Calling sexualized violence a “cancer within the church that we need to expose,” the Mennonite Church USA Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention released a statement March 30 urging congregations to “bring to light all that has been too long hidden in the shadows.”
The panel, formed last year in response to a statement on sexual abuse passed by delegates at the Mennonite Church USA convention, said it issued the statement “in light of recent events.”
A recent event in MC USA related to sexual abuse was a March 20 acknowledgement by pastors and elders of Lindale Mennonite Church in the Harrisonburg, Va., area that an alleged “abusive relationship” was brought to the staff’s attention in August 2014.
The statement offers advice to congregations that encounter instances of sexual abuse:
– If a victim is a minor, the congregation has a legal responsibility to report abuse to law enforcement and child protective services.
– Victims’ safety, security and healing should take top priority. Victims should have a loving and supportive network of people committed to accompanying them toward healing.
– Congregations should not try to lead victims to forgive and reconcile with perpetrators: “We retraumatize victims when we force reconciliation before they are ready.”
– Churches should not try to handle situations of abuse alone. Resources are available through the MC USA Leadership Development Office and area conferences, as well as through organizations like Dove’s Nest and Mennonite Central Committee.
The statement urges pastors to talk about sexual abuse from the pulpit and asks congregations to review, update and put into practice clear sexual abuse policies.
It encourages Sunday school teachers to use resources like the Circle of Grace curriculum to teach children about boundaries.
The statement says sexualized violence — abuse, rape, molestation and harassment — affects people within MC USA churches, institutions and families at the same rate as society at large.
It cites the 2006 Church Member Profile, which says more than one in five women in MC USA congregations have experienced sexual abuse or violation, most when they were children or teens. For men, the incidence of abuse before age 20 is 5.5 percent.
The panel says the church has a history of ignoring sexual abuse.
Panel members are Anna Groff of Tucson, Ariz., Regina Shands Stoltzfus of Goshen, Ind., Ross Erb of Harrisonburg, Va., Nancy Kauffmann of Elkhart, Ind., David Miller of Elkhart and Jennifer Castro of San Antonio, Texas.