“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. [The perpetrator] appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.”
— Judith Herman
Background: The Mennonite Abuse Prevention (MAP) List, first launched on SNAPnetwork.org's website in April of 2016, provides a resource for healing and prevention of sexual abuse within the Anabaptist Mennonite community by naming names and posting information about church workers who are credibly accused of sexual misconduct. The MAP List was was taken down the summer of 2017, then upgraded, redesigned and returned to the internet on its own secure and independent web platform in January of 2018.
I first wrote and published the following essay while editor at Our Stories Untold to accompany the MAP list's original launch and to defend the reasons for its creation and existence. Additional insightful articles related to this topic can be found at Our Stories Untold.
I am forever indebted to dear friend and former SNAP executive director David Clohessey without whom the MAP List and this essay would not exist. I am deeply grateful for his patient teaching, generously shared knowledge and detailed input into the content of this essay. BG
Sometime in the early 90’s, associate editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald, James Coggins, was commissioned by a consortium of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ editors to write an article entitled “Should we report scandal in the Mennonite press?” It was printed in the April 1991 issue of MBH. Coggins answers the question with a resounding yes. His reasons for reporting scandal and naming names include these positive outcomes:
Warn potential victims
Enhance the credibility of the church press and the church
Demonstrate commitment to the truth
Help us remember who we are
Coggins goes on to say:
“Public sin should be dealt with publicly and doing so would help remove the excessive stigma attached to subjects treated as unsuitable for public discussion which must become suitable.
Why do we name the names of church leaders who have violated and betrayed the trust instilled in them by brothers and sisters of their faith communities? Why drag it all back into the open? Why not let it go? Think of their wives and children. Is it really worth all the embarrassment they will feel?
We name them because they and no one else committed a gross offense against another of the faithful and got away with it.
Any abuse of power, in any form, must be dealt with publicly, swiftly, with termination of duties, and ongoing support for any victims. These decisions can either pave the way toward a truly vibrant, redeemed, and renewed pacifist denomination, or continue to promote denial, complacency and inaction.”
At the time those very words were being written I was coming to terms with my own history of sexual violation from within the church. And around that same time I started putting names of Mennonite predators reported to me in a file. John Howard Yoder was one of those names, in 1985. As I began to speak publicly and identify publicly as a survivor of sexual abuse, more stories and more names found their way to my door.
Twenty five years later the same questions Coggin speaks of persist. Twenty five years later there are still only a few Mennonites who to my knowledge identify publicly as survivors. The stigma continues and so does the silence. For many of us it is still not safe enough to come forward.
Twenty five years later I’m hoping that what I’ve come to learn and understand can be of use to others. I’ve had many teachers, the most recent being David Clohessy, Executive Director of the SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests). His words and wealth of understanding from nearly thirty years with SNAP permeate this post. The privilege and honor I have had and continue to have, to bear witness to and befriend survivors, witnesses, and whistleblowers ready to tell what they have held for years and decades also informs this post.
Here’s my attempt to lay out in greater detail the benefits I believe communities of faith are able to gain from publicly naming admitted and credibly accused predators and those who enable and protect them, as is accomplished in The Mennonite Abuse Prevention List.
When the naming is accompanied by an invitation for those with additional information to come forward, there is greater opportunity for the full truth to be known.
When those coming forward are encouraged to go outside the church to an independent agency or group to report, the chances for doubly harmful conflicts of interest can be lessened. For example, the person I’m reporting may have been my pastor’s roommate in college.
When the identity of victims, witnesses and whistleblowers are protected at all costs and this too is assured publicly, it follows that those with disturbing things they may have seen, suspected or suffered might also feel safer in coming forward.
When we commit to naming names publicly in a central location for all to see, the benefits become the following: healing, prevention, deterrence, reassurance, and a large dose of renewed trust in the credibility of our institutional leaders.
A public posting of predators offers opportunity to those Mennonites who have already been wounded to finally begin to heal.
Somewhere there’s a suicidal 40-something Mennonite man who was raped as a 10 year old boy by an elder in the congregation his Mennonite father pastored. The elder is now dead, but the boy (now grown up) still thinks he was the only one violated. He still believes it was somehow his fault; and his life was forever altered.
When our 40-something man sees the name and face of that elder who raped him as a boy on the MAP List, he will know for the first time that he was not the only one. He can begin to understand it was not his fault and that he did nothing wrong. He can now more readily come forward with confidence to tell his story and name his predator. He can find others who understand his pain, who offer him friendship.
