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United Methodist summit will address sexual ethics

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M. Garlinda Burton

April 26, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

If the United Methodist Church doesn't set appropriate boundaries regarding sexual conduct, "it compromises our message" of faith, according to M. Garlinda Burton.

That is why Burton's agency, the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, is sponsoring a training event for church leaders and response teams who deal with clergy misconduct or want to promote the concept of "safe sanctuary" for children and youth.

"Do No Harm — Do All the Good You Can," sponsored by the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, is set for July 26-29 in Nashville, Tenn.

Burton, the commission's chief executive, noted that awareness has increased since the agency cosponsored a 2001 pilot event on sexual ethics training with the denomination's Rocky Mountain Conference. Bishops and district superintendents now realize "sexual misconduct is something that is serious and should be dealt with," she said. However, she added, the issue has been handled "with varying degrees of effectiveness" across the church.

Cosponsors of the July event include the Boards of Discipleship, Higher Education and Ministry, and Global Ministries, and the General Council on Finance and Administration — a lineup that reflects the fact that sexual misconduct "is a cross-disciplinary problem," according to Burton.

And, despite better awareness and response, sexual misconduct remains a problem for congregations. "In the last couple of years, I have fielded about 60 complaints from individuals alleging sexual misconduct by pastors and a minority of laity," she said.

"This is not an issue of sexual attraction; it's an issue of misuse of power," she added.

The agenda for the July event includes a series of keynote addresses, workshops, panel discussions, group reflections and worship.

Scheduled speakers

The Rev. Karen McClintock, a member of the California-Nevada Conference and a licensed clinical psychologist, will make the evening opening address, "Talking About Sex in the Church," on July 26. She also will speak about "Congregations at Risk" on July 27.

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The Rev. Monica Coleman

A national consultant on "healthy congregations," McClintock leads workshops on topics such as conflict over leadership, power dynamics and sexuality issues. Her two books on sexuality in the church are Preventing Sexual Abuse in Congregations and Sexual Shame: An Urgent Call to Healing.

The Rev. Joy Melton, an attorney and clergy member of the North Georgia Annual Conference, will answer the question, "What is Safe Sanctuaries?" in a July 27 keynote address. The author of Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Child Abuse in Church and Safe Sanctuaries for Youth, she consults with churches and denominations on the prevention of child abuse and risk management for ministries.

Another keynote speaker, the Rev. Monica Coleman, will define sexual misconduct. Coleman, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, is the director of Womanist Religious Studies and assistant professor of religion at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C. A survivor of rape, she is the author of The Dinah Project: A Handbook for Congregational Response to Sexual Violence.

Workshops will be aimed at both beginning and advanced levels of conference response teams and safe sanctuary teams.

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The Rev. James Newton Poling

The Rev. James Newton Poling, a Presbyterian minister and pastoral psychotherapist, will deliver a keynote address on "Clergy and Abuse of Power" on July 28. A professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, he has conducted pastoral research in theology and counseling with a special focus on family and interpersonal violence. His books include Understanding Male Violence: Pastoral Care Issues and The Abuse of Power: A Theological Problem.

Panel discussions

Panelists "Addressing Sexual Misconduct in Racial-Ethnic Contexts" will be the Rev. Andrew Park, a United Methodist pastor and professor of theology at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio; the Rev. Traci West, a United Methodist clergywoman and professor at the Theological School at Drew University in Madison, N.J.; United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaņo, based in Phoenix; and Burton.

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Bishop Minerva Carcaņo

A panel of bishops also will discuss how church members can work in partnership with bishops and their cabinets. Participants will include Carcaņo, Bishop Richard Wills, Nashville (Tenn.) Area; Bishop Sally Dyck, Minneapolis Area; Bishop Marcus Matthews, Philadelphia Area; and two retired bishops, Judith Craig and William Dew.

A panel discussion on the morning of July 29 will focus on the legal implications of the work of conference response teams and safe sanctuaries. Participants will include Melton; James Allen, general counsel for GCFA; and the Rev. Tom Porter, an attorney and executive director of JustPeace in Washington.

Marcia McFee is the worship and liturgy designer for the event. She combines a background in professional music, theater and dance with a variety of worship and preaching styles to create each worship setting. She has degrees from St. Paul School of Theology and Graduate Theological Union.

Registration information is available at online. More information also is available by sending an e-mail to or calling, toll-free, (800) 523-8390.

Related Articles
Women's commission addresses range of vital work for church
Sexual harassment remains problem for church, survey says
Study: Clergywomen of color need better support
Backgrounder: clergy misconduct
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*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or