Clergy Sexual Ethics

Sexual misconduct by clergy always seems to be in the news. Here is my take on sexual ethics for clergy.

There is no such thing as sexual ethics for clergy.

There is a Christian sexual ethic and Christian clergy should certainly follow it.

Apart from that, there are professional responsibilities and strategies for maintaining professional relationships. These apply to all professions that bring people into close emotional proximity.

The sexual ethic for married Christians is rooted in the creation story of Genesis 2: permanent, exclusive, intimate union of a man and a woman is God’s intent for marriage. Add to that what Christ has revealed about the nature of God’s love and you have the basic Christian sexual ethic for married people. Bottom line: as a married Christian I will do my best to maintain a healthy marriage and repair it when it’s wounded. I won’t have sexual or intimate contact of any kind with any person other than my spouse. I won’t give the emotional intimacy and affection that I owe to my spouse to anyone else. Attraction to another person – of either sex – is not a reason to break my marriage vows. This standard doesn’t mean just no sex outside of marriage for married clergy; it means no hand-in-hand walks or deep, meaningful gazes.

Single Christians have a few more lines to draw. I’m disturbed by the suggestion that I saw in one church’s guidelines, however, that clergy might develop a romantic relationship with a person to whom they minister if certain conditions are met. If by “romantic relationship,” the authors intended to say that clergy might engage in a chaste courtship with a person they’ve met in a professional relationship, that’s one thing. The context of the discussion, however, was sexual relationships. Single Christian clergy are not free to have a consummated sexual relationship with anyone, regardless of where they met their sex partners! The professional nature of the initial relationship, while still an issue for other reasons, is much less of a problem if single clergy are not sleeping with people.

There are professional issues involved in the kinds of relationships that clergy have with parishioners. Predatory, immature, disturbed, confused or unfaithful clergy who abuse their pastoral relationships bring disrepute on Christ and his church. They should not be pastors. If they’ve broken the law, they should be inmates.