Tuesday, February 03, 2009

So what are the rules on clergy dating?

I'm thinking about writing a fiction peice about a minister* and I'm curious.

What exactly are the rules for single ministers? Thanks to UUgirl's blog, I'm used to reading about this from the Clergy Sexual Misconduct angle, so I don't really know how it is done correctly and have the vague impression that meeting a significant other on the internet, maintaining a long-distance courtship and only bringing schnookums to church once the wedding ring is on her finger is the only really safe way to go about it.

Minister-dating seems so much more complicated than other careers with dating restrictions (e.g. Therapists-Don't. Professors-Wait 'till he graduates. Doctor-Don't ask while he's naked and if you date advise him to see somebody else for medical care)

Some questions...

How they met:

1. If Reverend Bob meets Jane at a non-worship event at the church, like she comes to a church bazaar looking for some furniture and they start talking as he helps her load a desk into her car, can they date?

2. If Jane is of the same faith but attends another local church of the same denomination, can they date?

3. If Jane attends Reverend Bob's church, resigns her membership and joins another local church and calls him up a month later, can they date?

4. If Jane is a member of Reverend Bob's church and he moves to a church in another city and they start e-mailing, can they date?


5. Can she come to the church bazaar and help out?

6. Can she come to church on Sunday? Occaisionally? Regularly?

7. I take it that she shouldn't join?

8. I'm kinda icked out by the idea that the girlfriend would find the guy being a religious leader sexy and probably won't write it that way. But that's probably grounds for dumping, yes? I mean, if she's wanting you to go naked under your robe or do it in the sanctuary?

9. Any other issues I haven't thought of?

*Not even sure it's a UU minister yet, but I'm assuming the rules are pretty much the same.


LinguistFriend said...

Well, I did know a UU minister who dated at least three different women who attended his church, while I was there. But that was long ago, and in another country; and besides, . . . .

Chalicechick said...

Yeah, that was yucky.

At the same time, in George Eliot's Middlemarch the local religious figure is something of a catch. Sort of. But nobody thinks anything of it when he dates a girl he sees on Sunday morning.

My guess is that dating a congregant is a stupid thing to do, but not in itself misconduct.


Christine Robinson said...

The rules about clergy dating changed in about 1985. The reason for making rules was the incredible amount of personal and institutional suffering that the non-rules had engendered, although much of that was in the category of adultery and sexual harassment rather than simple dating.

You can find the rules at the UUMA website, under Guidelines.

Assuming the Rev. Bob is single, Rev. Bob can date anyone who doesn't consider him their minister, including, for instance, a church neighbor who happens on the Bazaar, and, if it is done very carefully, can begin to date someone who does consider him their minister after some discussion of how, once you start dating, you definitely loose your minister and might lose your church. Dating a congregant is risky, rather than stupid, in my opinion, but many ministers refuse to consider it. It is not misconduct. The reason it is risky is that if the relationship goes south, the person is still in the church. If they're mad, they can make a bunch of trouble.

There are no restrictions on the date's activities in the church other than the date ought not to be serving on the Board. The date is likely to discover that their relationship with the church changes markedly as people come to see them as attached to the minister. Not all churches deal well with ministers who get a significant other...they can get jealous.

Many men and women find leaders sexually attractive and spiritual leaders very sexually attractive. Especially when they are men. On the other hand, most people look at a minister and see "mother" and "father" and these are very powerful dynamics that tend to cut down on sexual attraction.

As to sex-play while on the job, that is frowned on in most employment situations.

In this as in all things, ministers are supposed to conduct themselves in ways that don't do injury to other people, which honor the integrity of their relationships, and which are above board and seemly.

It's not easy to be a single minister.

fausto said...

I am marginally qualified to speak on this subject because my flirty agnostic cousin happily dated a Presbyterian minister for a couple of years until he proposed. Then she realized that she really, really didn't believe all that Westminster Confession stuff and decided that St. Paul's advice not to be "unequally yoked" might not be so bad even if it was in the Bible, so she blew him off.

