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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  • Evan Knappenberger

    Now is when the really tough discernment time for justice-minded Mennonites begins.

    First, the long-past, unspecific and vague “relationship problems” referred to in this article occurred long before Luke’s time at EMU, and have no direct bearing on anything regarding the fact of his innocence in the January incident in question. The only tenuous connection between the two is the stretched assertions regarding his character by people who are eager to paint an innocent man as misogynistic and violent to satisfy their own agendas. What Lindale MC staff chose to do about something that occurred decades ago can only serve as a distraction from what is truly important here: that a man lost his career over something that turned out to be untrue.

    What is important news here is that Luke is cleared of all wrongdoing in the January incident. I know Luke as a good man who is passionate and intelligent, and I hope that he can be welcomed back into the fold, as well as apologized to for having his reputation and career dragged through the mud. I also find it disturbing that certain parties in the MCUSA community exhibit certain Reverend-Mather-like abilities when it comes to certain types of categorical thinking regarding gendered topics. I do believe that Jesus was accused of hanging out with prostitutes, and who knows what else.

    Rene Girard was right!

    Evan Knappenberger

    • Lisa Schirch

      The “agenda” of preventing sexual violence against women is aimed at healing a church that is sick with misogyny and abuse. If it is wrong for Anabaptist women to stand up and call for our institutions to be safe places for girls and boys, men and women – then there is a much broader problem of Mennonite institutions becoming self-serving … intending only to perpetuate the silence rather than open up to heal the sickness inside. When Jesus spent time with prostitutes, he was not demeaning their humanity and paying them for favors, he was respecting their humanity. To compare Luke’s behavior to Jesus’ behavior is outrageous. And finally, the acquittal was a technicality – if you read the report, the police clearly indicate that the intent of the phone call and the visit to the hotel was to elicit sexual acts for payment. For those of us who worked to expose the John Howard Yoder violence against women after decades of belittlement of women’s voices, it sickens me to see young men taking up the charge to silence advocates attempting to prevent and stop sexual violence.

      • Evan Knappenberger

        My point is not to compare Luke with Jesus — though we should always use Jesus as the basis for our ethical comparisons — but to respectfully submit that to judge Luke’s intentions — I don’t know why he called a prostitute and neither do you — is beyond the scope of what we should be doing as Christians.

        Furthermore, let me be very clear. I am not trying to silence attempts at stopping sexual violence. I am however against scapegoating.

        I am also very tired of hearing about John Howard Yoder in instances that very clearly have no direct connection to the man. It seems that to invoke Yoder’s name is to immediately condemn the object of our “disgust” instead of engaging relationally in ways that Jesus would have us do.

      • John Gingrich

        I am totally behind all efforts to expose and oppose the abuse of children and women. Here in Pa there was a recent release of documents in the Altoona Diocese that documents sickening abuse and cover-ups from the 60’s through 2011. But the one caution I would offer is to not make this women against men. Lisa, it is not just Anabaptist women who are invested in this effort, a large number of us men are totally with you in this effort. The majority of the abuse in the Altoona incidents were not against women or girls but against young boys. This effort needs men and women to work together and not frame it as a misogyny or institutional patriarchal problem. This is sexual sickness and sexual sin and anyone who has any compassion will do everything possible to stop this cruelty against all innocent victims.

        • Lisa Schirch

          Great. Thank you John. And yes, I do know a men involved and am grateful for their work. Unfortunately, both women and men deny the level of sexual abuse in the church and engage in victim blaming, putting the responsibility on women who are often younger and not in positions of power. So you are right that it is not a simple equation of men against women, or women challenging men. It is usually a handful of women and a few male allies challenging mostly male institutional leaders.

          And it is important to remember also that relatively few men are involved in sexual abuse. But a small handful of men commit the vast majority of sexual abuse. Most offenders are repeat offenders. And many were the victims of sexual abuse themselves. This is why it is so important for church leaders not to try to reform or monitor people themselves. It is not simply a problem of sanctioning someone and expecting that they will stop. It is usually an addiction, and a very difficult one to break. So no one is safe while there is silence and lack of awareness of this addiction. Safety comes with knowledge. So those calling for compassion should recognize that the family would have benefitted from a greater intervention earlier – and that no one “wins” in a tragedy like this. We all lose.

