What Is a Destructive Behavior Policy?
A Destructive Behavior Policy, sometimes called a Disruptive Behavior Policy, gives the leadership of the congregation more tools to stop abusive, harmful, inappropriate, and otherwise destructive behavior in your midst. A Destructive Behavior Policy, put into place by the congregation's Board, typically offers the following options when destructive behavior arises:
- Directly addressing the behavior with the person who has behaved destructively, calling them back into covenant and appropriate behavior.
- Creating a behavioral covenant with the person who has behaved destructively, clarifying in detail the ways the are to behave, and ways they are not to behave, in the congregation. This can include requiring that they have no contact inside or outside the congregation with an individual who has been harmed by their destructive behavior.
- Requiring that a person who has behaved destructively cease all participation in the congregation on a temporary basis or a permanent basis.
Destructive behaviors may impact the perceived safety of any adult or child, the disruption of church activities, and the diminishment of the potential and existing membership. When any person's physical and/or emotional well-being or freedom to safely express their opinions is threatened, action must be taken.
How Do We Define Destructive Behavior?
The guidelines provided by a Destructive Behavior Policy mean that all are held to the same set of standards. The Destructive Behavior Policy provides a process that leaves less room for singling out a person based on stereotyping or personality conflicts. Destructive behavior can be summarized as one or more of the following
- Dangerous: is the individual the source of a threat or perceived threat to persons or property?
- Disruptive: what is the level of interference with congregational activities?
- Offensive: is the behavior likely to drive existing members and visitors away?
In addition to developing a policy for addressing destructive behavior, it is recommended that the minister(s) and congregational leaders are diligent in keeping accurate and timely records while approaching a problem and resolution. Written records provide context and continuity should similar issues arise again either involving the same individual or someone different.
What If the Destructive Behavior Occurred Elsewhere?
If someone is part of your congregation, or wishes to be part of your congregation, who has engaged in known violence, financial misconduct, or sexual offenses, and this person is on the path of rehabilitation, a Limited Access Agreement may be appropriate. Such an agreement would help protect the congregation and protect that person, keeping them away from areas of congregational life where their involvement would be risky or inappropriate.
Sample Destructive Behavior Policies
Some Unitarian Universalist congregations have kindly shared their policies to provide others with an array of examples that help guide the process in developing policies specific to your congregation:
- Sample Policy developed for GA 2019 workshop, Combating Destructive Behavior and White Supremacy Culture
- Updated 2023 Policy Regarding Conflicts, Violations of Covenant, and Destructive Behavior (PDF) from the UU Church, Rockford, IL
- Sample Policy for Disruptive Behavior (PDF)
- Sample Policies for Behavior During Meetings (PDF)
For specific guidance on your congregation's destructive behavior policy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Our UUA Congregational Life staff will be in touch with you.
What About Inherent Worth and Dignity?
Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Sometimes, leaders in congregations can worry that by enacting their Destructive Behavior Policy they are denying the worth and dignity of the person they are asking to leave. Affirming worth and dignity does not mean affirming all behaviors, or always giving every badly behaving person a second (or third, or tenth) chance. In order to create a community that truly honors each person's worth and dignity, we sometimes have to ask destructively-behaving people to leave. Protecting and respecting the community—especially the most vulnerable—is important and sacred work.