The Book of Order at G-30106 Administration of Mission provides: "All councils shall adopt and implement a sexual misconduct policy." Therefore, all sessions, presbyteries, and synods should adopt a sexual misconduct policy as soon as possible.
There is no one way to write a Safe Church/ Sexual Misconduct Policy. It might be tempting to use another ministry’s policy but this is not advisable. Everyministry is unique in size, programs and needs. The ministry’s insurance company and a lawyer should review a safe church policy before a council adopts it.
Sources for information on policies
In addition, most presbyteries have adopted sexual misconduct policies which can be used as resources by sessions. It is also important to check state law on reporting sexual abuse and misconduct. Often state laws on reporting include mandatory reporting obligations. It is advisable to incorporate these mandatory obligations into your council policies.
Finally, insurance companies typically have sample policies which they favor. It is advisable to contact your insurer at the start of the process of creating a policy and when you have a final draft to make sure the insurer is satisfied with the policy. If there is an incident, an insurer will want to know that you have a policy,that your council was trained on the policy and that your council followed that policy.
By implementing sexual misconduct policies the church has the opportunity to declare and affirm its core values and convictions in relation to the care of the people in the church and those who participate in its mission.
Developing and relying on written policies is one step toward creating safe churches. However, there is no single "right" way to create a policy and there is no one easy guide to follow.
If you are in the process of creating a new sexual misconduct policy or if you are updating your current policy, this information will be helpful to you.
Affirmative Reasons for a Session to Adopt a Sexual Misconduct Policy
From presentations by James S. Evinger and Mel Olver: “Planning and Implementing a Church Policy on Sexual Misconduct: Prevention and Intervention,” a workshop sponsored by Committee on Ministry, Presbytery of Genesee Valley in Rochester, N.Y., on October 1, 2005.
Adopting a sexual misconduct policy sets a moral example and functions as a witness of faith.
People expect the church of Jesus Christ to be qualitatively different from society. It is God who inspires and guides us to live as disciples in faith. When a session adopts a sexual misconduct policy, it encourages individuals and groups to aspire to a higher calling.
It sends a message to parents of children and youth: “We care that our church is a safe place.”
Given heightened awareness and sensitivity in our communities about the sexual abuse of children, a church that adopts and implements a misconduct policy is one to which parents will be more inclined to entrust their children for Sunday school, youth groups, children’s choirs, daycare or mission trips.
A policy is wise stewardship — it protects the church concerning legal and insurance liabilities.
Adopting and implementing a misconduct policy demonstrates that a church is taking concrete steps to practice risk management and reduce liability. Constructive measures like background checks and mandatory training help protect a church’s exposure. It is always more cost-effective to practice prevention.
It creates a tool to be used by one who has been victimized.
An effective sexual misconduct policy serves the needs of one who has been harmed. A reporting procedure, both symbolically and practically, helps a victim/survivor. It supports telling the truth, holding the perpetrator accountable and seeking redress. Our faith and the scriptures lead us to act out of compassion and pursue justice, especially for those who are vulnerable. A policy also protects the rights of one falsely accused.
A policy helps a church when previously unknown incidents unexpectedly surface.
If reports or allegations of past misconduct should emerge, a standing policy becomes a helpful reference point and guide for helping a session to respond.
It communicates the character of the church and works to attract or retain a quality pastor.
Having a policy in place communicates that the session values clergy who are competent, mature, responsible and accountable. Such clergy support policies that serve everyone’s spiritual and practical interests and value churches that are intentional about the quality of the life of the congregation and ministry.
A misconduct policy is an opportunity to affirm the faith, values and convictions of the church.
Not to act in the face of a stark but unpleasant reality is to act — it is to acquiesce. And not to decide is to decide — it perpetuates the way things are. A policy is an affirmative statement of what the church is called to do and be. It is an expression of identity. It declares who we are and what we believe and why we believe it. A policy is a way to take a stand and to affirm how the Spirit is leading us.
It lessens the likelihood of sexual misconduct occurring.
A policy helps decrease the possibility of future sexual misconduct. The fact of a policy’s existence helps, but what is more significant is the education that derives from writing and implementing it that builds awareness. And awareness is one effective means of prevention. The act of adopting a policy, if treated as a teachable moment, is an opportunity to change the culture of a congregation for the better.
A policy can engage and educate a congregation about difficult issues we prefer to avoid.
The act of formulating and adopting a sexual misconduct policy is a wonderful opportunity for a church to explore the complex interaction of power, trust, vulnerability, sexuality, gender, relationships, boundaries and the types of harm resulting from sexual misconduct. It is a chance to think through questions of accountability and standards. A policy makes it safe to talk about important and sensitive topics.
A policy acknowledges a sad reality that has occurred in the past and continues in the present.
The church has long ignored, minimized or rationalized acts of sexual misconduct against members, children and staff. A session policy overtly recognizes a problem that affects people’s lives and faith. A policy signals that leadership is prepared to face the reality and its consequences for God’s people.
A policy is a very useful tool to the leadership if a sexual boundary violation is discovered.
It cannot be overstated how difficult and painful it is for the leadership of a church to cope with the stresses of discovering that a sexual boundary violation has occurred within the mission and ministry of the congregation. A policy that is current, comprehensive and being followed is a reference point for making decisions in the midst of conflicting needs and demands. A policy will guide and support the leadership to act in ways that are consistent with our faith. Conversely, having to act and decide without a policy, or one that is outdated, only intensifies the stressors of the moment.
Three phases to be addressed in a Session Policy on Sexual Misconduct
Training and Education
Prevention of Misconduct and Abuse
Response to an Allegation or a Violation
Questions to consider:
- What are our goals and purposes in each phase?
- To whom does this phase apply/not apply?
- What types of situations are we trying to address? Are there ones we do not address?
- What are our rationales, and do they reflect our convictions?
- How do we communicate our rationales and convictions in a policy and procedures document?
- How would people in certain roles react to our policy and procedures document: a volunteer? member of a youth group? paid staff? a victim? a parent? a person who is accused? the church’s lawyer? the church’s insurance carrier? an elder from the Session? a Trustee of the church? the liasison to the church from Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry and from the Trustees?
There are a number of areas that should be covered including but not exclusive of the following:
- A Scriptural foundation
- Standards of conduct
- Leadership screening and training
- Minimizing the risk
- Who, what, when and where
Response to allegations
For creating policies
- From the Southern Baptist Alabama Board (pdf)
- From the United Church of Christ Insurance Board (pdf)
- From the Episcopal Church (pdf)
- From the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
For abuse prevention
- From Church Mutual Insurance Company
- From Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company
- From Stop-It-Now!
- From GuideOne Insurance Company
While it is vitally important to have a policy on sexual misconduct, it is of little use if it sits on a shelf and collects dust. Your council should provide training on the policy to council members and staff, preferably annually, and especially for new council members. This will help raise awareness of the issue in order to aid in prevention and it will provide information on how to respond if an incident occurs. More information