Friday, August 20, 2010

Ethical Guidelines for Clergy and Spiritual Teachers

Figure 2

Reverend Danny Fisher - the Master Buddhist Blogger - posted on a recent issue in the Zen community around sexual misconduct of a teacher. The Zen Studies Society took the issue seriously (unlike other organizations I have blogged about here in the past) and consulted with the FaithTrust Institute, a multifaith organization that addresses ethical violations by spiritual leaders.

Clearly, the Zen Society has different ethical standards around Zendo rules and conduct, not to mention drugs, alcohol, and firearms, that would not - as written - apply to the integral community in the same way. Still what they have written is a very useful foundation for us to consider in forming an integral ethics.

As an aside, of sorts, in reference to the diagram above, in his Introduction to Volume 7 of the Collected Works, Ken Wilber said:
This model sheds considerable light on the fact that, for example, some individuals--including spiritual teachers (and Presidents)--may be highly evolved in certain capacities (such as meditative awareness), and yet demonstrate poor (or even pathological) development in other streams, such as the interpersonal or psychosexual.
Hmmm . . . . One wonders why he can write about it so clearly and yet be blind to it in his own organization?

What follows are the new ethical guidelines the Zen Society have adopted - and I think this is a good foundational model for an integral ethics for spiritual teachers.

The Zen Studies Society Ethical Guidelines
updated June 2010

The Buddhist Precepts are a fundamental part of Zen Buddhist practice. They help create a safe and supportive environment for all. It is each person's responsibility to follow and honor the tradition. The precepts are:

  • Honor life, don’t kill
  • Respect others' property
  • Refrain from sexual misconduct
  • Honor honesty and truth
  • Refrain from drug and alcohol intoxication
  • Remember that silence is precious
  • Do not judge others
  • Be tolerant and cooperative
  • Be peaceful and calm
  • Esteem the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha

The Zen Studies Society is a community based on trust and respect. Sangha members are expected to interact with one another in a manner that reflects this trust and respect and are expected to behave in an ethical manner flowing from the Precepts. At Dai Bosatsu, no hunting or fishing is allowed. In addition, no driving of any motor vehicle or water craft is allowed while under the influence of alcohol or any other drug. The following behaviors are not permissible for any teacher, guest lecturer, monastic, Sangha member, program attendee or visitor at either Dai Bosatsu Zendo or New York Zendo:

  • Failure to conform to zendo or monastery rules.
  • Any willful removal or damaging of property, or theft of funds.
  • Withholding or falsely reporting any income generated by the Zen Studies Society.
  • Threatening, abusive or obscene behavior.
  • Disrespectful or preferential treatment towards anyone on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, age, physical disability, income or national origin.
  • Willfully causing injury, whether physical or psychological, to anyone.
  • Any type of illegal drug use, possession or sale.
  • Consumption of alcohol unless served at an officially sponsored event.
  • Possession of any firearms or other weapons.
  • Misrepresenting personal information requested for any program sponsored by the Zen Studies Society.
  • Engaging in any type of unlawful activity.
  • Sexual advances or liaisons between teachers or guest lecturers or monastics and Sangha members, program attendees or visitors.
  • Sexual harassment, defined as any single act or multiple persistent acts of physical or verbal conduct that is/are sexual in nature and (1) sufficiently severe or intense to be abusive to a reasonable person in the context; or (2) unwelcome or offensive behavior in the view of the receiver of such attentions.

1. If any Sangha member, participant or guest has concerns about how he or she is being treated by another or has concerns about someone’s ethical conduct within the community, he or she may choose to have a direct conversation with that person to address the concerns, provide feedback and reach an agreement about needed changes.

2. However, if the concerned Sangha member, participant or guest does not feel safe to speak directly with the source of concern, feels the complaint is sufficiently egregious, or if he or she has spoken with that person and does not believe the concerns have been addressed, he or she is encouraged to actively pursue the following process: The Zen Studies Society's board will designate an ethics committee consisting of three persons to hear, oversee and resolve issues of interpersonal behavior or ethics. The names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all the committee members will be posted in the main office of each property associated with the Zen Studies Society. Anyone having concerns will be directed to contact someone on this committee.

3. A complainant may choose one of the following ways to submit a formal complaint. A written complaint can be submitted by the complainant to the committee or developed with the assistance of the committee. Or a formal complaint can be made directly with the accused during a dialogue arranged and attended by at least two members of the committee, one of whom will take notes. In the case of a written complaint, after a review by the full committee, it will be shared with the accused so that he or she can make a written response to the committee. After the written response is reviewed, the committee will share it with the complainant and ask for any additional comment.

4. The committee is authorized to review and investigate the complaint. The committee will retain all notes and correspondence associated with a given complaint for at least ten years.

5. If the complaint is judged by the committee not to meet the level of plausible illegal activity or egregious conduct, the committee will, at the request of the complainant, arrange a facilitated session with the concerned party for the purpose of achieving understanding.

6. If, after consideration, a majority of the committee agrees that a reasonable person would likely judge the conduct under investigation as illegal activity or egregious, it will be brought to the attention of the full Zen Studies Society's board for prompt consideration and response. If a member or ex officio member of the board is accused in the complaint then that member's voting rights associated with Board membership will be suspended during the period the complaint is investigated and he or she will be excluded from attending any meeting related to the complaint.

7. Disciplinary action by the Board of Directors may include expulsion, discharge, suspension, probation and/or exclusion from future practice and events associated with the Zen Studies Society. Any egregious activity that is also thought to be illegal will be turned over to the police for investigation.

8. This document will be posted in each main office of the Zen Studies Society and made easily accessible here on the Zen Studies Society web site.

