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Good Intentions Aren’t Enough: How church authorities slid my sister’s sexual abuse under the rug

April 21, 2016

 

 

 

Lauren Shifflett recently shared the story of the sexual trauma she experienced in her life including how Luke Hartman coerced her into a sexual relationship, then stalked and threatened her when she tried to end it. If you have a moment, please read it with caution and kindness. It’s long, troubling, and at times unflattering and graphic.

 

I am Lauren’s sister, Marissa Buck (used to be Benner) and I want to share an important sequel to Lauren’s story, the story of how Lindale Mennonite Church leadership responded to Lauren’s abuse when she told them about it in August of 2014. To the best of my knowledge and memory, this is my truthful account.

 

Please know that my goal is not to hurt anyone. I believe deeply that the people in this story are good people with good intentions. But Lauren and I have learned through talking to other survivors and experts in sexual abuse that we are by no means unique. Many victims have come forward to well-meaning Mennonite churches and institutions only to feel betrayed. The abusers are “forgiven,” their actions are kept secret, and they are allowed to carry on as before, with the opportunity to abuse again. This has got to stop. Good intentions aren’t enough when the price is deep and lasting harm to another innocent person.  Next time it might be your sister, brother, mother, wife, or child. My goal in sharing the truth is to start conversations that will bring change to the church’s response to sexual abuse.

 

On August 30th 2014, Lauren and I sat down with Dawn Monger, Associate Pastor at Lindale Mennonite Church, and Teresa Anders, another Lindale member who Dawn trusted and chose to bring. Lauren told them the entirety of her story: How she had gone to Luke for help in a suicidal state after being raped. How this respected Christian man made her feel safe and a sexual relationship ensued. How Luke supplied her with pain pills, confessed that he had sexual fantasies about her when she was 15 and again at 18, and admitted to paying for prostitutes on multiple occasions. I heard her tell Dawn and Teresa how when she attempted to end the relationship, he stalked her, degraded her, verbally assaulted her with obscenities and threatened violence, including mention of a “hit man.” She told them that although Luke’s violence had stopped for a time, he was currently stalking her again and had been for several months since she changed her phone number and cut off all contact.  (Very few details were spared; and the ones that were spared that day were told to Dawn as Lauren remembered them).

 

When Lauren finished, the two women said the most beautiful words I have ever heard; “We believe you,” “This is abuse,” and “What Luke did and is doing is wrong.” Both women expressed concern about taking this information to Duane Yoder, the lead pastor. Duane and Luke have been close friends for a long time. Lauren told them she didn’t trust Duane to be involved. Luke had made comments to Lauren in the past like, “Duane and I have lots of shit on each other,” and “Duane and I are like brothers. He’s got my back.” Lauren asked Dawn if there was any way to not involve Duane, but we were told Duane needed to know.

 

On Sunday, August 31st 2014 our parents came home from Lindale’s worship service applauding the powerful and moving sermon Duane and Luke had preached together about family values and boundaries. That night, a heartsick Lauren sat them down and told them the whole terrible story.

 

On Monday evening, September 1st 2014 we were told that Dawn had told Duane Lauren’s full account, with her husband Jim Monger and Teresa and Devon Anders as witnesses. Lauren was terrified and inconsolable that evening. After the meeting, Dawn texted: “I was so blessed by Duane’s reaction. He really, really cares about [Lauren]. He made me promise that I would tell her that he totally believes her and is “in her corner.” To reassure Lauren, Dawn texted frequently throughout the evening giving us a play- by- play of what was happening and of Luke’s location. She told us later that Duane went to Luke’s house and threatened him to not get near Lauren or have any contact with her, and as far as I know that is the only safety measure that was put in place to “protect” Lauren from Luke.

 

For the days following, Dawn became Lauren’s primary advocate. We relied on her for all our information about what Duane and Luke were saying and doing. Having Dawn’s information was something a terrified Lauren desperately needed for her own safety and sanity. We never communicated directly with any of the Lindale elders and not once heard from Duane. Dawn also offered to support our shaken parents and keep them updated. We were told that Duane had taken Luke to meet with the EMU cabinet to make a “confession.” When Dawn informed us that EMU decided to keep Luke in his position as EMU’s vice president of enrollment, we were shocked. Someone made a giant mistake right here.

 

If Luke “confessed” his actions to EMU, and if Lindale was aware of Luke’s abuse (which they admitted to in a letter to the congregation on May 20, 2016), how could he have possibly kept his job?

 

And so we are all left to speculate:  Either Lindale pastors did not insure EMU got the full story and EMU did not ensure they had been given the full story, or EMU was aware of the details of the abuse but carelessly kept Luke in his position anyway, with full access to unaware university students and staff. Which one was it?

 

I need to pause the story for a moment and address EMU leadership: On March 29th 2016 you released a statement to Mennonite World Review stating that you became aware of a “sexual relationship between Luke Hartman and a church member,” but that, “the relationship had taken place some years prior to Luke Hartman’s employment…at EMU.” You stated again, in a statement released on April 15, 2016 in response to Lauren’s story, that you were “informed in early September 2014 of Luke Hartman’s past relationship with a then, un-named female prior to his employment as vice president for enrollment.”

 

Bad news, EMU. Those statements are incorrect (Mennonite World Review, check your facts). Luke and Lauren’s sexual contact ended sometime around June 2010, about a year before he worked for EMU. But Luke continued to contact, manipulate and control Lauren during his employment with you. In fact the stalking incident that made her fear for her safety and report to Lindale took place while Luke was a vice president of EMU.  He was your employee.

