Call to Worship: Choose Life

Our scripture readings for this coming Sunday come from the Revised Common Lectionary: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Luke 14:25-33. Here is the call to worship I wrote–which is actually a mash-up of two previous calls to worship.

God sets before us life and death.
We long to choose life.

God sets before us blessings and curses.
We long to choose blessings.
And so we seek the path of Jesus.
Unsure of the terrain.
And so we try to follow Jesus.
Even though we don’t quite understand him.
And so we gather this morning for worship,
Offering this small piece of our time, our talents, ourselves.
Holy One, by your grace,
Meet us where we are.
Lead us to where you long for us to be.

Summary of Sexual Abuse Case in MCUSA

greendove*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: 
reginass@goshen.edu
Ross Erb: 
ross@thecollinscenter.org
Nancy Kauffman: nancyk@mennoniteusa.org
David Miller: dbmiller@ambs.edu
Jenny Castro: jenniferc@mennoniteusa.org

MCUSA staff members involved in this process

Ervin Stutzman: ErvinS@mennoniteusa.org
Iris deLeón-Hartshorn: Irisdh@mennoniteusa.org
Carlos Romero: 
carlosr@mennoniteeducation.org

Of Prayers, Protests, and the Body

Just before 7 p.m st john monasteryon July 7, as protesters gathered in Belo Garden Park, in Dallas, Texas, I settled onto a hard wooden seat in the choir stall of St. John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville, Minnesota. As they chanted “enough is enough,” we chanted Psalm 59: “You have been a refuge in the day of my distress.” As they shouted, we sat in silence. As they marched, we bowed.

[You can read the rest of this reflection at Brain Mill Press.]

Worship Piece: Call to Worship

Generally, when selecting a scripture reading for worship, I would leave out phrases like “the end of all things in near.” But when I read 1 Peter 4:7 this week, I decided it should stay in. Because . . . well . . . if you’ve been following the news at all these past few weeks, I think you may understand.

Here is a call to worship based on 1 Peter 4:7-11:

The end of all things is near.” Or maybe not.
But some days it feels like it.
When we see news of violence,
Hear leaders spew hatred,
Watch loved ones suffer,
Feel lost and alone.
The end of all things is near.”
Maybe.
This world is breaking and broken.
For sure.
So above all;
Above everything
maintain constant love.
Love each other always.
Be hospitable.
Speak on behalf of God.
Serve one another with the strength of God.
And let us glorify God
together, now, as we worship.

Morning Prayer: Reflection & Invitation

IMG_2465
A photo of St. John’s Abby Church. The windows are much prettier from the inside.

Last week I attended a Collegeville writing workshop on the campus of St. John’s College in Minnesota. I found myself praying with the monks most mornings—not because I’m particularly holy, but because I kept waking up before six and our sessions didn’t start until nine.

The benedictine sisters in Atchison, KS, are quick to welcome guests into their prayer and gracious in walking us through the somewhat intimidating (for protestants) liturgy. The sisters at St. Benedict’s, the sister college to St. John’s, proved equally hospitable—getting out the books we would need, whispering in our ears what pages we should turn to. The sisters make an unfamiliar situation comfortable and warm.

The brothers, however, have more of a “you figure out where to sit (good luck realizing you need to pull the seat down before you sit) and we put the random page numbers on the board so if you can’t figure out the book situation then I guess you can just listen” approach to hospitality. (To be fair, one very kind brother brought me the special book we used for the Feast of St. Benedict on the last morning.)

Still, I did manage to find a seat in the choir stall for morning prayer. And I noticed the need to pull down my seat before I sat. I looked at the board and looked at the people around me and managed to get the books ready. While I felt a little awkward and quite unsure of myself, it was truly a sacred space and I breathed deeply as I waited for the prayers to start.

In typical Benedictine style, we read several psalms responsively. One side of the congregation read one stanza, waiting to begin until I thought they might all have fallen asleep, then speaking each word slowly, deliberately, with a pause between lines to show there was no rush. Then my side of the congregation responded with the next stanza. I fought against my natural rush through the text, trying to wait for a monk’s voice to begin the line, sometimes speaking prematurely into the silence and feeling embarrassed before God.

Maybe with a month of morning prayers, or a year of practice, or a life more focused and steady and constrained, I would learn to pace myself. But one week was not enough. Even on the last day of prayers, I still wanted to rush ahead; I still had to focus on my breathing, to tell my lips to remain still until I heard a monk begin the next line.

A week of morning prayer was not enough to change my hurried pace. But it was enough to make me realize that I want to pray like this more often. I don’t necessarily want to pray with responsive psalm-reading or even the leisurely tempo, but I would love to begin more of my days in worship and prayer with other people.

I’ve long struggled to maintain a morning devotional/reading/prayer practice. I’ve tried praying before I even get out of bed; I’ve tried making a little home worship space; I’ve tried lots of different prayer books and devotionals and practices. Nothing sticks. I know that part of this inconsistency is just because of my personality type. I realized last week that it’s also, partly, because I REALLY like praying with other people.

So my friend Susan and I have talked about what it might look like to bring a community together on line for morning prayer. Honestly, we have no idea. But we’re excited to try it. If it’s something you would also like to try, check out the details below and get in touch.


What: Morning Prayer using the liturgies from Common Prayer. (The necessary material is available online.)

When: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:30 Central (Begins July 25, 2016)

Who: Anyone can participate. I will lead Monday prayer; Susan will lead on Fridays; we still need someone to lead on Wednesdays. Also if you’d like to play guitar sometimes, that would be great!

Where: In cyberspace! We’ll use Google Hangouts for now.

How: Let me know if you want to participate. I will need your email address and you will need an active Google account.

