It used to be that clergy knew the difference between right and wrong. After all, teaching such matters was seen as a core part of the job.
But eroding standards, moral ambiguity, and other factors have made that assumption dangerous, says Luder Whitlock, who chaired a drafting committee for a National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) clergy code of ethics for clergy.
The code, released today, urges trustworthiness, integrity, purity, fairness, and accountability. The text of the code is available at NAECodeofEthics.com in both English and Spanish.
Christianity Today editor in chief David Neff interviewed Whitlock, who was a pastor for 10 years and president of Reformed Theological Seminary for 23 years. Under his leadership, RTS grew from a small regional school to one of the 10 largest seminaries in North America. Today, he is executive director of the Seneff Family Foundation and the CNL Charitable Foundation. (David Neff and Leadership editor in chief Marshall Shelley served on the ethics code drafting committee.)
News reports, particularly those about Catholic clergy sexual abuse, give the public a sleazy picture of American clergy. What is your general impression of pastors today?
Evangelical clergy are deeply committed to serving the Lord and his people. They are people of profound faith. They are compassionate. They are unselfish. Many of them could do far better for themselves in a secular job. But they do this because they love the Lord and they want to serve him and reach people for the gospel.
There isn't one of us who doesn't have his flaws, but in spite of those we hope we can be faithful to the Lord, obedient to his Word, and useful in his service.
Overall, I would give pastors a very high mark. I think their commitment and service is not always appreciated by the public as it should be.
Why do clergy need a code of ethics? Won't they do the right thing if they are walking with the Lord?
Clergy intend to do the right thing, but given the eroding moral standards of recent years in our country, in many instances there isn't adequate clarity and a strong enough sense of obligation to what's right.
Pastors need to be paragons of moral integrity for other believers and examples of moral integrity to the world. As Chaucer put it, "If gold rust, what shall iron do?"
Leith Anderson, president of the NAE, deserves the credit for this code of ethics because he saw the need for it and organized a blue ribbon committee to produce a document to serve the evangelical world, not just one or two denominations. Evangelical organizations have no such written guide. The NAE has a widely accepted statement of faith and has produced statements regarding other issues like sexuality and the environment. This ethics statement was overdue.
Don't denominations provide enough guidance for their pastors and churches?
Denominations have produced a few things, but most haven't. The few existing statements tend to be truncated in scope or overly legalistic and rule specific. There is no broad statement or code that everybody adopts, like we have the statement of faith.
Years ago we realized we needed to outline financial accountability for organizations, so the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability came about.
Strangely, no one has done the same for clergy's ethical behavior. Everyone kept assuming, "We know what's right. People know it, why don't they do it?" But really, when you have a world that's swirling with change like ours and so few people know the Bible well, it's all the more imperative to come up with something like this.