 

It gets worse, EMU. Let’s disregard the fact that Luke was your employee while abusing Lauren and assume you were not told the facts. If you would have done your due diligence and asked for the other side of the story instead of taking Luke at his word, you would have discovered that Lauren was one of your students when Luke sexually abused, stalked, and threatened her. She was a student from September 2009 to December 2010, during the worst of his violence. In light of this, is there any question of how dangerous your decision to continue Luke’s employment was for EMU? Any kind of inappropriate “sexual relationship” by one of your employees, especially one with such powerful influence, should be investigated. You are to blame for keeping an abusive man in a high position. No excuse overshadows the fact that you compromised the safety of EMU students and staff, along with the safety of high school students inquiring about attending EMU, who Luke had direct access to in his role as vice president of enrollment.

 

Lastly EMU, I am disappointed in your disregard of Lauren. Your April 15 press release failed to support Lauren as a victim or explain any of your actions, as an open letter from OurStoriesUntold to EMU points out. Did you actually read her story before releasing your statement? She clearly stated at what point in the chain of events Luke became your employee, yet in your press release, after applauding her for “the strength she had and the courage it took to share her experience,” you contradicted her story by insisting again that Luke was not under your employment. Your outward show of support smells sour because you not only refused to say you believe her story, you chose to publicly challenge her account, seemingly in order to protect yourselves.

 

My sister and all victims like her need to hear you say this EMU: We believe you. We made a mistake. We deeply regret the harm we caused and the risk we took. We will do all in our power to make it up to you and prevent future abuse. (Take a look at Oregon State University, a secular university, responding correctly after their mishandling of sexual violence.)

 

Back to the story: Dawn told us she gave the Lindale elders Lauren’s full account. Lauren made one request of Lindale. She asked that the secret email account Luke had set up to communicate with her be deleted. She had shared vulnerable and private thoughts, feelings, and photos with Luke in her emails to him, things she had entrusted to him at the time and was now petrified would be used against her. We were told Duane agreed to this and “watched Luke delete the email account.” He reportedly told Dawn it was deleted and that “no one would ever read one of Lauren’s personal emails.”

 

We were told Lindale leadership made a plan to hold Luke accountable. They asked him not to attend Lindale and to cancel his speaking engagements for a year. They formed an “accountability group” for Luke made up of Duane and several other men. We heard that most were Lindale members and some were Luke’s friends. To our knowledge, no one in the group had training in the treatment of sexual abuse, addictions, or predatory disorders. We understand they asked him to get professional counseling and that Luke refused to switch to a therapist trained in sexual addiction/abuse, wanting to go to his own therapist. Isn’t this where the accountability group should’ve held Luke accountable?

 

Lindale leadership made a plan to support Lauren. They paid for several professional counseling visits. Dawn was assigned to continue to care for my whole family, keeping us updated and reaching out frequently to Lauren. Dawn and Teresa continually encouraged us and reaffirmed their belief in Lauren’s story. When I would return to Harrisonburg for visits, they cared tangibly for us, taking us for a spa day for pedicures and lunch and inviting us to their homes. I am grateful beyond words for their support of us. What would we have done without them?

 

We were told that Luke tried desperately to dissemble Lauren’s story: He told Duane and Dawn that the relationship only lasted three months and that she “seduced” him. He told them he had lied to Lauren about his many hook-ups with prostitutes, that it was all “part of the fantasy.” He tried to use a note Lauren had entrusted to him during Sunday School class when she was 15 years old  to prove that she was “sexually immoral.”

 

Then Duane began to ask Dawn leading questions like, “Who paid for the hotel room?” “Are you sure Lauren was 19? Luke says she was 20,” and “Luke says the relationship only lasted 3 months, is Lauren sure it lasted longer?” We were told that Duane began to stand up for Luke saying things like, “Luke does so much good!” Dawn responded to these questions with her own: “Does it really matter? Does it change what Luke did?” Time and time again over the last year and a half, Duane’s words and actions have clearly shown that he cares more about Luke than he does about Lauren and is choosing to protect him over her.

 

As recently as March we found out that Luke had forwarded an email to Duane, one from the “deleted” email account. Just as Lauren had feared, he attempted to discredit her with her most personal thoughts and feelings. Duane claims he received this email from Luke prior to deleting the account. Regardless, we were told Duane not only read, but shared that email with Dawn long after he promised that no one would ever have access to it. Lauren felt violated and betrayed again. Her most vulnerable thoughts were read by her pastor, the man who promised no one would read them. And he was sharing them in what appeared to be an attempt to question her credibility.

 

We were told that Duane and the accountability group felt that Luke was doing much better, even though from our understanding Luke had never taken responsibility for Lauren’s abuse and continued to insist that she was lying. Luke was invited back to Lindale after a few short months, his actions towards Lauren unknown by most of its members. Lauren originally decided not to attend Lindale, mostly out of fear of Luke. But she found herself wanting to go, missing the people and the community. Lauren had done nothing wrong and she had a right to attend Lindale. But when she did attend she was full of anxiety. She was scared of seeing Luke and on multiple occasions she was met with angry glares from people close to Luke and his family. My parents had been asked not to share Lauren’s story with their Sunday School class and had omitted Luke’s name when sharing with their closest friends, so there were no angry glares for Luke.

 

Duane continued to show he did not believe Lauren’s story, or at the very least, did not think it was abuse. On two separate occasions Duane said to my mom, “Well, Lauren had problems before, right?” Did Lauren having problems mean she was somehow at fault or deserved Luke’s criminal behavior towards her? We heard that when two Lindale leaders asked Duane if he thought Lauren was a victim, he responded “No.” When Dawn discovered that Luke was still on the schedule to speak at the 2015 Mennonite Convention in Kansas City, we were told that Duane was prepared to forego the earlier boundary that had been set for Luke and let him speak, giving him easy access to impressionable and vulnerable 15-18 year old girls.

