This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Ways to address and prevent sexual abuse

As a convener of the discernment group on sexual abuse, I read, along with many of you, “The failure to bind and loose” (January 2015 The Mennonite) and the much longer “’Defanging the Beast,’: Mennonite responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse” (January 2015, Mennonite Quarterly Review).

Historian Rachel Waltner Goossen has done the church a profound service.

She chronicled the history of John Howard Yoder’s “sexual experiment,” and the church’s failure to effectively intervene to halt his violation of dozens of women in many places around the world.

The article is like bitter medicine—an unpleasant dose of reality.

I hope in time it can serve as a tonic to restore a measure of health and vitality to our church. Thank you Rachel for your careful and courageous work.

I offer a special word of thanks to John Roth, the editor of MQR, who has demonstrated with professional grace how scholarship can serve the church by devoting the entire January 2015 issue of MQR to discussion about the church’s relationship to power, response to sexual abuse, and healing for victims.

Nine authors wrote MQR articles which provide helpful insight and guidance to congregational leaders.

Because many readers of this blog may not have ready access to the MQR, I name here the articles and authors I especially hope to entice you to read:

  • “Sexual Abuse by Church Leaders and Healing for Victims,” by Carolyn Holderread Heggen
  • “Congregational Responses to Abuse and Trauma: The Persistent Hope of Shalom” by Rebecca Slough
  • “Naming the Pain, Seeking the Light: The Mennonite Church’s Response to Sexual Abuse” by Linda Gehman Peachey
  • “Seventy Times Seven: Abuse and the Frustratingly Extravagant Call To Forgive” by Gayle Gerber Koontz

Each of these articles provides a different window for understanding the damage of abuse, and the church’s essential role to accompany victims on a journey of healing.

I am particularly grateful for these women’s work to provide both a theology and practical guidance to undergird our accompaniment of persons who have suffered abuse.

I also offer my deeply-felt appreciation for Barbra Graber, Ruth Krall, Carolyn Holderread Heggen, Martha Smith Good and others who over many long years tenaciously persisted in their courageous efforts to raise awareness about the horrible pain and damage unleashed by sexual abuse in our faith communities.

I am grateful for their efforts to expose the wrongs inflicted on so many and also to point us toward healing for survivors and ways to prevent future abuse.

The Discernment Group’s concern goes well beyond initiating the documentation of the sexual abuse perpetrated by Yoder and the church’s response to that abuse.

Our strong hope is to rally the church to take additional measures to prevent further sexual abuse in our faith communities.

In that vein, we have drafted a statement on sexual abuse to be considered by the delegate assembly at Kansas City 2015. It is now in the hands of the Resolutions Committee, who will take it to the next steps of the adoption process.

We also are planning ways to invite institutions and individuals to contribute to a fund to recompense at least in small measure some of the material costs women undertook on their road to healing, and to prevent future abuse.

We will invite an offering designated for this purpose at the Kansas City 2015 convention. While such a fund will be a sorely inadequate acknowledgement of the hurt that many have experienced, we believe it is an important step for our church to take. We believe many persons will welcome an opportunity to contribute to the healing and prevention of sexual abuse.

Finally, we have arranged for a Worship Service of Lament and Hope to be held at the Kansas City convention. It will be a time to lament the reality of sexual abuse among us, and to seek for God’s healing and hope in the midst of the harm that so many have experienced. Mary Lehman Yoder of Goshen, Indiana is leading the team which is planning the service.

May God grant us the courage and the grace to face the realities of what happened among us in the past. May we commit ourselves anew to a future filled with God’s healing and hope.

Ervin Stutzman is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.

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