John D. Rempel was a mentor of mine and a beloved professor of theology when I was a student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. I can’t think of a sermon, article or commentary I’ve given that doesn’t have at least a little bit of John in it. Our response to his sexual misconduct can mean everything to the health and healing of survivors. Barriers to my healing as a survivor of sexual violence are: 1) disbelief; 2) lack of action by people in power; and 3) failure to prevent future abuse. I can’t stress enough: Believe survivors. As much as you respect the person in power, those who hold less power deserve to be listened to and believed. It is important that the church has brought to account a white man who holds some power. That has not always been the case. Regardless of how it could or should be handled, it being handled at all is something we haven’t always seen.
Some people have asked, “What about restorative justice?” This isn’t something the perpetrator can demand. Both the survivor and the perpetrator need to agree to be involved. Words cannot express how anxiety- and panic-inducing it is to face your perpetrator. Some survivors are never able to do this. Pressuring survivors is an act of spiritual violence. If we refuse to take a survivor-centered approach, we will continue to add disgraced people of power to our legacy in the Mennonite church. Survivors are listening. Let’s give them some good news to listen for.