowed to even look for another ministry through the settlement system. Transitions being part of the same department of ministry that the MFC is connected to, it's easy for a situation of firing to get related over to the MFC which will then consider kicking you out of fellowship based on its own rules.

As to the question of polyamory, I really believe that we will continue to dodge that question directly for a time. The problem with a succession of partners wasn't the having them, it was bringing them in to the church one at a time and asking that they be treated like a minister's partner. This was seen as burdensome for the church to deal with. I believe having more than one partner at the same time would be a challenge for a church, but a different challenge altogether, and we have to make up our minds about whether polyamory is seen as unethical behavior that the congregation can and should discriminate on, or whether polyamory is a reasonable life choice and a negative reaction from a church would be a sort of "beyond categorical thinking" justice issue.

I haven't seen the UUA, UUMA, or MFC take a clear stance on the subject, and neither have I, and really don't want to get off into that conversation.