Lawyers Conference centers on applying career expertise in the faith community

Becky Williams of the denomination’s General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) addresses questions as part of her presentation at the UMFA Lawyers Conference, held Sept. 15 in Little Rock. AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Becky Williams of the denomination’s General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) addresses questions as part of her presentation at the UMFA Lawyers Conference, held Sept. 15 in Little Rock.
AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

By Amy Forbus
Editor

The intersection of one’s career and faith differs from person to person, and also according to career path. Attorneys who are United Methodist may find themselves providing legal counsel to congregations—and when that happens, what kinds of things do they need to know?

The United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas (UMFA) provides an annual continuing education event to help prepare attorneys for situations in which they use their training in service to the church. Attorneys from across the state gathered Sept. 15 at Pulaski Heights UMC Little Rock for the UMFA Lawyers Conference. Topics this year included immigration law, sexual harassment and misconduct, planned giving, ethics, property law and more.

The gathering lasts for a single day, but related involvement goes beyond this specific event. Little Rock attorney Bill Waddell, a member of St. James UMC who advises the denomination’s Council of Bishops, noted that the local church copyright compliance guide developed by this group is now posted on the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration website to be used as a resource across the denomination. Following the immigration law presentation by Misty Borkowski, he announced that a working group will soon form for those interested in helping to develop a similar practical guide on immigration issues.

Becky Williams, senior director of advocacy and sexual ethics with the denomination’s General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW), addressed problems related to sexual harassment and misconduct in churches. Bishop Gary Mueller and his cabinet were in attendance, and she recognized district superintendent the Rev. Mark Norman as a new member of the COSROW board.

“We need men to stand up and be part of gender equality,” she said, citing Norman’s involvement as a positive example.

Concerning sexual misconduct, Williams noted the difference between two people having an affair and a situation where one of those persons holds power over the other, such as in a clergy/church member relationship. In fact, Arkansas is one of at least 13 states that criminalizes clergy sexual relations with a congregant. She cited the biblical story of King David and Bathsheba as an example of someone wielding power over a vulnerable person.

Williams also highlighted statistics indicating that one in four girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused before they reach age 18. Relying on that data, “there are victims in this room,” she said. “We must heighten our sensitivity to this problem in the United Methodist Church.” She pointed attendees to www.umsexualethics.org for training resources and fliers for educating church staff and leaders.