Finally, here is the FAQ from the FaithTrust Institute on sexual misconduct by clergy/spiritual teachers:

Abuse by Clergy FAQs

What is sexual abuse within the ministerial relationship?
Why is it wrong?
Is sexual contact between a religious leader and me ever okay?
How do some religious leaders justify their sexual abuse?
How do I know if my boundaries have been crossed?
What should I do if I am sexually attracted to my religious leader?
What should I do if I believe I am a victim of sexual abuse by a religious leader?
How can I help my church or synagogue prepare for the possibility of sexual abuse by clergy?

What is sexual abuse within the ministerial relationship?

Sexual abuse happens when someone in a ministerial role (clergy, religious or lay) engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a congregant, employee, student or counseling client in the ministerial relationship.

Sexual abuse can include physical contact from the person in the ministerial role, such as:

  • Sexual touch and "accidental" touch of sexual areas of the body
  • Tickling and playful aggression that seem uncomfortable to you
  • A prolonged hug when a brief hug is customary behavior
  • Kissing on the lips when a kiss on the cheek would be appropriate
  • Pressing up against your body when hugging
  • An inappropriate gift from your religious leader (such as lingerie)
  • Sexual intercourse with your religious leader

Sexual abuse can also include verbal behavior initiated by a person in a ministerial role when such behavior sexualizes a relationship. Examples include:

  • Innuendo or sexual talk
  • Suggestive comments
  • Tales of his or her sexual exploits or experiences
  • Questions about the intimate details of your relationships
  • Looking for sympathy about his or her partner's sexual inadequacies

Why is it wrong?

Sexual contact or sexualized behavior within the ministerial relationship is a violation of professional ethics. There is a difference in power between a person in a ministerial role and a member of his or her congregation or a counselee. Because of this difference in power, you cannot give meaningful consent to the sexual relationship.

Individuals usually seek counseling or support from their religious leader at times of stress or crisis. During these times, you are emotionally vulnerable and can be taken advantage of by a religious leader.

Is sexual contact between a religious leader and me ever okay?

Meaningful consent can occur when two people are relatively equal in power and when fear, coercion or manipulation is completely absent from their relationship. Clergy who are seeking a romantic relationship can do so outside their own congregations. If a religious leader becomes interested in dating or romance with a member of his or her congregation (though this is complicated and not advisable), the clergyperson must remove him/herself from a ministerial role in that person's life before ethically pursuing a relationship of this nature.

Questions that need to be asked to evaluate if it is possible to pursue this type of romantic relationship include:

  • Was the ministerial relationship minimal in nature (no counseling involved)?
  • Is the religious leader willing to remove him or herself from the ministerial relationship?
  • Is the religious leader willing to be open about the relationship with the congregation?

How do some religious leaders justify their sexual abuse?

Religious leaders are reported to have justified their boundary-crossing behavior in these ways:

  • "But he said that love can never be wrong; that God had brought us together."
  • "He said we should sin boldly so that grace might abound."
  • "She said that ministry was mutual and our relationship was mutual. So she shared her problems with me and the sex followed from that."
  • "I was learning about God for the first time. He took me seriously. I went along with the sex so that I could continue to learn from him."

How do I know if my boundaries have been crossed?

Your boundaries have been crossed if:

  • You feel uncomfortable and confused with the interaction even if you are initially flattered.
  • You are receiving unusual time and attention from the religious leader.
  • You are receiving personal gifts from the religious leader.
  • When you meet with the religious leader for counseling, you end up talking more about his or her problems than about yours.
  • The religious leader is inviting you out for intimate, social occasions.
  • The religious leader touches you in a way that you find confusing, uncomfortable or upsetting.
  • The religious leader gives you theological rationale for questionable conduct, e.g. "God has brought us together."

What should I do if I am sexually attracted to my religious leader?

There is nothing wrong with you or your feelings. Your religious leader may be a very attractive, sensitive, caring person. Should you choose to share your feelings of attraction with your religious leader, it is his or her professional responsibility to help you to understand that to preserve the integrity of the ministerial relationship, he or she cannot reciprocate your interest in an intimate relationship.

What should I do if I believe I am a victim of sexual abuse by a religious leader?

If you believe you, or someone else, is a victim of sexual abuse by a religious leader:

  • Pay attention to your feelings and trust yourself.
  • Share your confusion, fear or anxiety with someone you trust.
  • Remember that you are not to blame, even if you agreed to the relationship in the beginning.
  • Find out if your congregation, synod, conference, etc. has a specific policy and procedure for dealing with complaints about clergy misconduct. Use that process to make a complaint.
  • Find an advocate who understands church or synagogue systems; rely on him or her for guidance and support.
  • Remember that you might not be the only person to whom this has happened and that your action can help both yourself and others.
  • If a child has been sexually abused by someone in a ministerial role, make an immediate report to a law enforcement agency in your community.
  • If you wish to make a complaint against a pastoral counselor, find out if he or she is a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. Make the complaint there as well as to the church or synagogue.

How can I help my church or synagogue prepare for the possibility of sexual abuse by clergy?

Your congregation, synod, conference, etc. will benefit from examining the issue of sexual abuse within the ministerial relationship. You may wish to pose these questions as a way of helping your church or synagogue develop a compassionate and just system of responding to the potential problem of sexual abuse by clergy:

  • Does your church or synagogue have a policy and procedure for responding to sexual abuse or other violations of professional ethics within the ministerial relationship?
  • Is the policy widely disseminated to clergy and members of the congregation?
  • Has training on the issue been made available to members of the congregation and clergy?

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