sexual abuse

Creating a cultural shift

“How we talk to and treat each other matters and communicates the love of God. Sometimes in church we have to be willing to have hard conversations—to talk about what healthy relationships look like—not just about how we sexually relate, but how we speak to each other, and how we treat those on the margins.” (istock.com photo by Steelalevi)

Abuse. It’s one of those topics that can stop a conversation dead in its tracks. Yet those who work in the area of abuse response and prevention say that talking about it—before it happens—is precisely what the church needs to do.

Scholar researches coverage of sexual violence in Mennonite church press

Carol Penner presents "#Mennonites Too: Sexual Violence and Mennonite Peace Theology," at the Benjamin Eby Lecture. Her presentation also served as the C. Henry Smith Peace Lecture, which features research by Mennonite faculty in peace traditions. (Screenshot by Janet Bauman

Data from Carol Penner’s research into the coverage of sexual violence in Mennonite church periodicals shows a flurry of stories in the 1990s. She presented these and other observations at the 2020 Benjamin Eby Lectures at Conrad Grebel University College. (Screenshot by Janet Bauman)

In her recent research Carol Penner surveyed how the church periodicals, Gospel Herald, The Mennonite, and Canadian Mennonite reported on sexual violence from 1970 to the present. What she found became the subject of the annual Benjamin Eby Lecture, which features research of a Conrad Grebel University College faculty member.

#ChurchToo conference addresses sexual misconduct

David Martin, executive minister of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, speaks about confronting ministerial sexual misconduct. (Photo courtesy of Darryl Neustaedter Barg)

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, in which those in positions of power are being called to account for sexual abuse, a conference hosted by four Manitoba Mennonite organizations acknowledged that it happens in the church, too.

Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Part 4

If Manitoba Colony members are accused of a crime, they are brought before the congregation at church and judged. For serious offenses like incest, they may be excommunicated, but if they ask for forgiveness, they can return a week later. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky (noahfr.com))

Mennonite families watch the rape trial in May 2011. After discovering the rapes, Manitoba Colony leaders considered locking the accused in shipping containers for years but eventually called in the Bolivian police. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky (noahfr.com))

Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on, and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of our family of faith is far from over.

Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Part 3

Mennonite children learn patriarchy from a young age. Gender roles are strictly defined: men work the fields and women take care of the home. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky noahfr.com)

Wilmar Harder of Mennonite Central Committee speaks with Johan N. Peter of the California Colony in Bolivia. (Photo by Kennert Giesbrecht)

Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on, and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of our family of faith is far from over.

Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Part 2

Abram Wall Enns, left, was the civic leader of the Manitoba Colony when rape stories first emerged. He wishes the leaders would have acted sooner. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky noahfr.com)

Kennert Giesbrecht is pictured with his new book, Strangers and Pilgrims. (Photo courtesy of Kennert Giesbrecht)

The Manitoba Colony in eastern Bolivia. (Photo by Kennert Giesbrecht)

Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on, and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of our family of faith is far from over.

Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Part 1

The Manitoba Colony is one of more than 80 Mennonite colonies in Bolivia. On one of the photographer’s last days in Manitoba, he and his sister were told by multiple women that, after the ‘ghost rapes’ of 2009, the nighttime rapes still happen, although less frequently. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky)

The eight Bolivian Mennonites convicted in the ‘ghost rape’ case, pictured at the infamous Palmasola prison. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky)

Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of our family of faith is far from over.

The crime could not have been more salacious, nor the scandal more sensational. And the truth of it all could not trace a more complicated path right back to our own enlightened hearts.

‘This is a holy and good thing’

A scene from #ChurchToo. (Photo by Saul Tahuite)

The cast and crew of #ChurchToo, from left to right: Johnny Wideman, dramaturg; Chad Dembski, stage manager; Robert Murphy, Meghan Fowler, Lindsey Middleton and Brendan Kinnon, actors; and Matt White, director. (Theatre of the Beat photo)

(Theatre of the Beat photo)

What does “turn the other cheek” mean when you’re abused by your pastor? What does “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” mean when you’re dealing with gendered power imbalances within your group of friends? What does “made in the image of God” mean when you’re an LGBTQ member of a church experiencing alienation?

#ChurchToo conference tackles painful subject

A broken cup symbolizing a life shattered by professional sexual misconduct surrounds a whole cup, symbolizing survival from traumatic experience. #ChurchToo resource person David Martin, who has dealt with several cases of clergy sexual abuse as executive minister of MC Eastern Canada, said he has been ‘deeply pained but still profoundly hopeful’ in the process. (Photo by Amy Dueckman)

Many troubling issues and questions arise when a Christian leader engages in professional sexual misconduct.

Life-giving touch

Melissa Miller

Many years ago, a boyfriend who subsequently became my husband gave me a book about touch and its essential place in human well-being. At the time, touch was a delightful dynamic in our new relationship. Within the boundaries of our Christian ethics, we explored physical intimacies, one of the expressions of our deepening love.

Words worth considering

‘We have a responsibility to our sons to break down the systems of emotional constriction that lead so many men to have lives of quiet desperation and depression,’ says scholar Jackson Katz. (Photo by The Representation Project)

During a Facebook livestream on Ash Wednesday, podcaster and author Mike McHargue made an emotional plea for men to reconsider what masculinity looks like. (MikeMcHargue.com photo)

‘[A] man is empathetic, because a man who is not afraid of his own feelings is not afraid of the feelings of other people,’ says Mike McHargue. (Photo by The Representation Project)

Loneliness, alienation and desperation are at the root of mass violence and suicide, Mike McHargue says. (Photo by The Representation Project)

Although many brave young people have spoken up in the aftermath of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., to advocate for tighter gun regulations in the U.S., it’s words spoken by a man in his 40s that I keep coming back to.

JoinMen for a better world

Representatives of the organization Mennonite Men call for truth-telling about sexual abuse and invite men to embrace a healthy masculinity. From left to right: Don Neufeld, Steve Thomas and Hans Peters.

In recent months there has been unprecedented exposure of sexually predatory men in high places, as well as unprecedented violence perpetrated by solitary men with little or no regard for human life.

An openness to learning is the first step

An ally holds a sign at the Winnipeg Women’s March in January 2018. ‘We need to acknowledge the fact that we are not presently equal,’ Kim Penner says. (Photo by Matthew Sawatzky)

Kim Penner holds a PhD in theology from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. (Photo courtesy of Kim Penner)

Kim Penner with Marilyn Legge, her PhD advisor, at Penner’s graduation last November. (Photo courtesy of Kim Penner)

Participants make their way along Main Street as part of the Winnipeg Women’s March. ‘There is clearly a lot to learn right now, and it’s really being open to learning that is the first step,’ Kim Penner says. (Photo by Matthew Sawatzky)

Kim Penner graduated last November with a PhD in theology from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Canadian Mennonite called Penner at her home in Waterloo, Ont., to ask her about her dissertation, “Discipleship as erotic peacemaking: Toward a feminist Mennonite theo-ethics of embodiment and sexuality,” and what her work has to offer the Mennonite church.

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