    • Evan Knappenberger

      Some caveat to my earlier statement:

      I do not know what Luke was doing with the policewoman-prostitute. And to me it doesn’t much matter considering that the law has found him innocent, and that as Christians we are called to a very specific attitude towards dealing with these issues.

      I also want to clarify, what is important to me here is that Luke not get scapegoated for the very real problem of sexual violence, which is surely much bigger than EMU or even the Mennonite church. The man lost his family and his career, but should not lose his faith community or the love of the body of Christ.

      That is what I should have highlighted better above.

      Evan Knappenberger

  • Jeremy Yoder

    According to The Mennonite, “The judge dismissed the case because the statutes for the charge were not met when a specific act was not discussed before money was allegedly exchanged.” That’s a legal technicality. That’s not the same as innocence. The police’s failure to meet the level of proof required by stature is not the same thing as clearing Hartman of “all wrong doing” in the January sting operation.

    The dismissal of Hartman’s charges, however, does not answer questions raised by the March 20 Lindale letter, which admits that congregational leadership were aware in 2014 of an “abusive relationship” between Hartman and a young woman in their congregation. The letter claims that leadership tried to hold Hartman accountable, but there is no indication that they contacted law enforcement.

    I find the indication that Lindale did not report Hartman to law enforcement deeply troubling and it raises questions about their discipline and accountability process. Congregations of all stripes and theologies have consistently failed to respond to sexual violence and abuse sufficiently. As MWR recently reported, a Manitoba woman has recently filed a $2 million lawsuit against the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba, alleging that MB rules and ideology enabled a youth pastor to abuse children. MWR also reported on the recent Anabaptist Identity Conference that called on plain groups to respond proactively to sexual abuse in their communities. Sexual abuse and violence are serious issues in the church and I’m grateful for groups like SNAP who hold denominations accountable, because frankly, I’m not optimistic about MCUSA’s commitment to addressing the issue. Passing resolutions without action means little.

    Due to our long history of failure to effectively deal with sexual abuse, any congregational response that fails to inform law enforcement, child services or another outside agency is suspect. When churches attempt to handle allegations internally, they often end up further traumatizing victims. All too often, attempts by congregational leadership to hold perpetrators “accountable” end up protecting the perpetrator and enabling them to continue to abuse. It’s not the role for churches to investigate abuse or establish guilt. The role of church is to report the abuse to authorities and then deal pastorally with both victim and perpetrator.

    On the surface, the Hartman case appears to share some of the same dynamics as the troubling legacy of John Howard Yoder. Once again, we have allegations of sexual abuse against a well-respected Mennonite leader. Once again, we have a Mennonite institution (in this case, Lindale) handle the allegations internally and attempt to “discipline” the perpetrator with an ineffective system of “accountability.” Once again, a church values a perpetrator’s reputation over the victim’s sense of safety.

    I am troubled that the administration of EMU was aware about these allegations and still employed Hartman in a position where he had authority over other potential victims.

    I encourage any other victims of Luke Hartman to come forward. Contact the police. Contact SNAP. The only way we can dissemble a culture that enables sexual abuse is by bringing to light the stories of victims and holding perpetrators responsible.

    • Evan Knappenberger

      I would add that the problem of sexual violence is real and needs the relational truth of Jesus to shine into its darkness.

  • Debra B. Stewart

    Jeremy, thank you for your rational and reasoned comments. What I found extremely interesting and unsettling is the judge’s explicit choice of one word in his ruling – “”There is not a specific act that was ELICITED by Mr. Hartman,” said (Judge) Eldridge. “I follow the law no matter what. The law is the law.” “Elicited” is a much less legally specific term than “solicited,” and makes one wonder if Hartman has “juice,” as we say in Chicago. I understand that Virginia has very strict statutes for proving a solicitation charge, i.e., a stated agreement between the parties that a specific sexual act would be performed for which money would change hands. According to local news reports, Hartman called the officer-posing-as-a-prostitute twice before showing up at the hotel, placed $80 on the nightstand, asked her if she was “a cop,” and limited his stated request to “companionship,” all actions that make one say “hmmmmmm.” He appears to have been very careful to avoid the statutory requirement and the potential for an indictment.