 

Dawn voiced many concerns, to both Lauren and me, about Duane’s conflict of interest as Luke’s friend and at times, his lack of integrity. Each time Duane ignored or questioned Lauren’s story, we believe Dawn stood up for her. When Luke was arrested for solicitation of prostitution on January 8th 2016, we were relieved. Finally the public would distrust Luke and Duane would see that Luke was still just as sick and dangerous as he had been a year and a half earlier.

 

But that did not happen. Duane stood at the pulpit and said these words to the congregation on January 10th 2016: “The vast majority of you know that Luke Hartman was caught in a county/city sting for responding to a web ad for a massage on Friday. The paper and television have blown it out of proportion…” Recently, we heard that Duane stood up at a men’s bible study at Park View Mennonite Church soon after Luke’s arrest and told a group of around 60 men that it had been a “frame-up.” When I heard from my mom, who worked in Lindale’s office, that Luke was trying to plead entrapment and have his charges dropped, I suspected that Duane was supporting him. I bluntly asked Dawn if she felt Duane or anyone at Lindale was protecting Luke. She responded with something along the lines of, “Marissa, things are bad here.”

 

I had heard enough. Around that time a friend alerted me to an article she heard was posted on the Mennonite Church USA website in light of Luke’s arrest. The article had a link to a press release statement by Barbra Graber, leader of the Anabaptist Mennonite Chapter for SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests*) which cited research that connects paying for prostitution to sexually coercive behavior and urged all institutions connected to Luke to reach out to victims and encourage them to come forward with information and work with the police. I Googled “MCUSA Luke Hartman” and immediately found a link to the article, but when I clicked on it an error message appeared. Blood rushed to my face. I stared at the screen. Had MCUSA taken the article down? Later, I found out that yes, they took it down within 48 hours of posting it. I was angry.

 

Can you imagine, Mennonite Church USA, what removing that article says to a victim who has been disbelieved and silenced, like my sister Lauren? Can you imagine her overwhelming hope when she heard that the broader Mennonite Church was willing to believe Luke capable of more, and her utter defeat when it was suddenly yanked away? Since you offered no explanation, we were left to hypothesize: Perhaps you posted the article to make it look like you support sexual abuse prevention but took it down when negative feedback became too uncomfortable. Or maybe you covered-up or ignored past misconduct of Luke’s and suddenly realized that if victims came forward, you would be liable. What was your reason?

 

I returned to my Google search and found another link to the article, this time on The Mennonite’s website. Had they not posted the article, which they boldly kept posted despite negative feedback, Lauren and I never would have known about SNAP and Luke’s abuse would have remained a secret.

 

Lauren and I contacted SNAP Menno’s confidential email. No more silence. No more protecting Luke. And no more shoving Luke’s abuse under that darn rug! With SNAP’s support, we decided to file a report with Corporal Philip Wonderley at the Harrisonburg police department. We urged Dawn, who was still supporting us, to contact SNAP and go to the police as well. The Commonwealth’s Attorney could not issue a criminal misdemeanor stalking and threat of violence case against Luke because the statutes of limitations expired in 2015. After Lauren’s story came out on OurStoriesUntold, Corporal Wonderley contacted Lauren through Barbra with a message to tell her that he regretted not being able to do more with her case, but he read every word of her story on OSU, that he had received it from a local woman who works with young trafficked prostitutes in Harrisonburg,  and was proud of her — that her bravery was helping many others.

 

Around that time, Dawn told us she had been seeking guidance from others above her in the Mennonite church. She decided not to contact SNAP or the police but said, “You do what you need to do. I support you.” She told us she decided that Lindale leadership needed to write a letter to Lindale members, informing them of their knowledge of Luke’s abuse. Lauren and I were given the first draft of the letter and hated it. The entirety of the abuse Lauren endured from Luke was summed up as “a situation.” It felt cheap and untrue.

 

We were honest with Lindale leadership, telling them how hurtful it was to have the abuse simply called “a situation,” and we asked them not to print anything if they weren’t willing to be transparent and spell it out. The elders worked together and changed it to say, “An abusive relationship was brought to our attention in August 2014. Pastors Dawn and Duane have been involved in walking with the victim, who has been deeply traumatized by Luke Hartman, and in attempting to hold Luke accountable for his actions.”

 

This was a slight improvement – at least they used the words “abuse” and “trauma.” But now we were disturbed by the presence of an outright lie: “Dawn and Duane have been involved in walking with the victim…” At no point has Duane walked with Lauren through this process. In fact, we’ve been told it has been quite the opposite. In a video conference with elder Gini Trotter prior to the letter being printed, we told her the statement was a lie. She asked us if we needed her to get the sentence changed and we hesitated. We didn’t know if the elders had any knowledge of what Duane had done in the last year and a half and we felt like the elders were doing their best and that they cared about us. Gini assured us that every elder believed Lauren’s story. So we told her no, but repeated that the sentence was a lie and that the elders needed to talk to Dawn about what Duane had done and hold him accountable. I regret not fighting to change that sentence. The members of Lindale should NEVER have been told a lie. SNAP was not involved with this back and forth communication with Lindale and knew nothing of the letter until after it came out to the congregation on March 20.

