Mennonite Church Eastern Canada recently terminated the ministerial credentials of John D. Rempel of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., following an investigation into complaints of ministerial sexual misconduct. The complaints were brought to the regional church by Marcus Shantz, president of Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ont., after former students brought allegations of sexual misconduct by Rempel to his attention earlier this year.
Rempel served as chaplain, residence director and adjunct professor at Grebel from 1973 to 1989. The complainants were undergraduate resident students at the college at the time when they experienced the alleged sexual misconduct. With the consent of the alumni involved, Shantz made a formal report to MC Eastern Canada and asked for an investigation. The regional church has oversight over the conduct and credentialing of its ministers. Rempel was ordained in 1982.
In response, MC Eastern Canada appointed an independent investigation team to examine the allegations, following a process outlined in the denominational Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure manual. After the investigation team reported to the regional church’s Leadership Council, a hearing process took place and the accusations were found to be credible. The council determined that Rempel was guilty of “ministerial sexual misconduct and ministerial misconduct,” and it revoked his ministerial credentials.
In an email to Canadian Mennonite, Rempel said he “unreservedly accepted my wrongdoing,” but he lamented “the absence of empathy for me through the process, and in how the judgment against me has been presented in news releases is a failure of justice and mercy. The rejection of any provision for restorative justice is a failure of justice and mercy.” He added that “the process was set up with only one purpose, that is, passing judgment on the accused, without room for forgiveness, making amends and working toward reconciliation.”
MC Eastern Canada’s Church leadership minister Marilyn Rudy-Froese responded, “MCEC’s Leadership Council, made up of ordained ministers and lay leaders, prayerfully receives investigation findings, hears the perspective of the accused minister, and discerns a way forward, providing concrete steps that the minister can take toward accountability and reconciliation.” She added, “This is one stage of the journey toward wholeness and healing, but it is not the end of the journey. There is much left to be written. We trust that God is always at work, making a way in the wilderness and moving toward shalom for all.”
In its Oct. 20 news release, MC Eastern Canada acknowledged that “John D. Rempel was, and is, for many people, a beloved pastor, professor and theologian. His ministry was wide-ranging and we will have to reconcile the tension that human beings have the capacity to cause much harm and pain even while they have also done much good for the church.”
From 2012 to 2015, Rempel continued his affiliation with Grebel as director of the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre, a program administered by the college. Later, he became a senior fellow at the centre, a role Grebel has now asked him to step down from.
In a joint news release, MC Canada, MC U.S.A. and Mennonite World Conference (MWC) responded to the news saying, “As church bodies with which Rempel has worked closely over his career . . . we grieve for the victim-survivors harmed by Rempel’s actions and honour their courage in coming forward.” The statement continues, “We uphold [MC Eastern Canada’s] decision to take decisive and public action in this situation and to walk alongside victim-survivors on the path of healing and wholeness.”
Throughout the 1990s, Rempel served as Mennonite Central Committee’s liaison to the United Nations in New York City and served as pastor of the Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship there.
From 2003 to 2012, he served as a professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, teaching theology and Anabaptist studies. Representing MWC from 2012 to 2017, Rempel participated in an ecumenical dialogue on baptism with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
Rempel wrote on theological topics for academic and church publications. He was on the editorial committee for Hymnal: A Worship Book and was editor of the Minister’s Manual used by MC Canada and MC U.S.A. Rempel was also among the editors of Take Our Moments and Our Days, an Anabaptist prayer and worship resource.
Because he was involved in writing and editing materials published by MennoMedia, executive director Amy Gingerich acknowledged that this revocation of credentials raises complicated questions: The church has serious concerns about using material written by someone who has perpetrated sexual violence, like disgraced Catholic songwriter David Haas. But how is that concern expressed given that Rempel only worked within a collaborative team in some of those publications? MennoMedia acknowledged that he had “no direct role in making any final decisions about the contents” of the new Voices Together hymnal.
All the church bodies responding to this news expressed grief and concern for the victim-survivors and for the wider church. MC Eastern Canada stated: “We, as a faith community, must support paths that lead to healing and wholeness for all. As a regional church, we will do our best to walk alongside all those who are impacted.”
Both Grebel and MC Eastern Canada encourage any persons who have experienced misconduct of a credentialled leader to contact Marilyn Rudy-Froese, the regional church’s church leadership minister at email@example.com, or Carizon Counselling Services, an agency appointed to receive confidential disclosures related to this matter, at 519-743-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org . The MC Eastern Canada website also offers resources on reporting sexual misconduct.
—Updated Oct. 28, 2020