12th Assembly 2009

Code of Ethics revised

The Uniting Church’s Code of Ethics has been updated to deal with emerging issues in the church and to clarify and amplify areas in the code which had been of concern.

The 12th triennial Assembly of the Uniting Church approved the revised code on July 20.

Revisions were intended to affirm the code’s underlying ethic, its structure and its status so it would remain at the heart of the church’s ministry practice.

While the Uniting Church’s regulations, policy and guidelines, formation practice and terms of placement are used to define the expectations of ministers, the code will continue to deal with particular issues that have application across ministry in the church.

Areas addressed by the revision included the internet and other technology that provide a basis for behaving inappropriately; ministers who work in structured work environments; cultural issues associated with ministry, including the giving and receiving of gifts; expectations of retired ministers; the way power is used and abused (including bullying); and the application of the code to candidates, interns and ministers from other denominations.

Andrew Johnson, in the report from the task group responsible for the revisions, said, “These amendments have arisen from the lived experience of the code but careful thought has gone into their drafting, seeking not to be knee-jerk reactions to particular situations but thorough, cautious amendments, reflecting the breath of ministry contexts.”

The Code of Ethics was approved at the 9th Assembly nine years ago. But a survey conducted by the task group found that knowledge of the code and its operation was still patchy.

It was often only referred to in situations where breaches were being investigated. The code was also seen by some as primarily about sexual misconduct.

Overall the feedback indicated a general satisfaction with the code but demonstrated concerns about particular sections.

The Assembly Standing Committee affirmed the place of the code in the life of the church and determined that it be retained in essentially its current form but that clarification and amplification was required in some areas.

Standing Committee believed that synods and presbyteries were much better placed to assist with that task, particularly if there was better coordination between those councils.

It was also determined to expand the definition of “minister” to include ministers from other denominations serving in approved placements, candidates for ministry and interns.

According to the revised version, a breach of the Code of Ethics refers to any violation of the requirements or principles of the code by ministers. It includes any breach which occurs via the internet or through other technology even in circumstances where they have not met face to face.

Ministers also should ensure the integrity of any records, particularly electronic records, by putting in place appropriate security procedures.

Another revised section seeks to deal with prevalent feedback that many ministers did not know what to do when they had experienced bullying.

Other sections address issues surrounding the Uniting Church as a multicultural church and attempt to ensure that it is clear ministers should act as Christians.

Assembly made further amendments to the revised code. Included were variations addressing ministers’ responsibility for their physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health needs and noting that full time ministers should not use their ministry skills as a basis for significant commercial benefit.