Boundaries That Protect

I left some comments on Role Calling: Boundaries That Protect Your Marriage but they seem to have not made it through moderation. So here are some thoughts.

Boundaries are vital, but they need to be there to protect more than your marriage! They need to protect all people involved in a situation.

I am concerned that several of the rules suggested in the post are not appropriate. The key concerns relate to confidentiality and discipline. Others relate to significant oversights and a perception of a dead rule based life

Much of the time it is important that people know that what they say will be treated in confidence. I cannot offer someone a confidential hearing and then discuss it with my spouse. Churches will learn very quickly if their confidences are respected by their minister, if the spouse knows things that were told to the minister in confidence then the trust relationship breaks down very quickly and it is very hard to recover from.

This is related to the issue of discipline. The spouse is not (generally) a paid member of staff, they are not covered by insurance. As they are not employed they are not covered by the disciplinary processes of the Church. People can say things to me knowing that I am under the discipline of the church, within its supervision. If I pass these onto my spouse they are no longer held within that authority and process. Nobody is accountable, nobody is protected.

Finally the whole set of rules make the huge assumption that everyone is only heterosexual. In other words a male minister only needs special rules for relationships with women and vica versa. That does not happen to bear much similarity with the world (even if many wish it were so).

Anyway a few comments on parts of some of the specific rules.

1. We will not ride alone in a car with a person of the opposite sex.
Okay, yes, I will ride alone with my mom, but you know what I mean. I
heard Dr. Daniel Akin say to a bunch of pastors, "You will never have
an affair if you are never alone with another woman."

If we quickly move on from the incorrect assumption that all pastors/ministers are male.

This rule is not practicable in a setting such as ours. I totally agree caution is needed in being alone but the nature of the work in this setting means it is inevitable. So instead we put in place safeguards (visibility, supervision etc).

I also want to challenge at least a little the model of humanity that underpins this rule. It seems to be a view that will lead to a very impoverished life.

2. We will not counsel someone of the opposite sex behind closed doors

a) I remain unconvinced that ministers/pastors should be counsellors (in the full sense)

b) Something more like "We will remain visible when with only one person." This seems to reflect reality (glass partitions) and avoids some clearly wrong situations that meet the rule (being upstairs in a home where there are bedrooms but thinking it is ok because the doors are open).

3. I copy my wife on e-mails to women

Absolutely not. This breaks confidentiality and puts my spouse in a very difficult situation where they will know things they should not know. Instead the church should have proper supervision, confidentiality and privacy policies and procedures.

4. I tell my wife about conversations that I have with women over the
phone. I lead a care group for our college ministry, so occasionally a
college girl will call to speak with me. I try to not be on the phone
long and direct all counseling to my bride.

Absolutely not. I wonder if this comes from a world where there are few women in the workplace. I speak to women on the phone all the time (funeral directors, headteachers, marriage registrars, mayors, organists, the chair of our district, local preachers, Church Members, people wanting funerals/baptisms/weddings…).

Neither I nor my spouse offer full counselling (not part of our calls or gifting and not part of the role of a Methodist Minister).

5. I have a weekly accountability meeting with a friend who is willing
to ask me any hard questions. My wife walks with a close friend 2 to 3
days a week, so she also has regular accountability.

I agree but would go further I believe that paid staff should have professional supervision, reflective practice groups and spiritual direction provided and paid for by the Church.

Sorry but I got bored with the rules at that point. Some people obviously have a lot more time on their hands than we do. The thought of Jane's reaction to a suggestion she edit Cycling Weekly before I read it or sit and watch the same films as me is very amusing (not that I am going to make the suggestion – far too dangerous). Not quite sure how I could do any work for half the day when Jane is out at work herself if I could not use the internet – on the other hand maybe it could be a good excuse to slow down a lot.

5 thoughts on “Boundaries That Protect

  1. PamBG

    There are a number of traditions where, if the man is the elder or pastor, his wife is expected to act as the pastor to the women in the congregation and this seems to be true of a lot of conservative assemblies.
    I agree with a lot of what you say above and I certainly agree 110% that the minister cannot pass on confidences to his or her spouse and that NO ONE should do counselling unless they are a trained and certified professional counsellor with professional supervision.
    I suppose that if an individual has a temptation to pornography, then the ‘no internet without someone else around’ rule is a good one. I do feel, however, that all these ‘sexual fences’ do is serve to remind us of ‘sex, sex, sex’. If you are trying not to do something, the last thing you should do is bring up the subject all the time.
    Imagine the insecurity of worrying about whether my husband saw an ‘inappropriate’ billboard when I wasn’t around to censor his eyes. Must make one’s spouse paranoid, for a start!

    Reply
  2. Blue, with a hint of amber

    NO ONE should do counselling unless they are a trained and certified professional counsellor with professional supervision.
    This questions sounds really flippant, and I don’t mean it to. What support/advice did the church offer in the 1900 years before there was such a thing as a trained and certified counsellor?
    I certainly agree 110% that the minister cannot pass on confidences to his or her spouse
    Are there other professions where this would be the case? In reality, rather than by policy.

    Reply
  3. Dave Warnock

    Bwahoa,
    ” What support/advice did the church offer in the 1900 years before there was such a thing as a trained and certified counsellor?”
    Extended families, close knit communities and simpler lives.
    “Are there other professions where this would be the case? In reality, rather than by policy.”
    Counselling :-)
    Church Elders, Police, Judges, Social Workers, anywhere where people are told things in confidence. The only exceptions (set by law) are child abuse and money laundering.

    Reply
  4. Dave Warnock

    “The only exceptions (set by law) are child abuse and money laundering.”
    I don’t mean in terms of not telling your spouse as that still applies. I mean in these cases you have to break confidentiality and tell the authorities.

    Reply

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