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Sexual Ethics Policy

Approved by the 2001 Virginia Annual Conference
Updated 2009

For Clergy, Diaconal Ministers, and Certified Lay Professionals of the
Virginia Conference, The United Methodist Church


Theological Context

As members of the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, we believe and proclaim that all persons are created by God.  God values human life, intending all men, women, and children to have worth and dignity in all relationships with God and others.  We affirm that human sexuality is a good gift from God and when used in responsible ways, is in keeping with the covenant God has established with God’s people.  We are called to structure all of our relationships in ways that fulfill the covenant with each other and with God.
Sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse by clergy or diaconal ministers are incompatible with biblical teachings of hospitality, justice and healing. Clergy and diaconal ministers exercise their ministry in covenant with all Christians, especially those whom they lead and serve in ministry.  We are reminded that our life-long commitment to our covenant binds us to responsible interpersonal relationships.

Standards of Conduct
It is the understanding of The United Methodist Church that Scripture condemns sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.  Sexual harassment is defined by The United Methodist Church as “any unwanted sexual comment, advance or demand, either verbal or physical that is reasonably perceived by the recipient as demeaning, intimidating, or coercive.  Sexual harassment must be understood as an exploitation of a power relationship rather than as an exclusively sexual issue.  Sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to, the creation of a hostile or abusive working environment resulting from discrimination on the basis of gender.” (¶ 161.II.I (p. 104), 2008 Book of Discipline)
Sexual misconduct may take the form of an abuse of power through sexual contact or activity (not limited to sexual intercourse) which exploits the vulnerability of a parishioner, client, staff person, or causes, or allows those persons to engage in sexual behavior with a person who is in a professional relationship (whether paid or unpaid) to the Annual Conference.
Sexual misconduct may also include any sexual contact or activity (not limited to sexual intercourse) between a person in a therapeutic or a counseling role/relationship with a congregant/client.  It may include being asked to date the counselor, or any representation by a counselor that sexual contact will help in dealing with the emotional struggles the client is having.  Consent by the complainant is not a defense.  
Sexual abuse within the ministerial relationship occurs when a person within a ministerial role of leadership engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a congregant, client, employee, student, staff member, co-worker, or volunteer. Offenses of covenant impact individuals, congregations, and the entire Body of Christ. When the power and authority of the ministerial office is used for one’s own benefit rather than for the benefit of the one served (as defined by the person being served) violation occurs. Violations of covenant often occur when we fail to recognize that clergy, diaconal ministers and certified lay professionals are always ministers or lay professionals even while not officially functioning in their professional role. Sexual abuse is any conduct of a sexual nature chargeable as an offense under the code of Virginia.  Examples of sexual abuse include but are not limited to rape, incest, child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and solicitation for prostitution.
Responsible ethical behavior enhances the quality of professional care-giving.  Living our covenant calls us to a practice of ministry that respects the power and presence that the clergy/diaconal servant role embodies.

Reporting Misconduct

Sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse involving clergy, diaconal ministers and certified lay professionals shall be reported to the district superintendent or the presiding bishop according to the provisions of ¶361-362 (pp. 283-288), 2008 Book of Discipline.  Persons may use the office of the assistant to the bishop for information. This policy does not prohibit or discourage reporting to appropriate law enforcement authorities.

Commitment to Action
The Virginia Annual Conference commits itself to seek justice in all cases of sexual misconduct; emphasize reconciliation and resolution as the continuing goal of this process; provide training sessions for clergy, diaconal ministers and certified lay professionals which will promote proactive measures designed to lower the risk of sexual misconduct on the part of these individuals; provide for a process that promotes healing for the congregations affected and appropriate care for the primary persons affected; and the wide dissemination of this policy along with additional materials which will aid in the understanding of the roles and processes outlined in The Book of Discipline.