Or somewhere there’s a Mennonite mother feeling ashamed for being a “bad parent.” Her daughter Sharon has a debilitating eating disorder and her son Clayton is an unemployed alcoholic. She prays earnestly every morning and evening, with Bible on her lap. “Dear God, I’ve obviously done something wrong. Please forgive me.” When she sees Pastor Miller, now in his 80’s, exposed as a predator on the MAP List, she calls her kids and they both acknowledge “Yes, he molested me.” Now the whole family begins to start their recovery. They can stop blaming themselves. As Jesus said, the truth will set us free.
When parents, grand parents, police, prosecutors, congregants and the public have access to a public posting of all church workers, lay or ordained, who have been dismissed from a post for misconduct, they can unite to protect the vulnerable. They can bring even more information forward in order to discover the full truth.
Somewhere there’s a woman in an abusive marriage who gets a strange, troubling feeling about the Christian counselor her church recommends she see. She goes online to discover that he indeed lost his license in Washington State but continues to practice under a Christian licensing board in her home state of Oregon. When she tells her pastors of his past record, they try to convince her that he has repented of all that, it happened years ago, and because of his past he might be even more qualified to do the work he does.
She knows better, but doubts herself. But now there are people who are able to assure her that her gut has not betrayed her. She can trust her gut. And she can warn others about him. She can report his past to Oregon authorities and professional licensing boards. She can tell her pastors that repeat offenders should not be trusted in work that gives them easy access to vulnerable people in private settings ever again.
After a resignation or suspension from a church post, too many offending Mennonite church workers go on to get other jobs inside or outside the church where they still have access to vulnerable children and adults. Meanwhile only a few church insiders know the truth and those few are sworn to secrecy. Critical information concerning the public safety can be held by a few chosen persons in any given congregation or conference.
This means young parents might unwittingly invite a reported child molester home to dinner after Sunday service and not even realize a group of people in their congregation know, but aren’t telling them of the risk. A pastor might assume he’s sufficiently trained to provide counsel to a known convicted sex offender and welcome him to services without ever alerting the congregation.
Are we ready to realize the reckless risks we take in allowing admitted and credibly accused church workers to move around communities of vulnerable children and adults undetected?
How can we allow the same offenders whose offenses were discerned to be dangerous enough to cause a dismissal, the freedom to turn up as coaches, teachers, or Christian counselors–jobs they should not hold–in other locations?
There is not a sufficient follow-up system of warning in place to track admitted or credibly accused Mennonite predators once they are dismissed from a post or asked to leave a congregation.
The Mennonite Abuse Prevention (MAP) List provides such a system of warning. It puts up their name, photo, and documented offense in a central online location. It helps make the church a healthier place and deters future cover ups. It also provides searchable information for those outside the church.
But without the cooperation of Mennonite church members with access to documentation of past dismissals, the MAP List will not succeed. We need your help.
In order to deter future cover-ups, the MAP List intends to name any Mennonite church official who is discovered to have protected the identities of reported, known, or admitted sexual abusers.
Church officials who are shown to endanger others by obstructing justice, destroying evidence, intimidating or manipulating victims, threatening whistleblowers or failing to report to police or other civil authorities any potential criminal behavior will be included on the MAP List.
This is not for the purpose of punishment, but prevention of further harm. Supervisors may no longer put their comfort and careers ahead of the safety of the innocent children, youth, and vulnerable adults they serve.
Knowing the full truth concerning all those present and former church leaders who have past histories of sexual misconduct gives a sense of relief and reassurance to Mennonites across every congregation and conference. Until heads of conferences, agencies and institutions come clean about all complaints filed against former workers, living and dead, Mennonites will continue to look up from the pews at their pastor and wonder “Has he concealed the names of persons in our congregation who have been reported to commit sexual abuse?”
Parents sending children to church schools as well as the donors supporting them will wonder “Do the administrators at this school minimize and cover up reported sexual assaults? Do they allow reported predators to walk around campus undetected by others who may become their next victim? Do they realize those in authority over our children must be above suspicion? Do they understand the seriousness and the risk?”
Church officials routinely suspend employees when they discover credible accusations of sexual misconduct. But they rarely if ever announce this publicly unless or until a journalist breaks the story and exposes their secret. Many times, there are previous allegations of misconduct in a personnel file.
If a church employee is deemed too dangerous to have working in a church agency or institution, then doesn’t the larger church community deserve to know about the allegations?
It’s the duty of that employee’s supervisor to warn the public about him and simultaneously invite others with more information to report to an independent outside agency or group. If church institutions dismiss him privately he can continue abusing elsewhere. If he is allowed to continue in his high position, he now has access to more potential victims.
