Credentials terminated for theologian-academic-pastor

October 22, 2020 | Web First
Canadian Mennonite
John D. Rempel.

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, or Carizon Counselling Services, an agency appointed to receive confidential disclosures related to this matter, at 519-743-6333 or . The MC Eastern Canada website also offers resources on reporting sexual misconduct.

—Updated Oct. 28, 2020

John D. Rempel.

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1. Rempel’s friends and supporters can aid in the process of healing by resisting the temptation to craft narratives that excuse or justify the reports of Rempel’s harms made by multiple people involving a span of many years. Efforts to frame Rempel as the victim make healing more difficult.

2. In the past, Mennonite institutions have offered forgiveness to male leaders who have shown little remorse or understanding of the scope of harm they have caused. The path to healing starts first with truth-telling, accountability, and lament. The church cannot offer reconciliation or forgiveness on behalf of those harmed. Only those harmed by Rempel’s abuse of power can decide if and when they want to do that. They should not be pushed or rushed.

3. We must confess that we are a sexually illiterate church. Too many Mennonites wrongly conflate homosexuality with promiscuity and abuse and lack understanding of the research on sexual abuse. Some defend Rempel’s abuse by noting that the church’s homophobia created a situation where he could not keep his position of authority in the church and form healthy sexual relationships. While church persecution of LGBTQ+ people is widely documented, this is not an excuse for abuse. Abundant research has found sexual abuse is fundamentally an abuse of power. The focus should be on power, not sexuality. Many other LGBTQ+ Mennonites have embraced their sexuality in authentic, consensual relationships and have paid a steep price of exclusion from church institutions. Other LGBTQ+ people in the church are affected by Rempel’s choices.

I am thankful for Toms comment above. It is right that the church make us hear the voices of the oppressed. We ARE the community of the oppressed.
And it is right that the church should offer paths of healing and forgiveness for all parties. Because we are a community of GRACE.
I am a friend of John and I am feeling with him because I know, that he not just regrets today what he has done in these former times, but already has took personal consequences decades ago.
Healing cannot be forced but comes as a gift. It is grace of God. So I hope for the healing of everybody and pray for good decisions and a reconciliation process.

Joel Driedger, Karlsruhe, Germany

I am disappointed that this Canadian Mennonite’s report includes an extensive quote from John D. Rempel in which he emphasizes his own need for restorative justice rather than the harm he has caused. It is disheartening to then see this emphasis on grace for the offender echoed by some in their comments. In the triage of this moment the most important concern must be for the individuals harmed by the actions of a trusted church leader. While our faith calling to “healing and hope” includes those who have caused harm, that should not be the focus for today. Too often the rush to forgiveness has been used to diminish the weight of wrongdoing, ignore the pain caused, or even enable continued abuses of power.

There is grace offered in MC Eastern Canada’s statement above that “we, as a faith community, must support paths that lead to healing and wholeness for all”. This journey toward healing begins with a focus on the harm caused to victim-survivors and the grappling of a faith community with the realization of a trust that has been betrayed.

Thank you to the Canadian Mennonite for publishing this story and for providing a forum for discussion and response. Revelation of matters of abuse of power often catch us by surprise as they turn upside down the world as we have come to know it.

Now is the time for truth telling, confession, and accountability. From what we have come to learn, those who had been victimized by John Rempel have held his secret for years, even decades, thus protecting him. When they feel assured that Rempel has come to terms with the harm done in their lives, then they alone have the right to seek reconciliation.

Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity. To suggest, however, that it is those who have had their lives ruined by a man in a position of power over them are the ones who are now “ruining a good man’s life,” is deeply offensive, inappropriate, and causes further wounding. It is only in the very recent past that victims of sexual abuse have felt support in some parts of the Mennonite church, to garner the courage to come forward and break their silence. The rush to reconciliation and healing and support for Rempel and others like him who have perpetrated abuses, has been the standard response from far too many in leadership positions in our Mennonite institutions for much of our 500-year history.

Rempel’s support network needs to be there with him through this difficult time. However, their support is a disservice to Rempel, as well as the victims, if they join in the age-old tradition of victim-blaming, and rush to find healing for the offender. Now is the time for confession and lament and accountability. Rempel’s colleagues and friends who hope for transformation and healing can support him first in coming to terms with the scope of harms and abuses of power for which he is responsible.

