Firm to investigate abuse allegation responses for Mennonite Church USA

Sep 19, 2016 by

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Mennonite Church USA has contracted with a Delaware firm to investigate how church institutions responded to abuse allegations against a former Eastern Mennonite University administrator.

EMU had already begun working with the firm, D. Stafford and Associates, under separate contracts.

The investigation is under way and will include interviews with personnel from Virginia Mennonite Conference, Lindale Mennonite Church in the Harrisonburg, Va., area and EMU — the entities involved in responding to the allegations against Luke Hartman, former EMU vice president of enrollment.

Lauren Shifflett, who brought the complaints, has declined to participate in the investigation, and so has Hartman.

The MC USA Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention also has declined to participate. On Aug. 3 the panel ended its participation in the investigation, stating: “We cannot affirm the process that resulted in the selection of D. Stafford and Associates for EMU, or any process that does not involve Lauren.”

Ervin Stutzman, MC USA executive director, said: “In the selection process of the investigating firm, we failed to provide Lauren with the information she needed and to take her concerns into account. I am sorry, and genuinely regret that this happened. Lauren and her family have chosen not to participate in the investigation, and we understand that decision is a result of our mistakes that broke her trust with us and with this process.

“I am grateful that she has supportive family members surrounding her during this time and that she has found advocates who have accompanied her and stood with her, when so many others, including myself, have broken her trust and let her down.”

D. Stafford and Associates, based in Rehoboth Beach, Del., will produce a public report, without any interference or editing by MC USA or by the institutions being investigated. It will make recommendations answering the following questions:

– Was the staff or board of Virginia Mennonite Conference or Lindale Mennonite Church responsible for malfeasance in the way they handled the allegations against Hartman?

– How, if at all, might these two entities improve the way they handle allegations of sexual abuse in the future?

– What recommendations would the investigative organization make for best practices in managing allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior, or misconduct of a sexual nature, that could also be a criminal offense, particularly when that conduct involves high-profile individuals who do not carry ministerial credentials?

The report is expected to be published by the end of November.

After the report is published, the FaithTrust Institute, an organization recommended by the MC USA Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention, will provide a two-day consultation for Virginia Mennonite Conference. The consultation will emphasize: 1) reviewing how to respond to sexual abuse cases; 2) developing a restorative justice agenda in which victims have the opportunity to speak; 3) updating sexual misconduct policies and procedures, using a victim-centered approach; and 4) developing an all-day training for pastors and other church leaders that equips them to engage with outside professionals to process sexual abuse cases and provide support to victims.

Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for MC USA, said: “Our priority is learning what it means to be worthy of trust by those who have experienced sexual abuse and sexualized violence within our own communities of faith.”

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