1. yes

2. yes, as long as the denom isn't Roman Catholic

3. yes

4. yes

5. yes

6. yes, as a guest; but...

7. ...it would probably be a bad idea and cause him some professional-ethics troubles for her to become a formal member of the flock

8. maybe, but...

9. ...what if the roles are reversed and it's Bob and Rev. Jane? I mean, a lot of smokin' hotties are reading Beauty Tips for Ministers these days.

I broadly agree with Christine's comments. I might be a tad stricter, either because I haven't really thought much about the fine points or just because I have a pole up my ass about most things (at least if all the other observed data points are fellow UUs). I think the bright-line test is that the minister shouldn't allow a situation to develop where any abuse (by the minister) or even misapprehension (by the layperson) of the inherent authority that a pastor has over those in his/her spiritual care becomes possible. (I know, there's supposed to be a priesthood of all believers, not just clergy, and clergy are supposed to serve rather than command, but still, a pastor has a position of leadership over his/her flock in certain very sensitive areas that are particularly susceptible to pollution once certain personal boundaries fall.) If, however, the object of a cleric's romantic affections is not also under his/her spiritual care, I think the problems can generally be managed.


PG said...

8. I'm kinda icked out by the idea that the girlfriend would find the guy being a religious leader sexy and probably won't write it that way. But that's probably grounds for dumping, yes? I mean, if she's wanting you to go naked under your robe or do it in the sanctuary?

Reminded me of Coupling:

Jane: You try being in love with a man who won't have sex with you because of God. It's not easy, loving a man who's in love with God. It's not acceptable to dress up in a long beard and robe and shout "I am the Lord your God, take me now." I've never seen him look so cross. Which is odd, because it really worked for me.

Chalicechick said...

Thanks, everybody. This is very helpful.

I worked on this some years ago and lost my enthusiasm for it and recently had a new idea about it and picked it back up again.

The plot about the relationship as I've got so far:

1. He and she knew of each other but didn't particularly know each other some years before.

2. They meet again in a waiting room at the police station. He is doing the pastoral care thing, but he's, well, waiting and no members of the family he has come to see are around at the moment. They strike up a conversation.

3. She has just come back to town and is somewhat low on furniture. He invites her to the church bazaar.

4. She goes, ends up helping out in the same section he's working (because she's kinda into him) and they decide to go for coffee. On the way to coffee, he gets a call, could he stop by the house where the murder happened. The minister's date intends to stay in the car, but it turns out a member of the family is in the yard when they pull up, so she gets out too and awkward introductions are made. Then she notices something...

From that point, I've found that it gets harder because his social life so much revolves around the church and he wants to keep her separate because he doesn't know where this is going and she is anxious to meet people he cares about and connect with them.

Also because everything that makes for a good detective (insatiable curiosity about the relationships people have with each other, an impulsive sort of guts, a tendency t stretch the truth) makes for a bad minister girlfriend.

But hey, that keeps things interesting. (And murders. Murders are interesting.)


Chalicechick said...


TheCSO and I laughed REALLY hard when we read that.


PG said...

I usually grump at my husband when he declares the British version of something superior to the American (I'm an Anglophile, but I have some cultural pride), but I have to concede that "Coupling" really is better than "Friends."

In fairness to "Friends," it had to work within the guidelines of the FCC, whereas "Coupling" was made by the government (the BBC).
Which in turn reminds me of John Cleese talking about how he got into Monty Python:

Then on the opening couple of weeks two very nice men in gray suits, Ted Taylor and Peter Titheradge, turned up at Cambridge. They'd noticed that I'd written a large portion of the material and they offered me a job. I was never very committed to being a lawyer, so when these guys offered me £30 a week when I was facing two and a half years in a solicitor's office where I was going to get £12 a week (which was not much money even in 1963), I took the BBC job. I wasn't at all sorry to say good-bye to the law; it was easy to convince my parents that it was okay because this was the BBC so there was a pension scheme -- it was almost like going into the entertainment branch of the civil service.

fausto said...

The American version of The Office is WAY better than the British one.

ogre said...