    I also share your distress that MCUSA seems more interested in protecting its reputation, in keeping silent and in-house even “alleged” acts that rise to the level of crime, in refusing to cooperate with and report to law enforcement situations such as this. Had the Lindale situation been reported to the police, had every woman who’s ever been abused or harassed by Hartman come forward, I have no doubt there would have been cause to proceed. But until Mennonites admit they have an ongoing problem, that the church is not an agency licensed or capable of handling situations such as this; until the church comes to its senses, steps aside and allows law enforcement and/or EEOC to do their jobs . . . nothing is going to change.

  • Berry Friesen

    The second paragraph of Evan’s comment caught my attention. Is it true that the Lindale allegation is decades old? If so, then portraying it as relevant to Hartman’s current arrest is more than a distraction (as Evan put it); it suggests malice.

    Being around Mennonites much of my life has nurtured in me an appreciation for informal forms of community accountability and a measured skepticism about the capacity of the criminal law system to solve our problems. True, this measured skepticism has always been combined with acceptance of law enforcement’s role, yet it has insisted that wisdom and good judgment exist within and must be exercised by community institutions too, not just by government officials.

    I notice this balance is absent from the discourse of those sounding the alarm about sexual violence. And yes, its absence makes me wonder if an ideological agenda is at work.

    • Lisa Schirch

      No, Evan is incorrect. This is not a decades old issue. He was speculating and he was wrong.

      The Yoder case is entirely relevant because the same institutional patterns are at play. AMBS told the women that they would take care of accountability. And yet Yoder continued predatory behavior for two more decades, through 7 “internal” church accountability processes. If the church had done its job, we would not be in the position we are in now. It would be great if the Church (not just the Mennonites, but Catholics, Methodists, etc) had all learned how to respond to sexual violence – then we would not have to suggest that victims go to law enforcement. But what we know from thousands of cases all over the world is that the Church does not act in the interests of victims, but in its institutional interests. Sometimes this is because they just don’t know anything about sexual abuse or how to handle these cases. This is negligence since there are so many resources available today – including here in Harrisonburg, Virginia. So perpetrators are protected either by intent or negligence. If you’d like for the victims to trust church process, please show us examples of where and when this worked to keep girls and boys, women and men safe.

      The church process has always failed to protect – and so now the State is way out ahead of the church in terms of sexual ethics and definitions of violence. It was the State that mandated Title IX. We had a difficult time arguing that Mennonite institutions should take these steps before the state imposed them. The church follows state guidance because the state actually seems to care more about victims of sexual violence than the church. And that is a tragedy.

      • Evan Knappenberger

        I am not sure that I am incorrect about the timeframe of Luke’s actions. All I have to go on is what you have said, Lisa. The article mentions that the Lindale-related incident happened before Luke was employed at EMU which was a long time ago.

        And wait, why are we even talking about the church emulating the state in any regard? Especially considering that we voluntarily as Christians put ourselves under the rule of the state in the areas that do not involve forcing us to do violence. If I remember correctly you have spoken publically about Anabaptism and the state in historic context and your conclusion was quite different.

      • Berry Friesen

        Lisa, why not simply tell us when the events referenced in the Lindale letter allegedly occurred?

        Why instead the categorical assessments, the labeling and the exaggeration? Why the eagerness to portray the church as corrupt? Why all the throwing of sand in the air?

        You may prosecute the church if you wish; it can be legitimate role. But the zeal of a prosecutor can cause much harm, especially when s/he thinks it outrageous for the accused to mount a defense. So I will support those who drop the hyperbole and stick to the facts.

