CHICAGO— The 2017-2020 United Methodist Inter-Agency Sexual Ethics Task Force (IASETF) met in Chicago May 11-May 12, 2017 for its organizing meeting. The group set goals and established working committees to ground its focus and priorities for the next four years.
“IASETF’s work is important because when sexual misconduct occurs, on any level, it is a violation of our sacred trust between individuals,” Bishop Sharma Lewis of the Virginia Episcopal Area stated. “Our responsibility in The United Methodist Church is to always maintain the integrity of the ministerial relationship by raising awareness, working toward prevention and eradication, and offering healing to both individuals.”
The United Methodist IASETF traces its beginnings to the collaboration of annual conference and general agency leaders working to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and misconduct in the mid-1990s. The General Conference session held in 2000 resolved that GCSRW should convene a work team to address these issues of sexual misconduct in The United Methodist Church. The 2016 Book of Resolutions states that GCSRW should “continue to convene and coordinate a cooperative interagency group to address the areas of prevention, education, intervention, and healing” (780).
IASETF is made up of representatives from the General Board of Discipleship, General Board of Global Ministries, General Board of Higher Education and Ministries, General Board of Church and Society, General Council on Finance and Administration, General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, United Methodist Women, Division on Ministries with Young People, several annual conferences, and the Council of Bishops. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women convenes this task force.
This quadrennium’s IASETF will be placing emphasis on raising awareness of the depth of the problem sexual misconduct has throughout The United Methodist Church, giving judicatory leaders resources in order to make the best decisions and responses in cases of sexual misconduct, and coordinating existing and future resources among all networks of The UMC.
In order to achieve these goals, the IASETF established three working groups. One committee will conduct the planning for this quadrennium’s Do No Harm event. A second committee will develop a training template for healthy boundaries and integrity in ministerial relationships to be used in annual conference ministries. The third committee will promote awareness of issues related to sexual ethics by including information and resources in existing events through collaborative efforts with the general agencies.
“As a long-time chancellor (now associate chancellor) for the West Ohio Annual Conference, my initial IASETF meeting was unexpectedly illumination,” Phil Moots, IASETF annual conference member, said. “I have dealt with difficult sexual ethics legal issues for more than two decades, trying to focus on prevention of sexual misconduct legal problems, and I found the passionate cross-pollination by talented and experienced UMC agency and conference representatives inspiring. The Task Force provides a truly extraordinary opportunity for collaboration across our Church, both in sharing information and planning preventive steps in response to these critical sexual ethics issues. I hope we can add a representative from The United Methodist Church Chancellors Association to the Task Force in the near future.”
“IASETF’s work is important today because it deals with a relevant issue, not just in the life of The UMC but also in other religious communities,” HiRho Park, executive director of clergy lifelong learning and UMC Cyber Campus of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, stated. “IASETF’s work is not only a US issue, but also a global issue. Sexual misconduct in the Church is about power and it is about being vulnerable, therefore, it will not die away. Nevertheless, The UMC is leading the efforts to open a window of fresh air to this deep-seated human matter through the work of IASETF. The work will provide opportunities to face what it means being a human, clergy and laity alike. IASETF work is about offering hope to humanity in spite of our brokenness. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry supports the work of IASETF because our mission is to develop healthy clergy leading vital congregations.”