You've already gotten the professional ethics guidelines (and seen the grey zone). Here are a couple of real world examples I know of that were generally seen as appropriate/acceptable;

* New not-member-yet and minister were interested in each other. Had a conversation about this. He stopped attending/participating while they explored their relationship. They understood that the complications for their relationship, and hers and his--each--with the congregation would be just too messy to handle gracefully. They ended up engaged, and he returned at that point. They're married now.

* Minister developed relationship with someone at a distance (having been introduced by friends...). Kept it very off the radar of the congregation. They traveled and visited. When it got serious, he moved--and moved in. No one batted an eye (and most were, in fact, quite happy for them). He only visits the congregation now and then.

I've been part of a group for tight-knit friends for 25+ years, which has seen a number of divorces (or divorce-equivalents). It's tightly-knit enough that people don't go away--at least not long term. But the dynamics and tensions are "interesting," to say the least, because there is inevitably some seeking of sides by parties, or closer friends supporting someone who's seen as the victim.

Dealing with that in a congregation would be hell on fire on a pogo-stick.

Basically, it's common wisdom that it's foolish to date "at work" and this is a high-octane equivalent. It's not that it's not done... but it's incredibly delicate. Having had a relationship with a congregant--even with all things being *quite* correct and careful--and it ending, either the congregant leaves if it ends, or it leaves an embittered congregant looking to perhaps get even, or an embittered minister who.... And that's before you add in all the other people. Or the new visitor who shows up five months later and falls for the minister....

Dating and mating dances are hard enough--doing them in a goldfish bowl on a minefield?

That said, your scenario seems entirely plausible and realistic in that "the world is peculiar and has a warped sense of humor" way. Given what you describe, I'd foresee some interesting attempts to draw boundaries (which of course will be violated, sometimes...).

As for sexual behavior on site... are you mad? Same issue as "at work" (above), and again, moreso.

As for the icked out... yeah, but. Many people's private motivations might raise eyebrows, publicized. In your example, he may be turned on by her being a detective. It's a problem if that's THE reason, rather than *a* reason. If it falls under "this is weird, and I know it's weird, and it weirds me out too..." then it (for story purposes) can be something that they need to work on, work through, explore as ok-or-not-ok. Even a reason to split up for a time...

Anonymous said...

Probably this is too little to late and not that relevant, but as a ministerial candidate, I have been taught at various workshops and retreats that while it is not a TECHNICAL violation of UUMA rules to date someone in your congregation (in large part because when the rules were made up there were a lot of current ministers married to former congregants) that dating anyone in your congregation is VERY VERY frowned upon and, essentially, shady and discouraged and recipe for disaster and potential technical misconduct. It is my understanding that there is a significant contingent that wish that rules to be changed to make dating a congregant actual misconduct via UUMA guidelines. In any case, these various teachings and trainings have worked with me and even if I wasn't already married I would never ever consider dating someone in my congregation. It seems like there is too much risk of harm - harm to your ability to minister effectively, harm to the congregant who loses his or her minister and, potentially, congregation, harm to the congregation, too much gray area related to power differentials, etc. Not that this has really much to do with your story. I just thought I would chime in since I haven't seen anyone give this perspective. And because I am putting off less fun things that I need to get to......

Anonymous said...

I meant too little too late.

Anonymous said...

A real gray area is the membership question, if the minister and the date met before the date became interested in being a member of the congregation. If it's a serious relationship and the date is present at the church on a regular basis, the congregation might question why the date is NOT a member rather than frowning upon them becoming one.

For married couples, if the spouse of the minister is at all involved in the church, it seems expected that they become a member. UU ministers' spouses seem to be in two categories -- involved members in the congregation, or not at all involved in the congregation except for some rare social events.

A little beyond your scope, I realize.

Something that pretty much everyone agrees on is that a spouse/partner/significant other should not be involved in the leadership of the church in any way, i.e. chairing any committee with power over or influence on the minister, including board service. Personally, as a minister's spouse, I won't be the chair of _anything_ and prefer to do background type stuff like work on the website or the newsletter.

Anonymous said...

