As Mennonite Church USA delegates prepare for this summer’s convention in Kansas City, Mennonites on social media are demonstrating passion for conversations around forbearance and the Membership Guidelines. Another less noticed resolution deserves the same.
Delegates will consider a Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse, written by members of MC USA’s Discernment Group on John Howard Yoder. The resolution is the culmination of the group’s work to acknowledge and try to make right the harm done by the church’s mishandling of Yoder’s abuse of women. Their work and the efforts of others — including Our Stories Untold, a blog for Mennonites to share stories about sexualized violence — have led to wider and more frequent conversation regarding sexual abuse in the church. This is necessary after a long history of tiptoeing around the topic.
These conversations have highlighted Mennonite values that often inhibit dealing well with the prevalence of abuse: We emphasize nonresistance, even nonconfrontation. We prefer to solve problems one on one and avoid the justice system. We teach quick forgiveness, modesty and humility. We do not have honest conversations about healthy sexuality.
Additionally, as the resolution states: “We have tended to listen to voices who have positional power, rather than to those who have been violated and those who are most vulnerable. In this way, we have enabled sexual abuse to continue while silencing and disregarding the testimony of victims.”
The resolution calls church members to work to overcome those tendencies. It outlines steps for action around prevention, acknowledging wrongs, holding perpetrators accountable, making church safer for survivors and more.
Hilary J. Scarsella, part of the Our Stories Untold team, told MWR that “as a statement that outlines what ought to be the normative position of the church on sexual abuse,” the resolution is “excellent.”
But at least one question remains for her: How will the church ensure the resolution is implemented?
Before beginning doctoral studies focusing on the intersection of trauma and theology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Scarsella worked on MC USA’s Women in Leadership project.
“Our ecclesial structure makes it nearly impossible for implementation of these guidelines to be required in a strict sense,” she said. “Without broad implementation, having this statement could allow us to feel we’ve adequately addressed the problem of sexual abuse without requiring any real change.”
Scarsella wants the resolution to pass — and a conversation about accountability to take place. Delegates should keep that in mind as they head to assembly this summer. This is a chance for change that MC USA cannot afford to miss.