 

On March 21st 2016, I called Dawn and asked her to share everything she knew about Duane’s inappropriate and unethical behavior with the Lindale board of elders. She was hesitant and when I asked why she said something like, “I have 400 church members to think about.” I told her I didn’t see how keeping secret Duane’s lack of integrity was caring for the congregation. She responded with, “But I’ve seen Duane do so much good.”

 

I was stunned. I will never forget the betrayal of that statement, or the sound Lauren’s voice made after I repeated it to her. The woman who had called Duane out when he excused Luke saying, “He does so much good,” was now making the same excuse for Duane. The one who had fought for Lauren from the beginning, who was the sole witness to many of Duane’s missteps, and who watched Lauren (and me and my parents) suffer because of his choices, was essentially saying, “Duane does enough good to outweigh the damage he has done to you and the trauma Luke has caused you.”

 

Through tears, I questioned Dawn about the lie that had been printed and distributed to Lindale members. She seemed confused, so I repeated the phrase, “Dawn and Duane have been involved in walking with the victim…and in attempting to hold Luke accountable for his actions.” She told me it wasn’t a lie, that the meaning of the sentence was that Dawn walked with the victim, and Duane attempted to hold Luke accountable. I knew the sentence did not convey that. I was done. I told Dawn that Lauren and I needed her to meet with our SNAP advocate Barbra, hoping that if Dawn felt enough support she would choose to come forward with the truth. Dawn asked for a couple of days to process before she got back to me.

 

Four weeks went by, and Lauren and I didn’t hear a word from her. We felt abandoned.

 

After that conversation I felt panicked. I no longer trusted Dawn to tell the elders the truth about Duane, so Lauren and I sent each member an email on March 23rd 2016. We gave them our account of Duane’s actions and we made some requests that we felt were necessary in order to make Lindale a safe place for us and for any other victims. Among those requests were that they hold Duane accountable for his actions and that they seek outside guidance from professionals who specialize in sexual abuse immediately, before moving forward. My parents have made that same request multiple times. We anxiously waited for a response, but after three weeks none came. Not one of the elders to whom we had written telling of our hurt and fear reached out to us. If they believed Lauren’s story and knew we were hurting, why were they silent? Was it pride, fear of legal action, or desperation to preserve Lindale as it was instead of caring for Lauren? I couldn’t think of a reason that would be good enough.

 

Finally an email arrived on April 15, four days after Lauren released her story:

 

“Dear Lauren and Marissa,

 

The Board of Elders received your concerns and recognizes that this has been and continues to be a challenging time. May God’s grace and peace be with us all.

 

Gloria Lehman for the Elders”

 

Is that all?

 

Elders – Gloria Lehman, Larry Beiler, Diane Burkholder, Deb Horst, Jay Leaman, Chris Noll, Hazel Shirk, Gini Trotter, Don Tyson, Mike Weaver, and David Waybill: Is this truly all you have to say?

 

Not even as Christians but as human beings; as people who have loved and helped raise us; does silence followed by emotionless words feel like the right response to us, to Lauren’s gut-wrenching story? Is that how you prove you believe Lauren and that you will stand behind other victims of abuse? I wish you had stayed silent.

 

My heart broke. I watched my little sister, who I love immensely, go numb and crawl into that dreadful corner where she hides after being battered and betrayed by those she trusted. This time she’s not going alone. And someday we’ll crawl out of that corner with the help of people courageous enough to stand with us and carry our pain instead of holding us at a distance.

 

I do not think that Duane, Dawn, the elders, EMU, or MCUSA purposely tried to harm us. But their inaction, silence, and calculating words ARE alienating and hurtful. It is surprising to me that SNAP, an organization independent from any church, and the Harrisonburg Police Department, a governmental body, have actively demonstrated Christ-like love to us and earned our trust more than any institution within the Mennonite Church.

 

I believe Duane Yoder’s intentions were good, that he acted out of a blind love for Luke. [Note: Since writing this post back in 2016, I no longer believe Duane had good intentions. We have since learned that a complaint of sexual abuse against Duane himself was submitted by a woman in one of his previous congregations. I believe he was acting out of self-preservation. He has never apologized for the harm he did to Lauren and he protection of Luke.]

 

But Duane’s doubt of Lauren and defense of her abuser after he claimed he believed her and was “in her corner” re-traumatized and re-victimized her. When Duane stood in front of the Lindale congregation and minimized Luke’s arrest implying Luke was simply responding to an ad for a massage, he sent a clear message to Lauren: “The man that hurt you will be protected here, no matter the severity of the accusation against him.”

 

When my parents met with Duane on March 15th 2016 to confront him about his behavior and betrayals throughout this process, he appeared to listen sincerely but stated that he will not give up his friendship with Luke. Because of this, Lindale is not a safe place for Lauren and me or other people with experience similar to ours sitting in its pews. Lindale needs a pastor and a leadership team who understand and respond appropriately to abuse. If the elders are serious about making their church safe, they will hold Duane accountable and bring in outside experts for guidance and education while moving through this process. Vienna Presbyterian Church offers a good example for all churches in deciding to stand with the one harmed against the better judgement of their legal advisors.

 

To our beloved Lindale family – Lauren and I love you. You have not been silent. Many of you have reached out to Lauren after reading her story, writing words filled with love, admiration, support and broken-hearted apologies for the church letting her down, even though you are not in the least bit responsible for her pain. Your words have been healing and have helped lift her up out of the “rubble and ashes.” Thank you. Some of you have reached out to our parents. Please continue to do so – they love you, too. I know most of you had no idea this was happening to us and I’m sorry. How can a church family care for each other when our most difficult, painful stories are kept secret? Each time I come back to this paragraph that feels like goodbye, I cry. Many of you dedicated us, raised us, and watched us be baptized. You modeled goodness and unconditional love, just as I know you’re still doing for Lindale’s children. We shared potlucks, Bible School musicals, Highland Retreat weekends, Christmas caroling, and hundreds of smiles and hugs on Sundays. I will forever hold onto the bright, happy memories of you, my Lindale family.

