Solicitation charge dismissed against former EMU VP

Church knew of alleged 'abusive relationship'

Mar 29, 2016 by and

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A judge dismissed a charge of solicitation of prostitution against former Eastern Mennonite University vice president of enrollment Luke A. Hartman on March 29, roughly a week after a Harrisonburg, Va., congregation acknowledged its pastors knew of an alleged “abusive relationship” involving him about a year and half before he resigned from his position in January.

Hartman was arrested Jan. 8 on a misdemeanor charge. Rockingham County Judge William Eldridge said there wasn’t enough evidence to show “a specific act that was elicited.”

Hartman has been a speaker at several Mennonite Church USA youth conventions.

A March 20 letter from Lindale Mennonite Church pastors and elders to congregants says an “abusive relationship” was brought to the staff’s attention in August 2014 and that “the victim . . . has been deeply traumatized by Luke Hartman. . . . We are grateful that the victim had the courage to step forward despite her overwhelming fear.”

The letter says lead pastor Duane Yoder and associate pastor Dawn Monger have been “walking with the victim” and “attempting to hold [Hartman] accountable for his actions.” The letter does not indicate what Hartman is alleged to have done. It states pastors have worked “to keep the victim safe” and that “professional counseling was provided.”

The letter does not indicate this information was shared with EMU.

In response to questions, EMU released a statement to MWR on March 29:

“In August 2014, Lindale Mennonite Church leaders alerted Eastern Mennonite University institutional leaders about a situation concerning an inappropriate sexual relationship between Luke Hartman and a church member. The relationship had taken place some years prior to Luke Hartman’s employment as vice president for enrollment at EMU.

“As an institution of faith, EMU approaches personnel situations in a restorative manner, following policies and procedures that hold personnel accountable. EMU implements appropriate disciplinary actions based on the information available.

“All employees at EMU undergo a criminal background check prior to an invitation to serve the institution.”

Lindale Pastor Duane Yoder did not respond to questions.

Lindale’s letter was acquired by the Anabaptist Mennonite Chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which distributed it with a call for law enforcement officials to investigate whether Hartman or Lindale leadership broke any laws. Chapter leader Barbra Graber said in a news release that Lindale leadership had a moral duty to contact police immediately.

“We’re very sad that church superiors apparently gave him continued access to vulnerable students, staff and church members for more than a year,” she said. “. . . They didn’t call law enforcement officials in 2014 or 2015 and even now aren’t urging others to call law enforcement. It is incredibly irresponsible, risky and arrogant for Lindale’s pastoral staff and board of elders to try to handle this ‘in house.’

“A seminary degree does not train one to conduct criminal investigations.”

Confidentiality’s limits

Rudi Kauffman, a Bluffton (Ohio) University associate professor of restorative justice who teaches courses in criminal justice, said there is a clear legal line for a pastor if there is potential for harm in the future or if something happened in the past.

“As soon as the pastor has reason to believe that the person is a danger to themselves or others, they cross a threshold where other professionals are required to report,” he said. “Though each state has different legal requirements, the law offers a pretty clear line that I think we should follow.”

Several sexual abuse cases involving Anabaptist groups have surfaced in the past year. Separate lawsuits have alleged that MC USA, Mennonite Brethren and Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Holdeman) conference or denominational officials either held back information about abuses or cultivated an environment ceding too much power and influence to pastors.

Kauffman said more reports do not necessarily correlate with higher rates of abuse.

“When reporting mechanisms get more accessible, that’s the first wave spike,” he said. “But I’m not sure this is happening here.”

Kauffman suggested recent conversations about institutions covering up Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuses may have brought previously hidden topics into the open. A culture that enabled sexual abuse could be changing.

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