        • Lisa Schirch

          You can read the Lindale letter on The Mennonite’s website. That is where I read it. What seems like exaggeration to you is a description of the real world. I have been dealing with the churches silence on sexual abuse for over 30 years. In that time, I’ve known victims that could not survive, and committed suicide. I have known dozens of the smartest Mennonite women I know who decided to leave the church because they were sexually abused by powerful mennonite men. When they went to institutional leaders, those leaders told them they would handle it – but they didn’t fire or expose the men involved. Those men were allowed to continue to groom new victims – and more women and young men were sexually violated. Berry Friesen, you exaggerate with almost every breath you take. I find your comments on every Mennonite blog just ridiculous and outrageous – so this is the last time I will respond to your own hyperbole since you seem so unwilling to look in the mirror. Regarding the Hartman case, I have only noted facts that are in the Mennonite press. I am restating things from police reports and from what is posted from church officials. I get it now that some of you just don’t really care that women were hurt and don’t think it is a problem – or if it is a problem, then the young women should know better than to be involved. This is a very common theme in the Catholic Church and other religious organizations. It is called victim blaming. Jesus never ever blamed the victims of violence. He challenged those in power – and I think that is what I do with my life, whether I challenge the state for its violence or I challenge Mennonite institutions for what they allow to take place with knowledge they keep hidden from the public. Its just wrong.

          • Evan Knappenberger


            Berry is a good person working on some of the same issues you are, and was especially supportive when you and I were working on the Shenandoah Confession. I don’t think he is hyperbolic any more than any of us are.

            We are all just trying to get some perspective here.


            Evan Knappenberger

          • Berry Friesen

            Lisa, your salty response helped me see that my criticism (what you call “offensive and bullying”) should have been more specific.

            It was not for anything you wrote about the woman whose complaint was directed at Luke Hartman and addressed by pastors of the Lyndale congregation, but for the categorical and exaggerated way you described the errors of the church at large in responding to sexual misconduct, abuse and violence:

            “The Yoder case is entirely relevant [to the Hartman case] because the same institutional patterns are at play.”

            “What we know from thousands of cases all over the world is that the Church does not act in the interests of victims, but in its institutional interests.”

            “The church process has always failed to protect.”

            “The church follows state guidance because the state actually seems to care more about victims of sexual violence than the church.”

            Getting back to the facts of the Hartman case, do I gather from your last comment that you do not actually know whether or not the Lyndale complaint against Hartman is many years old?

          • Rich Preheim


            My apologies to Lisa if I’m overstepping the bounds of propriety, but I’m compelled to advocate for her and her arguments. With the possible exception of “The church process has always failed to protect,” which is too broad for my liking, all the quotes you cite are reasonable, valid and demonstratably true.

            “The Yoder case is entirely relevant [to the Hartman case] because the same institutional patterns are at play.” — The fact is Hartman was allowed to continue a ministry of speaking and writing despite Lindale’s and EMU’s knowledge of a serious moral and possibly illegal offense. That’s reprehensible, particularly since the Yoder saga provided lessons that apparently were not learned.

            “What we know from thousands of cases all over the world is that the Church does not act in the interests of victims, but in its institutional interests.” — The Catholic Church and its pedophile priests is a perfect example, of course, but there are so many more within our owm Mennonite sphere. I know of at least three current sexual abuse lawsuits against Mennonite institutions. To my mind, that demonstrates those institutions’ unwillingness or inability to act in the best interests of the victims (which would have been the Christ-like thing to do), who subsequently turned to the legal system for redress. Furthermore, in addition to sexual abuse victims, there are countless other casualties of the church’s blatant self-interests and blindness to the poisonous uses of power.

            “The church follows state guidance because the state actually seems to care more about victims of sexual violence than the church.” — Too many Mennonite institutions, including congregations, lack policies and procedures for dealing with sexual violence. (Too many lack policies and procedures of any kind, for that matter.) Off the top my head, I can’t think of any time a Mennonite institution took appropriate and necessary steps against a perpetrator, thereby ensuring the safety of victims and potential victims, without some sort of action by law enforcement and/or the courts. The church is unquestionably far behind the state on sexual violence.

            So Lisa wasn’t engaging in exaggeration or hyperbole, and what she was arguing is clearly fact-based. And I fully agree with her categorization of your earlier comments as offensive.

