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Texas Baptist commission promoting ‘Covenant of Clergy Sexual Ethics’

EL PASO, Texas (BP)–The Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission is urging pastors and other ministers to support “A Covenant of Clergy Sexual Ethics.”
The commission’s director, Phil Strickland, outlined details of the covenant at a news conference Nov. 8 during the Baptist General Convention’s annual meeting in El Paso.
Strickland said the plan is for the covenant to be distributed to ministers and congregations throughout the state, with signings to be strictly voluntary. Copies of the covenant, which was produced by a BGCT task force on clergy sexual abuse, were distributed via registration materials at the recent BGCT annual meeting.
The covenant states that “sexual integrity is foundational to Christian life and ministry,” and it calls on Baptist ministers to commit to God and the congregations they serve “to be faithful to the biblical sexual ethic of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.”
The covenant defines sexual misconduct by ministers as:
— sexual relations outside of marriage.
— unwanted or inappropriate physical contact.
— all other sexually oriented or suggestive behaviors, such as overt and covert seductive speech and gestures.
— the use of pornography.
The covenant calls on pastors and other ministers of Texas Baptist congregations to build strong relationships with spouses, to encourage accountability, to guard against violating the personhood of other persons, to avoid all forms of sexual exploitation, to exercise good judgement in professional and private conduct, to report any reliable evidence of sexual misconduct by another minister to an appropriate person or committee and to submit to the policies and procedures of the church when an allegation of sexual misconduct has been made.
Strickland said the covenant and guidelines may be a first among Baptists nationwide.
“The relationship between ministers and congregants is based upon trust,” the covenant states. “In difficult times, church members turn to ministers for comfort, support, guidance and assurance, expecting the minister to act as a pastor, shepherd, counselor and friend. Church members trust ministers never to take advantage of them or to manipulate them, especially when they are most vulnerable.”
The covenant acknowledges “the special power afforded…the pastoral office” and a minister signing it commits to “never abusing that power in ways that violate the personhood of another human being.”
Each signer also agrees to “submit to the policies and procedures of the church when an allegation of sexual misconduct has been made, recognizing the importance of justice and due process procedures.”
Strickland said the commission is suggesting that ministers keep the signed covenant, with copies given to church officers as an expression of mutual accountability.
Strickland cited a three-fold purpose for the covenant:
— Provide a framework for upholding sexual integrity among ministers.
— Support and protect ministers by defining ethical norms.
— Establish a process for achieving justice, reconciliation and healing.
Counseling is now available through the auspices of the BGCT for both the perpetrator and the victim, Strickland reported, noting there have been “a number of pastors” who have experienced restoration following counseling.
During the news conference, Strickland also stressed the importance of churches assisting victims who may have been abused by ministers. There are cases, he said, where offending ministers are not punished and are repeat offenders.
“Public disclosures of sexual abuse by ministers have come to the forefront in recent years,” according to this year’s report by the Texas CLC. “Sexual abuse causes profound distress in the church, a deep crisis in the life of the victim, and damage to the ministry of the perpetrator.”
The report notes, “The victim’s life and faith are often devastated. … A person exploited during counseling may face triple jeopardy: personal problems, sexual exploitation and rejection by the church.”
Meanwhile, sexual abuse hurts the perpetrator’s professional life, his family, the reputation of all ministers, and the ministry of the whole church, the report states.
“Sexual abuse undermines trust between minister and people,” the report also notes. “It creates internal turmoil, shame, anger and resentment. In some churches it may take years of healing before trust can be restored.”
The report laments: “Many churches react by trying to conceal the incident, thereby increasing the damage to the church and all involved.
“Only as clergy sexual abuse is dealt with honestly and openly will healing and health become possible for the church.”
The report notes evidence indicating that clergy sexual abuse is a significant problem among clergy of all faith groups. The CLC calls on churches to prevent clergy sexual abuse by establishing clear ethical boundaries and responsible policies, such as background checks on ministerial staff.

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