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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