Opinion: Stronger accountability makes the church safer

Sep 26, 2016 by

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A Mennonite conference took action this summer to make the church a safer space by enhancing the accountability of its credentialed leaders.

Atlantic Coast Conference of Mennonite Church USA, which includes 33 congregations in Pennsylvania and several other states, sent a letter to all its credentialed leaders informing them that each one needed to renew their ministry credential.

The letter stated: “Because the Credentialed Leaders Covenant and the Child Safety Affirmation Statement help ACC fulfill its legal obligation under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law, those out of compliance with this policy will have their credentials suspended effective July 9.”

The required forms included the Sexual Misconduct Policy, MC USA-ACC Code of Ethics and either the Credentialed Leaders Covenant or Child Safety Affirmation Statement.

In the end, all but four of the 75 credentialed leaders met the July 8 deadline. Of those whose credential was suspended, two have since completed the forms and reinstated their credential. Of the remaining two, one has not been active in ACC and the other has left the conference and would face the credentialing contractual requirements of any new network or conference.

Because sexual abuse by church leaders deeply wounds the church, I applaud this initiative of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Ministerial Leadership Committee. Credentialed leaders must be warned regularly of the serious consequences of our misbehavior and held accountable for our actions.

Anyone who has been targeted for abuse by church leaders can reach out for support as they seek restoration and healing. Both Our Stories Untold, an independent network of survivors of sexualized violence and their supporters, and an organization called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, each has specially trained Anabaptist-Mennonite advocates available via Our Stories Untold’s director Hilary Scar­sella (hjs.osu@gmail.com) or Barbra Graber (540-214-8874, mennonite@snapnetwork.org).

Sylvia E. Shirk is pastor at Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship and conference minister in New York City for Atlantic Coast Conference.

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  • Joshua Rodd

    Signing pieces of paper doesn’t end abuse or change a culture of abuse, but that’s all academics and bureaucrats have to offer.

    I wonder what Child Safety Affirmation Statement parchments the Apostle Paul mailed out to his various bishops to have them sign?

    • Tim Nafziger

      It’s funny you should mention the Apostle Paul. I think many of the letters we have from him to the churches he planted were attempts to build accountability to the values of Jesus which centered around those marginalized by the principalities and powers.

      Paul was a great organizer and understood that we can’t always do everything face to face. so sometimes correspondence is necessary to shape and challenge the community of churches of which we are a part.

      If it was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for us.

    • David B. Miller

      Joshua, if I am reading your comment correctly, you are deeply concerned with ending abuse and changing a culture of abuse. This is a concern that I share.

      I don’t believe that anyone imagines that “signing pieces of paper” immediately ends these horrible realities. However, what this signing – and reporting on the signing does is educate those who sign the documents as well as congregants on the realities of abuse, begin to break the silence that has surrounded abuse as questions are raised about implementing better practices in our congregations, assure that policies and practices are being examined, tested, and improved to provide for prevention of abuse and intervention if abuse occurs, and reassure victims and survivors that systems of accountability are being put in place and that there is recourse if these fail.

      So, I for one, applaud the decision, action and commitment of Atlantic Coast Conference to do those things that will begin to change a culture of abuse. It doesn’t solve everything, but is does signal a commitment that we do well to encourage!

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