The 2004 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church says of ministry: “Ministry in the Christian church is derived from the ministry of Christ, who calls all persons to receive God’s gift of salvation and follow in the way of love and service. The whole church receives and accepts this call, and all Christians participate in this continuing ministry.” (¶301.1) Further, the Discipline says, “Ordained persons exercise their ministry in covenant with all Christians, especially with those whom they lead and serve in ministry. They also live in covenant of mutual care and accountability with all those who share their ordination….” (¶301.3) Finally, “For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel, and in consideration of the influence of an ordained minister on the lives of other persons both within and outside the Church, the Church expects those who seek ordination to make a complete dedication of themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life.” (¶304.2)
In addressing the covenant accountability of those in professional ministry, these “highest ideals” from the Discipline shape our thinking and our behavior. This report represents our task force’s efforts at putting the following ideals into the form of policies and procedures.
Sexual misconduct by clergy and others in professional ministry is a serious breach of the call and the covenant. The Missouri Conference aspires to eliminate all such misconduct. When such misconduct is alleged, the Conference is under obligation to investigate the allegations, to discover the truth, and to respond in ways that are consistent with its highest ideals. The first such ideal is the elimination of all forms of sexual misconduct by clergy and other professional ministers.
A second ideal is the protection of the parties and the congregation. For this reason, Conference authorities have procedures for immediate removal, when necessary, of a person under appointment or assignment by the Conference. This removal in no way negates the presumption of innocence. However, when convincing evidence indicates that persons or congregations are at risk by the continuation of the appointment or assignment, Conference authorities are pledged to remove the pastor or church professional from duties pending resolution of the issues involved. In addition, the Conference provides trained advocates to assist persons bringing accusations of misconduct. These trained advocates guide the reporting person through the proper due process steps and provide encouragement and moral support along the way.
Protection of the parties includes protection of the accused and their families. This is especially important in an environment where false accusations can destroy ministries and families. Parsonage families are particularly vulnerable because removal of the pastor or church professional from ministry may leave those families without housing. For that reason, if the accused is removed from duties, the Discipline mandates that during the suspension, salary, housing, and benefits provided by a pastoral charge will continue at a level no less than on the date of suspension.
The responsibilities of protecting both the congregation and the accused may at times conflict. For that reason, the Conference must keep them in honest and creative tension with each other.
A third ideal is open and honest information. It is the Conference’s responsibility to provide accurate communication while at the same time observing the privacy of both accusers and the accused. When sexual misconduct has taken place, congregations affected deserve straightforward information but not private details.
Finally, the Conference must continue to work with affected congregations to minimize the damage to their internal health and the public witness. In the church, a healthy future for all parties is the goal. Persons at both the local church and Conference levels must take their responsibilities seriously to most effectively address these issues. Local church leaders, particularly lay members of the Conference and Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committee members, must be ready and willing to respond to concerns that may arise locally. These persons must also make the Conference’s sexual misconduct policy readily available locally.
Those who believe they have been harmed or who know persons who have been harmed must have the courage to step forward with their information. Likewise, Conference officers must respond in a careful, compassionate and thorough way to any case that alleges misconduct. Responding to cases of misconduct as well as efforts to eradicate them require the efforts of leaders in many arenas of the church.
The proposed policy changes, procedural adjustments and recommendations for further work are all intended to address our shared values and highest ideals. In situations where the truth is contested and lives are affected, careful and prayerful judgments will be required of Conference authorities. No inflexible set of rules and procedures are fair or just in every circumstance. Relying heavily on the wisdom and procedures mandated by The 2004 Book of Discipline, the following proposals are offered to the conference with the prayer that they will contribute to the goal of bringing our practice into conformity with our “highest ideals.”