From the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention
In the interest of being transparent and diligent in our work as the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention, we share the following update:
Our panel formed in January 2016. We plan to meet May 14–15 in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for our first in-person meeting. We chose this location due to our panel members’ schedules, not because of the news surrounding Luke Hartman.
Our panel was formed to work on implementing the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse passed in Kansas City in 2015. In the statement we as a church committed to “tell the truth about sexual abuse; hold abusers accountable; acknowledge the seriousness of their sin; listen with care to those who have been wounded; protect vulnerable persons from injury; work restoratively for justice.” These are challenging commitments. But as a panel and as a church, they are our guide in confronting sexual abuse in the church.
Because of our work within the denomination, our areas of expertise and our priorities as a panel, we want to clarify that we will not be investigating the situation while we are in Harrisonburg or afterward.
While Hartman is not credentialed through a Mennonite Church USA area conference, he was a leader, speaker and administrator — and we take that seriously.
Therefore, we publicly recommend that — in coordination with the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board and Mennonite Education Agency — Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Mennonite Conference and Lindale Mennonite Church seek out and cooperate with an investigation by an outside organization in a timely manner. We invite the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board and Mennonite Education Agency to hold these institutions accountable in this process. We also recommend that the cost be absorbed by all the parties.
An independent investigation would aim to:
- Create space for survivors’ stories to lead to responsible action and change among our institutions.
- Expose the truth of what happened, avoiding speculation and taking sides based on incomplete stories.
- Lead all involved institutions toward consistently following clearer, stronger and more obvious prevention, reporting and accountability policies.
- Build the integrity of institutions who cooperate with the investigation.
We recommend: GRACE: Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, an organization that conducts independent and objective abuse-related investigations; FaithTrust Institute; or another panel-approved independent organization with expertise in sexual abuse policy and response.
Finally, the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse reads, “In our discipline processes we struggle to find ways to support survivors as they reclaim their lives. We have often failed to focus first on their needs; we lament our tendency to give more attention to the perpetrator than to victims and survivors.” We as a panel want to publicly state that we support Lauren Shifflett and all other victims/survivors in our midst.