Chargeable Offenses and Complaints

February 1st, 2015

I am thankful that The United Methodist Church, unlike many denominations, has a process for handling complaints brought against clergy. Our procedures are informed by the conviction that the church is a covenantal community where clergy are both held and held accountable. Clergy are called to live in a covenant of mutual care and accountability with both laity and others who are ordained.

We believe that membership in an annual conference is a sacred trust. The United Methodist Church has put its trust in clergy to lead congregants in ministries of service, word, order, compassion, and justice. Clergy have been called to equip laity for this ministry through proclamation, teaching, pastoral care, deeds of mercy and kindness, the administration of the sacraments, and the ordering of the congregation for mission and service. These responsibilities flow from the gospel as taught by Jesus and proclaimed by his apostles. Whenever a clergyperson is accused of violating this sacred trust, his or her ministerial office shall be subject to review.

The purpose of this review is to find a just and loving resolution to any violation of the sacred trust. This process should never forget that the church is a redemptive community whose purpose is to relate persons to God and each other after the example of Christ Jesus.

In The United Methodist Church, this review is put in motion when a written and signed complaint is received by the bishop. The nature of the complaint can be either administrative or judicial.

Administrative complaints are processed through the conference relations committee and the board of ordained ministry. Administrative complaints have to do with discontinuance, involuntary leave of absence, administrative location, or involuntary retirement. The Book of Discipline specifies procedures that must be followed in processing such a complaint. These procedures exist for the protection of the rights of clergy and the safety of the church.


immorality, including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage; practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies; crime, disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; relationship and or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; child abuse; sexual abuse; sexual misconduct or harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; or racial or gender discrimination. (¶2702)

If a clergyperson is charged with any of these offenses, such charges may or may not be heard by a trial court. It should never be assumed that all complaints will go to trial. Church trials are regarded as a last resort. Reason­able efforts must be made to correct any wrong before a trial is instituted. Trials are held only after due investigation, and they are to be conducted in a manner consistent with the highest ideals of compassion and justice.

A supervisory process must be followed when a signed complaint has been brought to the attention of the bishop. This response is pastoral, and it should be directed toward a just and redemptive resolution among all parties. Throughout the supervisory process, the written complaint shall be treated as only an allegation or allegations. These supervisory meetings are to be conversational, and they are to be held in the spirit of holy conferencing. This is not a legal hearing where there is a verbatim record or the presence of attorneys.

The resident bishop is charged with the responsibility to make certain that the supervisory process is carried out in a timely manner. The aim is to have clear and honest communication. The supervisory process may involve professional persons with experience in assessment, intervention, healing, and mediation. The bishop may also choose to call for mediation with the hope of finding a just resolution. Mediation may be called for at any time during the supervisory process.

When all parties agree on a fair and loving resolution, there will be a written statement of how the complaint is to be resolved. This written understanding must be signed by all parties. A just resolution agreed to by all parties shall constitute a final disposition of the complaint.

If the complaint is not resolved during the supervisory process, it will move toward a church trial. This “last resort” has the responsibility to render a just decision that will determine the final disposition of the complaint.

I am thankful that our discernment channels do not push us to rush toward decisions that might be unfair to those charged or to the unjustifiable witness of The United Methodist Church.

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