Rempel was hired by and ordained by Mennonite Institutions. Mennonites have been reticent to articulate an Ethic of the Institution, which would compel us to articulate specifics regarding how to address ethical issues that arise within the institution. Hospitals, for example, have Medical Ethics Committees. We talk and write about interpersonal ethics, however, if we are going to have church institutions, then it behooves us to do some serious thinking about institutional ethics. Without such clarity at the institutional level, vague arguments posturing as theological conundrums sprinkled with Biblical references have allowed those who wish to abuse the power of their positions, to get away with abusing those who have placed their trust in them precisely because they are in such a position. We have work to do on this.

Did Jesus as recorded in the Gospels address the issues of sexual misconduct perpetrated by men against women? There is the story of the woman caught in adultery. There is the story of the woman at the well who had many husbands whom Jesus asked for a drink of water. Women had few rights in Jewish society? Do we follow Canadian society norms, or it better wrestle with this as the body of Christ?

Without knowing the details, it is not good that the Canadian Mennonite only quotes from the sexual predator and not (anonymously) quoting from the victims. Those with power get a voice even if they are sexual predators but not the victims. It is up to the victims to forgive and as I said I don't know what happened. What I do know is that what I see is not a good environment this magazine only ads to the difficulty of those who experiences with sexual abuse stepping forward.

Jesus, as presented in the Gospels, has very little to contribute to issues around sexuality?! Indeed the two examples I can remember are where two women are identified by Gospel writers as the perpetrators. Women had very few rights in this society, and is different from our Canadian society eh. I was saddened by two articles in recent months about past indiscretions/abuse committed by two men I knew personally or have had some contact. What ought to be the church's response? May I propose a a gathering or assembly where we as the body of Christ can discern what path to take? The fate of these two men, and may I stress others, ought not to be decided by an elite of those in positions of power?

How emotionally and spiritually tumultuous: another revelation of clergy abuse of power. This pain is deepened when respondents publicly rush in to ‘support’ the perpetrator.

I am grateful for Rempel’s written acknowledgement of wrongdoing. He then lays claim to ‘40 years of celibacy’ (which is rather hard to prove). I don’t understand what that has to do with the use of power over vulnerable students. More ‘use of power’ questions can be raised. Rempel criticizes the church for “failing in justice and mercy……. without room for forgiveness, making amends, and working toward reconciliation.” Might this be an inappropriate claim to power and control, directing the church how to exercise discipline ‘correctly’? Might such a demand once again put his own needs (reconciliation) ahead of the needs of those who were victimized? A first step toward a redeemed future would include self-examination as to how he understands and exercises power.

Tom Yoder Neufeld’s words, “a devastatingly costly and painful moment for those who came forward,” leave me confused. I believe that there have been 40 years of devastating and costly moments for victims whose lives have been forever changed. I hope and pray that this is a moment of freedom from secrets and freedom to heal for those who came forward. Yoder Neufeld’s rush to criticize the church for not being clear about its intention for full restoration is deeply problematic. While hope for a renewed future is already evidenced in the church’s statements, who gets to define such Christlike perfection? Further, many of us are aware of how the church has protected abusers for a very long time while silencing those who were harmed. Our institutions are in early stages of “catch up” on appropriate responses to sexual abuse within the church. Tom’s call for a much stronger, immediate positivity toward those who are abusers seems exaggerated.

Walter Bergen hears Tom’s words as words of ‘grace.’ I hear them as words of judgement. I would not call the clear, careful, boundaried news releases a ‘public shaming’. Instead, I accept the policies that the church has created through many years of effort. That the behaviours occurred decades ago is deeply sad. ‘A life of faithful service’ can not negate the damage done to multiple students and their families. I am a survivor of clergy abuse; I know whereof I speak. And until the church is clear, consistent and teaching loudly about ‘the use and abuse of power,’ as well as exercising discipline on those who transgress - sexual abuse by clergy will not end.

