Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Ismael Muvingi

Second Advisor

Robin Cooper

Third Advisor

Urszula Strawinska-Zanko

Abstract

American religious institutions are expected to be free from the unsettling behaviors found in secular institutions. However, scandals in churches have revealed a difficult truth; the people who operate these faith institutions are just as flawed as those who do not. This hermeneutic phenomenological study explored the damage caused by clergy sexual misconduct. Congregations, families, religious organizations, and the concept of the Christian church suffer because of clergy sexual misconduct. There are significant barriers to repair and reconciliation. Cases of clergy sexual misconduct in the Roman Catholic Church have received much of the attention, but the problem is bigger than one denomination. This study explored the problem of clergy sexual misconduct in the United Methodist Church. It contributes to the field of conflict analysis and resolution by exploring the relationships between victims, the accused, and the church system. Six research participants were asked open-ended questions. Responses were explored through the lens of historic research about sexual misconduct, power, and closed systems. Raven’s dissection of power enabled a more thorough analysis of the relationship dynamics between clergy and congregant. Bush and Folger’s transformative theory of conflict demonstrates the complexity of these relationships. Finally, the United Methodist Church’s policies regarding clergy sexual misconduct were explored through document analysis. The key findings included four themes. Fear, failed systems, fairness, and crisis minimization immerged as significant factors influencing how participants experienced the phenomenon.

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