          • Lisa Schirch

            Thank you Rich. If there is a situation where the church did act to protect women, girls, boys and men when a perpetrator of sexual abuse became known to them, I have yet to learn of this. I would be happy to take that statement back if someone has a successful case. With 30 years of examples and case studies, I know of no examples.

    • Debra B. Stewart

      Two of my dear friends are abuse victims. Believe me, there was no “ideological agenda” at work when the church turned its back on them. There was no “wisdom and good judgment.” There was “She’s nuts,” and “That’s your problem; deal with it” and whispering and gossip and back turning . . . well, you get the idea. Some 40 years later, all I can do is listen and cry with them. If you don’t personally know a woman who’s been abused, perhaps . . .

      • Evan Knappenberger


        I don’t want to belittle your friends’ experiences at all. I also know lots of people who have been abused.

        I do think that ideology is to blame here, both in the church’s historic misresponding to sexual violence, but also again when we scapegoat this or that man who is accused (but not convicted) of violence. It is ideology speaking in many cases when we unfairly blame some church leaders attempting to respond to unclear situations. I think along with Rene Girard that we are driven by the ideology of the scapegoat mechanism.

        So yes, listen and cry is fine. But it is totally a different thing to start condemning people as some of these SNAP folks have made it a habit to do lately.

        Evan Knappenberger

        • Debra B. Stewart

          Thank you, Evan. I think we can agree there’s plenty of condemnation and blame to go around. Maybe if we all made ourselves available to listen, to stand with, to cry, to do whatever we can to help alleviate the problems we know exist. And, yes, right now I’m in the middle of helping a woman pursue an EEOC complaint – very strong woman, with a complaint so blatantly perverse that the EEOC is providing her with an attorney free of charge! I try to practice what I preach!!!

        • Jeremy Yoder

          I want to note, Evan, that the primary critiques being raised here aren’t really at Hartman, but rather at Mennonite churches and an institutional culture that enable this kind of abuse to happen. I referred to Yoder, not because I was trying to make people feel disgust at Hartman or ruin his life, but rather to point out that the same kind of dynamic that enabled Yoder, is the same dynamic that enabled Hartman to allegedly have an “abusive relationship” (as the Lindale letter characterized it) and not face legal consequences.

          Lindale admits they learned of these allegations in 2014. EMU admits that they knew about these allegations. Why wasn’t the police called? Why did EMU employ as a vice-president an individual who had allegations of sexual abuse level against him? Did EMU put their employees and students at risk by putting Hartman into a position of authority? Are there other allegations against Hartman? These are questions for which there aren’t answers, right now. But these are questions that have to be asked, because over and over Mennonite institutions have acted in ways that have enabled perpetrators to abuse. Yoder is the most famous case, but he’s not the only one.

          So it’s not about scapegoating. It’s about holding the church accountable for it’s repeated failures to act in appropriate ways. The problem isn’t really just Hartman, the problem are these churches and institutions that keep making the same mistakes over and over. The problem isn’t just an individual. The problem is the system. The problem is the culture.

          • Evan Knappenberger


            I have to disagree with you on several important points. First off, an allegation is an allegation. I do not disagree that there is a need for accountability, but accountability is different from witch-hunting. There are important reasons why allegations should be investigated in an objective, calm and professional manner, which is not what is going on in this community.

            When Luke was accused in January of this year, SNAP sent out press releases and church announcements saying basically — “while we don’t KNOW that Luke is a DANGEROUS RAPIST we DO know that men like Luke ARE dangerous abusers.” This is psychologically-framing the issue in an unproductive, non-objective and unchristian way. This is the first problem with the SNAP approach, a methodological problem. As Lisa has demonstrated in this conversation, otherwise rational people get really out of whack whenever things are sexually-tainted and are unable to look at it empirically. Further, this is demonstrative of attributional thinking on the part of “advocates/victims” whereby sexual behavior is categorically different than other types of behavior that happen to be destructive. For example, I helped to kill innocent Iraqis in the occupation of that country, but nobody’s going around writing press releases saying “while we DON’T know that evan is a BABY-KILLING IMPERIALIST, we DO know that people like him ARE, and we are encouraging anyone who has seen evan kill babies step forward and become empowered.”

