*This piece is intended as an overview of how MCUSA and related institutions are addressing the sexual violence perpetrated against Lauren Shifflett. (It is slightly revised from a previous post.) I will try to update when major developments occur. For more details and analysis, I commend to you the links within the post.
In January (2016) Luke Hartman was arrested for solicitation of prostitution and resigned from his position as Vice President of Eastern Mennonite University. The Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of SNAP urged anyone who had been harmed by Hartman to report to an authority outside of the church. SNAP received information suggesting that Hartman had used his positions within the church to harass and abuse people within the church; SNAP reported that leaders within EMU, MCUSA, and Virginia Mennonite Conference may have withheld information that allowed Hartman to continue in positions that gave him the power he abused in violent and harmful ways.
Lauren Shifflett bravely shared her story, which includes manipulation and abuse by Luke. Her sister, Marissa Buck, wrote about how their congregation, Lindale Mennonite, responded when Lauren told those in leadership about being abused; while Lauren and her family experienced cared and support from some members, adequate steps were not taken to hold Luke accountable or to protect Lauren spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
As it happens, just last summer MCUSA delegates approved—with almost unanimous support—a church-wide statement on sexual abuse. The statement laments our personal and institutional failures of the past that have contributed to sexual abuse, and it calls the church to “repent and seek to change [its] ways.” As a response to that statement, a sexual abuse prevention panel was formed.
So, lucky for us, this wonderful group of people was already assembled to lead the denomination in addressing sexual abuse within the church. In May, this panel recommended that Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Mennonite Conference, and Lindale Mennonite Church “seek out and cooperate with an investigation by an outside organization in a timely manner.” The panel recommended GRACE, Faith-Trust Institute, “or another panel-approved independent organization.” GRACE is considered the “gold standard” of investigating institutions by advocates in SNAP, and is the highly preferred option.
In early June, Ervin Stutzman (MCUSA Executive Director) and Carolos Romero (Mennonite Education Agency Executive Director) met with representatives of EMU, VMC, and Lindale Mennonite to follow up on the panel’s recommendation. Notice that the voices of victim advocates were not prioritized at this meeting. Those who were present developed a plan to “call for and review proposals from several outside organizations.” There is no mention of why they declined to simply hire GRACE as the top recommendation from the panel.
The statement from the early June meeting also contains the problematic statement: “The panel will affirm the final choice prior to board approval.” The panel, however, should feel free to NOT affirm the final choice.
On August 2, 2016, Eastern Mennonite University announced that D. Stafford and Associates had been hired to conduct an administrative inquiry and a review of the university’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures. Victims’ advocates find D. Stafford problematic because it is institution-oriented, focusing on ways to help universities get into compliance with current laws and thus avoid lawsuits. There is also a concern that D. Stafford is run by a career police officer and thus does not do its work from a theological, pacifist foundation.
From the beginning, SNAP representatives were concerned that the use of GRACE was being discouraged because of that organization’s insistence on full access to institutional records. After EMU decided to use D. Stafford, Ervin Stuzman acknowledged that EMU had considered GRACE, but they “wanted to review the report before releasing it in case there were matters to remain confidential, which became a sticking point.” So one key reason GRACE was not chosen as the investigating organization is because GRACE would not agree to let EMU keep aspects of the investigation results secret.
On August 3, the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention withdrew its participation in the investigative process now being run by church institutional leaders. In their statement, they write, “We cannot affirm the process that resulted in the selection ofD. Stafford and Associates (DSA) for EMU, or any process that does not involve Lauren. . . . we are choosing to support Lauren, victims and survivors over this flawed process. ”
On August 16, Our Stories Untold posted a statement by Lauren Shifflett explaining why she had declined to participate in the investigation being done by D. Stafford and Associates. She is troubled by “the fact that DSA wants to talk to me about the “accusations of misconduct” I made against Luke. That fact alone shows me they just don’t get it. This investigation shouldn’t be about me. I already told my story in detail. I stand behind my words.” Lauren’s sister, Marissa Buck, has also refused to participate in the DSA review.
D. Stafford and Associates has already been hired and is conducting the investigations at Eastern Mennonite University. They have also agreed to “cooperate with the additional inquiry that Mennonite Church USA is planning.” There is still an opportunity for church leadership to make this a victim-centered process and invite GRACE to conduct a thorough investigation of EMU, VMC, MEA, and Lindale Mennonite Church.
Feel free to contact those panel members and MCUSA staff with your encouragement, questions, and concerns.
Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention
Anna Groff: Anna@DovesNest.net
Regina Shands Stoltzfus: email@example.com
Ross Erb: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy Kauffman: email@example.com
David Miller: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenny Castro: email@example.com
MCUSA staff members involved in this process
Ervin Stutzman: ErvinS@mennoniteusa.org
Iris deLeón-Hartshorn: Irisdh@mennoniteusa.org
Carlos Romero: firstname.lastname@example.org