Vernon Leis

Ontario Mennonite minister, world conference and missions leader credibly accused

In 2015, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) published a statement saying that the conference, which is affiliated with Mennonite Church Canada, had received a credible accusation of “sexual and ethical misconduct” by Vernon Leis (1933–1994). Leis had been a widely known minister, missions leader, and Mennonite World Conference leader before his sudden death in a car accident in 1994. In naming Leis, MCEC Executive Minister David Martin said in the press release:

MCEC feels compelled to release the name of the pastor. This is an important step in facilitating the process of healing because it allows the affected parties and the wider faith community to confront a hidden truth and bring it into the light for healing. As painful as it may be, we as a faith community are called to support those paths that lead to healing and wholeness.

In 2017, Cameron Altaras published an essay on the Bilgrimage blog in which she wrote about her experience reporting to MCEC her abuse by Leis and the “swift unforgiving rage [that] erupted against both MCEC leadership and whoever had dared come forward to tarnish the name of a now-dead-and-still-revered Mennonite” leader.

MCEC leadership compassionately supported me and stuck to their promise to keep my name and my story confidential. … Since my allegation went public, several other women have come forward. One went through MCEC’s process in a much shorter time than mine took. Her story, too, was found to be credible. She and I did not know one another and yet our stories had common factors, we used similar language and her account of one day in particular provided corroborating evidence in support of my account of that particular day.

One of the tactics Vernon Leis used on this particular woman, was to present her with an essay written by another famous, revered, powerful and also-now-dead Mennonite [leader] named John Howard Yoder. That essay proposed theologically-based arguments in support of sex between unmarried brothers and sisters in Christ, twisting the God-given gift of human sexuality into an unholy communion for his own personal gain. Resorting to Yoder for validation was no surprise to one of those in my group of supporters who had known Vernon Leis most of his life. As he expressed it: “Vernon had an unhealthy idolization of John Howard Yoder.”

Church-related positions

  • Minister, Blenheim Mennonite Church, New Dundee, Ontario, 1961–1966
  • Minister, Elmira Mennonite Church, Elmira, Ontario, 1966–1980
  • Minister, Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church, Kitchener, Ontario, 1981–1988
  • Minister, East Zorra Mennonite Church, Tavistock, Ontario, 1988–1994
  • First moderator of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada
  • Served on boards for:
    • Mennonite Reporter
    • Mennonite World Conference
    • Mennonite Central Committee Canada

First-person accounts


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