            Secondly, there is the issue of John Howard Yoder and institutional accountability. While there is an obvious general connection to the JHY stuff, that connection breaks down upon closer inspection, and is exposed as purely ideological. In other words, it is not the same dynamic at work as you claim.

            I don’t think at all that JHY was “empowered” — even after reading the Goosen article in MQR — the only obvious conclusion is that the church failed to hold him accountable before he died because he left it altogether — not that it somehow empowered his behaviors in a way that wasn’t broadly cultural and outside of the scope of the church to begin with. (Which is exactly what Goosen says at one point in the beginning of the article: that the times were much different and so was the ethical horizon.) The fact that there were conflicting evaluations, multiple committees and professional theologians who attempted over prolonged periods to assess some kind of accountability (whatever that means) speaks to the concern and effort of the Mennonites, as opposed to the callous dismissal of some of their Roman Catholic contemporaries when it came to sexual indiscretion. So again, I don’t think that anybody — not even Yoder’s own conscience — was trying to “empower” him, and at best the results of such an hypothesis are as dubious as they are late in coming.

            Furthermore, Luke was not empowered in any way by EMU if indeed he was interested in sex outside of marriage. EMU is not the secret service, hosting prostitution parties on company time, for example. To say that any institution empowered Luke or JHY is to accuse AMBS, Hesston, the Mennonite Church, EMU, and the Yoder and Hartman families as complicit in Luke’s sin — something that Jesus enjoins us is not within our purview.

            And since it is sin we are dealing with here and not the state legal system — I reassert my point that what is going on here is less to do with accountability than it is to do with judgment and the Girardian victim mentality. I also reassert my point that in naming Yoder what is actually going on is ideological code wording that serves to further the scapegoating of others who are facing “allegations.”

            I do agree with you that the problem is culture. It is a serious cultural problem that the church is not allowed to talk about sin. It is not culturally acceptable to talk about forgiveness, repentance, or atonement, except in the vaguest and broadest and most meaningless ways. The cultural problem is that victims — who are more likely to victimize, as we know from Family Systems Theory — are enabled to go on crusades against those whom they suspect of wrongdoing, and in this case, anyone suspected of helping, “enabling,” “empowering,” or shielding them in any way. So yes, there are serious cultural problems going on here.

            It takes a lot of courage to dissent in any way when the other voices in the conversation are out for vengeance (though it be disguised as accountability). Only a lowly, unliked seminary student such as myself, with nothing to lose and no institutional connection, can hope to escape the vindication and disgust which is obviously coming from one group of people who have made themselves into a camp and set themselves over-and-against the rest of us, making themselves out to be righteous and indignant while everyone else is complicit and guilty.

            Evan Knappenberger

          • Lisa Schirch

            Evan, I’m sorry you are feeling this way. For the women who have been sexually abused by powerful Mennonite men, its also not a good feeling to have to read your words, which are seen as dismissive of their experience and demeaning to their desire to have accountability. Your charges against me are almost exactly the words of John Howard Yoder – he called the women speaking out against his actions the “Mennonite Women’s Posse.” Victims advocates get called all kinds of names. Old men sit around drinking coffee calling us names. They think we are just terrible people – out to get vengeance and wrongly accusing men of violence. That’s what they said about Barbra Graber in the 1990s when she raised concerns about Yoder’s visit to EMU. That is what people said about the women who accused Bill Cosby. No one believed these women. People said they were just angry women out to condemn innocent men. I’m sorry Evan – I’ve seen too many stories play out the same way. I have to speak out. “How can we be silent?” We sang that song in church yesterday. I cannot be silent when my church does not take action to prevent sexual abuse. I have to speak out. I’m sorry that you have now joined Berry Friesen in public bullying against women on these mennonite websites. It is definitely not fun to come here and read what you have written about me. Instead of posting these responses attacking me – I do ask that you read more about sexual abuse and learn more of the theory and practical experience of people working to stop it. You’ll see that there is a global movement to stop it. I can hardly go teach the US military about ending sexual violence, or go to the United Nations and train peacekeepers on ending sexual and gender based violence if I am not speaking out in my own church to prevent this violence. So I must continue.

