Mennonites respond to sexual abuse challenge

By staff writers
September 21, 2006

Mennonites respond to sexual abuse challenge

-21/09/06

In preparation for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October 2006, the North American peace church relief and development agency, Mennonite Central Committee, is working with US congregations to help pastors and church leaders gain tools to understand and respond to situations of sexual abuse or violation that impact the congregation ñ writes Marla Pierson Lester for MCC.

Churches' response to sexual abuse or misconduct has often been to maintain silence and that, MCC US staff and church leaders say, is not helpful either to those who commit sexual abuses nor to those who have been sexually abused.

Raising awareness about the issue of sexual abuse can bring accountability for those who have committed or are tempted to commit abuses.

And openness can aid those who are being abused or who have been abused in the past. "I think it's extremely enabling for survivors' healing, to have people in their church and their community name it as sin and acknowledge the pain that it brings," said Jane Peifer, pastor of Blossom Hill Mennonite Church in Lancaster, PA.

Peifer said sexual abuse and misconduct is common enough that "you're always going to have victims of sexual abuse in the congregation, although it may not have happened in the church. It's important for pastors to be prepared for this reality."

Churches are starting to acknowledge that sexual violence has long-term consequences for those who are abused, said Janet Breneman, pastor of Laurel Street Mennonite Church.

"It's a lifelong struggle. ... That calls for dealing with it in that kind of way and taking it seriously," she said. "I don't think we've done that in the past. I don't think we recognized the consequences for victims."

Breneman and Peifer participated in an MCC US-sponsored roundtable on responding to sexual abuse in early August 200. The three-day event brought together church leaders; pastors who led case studies on congregations' experiences with issues of sexual abuse; and other speakers offering resources on sexual abuse and how to promote healing and structures of safety and accountability in congregations.

A key part for both Breneman and Peifer was the emphasis on putting safeguards in place in the congregation to reduce the chance that children could be violated.

In response to the conference, Breneman's congregation, Laurel Street Mennonite Church, is using the MCC resource, Making Your Sanctuary Safe, to craft a more stringent policy for their children's programmes.

The guide raises awareness about why abuse prevention programmes are necessary and offers tools to assess the safety needs of congregation, screening processes for staff and volunteers, prevention and response policies and other resources.

"That felt like a good beginning place," Breneman said. "I felt very excited the leadership team was ready to pick that up."

Blossom Hill has also recently written safety policies for its children's programmes, said Peifer. She encourages long-time teachers of children and youth to welcome having their backgrounds checked, saying she hopes "those who would never abuse children would be especially supportive of safety policies, and not be threatened by the process."

MCC US will consider offering additional seminars on responding to sexual abuse. The website, www.mcc.org/abuse, has a variety of resources for pastors, churches or individuals seeking tools to address this issue.

Mennonites, along with the Quakers and the Church of the Brethren, are one of the 'historic peace churches', which see the rejection of violence as a central feature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not an 'ethical add-on'.

[Also on Ekklesia: Mennonite peacebuilding expert receives international award 19/09/06; Mennonites highlight three new anti-HIV strategies 23/08/06; Mennonites join effort to rebuild in Lebanon 17/08/06; Mennonite-backed film helps lift silence on depression 15/08/06; Mennonites see hope amid Congo struggle for democracy 10/08/06; Mennonites respond to massive Lebanese humanitarian needs 09/08/06; Mennonites call on USA and Canada to pursue non-violent alternatives 27/07/06; Mennonites issue action alert on Middle East crisis 24/07/06; Mennonites back trauma counselling in Gaza 20/07/06; Mennonites diversify peace and justice work in Washington DC; Who Are the Anabaptists: Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites by Donald B Kraybill Peace church seeks positive alternatives to military recruitment; Mennonite educationists touch global vision in Egypt; Vietnamese Mennonite church faces violent security raid; Ethiopian Mennonite leader delves into politics; European Mennonite theologians tackle violence and God]

Mennonites respond to sexual abuse challenge

-21/09/06

In preparation for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October 2006, the North American peace church relief and development agency, Mennonite Central Committee, is working with US congregations to help pastors and church leaders gain tools to understand and respond to situations of sexual abuse or violation that impact the congregation ñ writes Marla Pierson Lester for MCC.