Our minister's husband is quite involved in our congregation. He's been on a few committees. It was really nice to get the chance to get to know him as a person in his own right rather than as the minister's husband.
I am unaware of any tension it causes. He hasn't been on the Board as far as I know.

Steven Rowe said...

i think I see why so many new UU minsters seem to be married people in their second career....
Because of our limited Churches; Either one dates someone not in their religious views or they date someone from out of the geographic area?

Lizard Eater said...

Throwing one more thing in ... the law.

In Texas (and I would assume other states), being a minister is like being a therapist. It is illegal for either to have a sexual relationship with a client/congregant, punishable by 2-20 years. The logic is that because of the power difference, the congregant/client lacks the capacity to consent.

Not that I've ever heard of an arrest ...

Anonymous said...

I didn't see anyone address what if Rev. Bob falls for congregant Dave? Or Rev. Jane is attracted to sue? If you are talking UUs...

Chalicechick said...

A fair question. I didn't address it because I figured the rules wouldn't be any different.

Chalicechick said...

(((In Texas (and I would assume other states), being a minister is like being a therapist. It is illegal for either to have a sexual relationship with a client/congregant, punishable by 2-20 years. The logic is that because of the power difference, the congregant/client lacks the capacity to consent.)))

I totally brought that up in Legal Ethics class last night in a discussion of lawyerws having sex with clients.



Cynthia L. Landrum said...

You've already got good answers, but I can't seem to help myself...

1. Yes
2. Yes
3. Much trickier - as she's a member of another church of the denomination, the rules on ministers having contact with members of colleagues' churches come into play. Rev. Bob should contact Jane's minister before proceeding further.
4. Works the same as 3.
5. Yes
6. Yes, Yes, Yes - but it should be clear she's coming as the minister's significant other, and in that role. If they don't want to be public, it'd be better if she didn't come.
7. Not until after they're married, and then only if he's a member. Some churches want their ministers to be members, some don't. Spouse should follow suit.
8. Ick (especially on the going naked under the robe)! But finding religious leaders sexy wouldn't necessarily be a problem, I suppose, any more than finding anyone sexy for what they do professionally would be a problem. It's a problem when people can't act professionally when at work, obviously. But if she wants him to wear a robe in their own bedroom, I suppose that's their business. But, still, ick.
9. In UUism, if allowed by state law (and I hadn't heard of this TX situation, even when I was in TX), ministers are not barred from dating members. But one needs to do it carefully. And carefully doesn't mean "with great secrecy." To the contrary, if a minister begins dating a member, it would be a wise thing to have certain people in the know, such as the Committee on Ministry members.

And, yes, there's a counseling-type relationship and we are mandated reporters, but it's not the same as a therapist relationship. We are neither trained as therapists (unless we pursued that separately) nor bound to quite the same set of rules. If you have a strong counseling relationship, it would be a bad move, ethically, to enter into a relationship. But there are plenty of members who never seek pastoral care from the minister, too, really. Our counseling is usually crisis-based and time-limited. One way to think about it: a therapist would never go over to a client's house for lunch. If you run into the therapist socially, he/she would probably pretend not to know you. A minister, on the other hand, is expected to come to people's homes and/or interact socially with people. Yes, there's counseling and there's ethics, but we have a different role to play than the therapist in the way we interact with people's lives.

So, when it comes to dating congregants, some would say to never do it, others do it. Our boundaries and guidelines are fuzzy and permeable in areas like this. But when they do do it, it's with care and caution, I'm sure.

Chalicechick said...

(Written with an assumption of heterosexuality, but applies as well to gay and lesbian pairings.)

Yeah, I've been trying to figure out why I find the girlfriend finds minister's job sexy thing so icky.

I've realized that if she finds that he's smart and reads a lot and that people admire him sexy, that doesn't creep me out.

It's if she has carnal plans for anointing oil or something else that is sexualizing the rituals of the job that icks me.

To me that second category just screams "I have unresolved parent issues that I'm playing out with authority figures."


Dating said...

Thanks, everybody. This is very helpful.