          • Evan Knappenberger


            Again, I hear a lot of ideology going on here. “Bill Cosby” is another catch phrase that acts as an emotive argument to fill in the gaps in your argument.

            To illustrate my point about ideology — to demonstrate that the stance you are taking is ideological and reductionistic and fails to account for the actual reality of sexual violence — and since you brought up sexual violence in the military, i will share a small story with you from my time in the military.

            When I joined the army in 2003 and went off to training for eight months, there was a massive amount of violence done to me and those around me in my presence. I never got raped, but the pressure of sexual repression boiling over in incidents of rage, homosexuality that would not have happened under normal circumstances, and violence that was perverse in nature was all around me. There was a serious sexual element to all the violence done to recruits in the induction process in the military. I was robbed of my bodily control. I was robbed of my ability to dissent in any meaningful way to repeated, hourly tortures. I was made to do things that were not necessarily always sexual, but were humiliating and degrading and were sexually-tinged. I was often made to weep openly during these tortures. This continued day and night for the better part of a year. I still have nightmares about it. Now I ask you: is this not the same, or worse, as anything that John Howard is reported to have done?

            My point is, there is no categorical difference between types of violence, degrees of sexual perversion, or types of what is essentially the institutionalized rape that is military culture. (Also, and this is an aside, there is this question of “catching up” to the state on issues of sexual violence — but do we even know what that means, given the fact that the state institutionally, sexually abuses hundreds of thousands of its own teenagers annually without batting an eye?) This should give you pause, I hope, in judging me for one as on the side of the abusers, and two, for making categorical judgments about sexual violence. It should also give you insight into your work with the military. When I saw the Abu Ghraib pictures, for example, I was nonplussed, as I had experienced similar kinds of degrading torture even as an 18-year-old GI.

            You simply cannot encapsulate the reality of sexual violence with ideology. It is philosophically impossible for a plethora of reasons which I could enumerate. To be blunt, your response to sexual violence is still too “black-and-white,” lacks nuance, and fails to account for the forms which sexual violence takes in what I would argue are the majority of cases. You are engaged, in short, in an ideological struggle, instead of doing what post-structuralists would call “critique-of-ideology” and in lieu of what is actually an effective, Christian praxis based on love and compassion, which is why you are coming across as angry and hyperbolic.

            I will make you a deal. I will agree to read any books you want on sexual violence and abuse, if you agree to meet with the individual professors in the bible department at EMU and renew good relations with them so they and you can move forward together in addressing the issue of sexual abuse.


            Evan Knappenberger

  • Lisa Schirch

    Many in the Mennonite church are not familiar with the literature on sexual violence within a religious context. Those of us who took Ruth Krall’s courses in peace and justice studies at Goshen College began reading the literature in this field thirty years ago. Ruth Krall attempted to draw attention to the problem of sexual violence in the Mennonite church decades ago. She was systematically silenced by Mennonite administrators and some of the top leaders in the church today. But despite a lifetime of exclusionary violence – often by male pacifists who were her peers – she taught thousands of students at Goshen college about sexual violence and we are now scattered across North America. Krall is also responsible for requiring her students to read Black theology, Liberation Theology and Feminist theology. At a time when there were few if any African American professors at Mennonite institutions, Ruth Krall ensured that a new generation of Mennonites would have the analytical skills to recognize power in all its forms: racism, classism, sexism, heteronormativity, etc.

    Ruth Krall’s free downloadable book “The Elephant in God’s Living Room” on sexual violence in the church should be required reading for all who wish to comment on sexual violence in the church. The problem of sexual violence is still avoided in too many courses on theology and Bible studies at Mennonite institutions. So unfortunately we have an entire new generation of young male scholars with little insight or information on the history of this problem. Here is the link to Ruth Krall’s book – a great starting place. And you’ll see in the book that Krall exhibits appropriate empathy and attempts to understand what experiences John Howard Yoder had in his life that may have contributed toward his behavior toward women.

  • Rachel Stella

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