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Clergy Sexual Ethics

The United Methodist Church is committed to preventing misconduct and addressing it when it occurs. We strive to achieve a response that encourages and ensures accountability and healing to all parties. To eradicate sexual harassment and misconduct in The United Methodist Church, every member must get involved.
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Purpose: Those in positions of authority in the church, both clergy and lay, have been given much responsibility, vested with a sacred trust to maintain an environment that is safe for people to live and grow in God’s love. Misconduct of a sexual nature inhibits the full and joyful participation of all in the community of God. 

Sexual misconduct in any form is a violation of the membership and ordination vows in The Methodist Church. Sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment are chargeable offenses both for clergy and laity per The Book of Discipline, ¶ 2702.

Theological Foundation

All persons are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). God ultimately intends all persons to have worth and dignity in their relationships (1 John 2:10-11). The Church is one connected body, and when one part of the body is injured physically, emotionally or spiritually, the entire body suffers and is rendered less than what God had intended (1 Corinthians 12:26).

The Church is created to be one body with each member holding a significant presence and purpose. When any part of the whole body is violated it will suffer deprivation and degradation, for both the abused and the abuser. Working with persons in a situation in which sexual misconduct exists tests our commitment to justice and healing as a Christian community.

Misconduct of a sexual nature of any kind violates a person’s wholeness. Further, it is an unjust use of status and power and thus, sinful behavior against God and one another. The Scripture witnesses to a God who brings about justice, mercy and grace. The Church is called to express God’s love in concrete actions of compassion and healing of all people.

For the abused, God came in Christ to proclaim life’s wholeness and to empower the powerless as they name the oppressors and claim the healing that comes when the church seeks to achieve justice. For the abusers, God came in Christ to hold persons accountable as they confess their abusive behavior and wounded state, make restitution, and through repentance and forgiveness embrace the transformation made possible through covenantal reconciliation.

Hence, forgiveness and restoration to positions of trust for persons who have violated that trust should not be quickly or lightly given. At the same time the goal should always be to restore even the most serious offender to fellowship with God and communion with the Church, even when forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be extended to include restoration to public office. As Christ’s body, the church through God’s grace is entrusted with the ministry of naming the wounded state and abuse, vindicating the oppressed, and reconciling the community. (Matthew 18:15-18, II Corinthians 5:18-20).

It is clear from the scriptures that equality of power and mutuality is an important aspect of God’s design for the human community. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). No person, male or female is to hold power over another, yet in the brokenness of humankind, greater value has often been given to men than to women, and adults than to children.

In the past, sexual misconduct has often been ignored or denied. Such behavior can no longer be condoned or ignored. The church is called to repentance for its neglect and sin. All are to experience justice and mercy, regardless of status or power. This is a blessed vision for the church as it covenant’s to journey with God, who is just and merciful and who makes all things new.



Definition of Terms

Sexual Misconduct within ministerial relationships

is a betrayal of sacred trust. It is a continuum of unwanted sexual or gender directed behaviors by either a lay or clergy person within a ministerial relationship.

Sexual Harassment

is 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….” (Book of Discipline 2016, ¶161.J). 


A complaint is a written, signed, and dated report claiming misconduct.


A complainant is a person who submits a written, signed, and dated complaint regarding an alleged incident of sexual or professional misconduct.

just resolution

A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties. (Book of Discipline 2016 ¶362)


A respondent is a person against whom a complaint is made.

Sexual Misconduct

Procedures For Reporting And Responding To Complaint Of Misconduct

“Sexual Misconduct within ministerial relationships is a betrayal of sacred trust. It is a continuum of sexual or gender-directed behaviors by either a lay or clergy person within a ministerial relationship (paid or unpaid). It can include child abuse, adult sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual assault, sexualized verbal comments or visuals, unwelcome touching and advances, use of sexualized materials including pornography, stalking, sexual abuse of youth or those without capacity to consent, or misuse of the pastoral or ministerial position using sexualized conduct to take advantage of the vulnerability of another. It includes criminal behaviors in some nations, states, and communities and is a chargeable offense in The United Methodist Church.”

2016 Book of Resolutions, #2044