 

Even though Lindale is no longer a safe place for Lauren and me, I will pray fervently that it will become so for you, that you will demand that it become so for you, for your children, and for all the lovely people within your walls. I believe it is possible.

 

Feel free to reach out to me or Lauren through our SNAP advocate Barbra Graber’s confidential email, mennonite@snapnetwork.org and she will forward messages on to us.

 

29 PREVIOUS COMMENTS

 

 

LEIGH says:

Apr 21, 2016

Thank you for adding your story here. I hope and pray that both of you will continue to speak out and demand change. You ARE making a difference!

 

KAREN ZEHR says:

Apr 21, 2016

First off, thank you for your fierce support of your sister Lauren. She is blessed to have you and your parents standing with her. Next, there are no words, just fear, anger, confusion, disappointment, betrayal and sadness deep inside of me. You have answered many questions that have been churning in me. I am so sorry your family has experienced such betrayal and abandonment from your church leadership among many others. I am so glad you found Barbara Graber and SNAP and hope you all feel the support, the belief from many others in the wider church community.

 

 

LINDA NAFZIGER-MEISER says:

Apr 21, 2016

i have not participated in a mennonite church for over a year due to a sustained illness. this unprecedented sabbatical has provided an unparalleled opportunity to observe from a distance and i do not like what i see. i have a heavily invested history in mcusa and mennonite educational institutions, having graduated from 3 mennonite schools (wms in oregon, emu, and ambs) but now have serious questions about the longterm prospects of the mennonite church and its institutions as effective agents of Christ’s peace and healing in the world.

this is heartbreaking.

 

I applaud you, Marissa and Lauren, Barbara, Rachel, HIlary and all the rest of those who are actively engaged in breaking down the oppressive walls of victim silencing and shaming, and the appalling lack of sincere interest or willingness in holding perpetrators to account.

 

RACHEL YODER says:

Apr 21, 2016

Thank you for your courage in placing a wall up against the abuse and endeavoring to protect future victims. Please be encouraged to keep on keeping on. Would like to see you continue to evolve this ministry. Would like to see cards/ signs in every church lavatory stall so victims could be informed of an advocacy group hotline. (I work in the public health sector and we have the cards with numbers available in women’s bathrooms…should include men/ boys as well.) Could have an app bar for a phone to pick up the info instead of /or in addition to cards. I would gladly volunteer to distribute and place these cards ,etc in the bathrooms of all church’s in my county and there are many. One of these days I will retire and this would be a satisfying task for me to do in retirement. May seem monumental but it can be done. By the way ,good reading on this subject is “Twist of Faith” by Anne Beiler of Auntie Anne’s pretzels, her own story on this subject.

 

HUMAN BEING says:

Apr 21, 2016

Only days ago I witnessed Mr. Hartman walking out of the courthouse with a huge smile on his face. That was prior to knowing Lauren’s words. I hope Lauren knows the community is thinking about her and many in admiration of her courage.


I didn’t stop believing in God until I began working at Eastern Mennonite University. There’s a lot of prayer for the future but no immediacy for present conflict. I once asked for help with a situation and never received it–only what would appear to be assistance on paper. There are appropriate responses said behind closed doors but not initiated after the fact.


I know most of those mentioned in this post.  EMU, please learn to practice what our Lord has asked of us. It is our duty as brothers and sisters to speak up for those unable to do so for themselves.

 

 

BEV STERK says:

May 28, 2016

amen fellow human being… on the “please learn to practice what our Lord has asked of us”…

this exposure of abuse and immorality in the Church is an answer to prayer as it is God’s way to bring things into the light (Eph 5:11/John 3:19-21 – it’s the enemy’s ways to keep it in the dark, under the rug), As people are praying for purity in His Church, He is answering this prayer!

 

sadly the institutional Church has far too often done the exact opposite (protecting the leaders at the expense of those harmed) of what God calls his Church to do… we are called by Him to protect the women, children, those who are vulnerable, those who have been treated with injustice, abuse, etc. and to expose whatever wrong doing was done, including by the leaders.

 

I wonder how much porn is a factor in all this… the porn stats in the church are horrific… and the men (the not so good old boys club) cover up for each other, and the women in leadership are often afraid to speak out against the men, for various reasons. Ezekiel 8 is an incredibly insightful chapter on how leaders cover up for each other (v 7-12) and Ezekiel 34 is another incredibly insightful chapter on abusive shepherds who treat their flock with force and cruelty (v4), and push and shove out the weak (v21)… this is abuse of power! and in the Church it is spiritual abuse!

 

And God sees this abuse of power and says to the leaders, you have healed the wounds of My daughter only slightly/superficially (not taken her wounds seriously, damage control type responses) Jer 6:14/8:11,21) He grieves over what is going on in the Church, and He is calling us, His holy people/saints/hagios, to step up and do what is right!

 

Be blessed, sisters in the Lord… the organic Church (His holy people) are rising up to speak truth, to expose evil, and to bring healing and hope to those who have been harmed by abusive shepherds in the institutional Church. when the leaders try to silence us, we pray for more boldness to speak the truth in Jesus’ precious and powerful Name (Acts 4:29-31)… He’s going to do some shaking! the organic Church (His holy people) cannot be shaken, the institutional Church (lots of traditions of man) can and will be shaken (Hebrews 12:26-29) He’s doing some serious refining in His Bride, consuming the dross and refining the gold! The Kingdom Church will be a beautiful, radiant and holy Bride for her Groom, Jesus Christ!