When confronted by their church supervisors, offending church workers may lie, blame the victim, or minimize the misconduct. Frequent conflicts of interest (i.e. long time friendships) can cause church supervisors to believe the accused’s story too easily. They may fail to take the matter to police for further investigation. They may fail to ask the tough questions.
When offending church workers repent and sorrowfully admit their crimes to their supervisors, or even to whole congregations, they are too often shown premature grace and shielded from public exposure in exchange for a token disciplinary action or internal reconciliation process. This creates several negative consequences:
it further manipulates, isolates, and silences the victim
it discourages other victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from coming forward
it does nothing to warn the public of the risk
it allows the abuser to continue abusing undeterred
Many known-to-be-at-risk Mennonite pastors, mental health professionals, choir directors, youth leaders, lay leaders, seminarians and other church workers now live – and sometimes work – among unaware, trusting and vulnerable neighbors and colleagues.
That’s a reckless recipe for repeated crimes. It is rare for these acts to happen in isolation. Only a trained professional in forensic sex crime interviews and investigations will be able to adequately determine the risk.
As seasoned law enforcement professional Michal V. Johnson points out in a speech at William and Mitchell College of Law:
“One of the things that has taken place and we are crystal clear about is that it used to be ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Now we are going to remove you and you are going to have to prove to us that you didn’t do this thing. Our mantra is going to be we are going to err on the side of protecting the vulnerable. You do not have the right to be [in this job] if there is even a suspicion that you are endangering those we serve…. We are not interested in whether you are a mandatory reporter by law or not. If you suspect that there is a possibility of abuse you need to report it. If law enforcement doesn’t do anything then they don’t but we have done our duty and reported it.”
Finally, we publish names because it’s what the Mennonite church and its institutions and agencies have repeatedly pledged for decades to do: hold abusers accountable to protect those they have been ordained or commissioned to serve. The Church Wide Statement on Sexual Abuse adopted by delegates at the 2015 MC USA Convention in Kansas City pledges:
We resolve to tell the truth about sexual abuse; hold abusers accountable; acknowledge the seriousness of their sin; listen with care to those who have been wounded; protect vulnerable persons from injury; work restoratively for justice; and hold out hope that wounds will be healed…
The recent statement released on March 30, 2016 from the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention appointed by Mennonite Church USA in 2015 states as follows:
“Sexualized violence (abuse, rape, molestation, harassment) affects people within our churches and institutions and our families at the same rate as society at large. And we have a history of ignoring it, not paying attention and even dismissing it. However, the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention will not take part in the enabling of the harm and violence by keeping silent…Sexualized violence is cancer within the church that we need to expose. In order to become whole, we must bring to light all that has been too long hidden in the shadows.”
To this end, we ask all Mennonite church agencies and institutions to publicly post the names of all credibly accused church workers, living or dead, who have been dismissed from a post for any type of sexual misconduct.
Or we ask any who work in those agencies and institutions to send those names and applicable information or documentation to email@example.com.
Documentation may also be sent confidentially in an unmarked envelope to our post office box at this address: MAP List, P.O. Box 442632, Lawrence, KS, 66044. The identity of our sources will be kept in the strictest confidence.
Today, in 2016, James Coggins’ words published 25 years ago still resonate.
These decisions can either pave the way toward a truly vibrant, redeemed, and renewed pacifist denomination, or continue to promote denial, complacency and inaction.
This is why we must work diligently to make it safer for victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to come forward to outside, independent agencies and groups.
The beginning of healing is the breaking of silence.
The beginning of prevention is the public naming of credibly accused perpetrators.
Here’s to healing the wounded and protecting the vulnerable by preventing the abuse.
Let’s do this. Let’s become the fierce guardians we are called to be.
8 Previous Comments
DEB BERGEN says:
Aug 18, 2016
Based on my experience working with both survivors and perpetrators of abuse, may I offer a clarification and an additional reason for openness that I consider important? At the risk of challenging an esteemed law professor, It isn’t really that we just shift the “innocent till proven guilty” to “guilty till proven innocent” for allegations. I think it’s important to realize the context in which that phrase originated: the radical idea that just because someone with lots of power says you did something wrong doesn’t mean you immediately get the consequences. **For violations of sexual behavior rules in our faith tradition, the consequences have been assumed to fall on the violated one unless a very high standard of evidence is met. The traditional standard of protesting violation actually devalues the life and safety of the violated (fighting back with evidence of physical harm regardless of type of threat and force used) and ignores any aspect of psychological control. What has happened very recently is that there is the possibility, in a few contexts, of the violated one possibly being “innocent until proven guilty”. Where adversarial law systems are the model, this will have the effect of assuming that IF the one charged with abuse denies and attempts to prove the violated one is creating libel, well, yes, the person in the assumed position of protected power will be treated as “guilty until proven innocent”. That’s a byproduct of observing the original intent of protecting the less powerful.
