Three-quarters of Methodist female clergy say they have been sexually harassed while engaged in church activities, according to a church-conducted national survey.
County Methodist ministers of both sexes say the statistics -- released last month in the United Methodist Baltimore Conference newsletter -- are probably accurate.
"I think it would be fair to say that most women in the U.S. have experienced some form of sexual harassment," said the Rev. Robert Zimmerli of Westminster United Methodist Church.
Twenty-three percent of the female church members, 54.5 percent of the female students and 36.5 percent of female employees reported having experienced unwanted sexual advances in a church setting.
Forty-five percent of the male clergy, 15.7 percent of the male laity and 35.4 percent of the male students said they had been sexually harassed.
Although she said she thinks the numbers are too high, the Rev. Joan Carter -- pastor of Strawbridge, Union Street and Fairview United Methodist churches -- agreed that harassment is a problem.
"Clergywomen have been feeling harassment across a wide range," she said, adding that she believes some women will be glad to hear that they were not the only ones to be harassed.
"They will be glad to see (harassment) is a reality," she said.
The Rev. Laura-Lee Wilson of Shiloh United Methodist Church agreed.
"I would believe the statistics and the surveys that were sent back in," she said.
Yet, the pastors also noted that a wide variety of actions were included in the survey, making the statistics seem unusually high.
The report defines sexual harassment as "any sexually related behavior that is unwelcome, offensive, or which fails to respect the rights of others."
Specific categories ranged from suggestive looks or remarks to actual or attempted rape.
"Sexual harassment has a very broad meaning," said Zimmerli.
Carter agreed, adding, "It depends on how the individual interprets it."
Pastors said the findings reflect a problem that needs to be corrected in society.
"I think the survey is showing what is a serious problem, not only in the church but in society as well," said the Rev. Chris Wood, associate pastor at Westminster United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Nancy Webb of St. Paul's United Methodist Church said, "Clergy are not much different from the general population in how anything like that affects their lives."
Wilson said, "Whether it is inside or outside the church, it is inexcusable. The church is not exempt from the world."
The study -- part of a year-long self-examination by the Methodist church covering topics ranging from interaction of members to religious literature -- also included the laity, students in church-related institutions and employees.
Wood, who participated in the survey, said he felt pastors were more susceptible to harassment than the laity because of the nature of their jobs.
"Because of the vocation, you have more of an opportunity to enter into the very personal areas of people's lives," he said. "That's the only way I can account for the difference."
Local clergy also said they have dealt with harassment in counseling their parishioners.
"In nearly 40 years, I have heard many stories," Zimmerli said. "It has ranged from someone being obnoxious in wanting to date them to actual abuse."
"I just attempt to deal with that particular situation."
Carter said she handles harassment the same way she does racism.
"As a young, black clergywoman, I get remarks that I am not comfortable with, and I automatically let the person know that is not an acceptable comment to me," she said. "It's like when you stand there and let someone make racial comments to you -- you are just as guilty as they are."