 

 

FAITH TROYER WYSE says:

Apr 21, 2016

I am so proud of you young women for standing strong and for Barbra who has been willing to guide you and support you. I am so impressed that you are persisting in your call for attention and justice. I wish you the best.

 

 

ANGELA MICHAEL says:

Apr 21, 2016

Dear Marissa,Lauren and Parents,The details of neglect and abuse by leaders of the Mennonite Church against you ,along with lack of support from some church members is appalling to say the least! These experiences ring far too true for many survivors of sexual abuse within the denomination.
Know that you have a multitude of souls with you and this craziness of it all must stop!
I wonder how many people have left the Mennonite Church and their Christian faith all together because of inept leadership and uncaring members.


I believe the Church will fail to grow and be relevant until victims in the pews are finally cared for.

Sending strength and warm thoughts to you all.

 

 

JIM CLEMENS says:

Apr 21, 2016

Thanks for writing this, Marissa. I’m glad that Lauren has you. Words fail me here, but I hope many people will read what both of you have written, and that you can feel the love and support that you and your families deserve.

 

 

MARIA HOSTETTER says:

Apr 21, 2016

So proud of Marissa and Lauren. What beauty and strength! May your lives and faith flourish and may you find much peace and joy. God is a redeemer and over time you will see His constant faithful love towards you. Love and grace!

 

 

CAROL PENNER says:

Apr 22, 2016

Thank you for sharing this story, which fills me with such sorrow for the pain upon pain that you all have experienced. I have heard other stories like this. It seems to me that Mennonite churches have such a strong focus on community, that it leaves us unwilling to confront evil and experience conflict. Too often institutions want to cover up and minimize, as a way of continuing to include and “be friends” with people who have committed crimes or misconduct. We want to think the best of people. Of some people. Of powerful people. By doing this churches exclude and shun and revictimize the people who were hurt in the first place. And too often as church leaders (I am a pastor), we are too proud to admit that there are very powerful manipulative people who can deceive us and work the system in their own favour. As far as I can see, God does not have a statute of limitations, and the truth will set us free, although sometimes that takes a long time 🙁 . I see you tackling the evil you’ve all experienced head-on, and facing conflict, and for that I am thankful. I am praying for everyone on every side of this situation, but especially for you, the people on the margins.

 

 

LISA SCHIRCH says:

Apr 22, 2016

Thank you Marissa for filling in more information in this story. Institutions have been complicit with Luke’s abuse. They too must be accountable to repair harms and to be transparent in their complicity. Just how many people at EMU made complaints about Luke? It does not seem true that the solicitation charges and Lauren’s story of abuse “came out of the blue” when others were registering their fear and concern for Luke’s manipulation.

 

 

A TIRED MAN says:

Apr 22, 2016

About 20 years ago I was in a small mennonite youth group in Indiana, a girl (we’ll call her Sarah) started coming to our church from another local mennonite church. We were both slightly more odd than our peers and eventually became good friends in a non-romantic relationship. Several people told me I shouldn’t hang out with her because she was a bad influence/strange/person etc, but no one ever gave me a reason why this was so. Even my parents were against me being with her. When I said I was only trying to help and be a friend, I was told she needed help from someone who was trained, not some schmuck like me.

 

Then one night when I confronted my parents when she was present and asked why they didn’t like/approve of her. It was an awkward situation to say the least. After she left they told how her and her older sister had been molested for years by their grandpa. How everyone in the community knew. How nothing was done. How apparently there was some “confession.” How as far as I know nothing ever happened to him.

 

That night alone in my room thru tears of rage and fury I knew I could never be a mennonite if this was how they let people go. Later after a youth night where many people received prayer for things they struggled with, a different girl shared how after she had been molested she struggled with her faith and with feeling worthless, she received prayer.

 

Walking away, Sarah* asked how she was supposed to feel when a girl opened up about a one-time when she molested. Sarah* told me about how from her earliest memories til she was about 15 years old her grandfather had molested her and her sister. “Who could identify with me?” “Who would want to love on a person like me?”

 

 

KELLY DEAN says:

Apr 22, 2016

Marissa, my heart goes out to you, your sister, your family, and the whole community struggling with the ache of such a painful, confusing experience spanning so many years. It’s especially heartbreaking when we are forced to acknowledge that sometimes, the darkest places are the places we tread everyday, the ones we once trusted without even a second thought. The truth is a powerful shedder of light in dark places.

When church and faith community leaders veer towards self-preservation, our consolation is that while we absolutely demand a different standard of leadership, our ultimate Hope is in the Way and the Truth of Jesus’ redemptive power, especially in times such as these.

Praying for your family as the past is again dredged up and painful wounds reopened. Praying for humility and integrity to carry weight in all the leaders in our churches and universities. Praying for truth, healing, justice, and hope to flood over you all and over EMU, Lindale, and the Harrisonburg community. Thank you for bravely sharing so that we might become better, more humble leaders and caretakers of each other.

 

 

A TIRED WOMAN says:

Apr 22, 2016

Sigh. Lauren has gone to LE and is working with them on the crimes that were committed against her and many other women by Hartman. Where were you when this was happening? Were you so blind you didn’t see? Don’t you notice miserable, quiet, uninvolved teenagers? Or did you think “Not my business” and turn away?