Churches' response to sexual abuse or misconduct has often been to maintain silence and that, MCC US staff and church leaders say, is not helpful either to those who commit sexual abuses nor to those who have been sexually abused.

Raising awareness about the issue of sexual abuse can bring accountability for those who have committed or are tempted to commit abuses.

And openness can aid those who are being abused or who have been abused in the past. "I think it's extremely enabling for survivors' healing, to have people in their church and their community name it as sin and acknowledge the pain that it brings," said Jane Peifer, pastor of Blossom Hill Mennonite Church in Lancaster, PA.

Peifer said sexual abuse and misconduct is common enough that "you're always going to have victims of sexual abuse in the congregation, although it may not have happened in the church. It's important for pastors to be prepared for this reality."

Churches are starting to acknowledge that sexual violence has long-term consequences for those who are abused, said Janet Breneman, pastor of Laurel Street Mennonite Church.

"It's a lifelong struggle. ... That calls for dealing with it in that kind of way and taking it seriously," she said. "I don't think we've done that in the past. I don't think we recognized the consequences for victims."

Breneman and Peifer participated in an MCC US-sponsored roundtable on responding to sexual abuse in early August 200. The three-day event brought together church leaders; pastors who led case studies on congregations' experiences with issues of sexual abuse; and other speakers offering resources on sexual abuse and how to promote healing and structures of safety and accountability in congregations.

A key part for both Breneman and Peifer was the emphasis on putting safeguards in place in the congregation to reduce the chance that children could be violated.

In response to the conference, Breneman's congregation, Laurel Street Mennonite Church, is using the MCC resource, Making Your Sanctuary Safe, to craft a more stringent policy for their children's programmes.

The guide raises awareness about why abuse prevention programmes are necessary and offers tools to assess the safety needs of congregation, screening processes for staff and volunteers, prevention and response policies and other resources.

"That felt like a good beginning place," Breneman said. "I felt very excited the leadership team was ready to pick that up."

Blossom Hill has also recently written safety policies for its children's programmes, said Peifer. She encourages long-time teachers of children and youth to welcome having their backgrounds checked, saying she hopes "those who would never abuse children would be especially supportive of safety policies, and not be threatened by the process."

MCC US will consider offering additional seminars on responding to sexual abuse. The website, www.mcc.org/abuse, has a variety of resources for pastors, churches or individuals seeking tools to address this issue.

Mennonites, along with the Quakers and the Church of the Brethren, are one of the 'historic peace churches', which see the rejection of violence as a central feature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not an 'ethical add-on'.

[Also on Ekklesia: Mennonite peacebuilding expert receives international award 19/09/06; Mennonites highlight three new anti-HIV strategies 23/08/06; Mennonites join effort to rebuild in Lebanon 17/08/06; Mennonite-backed film helps lift silence on depression 15/08/06; Mennonites see hope amid Congo struggle for democracy 10/08/06; Mennonites respond to massive Lebanese humanitarian needs 09/08/06; Mennonites call on USA and Canada to pursue non-violent alternatives 27/07/06; Mennonites issue action alert on Middle East crisis 24/07/06; Mennonites back trauma counselling in Gaza 20/07/06; Mennonites diversify peace and justice work in Washington DC; Who Are the Anabaptists: Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites by Donald B Kraybill Peace church seeks positive alternatives to military recruitment; Mennonite educationists touch global vision in Egypt; Vietnamese Mennonite church faces violent security raid; Ethiopian Mennonite leader delves into politics; European Mennonite theologians tackle violence and God]

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