Everyone over the age of 40 knows women whose side of the story were never heard but who faced consequences in the church community, too often alone. And a really important reason for openness about sexual behavior problems is the opportunity for healing for the perpetrator. It seems I have to say this every week, but it comes down to believing in grace. We need to give up our “works righteousness”. We are not saved by our reputation, by our own great actions. We are loved by our Creator in spite of our actions and redeemed by unearned grace. If it’s good enough for Paul, for Peter, for John the beloved, for Mary Magdalene, for convicted murderers and petty thieves, for the writer of Amazing Grace and for all the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, why are official Mennonites too good to admit sin?
When we have reason to trust that our officials are honest with us, we are more able to accept that those who have seriously harmed others will act within given constraints. And those who have had to carry the burden of their own damaging actions can get help, sooner rather than later. If John Howard Yoder had been held accountable before 1940, what would be different in our church? And what about all the other repeat abusers? If we can intervene before the layers of harm get so complicated and fossilized, isn’t redemption easier to imagine? So I ask for self-disclosure of those who have harmed, whether by direct action on a vulnerable other or by protecting false appearances. God still loves you, and if God is for you, who can be against you?
HEIDI LOEWEN WPG. CN. AUTHOR says:
Aug 18, 2016
Dear Barbra. Hallelujah 2 U! Please keep helping to make us ALL stronger. My birthday is next month. I will be 84. What a gift your information has been! God Bless you, in every way possible! Sincerely, Heidi
FRANK LOSTAUNAU says:
Aug 18, 2016
Highly informative and helpful!
I’m not as merciful as some folks but I can live with it.
I salute all individuals who work tirelessly to protect children, families, and communities. Gracias.
David Clohessy is indeed a Good Man!
HEIDI LOEWEN WPG. CN. AUTHOR says:
Aug 18, 2016
Once again, Barbra:
Please caution readers about ”naming names” – In many countries today, you may be the one held legally liable for damages, by the very person(s) you are attempting to bring to justice.
Seek legal advice before taking the next step! We live in a litigious society – so extreme measures are very important.
BARBRA GRABER says:
Aug 18, 2016
Thank you, Heidi. I fully understand the risks I take and believe they are worth it. I make a concerted effort to inform survivors of their risk as well. We seek legal counsel regarding every story we post in which a perpetrator’s detailed actions are exposed. But in terms of the MAP List we will never be “outing” someone for the first time. We are simply passing along the public knowledge that is already on record from another source. That’s why we hold to the standard of “credibly accused” which means there needs to have been a federal charge, a civil suit, being named in a media article or dismissed from a post.
Actually though, libel law suits are very difficult to prove and rarely win in court. My sense is there is intentional hype to keep survivors in fear. When victims lose their fear of being sued, there will be a tsunami of reports. There are those who would scare survivors into thinking otherwise, but I’m convinced we ultimately hold the power. If only we truly realized this. The truth is the best defense and as long as it is on our side, the perpetrator named has to prove we are lying and that we have caused material damages. If one of these guys attempted a libel law suit, all their other victims (and there are usually many) might come running to join the chorus. You really think they want that? You really think they want to turn their cell phones and computers over to law enforcement? I kinda doubt it. BG
CLAIR HOCHSTETLER says:
Aug 18, 2016
I want to affirm this well-reasoned rationale, Barbara. Yes, James Coggins’ analysis and article is absolutely relevant and applicable 25 years later. It’s a great framework emanating from applying the biblical principle: “The Truth will set you free” (though certainly there will be pain involved.) Redemptive transformation and restoration – the end goal we all seek – can’t ever happen without a genuine search and acknowledgment of the truth by all parties involved.
Aug 23, 2016
Just wondering if you offer investigations for persons of suspicion.
BARBRA GRABER says:
Oct 5, 2016
Thank you for this important inquiry, Smithson. We are not trained or equipped to conduct a forensic sex crime investigation. But we can provide support and encouragement to help you find those persons in your locale who are trained to do so. And we can share from our own experience as to how to detect and interpret grooming behaviors. We encourage any one who has seen, suspected or suffered any type of sexual misconduct to report to law enforcement, a civil attorney, a local crisis center or a survivor network like SNAP (540-214-8874). No one needs proof to report to the police. They are the ones trained to investigate and assess risk. We can help you find support in reporting what might be keeping you up at night. We beg you to report any suspicions you might have that someone is at risk. You could save a life by reporting your suspicions.