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Theological Grounding

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ours is a relational faith. We are bound to each other not by common faith but by common purpose. We strive together to respect one another; we are committed to justice, equity and compassion in human relations; we aspire to a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all; and we work toward an understanding of what it means to be interdependent, each with the other and with all that is.

Dr. King is speaking of interdepedence when he speaks of an "inescapable network of mutuality." When one of us is in pain, all of us suffer. When one of us has been wronged, we all cry out for justice. Our faith, like many others, calls us to tend to the hurting ones, to feed the hungry, to visit the prisoners, to heal the sick, and to restore justice to and for those wronged.

As Unitarian Universalists, we understand these to be statements that represent the goal we have for ourselves, and for our congregations living in voluntary covenantal relationship with other congregations. We know they are not grounded in the lived truth of all people. We strive toward a blessed community in which they will be.

We place a high value on creating a culture of sanctuary within our congregations. Anyone should be able to enter our houses of worship or enter into relationship with our professional religious leaders without fear of being exploited in any way. Congregants should certainly be able to assume that they can trust clergy not to take advantage of them sexually. Congregants should certainly be able to assume that they can trust clergy to adhere to their code of professional ethics.

But it happens. Still. After all the training and talking, some clergy still abuse their power and position by acting out sexually with members of the congregations they were called to serve.

Clergy sexual misconduct is a violation of professional ethics, a violation of personal boundaries, and a violation of trust. It is an injustice at the very seat of personal integrity—both for the perpetrator and the victim/survivors. In Is Nothing Sacred? Marie Fortune describes the emotional cost of such violations for the victims, including feelings of shame, guilt, stupidity, betrayal, and exploitation (p. 109). The victims become depressed and lose faith in themselves and their faith. Clergy sexual misconduct is a grave injustice toward another person and our entire religious community. Clergy sexual misconduct violates the religious principles we hold.

Although the concept of clergy sexual misconduct does not appear anywhere in our Association's Bylaws, the Safe Congregations Panel believes that all of us (individuals, congregations and the Unitarian Universalist Association) working together in a covenantal relationship of mutual support and care can be the model of blessed community we seek. With the Association taking the lead, we can create a ministry of healing and justice-making at times and under circumstances beyond the ability of a local congregation's own powers and responsibility.

We must affirm our covenant, as individuals and as an institution, to work toward the goal of restorative justice, which focuses on the victim, the perpetrator and the community in which the injustice occurred. The goal of restorative justice is nothing less than the return to right relations for all involved. It results from a process that involves truth-telling, acknowledging the violation, compassion, protecting the vulnerable, accountability, healing, restitution and vindication. (Fortune, pp 114-117). Restorative justice is more fully presented later in this document.

"...to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with God"
—Micah

We owe it to the victims/survivors, to the perpetrators, to our congregations, to ourselves, and to our faith to stand on the side of accountability for our professional clergy, and to stand on the side of justice and compassion for all those who are abused. We owe it to the entire community of faith to establish clear and fair processes. Such processes will be based in truth-telling with compassion and mercy, and will assist in restoring right relationships.

Committing to restorative justice can demonstrate the healing power of our faith. If Unitarian Universalism has a salvific message for the 21st century, if we have a message of healing the brokenness of the world, surely it begins here. Surely it begins in the basic principles spoken by a prophet of a new religion centuries ago: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. Current work toward revising Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) processes can have a major impact in this area. The missing piece, of course, continues to be ministry to the victim/survivors of clergy sexual misconduct, whose voices have been largely unheard in formal process and who cry out. They want to be heard, they want to be believed and they want a healing justice.

We must begin again by naming our own brokenness as individuals and as an institution, and by naming our silent complicity. We must minister to victim/survivors by following the path of restorative justice. We must do this in an attitude of humility toward the covenant that binds us one to the other. Wrongs have been committed under our watch. It is time to begin again in right relationship with our own best selves.

For more information contact safecongregations @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, April 22, 2011.

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