The Story: The National Association of Evangelicals is urging pastors to seek a common moral ground by uniting under a consistent code of ethics, reports the Religion News Service.

The Background: A team of ethicists, pastors, and denominational leaders worked over an 18-month span to complete the Code of Ethics for Pastors. The code includes five primary admonitions: pursue integrity, be trustworthy, seek purity, embrace accountability, and facilitate fairness.

“In some ways it’s the Wild West out there in terms of the context of preparation for ministry in the evangelical world,” says David P. Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. “Any effort to raise the moral bar and establish a minimal set of expectations for clergy—- or any profession—- is a very good thing.”

Why It Matters: A NAE survey taken in March found that 71 percent of evangelical leaders are not required to sign a formal code of ethics. “For many churches and Christian organizations, there are unspoken rules, or guidelines, for ethical behavior,” said Leith Anderson, NAE President. “The problem with unspoken rules is that no one has agreed to a standard. That yields many missed expectations.”

While some denominations have formal code of ethics, they “tend to be truncated in scope or overly legalistic and rule specific,” says Luder Whitlock, who chaired a drafting committee for a National Association. As Whitlock recently told Christianity Today, “Years ago we realized we needed to outline financial accountability for organizations, so the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability came about.”

Whitlock adds, “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.”