MC USA abuse discernment group ends work

Oct 19, 2015 by and

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ELKHART, Ind. — The Discernment Group on sexual abuse, a committee formed by Mennonite Church USA in 2013 to address the painful and complex legacy of sexual abuse by renowned theologian and professor John Howard Yoder and the church’s inadequate responses to it, met for the last time on Oct. 5.

“It has been humbling and deeply gratifying to work with a team of persons committed to discernment and truth-telling on behalf of victims of sexual abuse,” said Sara Weng­er Shenk, president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and co-convener of the Discernment Group. “I know of no other time I’ve so strongly sensed the Spirit’s provision for each new step on a journey toward transparency, confession, apology and healing.”

Over the last two years, the group’s work has included:

– Creating a page on the MC USA website containing links to frequently asked questions about the group’s work and a list of resources on sexual abuse.

– Commissioning historian Rachel Waltner Goossen of Topeka, Kan., to conduct research that documented Yoder’s sexual abuse and the church’s response to it. The results were published in the historical journal Mennonite Quarterly Review.

– Writing the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse, passed by the delegate body on July 3 at the MC USA convention in Kansas City.

– Creating the Care and Prevention fund in March.

– Organizing a Service of Lament and Hope and the Wailing Wall at the Kansas City convention.

Measure of recompense

In September, members discussed the disbursement of the Care and Prevention fund. Since March, the group has been accepting contributions to this fund, whose purpose, according to MC USA executive director Ervin Stutzman, was threefold: “to recompense, at least in some small measure, the material costs that persons victimized by Yoder or another credentialed leader of Mennonite Church USA undertook on their road to healing; to provide tangible care for persons who have experienced sexual abuse; and to assist in prevention of sexual abuse.”

The fund received nearly $61,000. About $42,000 will go to victims of sexual abuse, and the remaining $19,000 will be divided among:

– Sister Care, a Mennonite Women USA ministry that provides tangible healing and care for women who have experienced loss or sexual abuse, both in the U.S. and beyond;

– The Women in Leadership Project of MC USA, which seeks to undo the systems and patterns within the church that devalue or silence women, including abuse victims; and

– Dove’s Nest, a church organization that works with ecumenical faith communities to keep children and youth safe from abuse.

The MC USA Executive Board recognized the Discernment Group members and passed a motion thanking them for their work at the board’s Sept. 17-19 meetings.

“While the work of helping all members find healing for experiences of sexual abuse is an ongoing ministry for the whole church, we commend the committee for courageously documenting this painful chapter of the church’s recent history, taking seriously the devastating pain of those victimized by John Howard Yoder, and leading the church to adopt practices that will contribute to the safety of our members from all manner of sexual abuse,” the statement said.

At its September meeting, the board decided that, together with Mennonite Education Agency, it would appoint a new group to carry forward the work of education and prevention of sexual abuse across MC USA and its institutions. The Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse will be the basis for this new group’s work.

“The statement itself, of course, will not be sufficient,” Stutzman said. “We must invest both time and money into the effort to put our commitments into action.”

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