Ethics Roundup

Getty Images franckreporter

Getty Images / franckreporter

The arrest of Kenny Klein for the possession of child pornography has prompted lot of discussions about sexual misconduct, safety, and general ethics in the Pagan community. It can be hard to keep up with all the discussions and even harder to stomach some of the comments so I have collected some of my favourite writings on the subjects, pieces that I feel avoid gossip, conspiracy theories, and unreasonable opinions, and focus instead on support and what we can do to keep our communities safe.

Cat Chapin-Bishop’s guest post at the Wild Hunt, Responding to Abuse in the Pagan Community, is the most thoughtful and compassionate piece I’ve seen on these issues. Cat has more than 20 years of experience as a counsellor specializing in work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She looks at what we know about perpetrators and victims, the effects of abuse, how we can support survivors, and how we can make our Pagan gatherings safer.

Those who prey on children are also friends, family members, wage-earners… And sometimes they are artists, musicians, teachers, or members of a spiritual community whose work is missed when they are removed from those communities.

It is dangerous to caricature offenders as all alike, easily spotted, or wholly monstrous.

The trouble is, if we begin to believe that all perpetrators of child sexual abuse are like comic-book villains, we risk becoming blind to the cases that don’t fit that simple picture. Our communities may begin to make excuses, to minimize, rationalize, and deny the abuse. We say to ourselves, “But she was a teenager—she could have stopped it,” or “He’s not like those other perpetrators—it was only because he was drunk (had just lost his job/ had been divorced/ was depressed.)”

And then we may not pick up the phone and make the report—or we may not enforce a community statement that says we have a “zero tolerance policy” around sexual abuse. Or we may try to “fix” an abuser through compassion and good intentions, without understanding that those are not the tools needed for this particular job. To prevent that, we need to go beyond rhetoric and slogans, and understand the real world of perpetrators and their victims.

In Sex, Ethics, and Paganism, Shauna Aura Knight talks about what it means to be sex-positive and how we can build a healthier sex dynamic in our communities.

Sex positive does not mean I should be pressured to engage in experiences that I’m not comfortable with. In fact, that’s quite the opposite, that’s peer pressure and shaming. Being sex positive means, I support someone’s choice to not dress in a way that is sexy, not get naked, not have lots of sex.

Christine Kraemer describes how we can create a culture of consent in our Pagan communities in her piece, Consent Culture 101: Basic Practices and Teaching Games.

Building consent culture involves confronting issues of power and vulnerability. It requires that both the initiators and receivers of touch improve their communication and listening skills. It calls us to deepen our empathy and bring mindfulness to all our interactions.

In Addressing Safety at Pagan Conventions and Festivals, Cara Schulz looks some of the best practices adopted by teachers and festivals.

David Salisbury, whose books and workshops are often geared towards teens and young adults, says he is rethinking everything in relation to how he presents to minors. Although he feels he has a good system in place, he is making one important change, “I will not teach youth without one or more other adults present.” He also plans to spend more time explaining to adults why he does this so it becomes a more commonplace practice.

Here is my own piece on Safety in the Community.

The Integral Options Cafe blog has an very good 2010 entry, Ethical Guidelines for Clergy and Spiritual Teachers, that looks at how the Zen community responded to issues of sexual misconduct by a teacher. It includes the ethical guidelines that the Zen Society adopted and an FAQ from the FaithTrust Institute on sexual misconduct by clergy/spiritual teachers.

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.

Geek Feminism Wiki has excellent resources to help organizers develop anti-harassment policies at conferences. Although aimed at open source, computing, or technology-related conferences, they can be easily adapted to suite Pagan festivals and conferences.

And, finally, I strongly recommend taking a look at the Youth Protection program of the Boy Scouts of America. Although the Boys Scouts have not been very progressive in certain areas, they realized years ago that a youth organization is a perfect place for perpetrators looking for access to children. It has developed a balanced and wise approach to tracking issues, training leaders, and protecting children.

5 thoughts on “Ethics Roundup

  1. “Sexual contact or sexualized behavior within the ministerial relationship is a violation of professional ethics.” The statement ignores the growing and ethically responsible community of priestesses and priests called qadishti, which celebrate sexual rites consensually and with sacred purpose. I find it unfortunate that after years of ignoring rather obvious signs of violations of common decency, the opprobrium attached to this man’s heinous acts has aroused such expressions of moral outrage and blanket condemnation. I find it hypocritical and otherwise disingenuous.


    • I think Klein’s actions should arouse outrage and there’s something very wrong if it doesn’t. But that has nothing to do with Qadishtu. That particular statement you quoted doesn’t come from a Pagan source. Not everything I’ve referred to here is Pagan though I hope it’s useful in some ways. As for sacred sexuality practitioners, that certainly deserves consideration and I’m not sure where it fits in terms of ethics and power structures, but I will reflect on it. Thank you for raising the subject.


  2. Michael, please note that “within the ministerial relationship” were the words used, meaning exactly that, defining specifically that this is what happens between a minister and the member of that congregation, not rituals or other settings. For example if a clergy person is counseling a member of that church,etc. it is unethical to have a sexual relationship within that context.


    • I think one of the challenges for Pagans is that we’re often looking to Congregational models that don’t necessarily apply to us in certain ways. For example, if the Great Rite is physically sexually enacted during a 3rd degree elevation, that occurs between the teacher/priest and student. There is a power imbalance there. In most traditional religions, that is completely inappropriate. Is there still a place for sexual rites in contemporary Paganism? I think so, but I think we need to set some clear boundaries about them.


      • I completely agree with everything you said Cosette. The main point here is: is there an imbalance of power; if so, then sex shouldn’t enter into it. It’s a good yardstick to use.


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