Mary Mae Schwartzentruber, Kitchener, ON

Thank you, Mary Mae, for your courageous and articulate response to this issue and to those who have spoken in ways that would have us not bring issues such as this to light. It's time we change the course of history.
#MeToo #ChurchToo

Re: the removal of John Rempel’s credentials

Thank you to the Canadian Mennonite for providing a forum for this important discussion.

One of us (Kathy) has worked for many decades as a therapist with both accusers and accused in cases of sexual and physical misconduct and abuse. The other of us (David), has worked for decades on how one communicates complex and serious issues to the general public. We have serious concerns on both counts with how Rempel’s case has been handled.

The official announcement of Rempel's credentials implies that the inappropriate behaviour has been occurring over a period of decades up to and including the present time. The fact that several of the respondents refer to the accused as a “sexual predator” would confirm that this interpretation is probably intended. Hence the shunning from campus and removal of credentials which are apparently enabling his continued alleged behaviour. Nevertheless, Rempel was an adjunct professor between 1973 to 1989, after which he moved to the United States. There is no indication that Grebel and MCEC decisions were based on anything other than events that happened more than 30 years ago, or that any places where Rempel worked in the subsequent decades were consulted.

Working with people in situations of possible abuse is fraught with challenges. There has been a culture of silence–not only in churches, but in other large institutions–around issues of abuse of power, sexual abuse, and sexuality in general. The church has most often been a reluctant and resistant follower in making changes to create safe spaces for those who have been abused or hurt. Having said this, it is also true that the accusers are not always right. There is a huge body of psychological and counselling evidence about the malleability of memory, and the problems of using “credible” (to use MCEC’s term) but uncorroborated information to cast firm judgements. Problems of memory have ranged from, say, neurologist Oliver Sacks clearly remembering events from his youth which were not his own, to cases of people who have been incarcerated for crimes, including sexual assault and murder to which they had confessed but later, after careful investigations, were found not to have committed.

How then to proceed? In the first place, everyone needs assurance that the process is very clear and fair, has been followed carefully and to the letter, and that those involved in the process have the credentials required to investigate such cases. Without such guiderails along the narrow path through this “slough of despond” there is a danger that one could fall off either side into a fist-fight of mutual accusations and conspiracy theories. This is certainly not in the interests of either the accusers or the accused.

Abuses of power, especially sexual abuses, cannot be treated as pastoral concerns. Compassion, empathy and piety are important in dealing with accused and accusers after investigation and judgement; they are less relevant in gathering that evidence. In Rempel’s case, according to the public reports, a committee of MCEC (people with pastoral credentials) “held hearings” and, on the basis of the credibility of the accusations, made the judgement. We would argue that pastoral and congregational leadership credentials are exactly the wrong ones to have for such a committee. We are rightly suspicious when police are called to investigate police misconduct. On the one hand, we suspect that they will draw conclusions that place them in the best light (eg that was a bad apple; the rest of us are righteous). On the other hand people in those leadership positions are being held to much higher behavioural standards than anyone in the church at large, and would have a vested interest in being seen to take accusers unquestioningly at their word, and then to mete out the severest possible punishments in order not to be seen to be protecting their own. A committee with no vested interests and with proper investigative and psycho-therapeutic credentials would be more appropriate.

We are also aware that serious inappropriate touching, inappropriate comments, misunderstandings, assaults and rape are often conflated in the public mind. This, combined with a misguided investigation process, does a serious disservice to those who have been seriously hurt and/or silenced; it would hinder those who have been seriously hurt from coming forward, while encouraging those with lesser concerns to give voice to them. All of these concerns suggest that the processes of investigation, and the way the findings of those investigations are communicated publicly, require skills and understanding that were not apparent in Rempel’s case.

Finally, we are aware that some church institutions, in response to the MCEC and CGC decisions, are reconsidering the legitimacy of Rempel’s publications and theological contributions to church life and thought. This reckless conflating of personal behaviour with contributions to our common life punishes not only the accused, but the church itself and the wider Christian community. The logical outcome of such actions would result in rejecting the works of, for instance, Gandhi (because he slept naked with his grand-niece) and, perhaps more problematically, Saint Paul (for his early active complicity in the persecution and murder of early Christians). Do we really want to go down that road?

David and Kathy Waltner-Toews
Kitchener, Ontario


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