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Decision No. 896

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October 26 2000
In Re: Request from the Kansas East Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on Whether Its Sexual Ethics Policies Conform to the Constitution, Discipline, and Decisions of the Judicial Council.

Digest of Case

The “Sexual Ethics Policy for Church Professionals” and the “Sexual Ethics Policy for Lay Employees and Volunteers” have been modified to sufficiently address the issues raised in Judicial Council Decision 861. With these modifications, the policies are in compliance with the 1996 Discipline and Judicial Council decisions.

Statement of Facts

The “Sexual Ethics Policy for Church Professionals” and the “Sexual Ethics Policy for Lay Employees and Volunteers” of the Kansas East Annual Conference have been submitted to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision several times. Each time the policies have been remanded to the Annual Conference for further work. The most recent decision regarding these policies was made in April 1999 in Decision 861. In that decision the council said: The Kansas East Annual Conference has made progress in revising its sexual misconduct policies. However, some further work still needs to be done. While the council will not undertake to identify each and every violation, the following are some of the provisions which cause the policy to be invalid: 1. Both of the policies use circular reasoning in the definition section to define sexual misconduct. For instance, the policy states: "Misconduct of a sexual nature is defined as sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct." 2. The Policy of Sexual Misconduct by Lay Church Professionals does not adequately protect confidentiality for either the victim or the respondent. In the last section of the policy, "Making a Complaint," the policy states: "Persons who have knowledge of misconduct of a sexual nature by a Lay Church Professional shall report the same to a clergy person, any district superintendent, the bishop, a United Methodist layperson, or a trained advocate (1-800-770-7053)." To suggest that a complaint of misconduct of a sexual nature by a lay church professional should be reported to any United Methodist layperson shows a serious disregard for maintaining confidentiality for both the victim and the respondent. 3. There is no provision in the Discipline for making a complaint of misconduct of a sexual nature to a "trained advocate." 4. The Policy on Sexual Misconduct by Lay Church Professionals applies the term sexual misconduct to laypersons. The 1996 Discipline uses the term "sexual misconduct" in regard to ordained clergy and makes sexual misconduct a chargeable offense for clergy. (See Par. 2624.1.) However, the Discipline does not list sexual misconduct as a chargeable offense for a layperson. Sexual abuse or harassment are the only chargeable offenses relating to the sexual behavior of a layperson of The United Methodist Church. 5. There is no provision in the Discipline that persons who have knowledge of misconduct of a sexual nature by a church professional or a lay church professional must report it to anyone. The issues stated above, though not exhaustive, are the major reasons that the council finds the sexual misconduct policies of the Kansas East Conference in violation of the provisions of the Constitution, Discipline, and decisions of the Judicial Council, and therefore invalid. The revised policies have been submitted once again for a declaratory decision. It is the Judicial Council’s opinion that the policies have been sufficiently modified to be in compliance with the 1996 Discipline and Judicial Council decisions. The Judicial Council commends the Kansas East Annual Conference for "breaking new ground" in developing a "Sexual Ethics Policy for Lay Employees and Volunteers." It is the first such policy to come before the council. It addresses a critical need in the area of sexual ethics.

I concur with my colleagues. The policies have been modified to address the issues raised in Judicial Council Decision 861, written in April 1999. However, there was a concurring opinion attached to Decision 736 concerning sexual conduct policies developed by the Detroit Annual Conference that made two points I believe are worth considering in any sexual misconduct policy. First, "there is no disciplinary procedural equivalent of Par. 454 for diaconal ministers and lay members. For these people, the disciplinary judicial process begins with a formal charge and the Committee on Investigation. In addition, the Discipline does not address in any way, a grievance procedure or church judicial process for non-member church employees, nor does the Discipline contain any pre-grievance process for anyone." Second, "the Discipline does not address in any depth, the care and consideration which must be given victims, especially victims of clergy misconduct, be it sexual or non-sexual misconduct. Further, the 'fair process' of Par. 2622 [1992 Discipline] is written for the respondent, not the victim, and there is no equivalent 'fair process' section for the victim." Kansas East Annual Conference is to be commended for including lay persons in its policy. However, incorporation of these additional suggestions could make a good policy even better. Sally Brown Geis

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