The allegation of sexual abuse at a church camp (on page 13) reminds us of the sad reality that sexual abuse touches the church community in profound ways. The example of Christ and our peace theology compel us to recognize and to address the violence that happens in our midst.
In the past, Canadian Mennonite has reported on individuals caught in the web of abuse. Slowly, we in the church are educating ourselves about boundaries that should not be crossed, and we are trying to talk about misconduct in redemptive ways. We want the hurting to stop. We long to see restoration and forgiveness flow.
After reading the online version of the Silver Lake story, some readers chastised CM for language that did not condemn the accused perpetrator. As a church publication, we take seriously both the accusation and the process that was carried out by the Silver Lake board. However, the accused was not charged in a court of law, so CM will not render judgment in a news story.
Some readers requested information on how victims can seek help and healing. The first step for victims of any kind of abuse is to seek out trusted people in their own family, church and community—people who can listen and walk alongside you through the anger, hurt, confusion and shame. You can start by speaking with your pastor or a lay leader you trust. They will listen and help you seek care from trained professionals. If you choose to report the event to the police—which is your right—they can help you do that.
If the abuse happened within your congregation, consider seeking help from someone who is not a part of your church. Your physician, a local counselling centre or a sexual abuse hotline can offer advice and support. If the abuse involved a licensed or ordained church leader, you should contact the regional minister in your regional church office, because credentialed leaders are accountable to that larger body.
For those who want to learn more and work toward a safe environment in their churches, here are some other resources:
- CommonWord, the resource centre of Mennonite Church Canada, offers reading material for loan and purchase.
- Mennonite Church Eastern Canada produced “Sacred trust,” an education series on sexual misconduct in the church, and distributed copies to its congregations. More are available for people beyond the regional church. You can request print copies from the MC Eastern Canada office at 226-476-2500. The material is also online at mcec.ca/sacredtrust.
- Mennonite Church U.S.A. released a booklet, Sexual Abuse and Non-Credentialed Individuals, which contains helpful suggestions for how congregations and institutions can respond to situations of abuse. It is online at bit.ly/2LUFPiY.
- A Christian curriculum for educating children and youth about appropriate boundaries is the multi-grade “Circle of grace.” More information is on the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) website at bit.ly/2CgTscJ. Or contact your closest MCC office and speak to the abuse response and prevention staff.
- This fall, Theatre of the Beat is on tour presenting #ChurchToo, a play that explores the realities of sexual misconduct, power and abuse within church communities. Watch for announcements in your area. If you would like to schedule a performance, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CM board and staff recognize that it is necessary for members of the Christian body to face the hard realities when vulnerable people in our midst are violated. Our commitment at CM is to do careful listening, and to report in ways that communicate clearly without becoming sensationalistic. We want to respect the complainants and be fair to those who have been accused. We pray that our reporting encourages deep caring within the faith community, vigilance for those who are vulnerable and accountability for those who have broken the boundaries.
Introducing Tobi Thiessen, Publisher
Tobi became publisher of Canadian Mennonite in April 2017 after nine years of service on the publication’s board of directors. Her goal is to extend the reach of this magazine to a wider audience online. Originally from Saskatoon, Tobi has also lived in Lethbridge, Alta., and Osaka, Japan, but calls Toronto home. A graduate of Rosthern (Sask.) Junior College, Tobi always enjoys travelling to western Canada to reconnect with friends and relatives. Tobi and husband Harold have three sons in university. They attend Toronto United Mennonite Church. Tobi enjoys hiking, growing vegetables and a good argument.