History of the Complaint Process

Update on the History regarding the Misconduct policies and procedures through 2018

Two major task forces have been convened by the UUA to review and recommend policies and procedures regarding the prevention and response to sexual misconduct. The first, led by the Rev. Fred Muir, completed its work in 2002 and led to the following actions:

  • The Office of Ethics and Safety in Congregational Life was created in 2002. An intake person outside of the Ministries Department (now Ministries and Faith Development) was designated as a more neutral, safe person to report to, and a dedicated phone line was installed. A Consultant for Ethics in Congregational Life was contracted to work with complainants and investigate claims.
  • In July 2009, the Religious Institute, with support from the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock and the leadership staff of the UUA, began a systematic review of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s sexuality-related policies, programs, advocacy, and commitments. The resulting report, Toward a Sexually Healthy and Responsible Unitarian Universalist Association(PDF), 45 pages)prompted a review of the complaint process in the fall of 2010.
  • Many resources were generated to support safe congregations. These are aggregated on uua.org under the heading of Safe Congregations . The process for filing a complaint is explained in the Misconduct section; and links are provided to like “Towards a Sexually Healthy and Responsible UUA” as well as other resources like “Balancing Acts” which identifies steps for congregations to take to create safe congregations (including working with sex offenders who may come to congregations).
  • The UUA partnered with Church Mutual to provide risk assessment tools to congregations.
  • Trainings in safe congregations became available on line, through districts and often at General Assembly.
  • A public apology to victims/survivors was made by the UUA at the Nashville GA. A letter of apology was generated to send to victims by the UUA President when appropriate .
  • A file summary was added to the information offered to congregational search committees to offer greater transparency about the contents of ministerial records

In 2010 a second effort led by the Rev. Debra Haffner of The Religious Institute served to broaden the framework of the conversation from focusing on responding to misconduct to a more comprehensive plan for building a “Sexually Healthy and Responsible UUA.” Her plan includes an emphasis on prevention (for instance requiring better training for ministers on sexual health and boundaries) and on broader sexual justice issues such as advocacy for the LGBTQIIA community. She found that while the UUA is a leader in some areas of sexual justice, there were still key areas to be addressed. Some changes implemented as a result of her report included:

  • The MFC added a Sexual Health, Sexual Boundaries, Sexual Justice competency for ministerial candidates. The Religious Institute offers an online course for ministers and other religious professionals, and there are additional required readings for ministerial candidates.
  • The UUMA strengthened its ethical code regarding sexual ethics and the MFC is holding ministers responsible for that standard.
  • The UUA strengthened its inclusion and non-discrimination policy and its sexual harassment policies and training for staff.
  • The UUA re-invested and re-committed to keeping Our Whole Lives up to date, training adequate facilitators, and providing staff support for this program. We continue to revise OWL and are currently adding an OWL program for elders

In 2013 a petition by a group called Safety Net called on UUA leaders to focus on assessing and improving our response to victims of misconduct. Both candidates for Moderator and the Chair of the MFC signed the petition, indicating their support. Once elected, Jim Key created a Board Working Group on Congregational Boundaries, whose work included a review of the MFC’s Rules and Policies (ongoing) and the creation of a Best Practices guide in February, 2015. Since that time the following has been implemented:

  • Ministerial Fellowship Committee Policies and Rules have been updated to reflect “best practices” as identified by Marie Fortune, founding director of the Faith Trust Institute. This resulted in the right of complainant/s to appear before the MFC, and for clearer guidelines for notifying congregational boards of investigations.
  • UUA staff working in the area of Safe Congregations have been trained by the Rev. Debra Haffner, until recently the director of the Religious Institute.
  • Twelve Advocates for complainants in misconduct cases were trained in 2015 and now meet quarterly for support and continued training. A second group will be trained in the fall of 2018.
  • UU congregations can be certified as “Sexually Safer Best Practice Congregations” through an online process.
  • Sexuality Education is available on line for all UU Religious Professionals seeking credentialing or certification (and is required for all UU clergy).

In 2018, a multi-year project was completed and the new Guide to Becoming a Safer Congregation was published on uua.org June, 2018.

The Misconduct process continues to be examined and revised.