Do No Harm urges The UMC to lead in combating sin of sexual misconduct
October 30, 2018 / By Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries
“I have a dream that the United Methodist Church will be the leading prophetic voice in combating sexual misconduct.”
Bishop Sharma Lewis (Virginia Conference) shared this vision during worship the last day of the “Do No Harm” sexual ethics training event sponsored by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (https://www.gcsrw.org/DNH2018.aspx) and held earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas. Bishop Lewis powerfully articulated the bold call of this event: for the Church in this #MeToo era to step up and lead in combating the sin of sexual misconduct, first in our churches but also in the wider world.
Several members of the Upper New York Conference were invited by Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb to join me in sharing this training: Krystal Cole, Tom Blake, Rebekah Solar and the Rev. Vonda Fossitt from our Conference’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women; Cathy Stengel from our Response Team; and the Rev. Sherri Rood and the Rev. Carlos Rosa Laguer from the Cabinet. In addition to plenary lectures and discussions, each of us participated in one of four learning tracks: response teams which walk with churches after allegations of misconduct are known, advocacy resources for survivor-victims, administrative and judicatory responses to misconduct, and integrity and healthy boundaries for lay and clergy leaders. The aim of each of these tracks was to equip participants to build or improve our capacity to respond to sexual misconduct in our Conference and its churches.
One of the key learnings for me was the impact an institution’s response to allegations has on the level of trauma experienced by an individual. Dr. Jennifer Freyd, an internationally recognized expert on trauma and sexual misconduct, shared how “institutional betrayal” compounds the harm done to a victim of sexual misconduct. When a pastor or another church leader engages in inappropriate sexual behavior, great harm is done. When a church or a conference fails to address this harm, it betrays the victim-survivor and compounds the harm. Dr. Freyd acknowledged an institution like the United Methodist Church can’t always “change the reality of interpersonal violence, but it can change the way the institution responds.”
Working with our Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the Bishop’s Cabinet, the Board of Ministry, Conference staff and leaders in our local churches, this is our work: to build structures and systems which compassionately, consistently and, to quote Bishop Lewis, prophetically respond to sexual misconduct. We must cease doing harm and seek to be a source of healing and justice. This is the work of individuals, to be sure, but it is also the obligation of the institutional church. Jesus expects nothing less of our congregations and Conference.
One of the ways local churches can begin this work immediately is to comply with the new sexual harassment policies adopted by New York State. Each pastor was made aware of this new law and provided with information on how to help the congregation comply. Click here to read more. At the Conference level, the Do No Harm participants are developing a list of “next steps” and will begin working with other leaders to build or improve our Conference capacities. There is still much work to do.