 

Sorry, but now is not the time for praise and prayer. Now is the time for the sorry, stupid church to get out of the way and let the police do their job. These insipid remarks remind me why I had to leave McUSA (the McDonalds of churches, for those of you who don’t get it) many years ago to save my sanity.

 

 

JOANNE HESS SIEGRIST says:

Apr 22, 2016

Octopus: Eyes/hands around our head. Prudent judgment is needed.

 

Searching for hours: Beyond charisma charm… double faces/double talk… where are the wise ones to call the bluff as they hold skills to lay all on the table? Accountablity groups – While I am a Christian Anabaptist Mennonite (and love my church), likely our accountability persons need to come from beyond our demonination and beyond next of kin ie: some of the Catholic church.

 

Major, difficult, needed challenge: To find persons who uphold SNAP’s mission:

“Protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded, and expose the truth.”

 

Please post names/contact #s of accountability leaders you recommend.

Good News – These resource specialists could bring a new day for VA… for EMU, Lindale, and Harrisonburg…. and I suggest that this prudent judgment needs to be a qualification skill for incoming EMU board members and its next president.

 

Thoughts by EMU grad, 1969. Surprise – 7 or the 8 adults of our family are EMU grads. With that in mind know our hearts are broken as we read Marissa Buck’s lines of April 21, 2016. Her story must be known and the 3,000 hits in its first 10 hours of posting will hopefully birth forth a new day. May God help us all.

 

 

JEFF MILLER says:

Apr 22, 2016

I believe you both. What Luke Hartman did is wrong. What Lindale Mennonite Church is doing is wrong.

 

 

CARLA says:

Apr 22, 2016

I really have no words to express the shame and disillusionment I feel as a former EMU grad. I hope that Marissa and her family continue to receive the support they need to pick up the pieces and begin again.

 

 

ARDIE GOERING says:

Apr 22, 2016

Thank you, Marissa, for this clear articulation of the important issues. So, the female victim with the female associate pastor at her side does not fare as well as the male perpetrator with the male lead pastor in his corner. Do church and EMU authorities really want the message to be that women’s lives are disposable?

 

 

Z.R. says:

Apr 22, 2016

I feel for this young woman. And this is why Christianity is mocked. This is why those in the secular world are more frequently choosing to stay there. For all the good true Christians may do, these are the stories which stick, these stories are what push people on the fence completely off. To those, all of you, who perpetrated this offense, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Not only did you destroy this young woman, her family and congregation, you have also turned away an uncountable number of those who may have wanted to believe in Him. Now they can’t bring themselves to. And I don’t blame them.

 

 

DONNA SHARP says:

Apr 23, 2016

I am so sorry Lauren & Marissa that this happened; Lauren, you did not deserve this and you did nothing wrong. You are the victim and Luke Hartman is totally at fault. The Pastor, Duane Yoder is also at fault. He taught me when I went to Hesston College and I am totally appalled by his behavior. He has no right being a pastor. I also am familiar with EMU and their behavior. My daughter attended there in the 1990’s and when several girls were being sexually harrassed by another student EMU stood behind that student! I wrote to the President & board and very little was done. There is a ministry called “Caring for The Heart, by John Regier. He used to be a Mennonite pastor but is now working as a counsellor & teaching others how to counsel those that have been abused. I know because I was abused! He can be contacted by http://www.caringfortheheart.com and his address is Caring for the Heart Ministries, 1145 Atoka Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80915 I would highly recommend His ministry and he does not hesitate to hold abusers responsible!! May God be with you both & your family as you work to find healing in spite of Lindale’s pastor & Luke. Remember that God loves you both very much and Jesus cried for what happened to you, Lauren. Thank you Marissa for sharing as this is the only way we are going to get Mennonites to understand. God bless

 

 

SANDRA WEAVER says:

Apr 23, 2016

Thank you for sharing this tragic and personal story filled with such emotional pain and sorrow. I support your position on this matter of church leadership protecting the predators and blaming the victims. It is time for this to end. This begins with your honesty and Lauren’s bravery. Sexual abuse and the victimization of girls and women have been covered up by many churches. I am saddened but not surprised by the spiritual breach you all endured. It is the purest example of dysfunction. I give you my love and support. You are heard and valued.

 

 

KRISTIN YODER KAUFFMAN says:

Apr 25, 2016

Marissa and Lauren, thank you for your courage. You will make our churches stronger and safer. Your bravery should be inspiring EACH OF US to examine the church structures and polity we allow. As a member at another Virginia Mennonite Conference church, the response of our conference and of Lindale’s leadership is important to me, and from a bit of a distance it is not clear what is different now. Their actions will speak to us of the culture they want to create. How will future survivors’ stories be heard? I am contacting Virginia Mennonite Conference and Lindale Elders to tell them the church at large needs them to act clearly and swiftly. I pray many others, including those who have been dear to you at Lindale, are also finding the courage to speak up. I post this with that hope.

 

 

MARTY TROYER says:

Apr 26, 2016

I am thankful for Marissa and OSU bravely posting this story.
The Lindale/Hartman posts have been incredibly hurtful and difficult to read. However, as a pastor they have been necessary and essential reading.

 

It sounds as if Duane’s positive reputation has become a stumbling block to ministry. I’m humbled by this reality, which could easily be felt by a pastor as affirmation. I am not convinced that I have trained my own church leaders to be more committed to ministry than they are to their minister, which they need to be. This story reveals that I too have more work to do.

 

Many pastors have not been trained specifically in how to handle this specific of a story. That is absolutely no excuse. But it does raise an important question.

Where is Virginia Conference in Lindale’s ongoing story?