“To Stop Whiteness from Trembling”

nbvwcHaPharaoh trembled at the growing Hebrew population; at the thought that these slaves might realize their oppression and realize their power. He demanded that the Egyptians throw all of the Hebrew baby boys into the Nile River.

Herod trembled at the report from the eastern scholars of a child who had been born King of the Jews; at the prospect of Jewish rebellion and an end to his tenuous hold on power. He ordered the slaughter of all the children in and around Bethlehem who were under the age of two.

I’ll grant that the slaughter in our country is geared toward males past their infancy and toddlerhood, but sometimes not by much. Never by enough. Tamir Rice was only twelve. Laquan McDonald, seventeen. Freddy Gray, twenty-five. Philando Castile, thirty-two. Alton Sterling, thirty-seven.

Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon connects the recent killings of Sterling and Castille to the fear that is illustrated in the Pharaoh narrative. She reminds us that “the State is still armed, and murder represents a justifiable response to stop whiteness from trembling.” The fear and slaughter to which we have borne witness this past week are not new.

And neither is the resistance. Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, refused to carry out Pharaoh’s orders to kill the male babies they helped birth. The wise men from the east went home by another way, disobeying Herod’s orders to return to him and identify the Christ child.

Diamond Reynolds live-streamed the scene with police as her boyfriend sat shot and dying beside her. Members of Stop the Killing, Inc., monitored police scanners and showed up at the Triple S Food Mart in time to film the encounter between Alton Sterling and police.

People across the country are protesting and praying, analyzing and admonishing. We are pushing for reforms in gun laws and police departments and justice systems. We are fighting against the fear we see in others and the fear we sense in ourselves.

When we resist, we join the heartbreaking company of Shiphrah and Puah, of the mysterious men from the east.

We join the company of those, like the midwives, who must watch the trembling powers terrorize innocent people despite our best efforts to thwart the destruction.

We join the company of those, like the magi, who listen to our dreams from God and follow the path God gives us, but somehow still find ourselves part of the horror.

We join the company of the Hebrew mothers of Egypt, the Jewish mothers of Bethlehem, who wail and weep and wait for the slaughter to stop.

The Mennonite Church and Sexual Abuse

greendove

If you thought the Mennonite church’s incompetence in discussing issues of sexuality was limited to its “discernment” of LGBTQ inclusion in the church, then you thought wrong. We are also, it would seem, not particularly skilled at discussing questions of accountability in relation to sexual abuse within church communities and institutions.

We managed to get through some hard truth-telling and sincere hand-wringing about the abuse done by the beloved Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. But not until after he died. Luke Hartman, beloved Mennonite youth leader and former Vice President of Eastern Mennonite University, is still very much alive. As are most of the people responsible for placing and keeping him in institutional positions where he had access to the power he used to manipulate and shame his victims. Apparently it’s harder to hold people accountable while they are still alive.

But we have to hold them accountable. So much depends on it: the spiritual health of sexual abuse victims, the safety of those within our churches and other institutions, the integrity of our denomination, the witness of our church to the healing and hope offered in Jesus Christ.

Our Stories Untold has done a phenomenal job of making sure that voices of victims and their advocates are heard. It has done a phenomenal job of presenting and analyzing the denominational response to the abuse done by a trusted Mennonite leader and institutional employee.

It might be that Our Stories Untold has done too phenomenal of a job—or at least too thorough. Maybe you do not have the time/interest/patience/stomach to wade through all of the reports and testimonies and calls to action. Maybe it is just too much and you never made it to the end where you get to actually participate in holding our church accountable to the standards of peace and justice that we proclaim.

So, consider this your Readers’ Digest edition. And in all the time you save by reading this little cranky post rather than the pages of well-researched and primary source material on Our Stories Untold, you should have PLENTY of time to send a few emails.

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 this 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. SNAP representatives are concerned that the use of GRACE is being discouraged because of that organization’s insistence on full access to institutional records. An investigation by an outside organization will only be worthwhile IF that organization does their job thoroughly and with integrity.

Mennonite Church USA has an opportunity in this moment to take significant steps toward the repentance and change it says it seeks in dealing with sexual abuse in the church. We can move toward healing and hope for sexual abuse victims, but we must prioritize those victims over the fears of institutional leaders and the personal relationships some people have with perpetrators and their enablers.

Please encourage our church leaders to be accountable to Christian principles of justice as they move forward in addressing the abuse done by Luke Hartman and in investigating the institutions that may have enabled such abuse.

Please contact the Sexual Abuse Prevention Panel members. Thank them for their good work and encourage them to insist that the outside investigation be done by GRACE.

Anna Groff: Anna@DovesNest.net
Regina Shands Stoltzfus: reginass@goshen.edu
Ross Erb: 
ross@thecollinscenter.org
Nancy Kauffman: nancyk@mennoniteusa.org
David Miller: dbmiller@ambs.edu
Jenny Castro: jenniferc@mennoniteusa.org

And if you’ve still got a few minutes after reading this post and emailing the panel, consider reaching out to the MCUSA staff members who are overseeing the selection process. Thank them for taking seriously the denominational commitment to improving our institutional response to sexual abuse, and ask them to trust the expertise of the panel and hire the outside investigating organization with the best reputation among victims and advocates: GRACE.

Ervin Stutzman: ErvinS@mennoniteusa.org
Iris deLeón-Hartshorn: Irisdh@mennoniteusa.org
Carlos Romero: carlosr@mennoniteeducation.org

And if you’ve STILL got a few minutes after reading this and emailing the panel members and the denominational representatives, come on over to my place. I’ve got a kitchen floor that needs mopped.

No matter how much time and energy you have right now, please pray for our church to enact Christ’s love and justice in this world on behalf of victims of sexual abuse.