Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) has updated its ministerial misconduct file sharing protocols to allow MC USA agencies and related entities to inquire about past misconduct of credentialed leaders, according to Michael Danner, MC USA associate executive director of Church Vitality.
The previous MC USA policy, introduced in 2017, allowed denominational staff to share ministerial misconduct files only with the complainant, the accused, law enforcement, search committees and area conference credentialing bodies. Now, denominational staff may also share this information with MC USA agencies and related entities, including MC USA-affiliated schools, that are vetting credentialed leaders for volunteer or paid positions.
“The updated protocols are a part of MC USA’s commitment to improving policy, practices and accountability concerning pastoral misconduct,” said Danner.
The need for the expanded file sharing access was made apparent in December when MennoMedia, an agency of MC USA, learned that a vetted member of its Voices Together Hymnal committee had a past history of sexual misconduct. When the committee member was vetted in 2016, their ministerial credentials had been restored by their conference, and MC USA did not have a file-sharing policy. Danner said he realized that MC USA’s subsequent file-sharing policy still would not have provided MennoMedia with clear access to information about past misconduct. In response, MC USA has now expanded the policy to provide that access.
“We regret the information about past misconduct was not shared at the time and the pain this has caused,” said Danner, acknowledging that there has not been well-defined guidance available to denominational staff about when and how to share information about past misconduct in circumstances such as this.
“By creating clear lines of communication, we can better ensure that congregations, conferences, agencies and related entities have good information to make informed decisions regarding their engagement with credentialed leaders,” Danner said.
The updated file sharing policy says:
The MC USA Leadership Discernment Committee and/or Agencies that are vetting credentialed leaders for employment or volunteer positions may inquire if said leader has past misconduct. If they have, the agency will be given a report naming the credentialed leader’s misconduct, including the date and nature of the charge, the resulting judgement, all sanctions and the compliance of the credentialed leader. These reports are for agency use only.
Danner also encouraged conference leaders to embrace a spirit of discernment when reviewing past misconduct files, especially in cases in which credentials have been restored.
“If an area conference reviews a past misconduct file, and it can be demonstrated that a previous misconduct and restoration process lacked integrity, the area conference holding the leader’s credentials can revisit that decision,” Danner said. “This is a change from previous practice, whereby past decisions regarding the restoration of credentials following misconduct were not revisited unless there were new allegations of misconduct.” He added that all credentialing decisions are made by the area conference.
“Our evolving understanding of pastoral misconduct and the impact it has on people and congregations makes integrity in our misconduct processes a must,” Danner said.
Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 16 conferences, approximately 530 congregations and 62,000 members. An Anabaptist Christian denomination, MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 58 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana and Newton, Kansas. mennoniteUSA.org
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MAP is an independent nonprofit that posts publicly available and previously circulated documents relevant to sexual abuse among Anabaptists for educational purposes with the intention of promoting public health and safety. MAP is not affiliated with Mennonite Church USA or its agencies.