Did pastor Duane and Lindale’s leadership consult their conference? What role did they play? It is of course possible that Lindale did consult with conference overseers without the family being aware. But that isn’t anymore comforting than what we know now.

 

Did Lindale have procedures, prevention policies, and training in place before hand? Were they as a congregation and as pastors required to sign an annual covenant?

It sounds as if they went it alone. Knowing how many churches in Houston are “independent” and “nondenominational” it frightens me to think how many parishioners are unaware of how often their church leaders would by design “go it alone.”

 

Going forward what would be helpful is to have a short, concise checklist for pastors and congregations. With one of the first tasks being connect to the conference or overseers or consultants.

All that being said, conferences are themselves part of an institution in an anxious season of self survival. But the first thing I would do is call Heidi Regier Kreider of Western District Conference. And I would give to trusted others outside my system access to the process, and permission to guide and direct actions.

 

I trust healing can come, and learning from this crisis can overcome ignorance.

BLessings to all involved in this story!

 

Marty Troyer
Houston Mennonite Church

 

 

BERRY FRIESEN says:

Apr 27, 2016

The discussion related to Hartman, Shifflett, Lindale and EMU would be so much more useful to the wider community if comments referenced specific facts. Many comments jump directly to conclusions, as if the facts supporting those conclusions are self-evident. But that isn’t so; this is story packed with ambiguities. A helpful step would be the posting of a chronology of events.

 

 

BARBRA GRABER says:

Apr 27, 2016

All human stories are packed with ambiguities, Brother Friesen. We are not a court of law or a public news outlet, but a depository for the telling of tragic first person human narratives that have often come to light after years and decades of silence. It is up to each person who reads our posts and the human experience we share to decide who to believe and what to believe. We do not pretend to be entirely objective or to be “fair and balanced” reporters. When it comes to sexual violation, research has repeatedly shown that victims on the whole do not lie and predators do lie. In fact, sexual predators are masterful manipulators of the truth for their own gain. They are especially drawn to Christian ministry because of the seductive power such a position holds over others and because the basic tenants of Christianity can be used to protect them. This we know. Believe us or not. The first question that should always be asked is this: who has the most to gain or lose from lying? Thank you for your good idea of posting a chronology of events. I hope we can find time to do that at some point or find someone to do it for us. Right now we are playing catch up.

 

 

JUDITH SIEGRIST STAHLY says:

Apr 28, 2016

Mr. Friesen, perhaps you should first read Lauren’s story. Then her sister’s additional information about the church response would make more sense.

 

 

LAUREN SHIFFLETT says:

Apr 27, 2016

Marissa,

Aside from posting my story, I’ve chosen to remain relatively silent. But we spent countless hours on the phone crying together over this portion of my story. I know the heartache, fear, and tears that went into you writing this. Marissa, I love you. What did I ever do in my miserable life to deserve a sister like you? I want to make something clear to you; you are the greatest gift God has given to me – second only to Jesus. I’m going to quote from “Carry on, Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton again simply because I can (and it’s your own fault because you bought me the book):

 

“If you are blessed enough to be someone’s In Case of Emergency and you are called upon, keep being who you have always been. Do what you’ve always done. There is a reason your friend chose you for that role, so don’t freeze. Keep moving. Trust your instincts.


Go to her. Don’t call first, because she won’t know she wants you there until you arrive and sit down. Don’t ask “What can I do?” She doesn’t know. Just do something. When you go to her house, bring a movie in case she doesn’t want to talk. If she does want to talk, avoid saying things to diminish or explain away her pain, like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “Time heals all wounds,” or “God gives us only what we can handle.” These are things people say when they don’t know what else to say, and even if they’re true, they’re better left unsaid because they can only be discovered in retrospect. When her pain is fresh and new, let her have it. Don’t try to take it away. Forgive yourself for not having that power. Grief and pain are like joy and peace; they are not things we should try to snatch from each other. They’re sacred. They are part of each person’s journey. All we can do is offer relief from this fear: I am all alone. That’s the one fear you can alleviate. Offer your In Case of Emergency your presence, your love, yourself, so she’ll understand that no matter how dark it gets, she’s not walking alone. That is always enough, Thank God.


Grief is not something to be fixed. It’s something to be borne, together. And when the time is right, there is always something that is born from it. After real grief, we are reborn as people with wider and deeper vision and greater compassion for the pain of others. We know that. So through our friend’s grief, we maintain in our hearts the hope that in the end, good will of course come of it. But we don’t say that to our friend. We let our friend discover that on her own. Hope is a door each one must open for herself.


Today, Sister and I are both brokenhearted in all the best ways. She helped heal me, I helped heal her, and we heal each other all over again, every single day. We are honored to be wounded healers. Good has come of it all……Love wins.”

 

Marissa, you are my In Case of Emergency. You hopped on a plane without a second thought the moment I needed you. You watched 6 hours of Pride and Prejudice with me when I ran out of energy to speak. You cleaned my house. You cooked me dinner. You took me to a spa. You gave me the kind of hug that said “Nothing can lessen my love for you,” the kind of hug no one on Earth should go without. You cried with me instead of wiping my tears away and trying to convince me that it would be okay…but it is okay now. Love wins. Thanks to you. 

 

 

ASHLEY says:

Oct 8, 2016

Dr Julian Abel Constantine Gojer of Toronto Convicted of Drugging and raping two woman and killing a third one with the drugs he used to render his victims unconscious before raping them. Date fall of 2000. Psychiatrist gets off with a slap on the wrist and works as a psychiatrist regardless of criminal negligence against him.

 

 

 

 

 

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