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Ethics 1, Question 6

Discuss the importance of ethics to the clergy-lay relationship. Do you believe a clergy person has ethical responsibilities? If so, what are these responsibilities? (300 words minimum)

Interacting with the body of ADF members in a positive manner requires ethical conduct, and it requires constant (and consistent) reflection on the virtues we have implemented in the Dedicant Path work.

It is up to us, as clergy, to ensure that our members are safe around us: we cannot take advantage of vulnerabilities the folk reveal to us; we should never advise unless we're certain of our own biases and what they mean; we must never ever engage in gossip about another person; and we must never use the three letters in front of our name ("Rev.") in any way that draws us into a "power over" relationship instead of a "power with" relationship.¹

Regardless of the fact that an ADF Priest may not see him/herself an authority figure, role model, or even a leader, it is clear that our members place respect and weight on our words and deeds. We do not call ourselves "counselor," but our members seek us out to help them work out their issues. Sometimes, others think that a relationship with a Priest will improve their life or social standing within their circle of friends. Very often, our members come to us in vulnerable and fragile states.

Our clergy has a responsibility to keep those things told to us in confidence private. While there is no "seal of confession" within ADF,² it is vital that we retain the trust of those who come to us in confidence. I likely go far beyond what is necessary with confidentiality, but I think it is our responsibility to err on the side of confidentiality at all times.

Sexually, while no one will confuse ADF for a celibacy-plagued enclave of Neo-Paganism, we need to remember that sex betwen clergy and congregant is dangerous and can quickly and easily lead to mistrust. This does not mean it cannot happen, but it should not be entered into lightly. A particular reason for this is detailed in an excellent piece, "Why It's Not an Affair," which details why equal sexual relationships cannot exist for clergy in most religions. Though an ADF Priest does not have intrinsic authority by virtue of his or her office, our Priests do have authority placed upon them by our members, and that is enough to make a relationship unequal. For myself, sex with any other ADF member (aside from my girlfriend, who was not an ADF or Grove member when we began dating, nor was I an ADF Priest when I began dating her) is not an option. I always have and always will seek partners outside of ADF and the festival circuit.

As priests, we have access to an astounding array of tools that could be exploited for terrible things: trust, authority, and respect. Even though we do not ask for these things and there is no theological reason for them to be granted to us, we have them. It is our job to value our members and never exploit the faith they have in as ADF Priests. We can only do good for our members if we ensure that their faith is well-placed.


¹ - Starhawk, in The Sprial Dance, p. 51, decribes two types of power, briefly: power over and power with. Of all the things she's written, this concept is the only one that has had any staying power with me, and it has led me to think of the work that we do as ADF Priests is and always should be one of working with people, for only by bringing them "up" with us can we continue to climb the mountain of life.

² - though there is a fun little project I set up on my site for anonymous confessions, it's not related to being a priest at all.

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