Recent articles and discussion in Mennonite media have drawn new attention to sexualized violence and abuse of power within the Mennonite community. At the center of the conversation is the article by historian Rachel Waltner Goossen, “Defanging the Beast”: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse, in the January 2015 issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review. In her article Rachel describes her research into the history of Yoder’s actions and the response of the church, including the devastation suffered by victims and the failure of church institutions to provide transparency for the truth, support for victims, and adequate accountability for Yoder. For an excerpt of the article, see https://themennonite.org/feature/failure-bind-loose-responses-john-howard-yoders-sexual-abuse/ .
On April 12, Rachel Waltner Goossen will be a guest speaker at BCMC in an adult Sunday school elective at 10:50 a.m. in the sanctuary. All are invited to come hear Rachel speak about her research and the article.
As the wider church continues to process the impact of Yoder’s actions and the larger realities of sexualized violence and abuse in the church and its institutions, this is an important time to review how BCMC seeks to prevent sexual abuse in the local congregational setting. Here are policies and practices at BCMC:
- As credentialed ministers within Western District Conference, BCMC’s pastors are required to take training for prevention of clergy sexual misconduct, and to sign a code of sexual ethics. WDC also requires pastors to provide annual accountability plans that identify ways in which pastors maintain healthy supervision, boundaries and self-care, as well as guidance found through peer groups, coaching or spiritual direction. BCMC affirms Mennonite Church USA’s Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure.
- BCMC’s Guidelines for the Safety of Children and Youth were approved in 2006 by the Church Board. The introduction to these guidelines state that “BCMC should be a safe haven for all who enter here. All staff and volunteers representing BCMC shall conduct themselves in a manner that upholds the high standards of Christian ethics. They shall at all times be responsible for their actions when representing the trust and authority given to them by the congregation. Personal boundary invasions or misuse of power, including sexual abuse or harassment, will not be tolerated.” To read the guidelines in their entirety, see Guidelines for Safety of Children and Youth. Since it has been nearly 10 years since the guidelines were approved, the Church Board is planning to facilitate revision of these guidelines in the near future.
- Circles of Grace is a Christian safe environment curriculum designed to educate children and youth about positive relationships with God and others, and to help them identify and maintain appropriate boundaries. The Faith Formation Commission of BCMC is responsible to implement this curriculum in annual sessions for children and youth of all ages. For more information see http://www.dovesnest.net/circleofgrace
- As part of BCMC’s new Care for People policy, the Deacon Commission has been asked to gather information and recommend guidelines to the Church Board regarding response to persons who have committed sexual offenses. A helpful resource for this is the document “Protection and Inclusion: Guide for Congregations on Safely Including Persons Who Have Committed Sexual Offenses” available from Dove’s Nest at http://www.dovesnest.net/sites/default/files/Protection_and_Inclusion.pdf.
For more general information and resources, see http://dovesnest.net/. Dove’s Nest’s mission is to empower and equip faith communities to keep children and youth safe in their homes, churches, and communities).
Of course, having policies and procedures in place is just a beginning. There is always more we can do as a community of faith seeking to care for the vulnerable, provide accountability for those in power, and live out God’s transforming shalom. We must continue to seek out opportunities to support survivors of abuse and trauma, become more educated about the realities of abuse in homes and congregations, name institutional and personal abuses of power, and commit ourselves to healthy relationships and appropriate use of power.
May God grant us wisdom and strength in the ongoing journey toward greater wholeness and justice in the church and its organizations, our homes and communities.
– Heidi Regier Kreider
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