Why we name names

It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.  All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing.  [They] appeal to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil.  The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.  The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.  Judith Herman

Sometime in the early 90’s associate editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald, James Coggins, was commissioned by a consortium of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ editors to write an article asking the question “Should we report scandal in the Mennonite press?” It was printed in the April 1991 issue of MBH. Coggins says “Yes.” His reasons for reporting scandal include these positive outcomes:

  • Warn potential victims
  • Discourage charlatans
  • Enhance the credibility of the church press and the church
  • Demonstrate commitment to the truth
  • Help us remember who we are

Googins goes on to say:

Public sin should be dealt with publicly and doing so would help remove the excessive stigma attached to subjects treated as unsuitable for public discussion which must become suitable.

Coogins’s final paragraphs show us just how far we have not come. Sadly, somehow, the same questions persist today.

Why do we name the names of church leaders who have violated and betrayed the trust instilled in them by brothers and sisters of their faith communities? Why drag it all back into the open?  Why not let it go?  Think of their wives and children.  Is it really worth all the embarrassment they will feel?

We name them because they and no one else committed a gross offense against another of the faithful and got away with it.

Any abuse of power, in any form, must be dealt with publicly, swiftly, with termination of duties, and ongoing support for any victims. These decisions can either pave the way toward a truly vibrant, redeemed, and renewed pacifist denomination, or continue to promote denial, complacency and inaction.   

—James Coogins, Associate Editor of Mennonite Brethren Herald, 1991

Here’s why it is important to publicly name the names of those clergy and church workers in our faith communities who have perpetrated sexual violence: 

Prevention

Because it is a simple way to help prevent further risk of harm to the vulnerable in our faith communities. When they read this list, parents, police, prosecutors, congregants and the public can protect the vulnerable and bring more information forward in order to discover the full truth.

After a resignation or suspension from a church post, too many offending Mennonite church workers have gone on to get other jobs inside or outside the church where they still have access to vulnerable children and adults. Meanwhile only a few church insiders know the truth and they are sworn to secrecy. These keepers of dangerous secrets are also not identified or censured. The same offenders whose offenses were “discerned” are then free to turn up as coaches, teachers, or Christian counselors–jobs they should not hold–in other locations. There is not a sufficient follow-up system of warning in place to track admitted or credibly accused Mennonite predators once they are dismissed from a post or asked to leave a congregation. Putting their name, photo, and documented offense in a central online location helps make the church a healthier place and deters future cover ups. It also provides searchable information for those outside the church.

Healing

Because it helps heal those Mennonites who have already been wounded.

Somewhere there’s a suicidal 40-something man who was sodomized as a 10 year old boy by an elder in the congregation his Mennonite father pastored. The elder is now dead, but he still thinks he was the only one violated and that it was somehow his fault. He has never recovered. When he sees the name and face of that elder on the MAP List he will know he was not alone and can begin to understand it was not his fault and that he did nothing wrong. He can now more readily come forward with confidence to tell his story and name his predator.

Or somewhere there’s a Mennonite mother feeling shame for being a “bad parent.”  Sharon has a debilitating eating disorder and Clayton is an unemployed alcoholic. She prays, “I’ve obviously done something wrong, please forgive me,” When she sees Pastor Miller, now in his 80’s, exposed as a predator on the MAP List, she calls her kids and they acknowledge “Yes, he molested me,” and the whole family begins to stop blaming themselves and start their recovery. As Jesus said, the truth will set us free.

Deterrence

In order to deter future cover-ups, the MAP List will also name any Mennonite church official who is discovered to have protected the identities of reported, known, or admitted sexual abusers.

Church officials who endanger others by obstructing justice, destroying evidence, intimidating or manipulating victims, threatening whistleblowers or failing to report to police or other civil authorities potential criminal behavior will be included on the MAP List. This is not for the purpose of punishment, but prevention of further harm. Supervisors may not put their comfort and careers ahead of the safety of innocent children and vulnerable adults.

Reassurance

Because knowing the full truth gives reassurance to Mennonites across every congregation and conference.

Until heads of conferences, agencies and institutions come clean about all predatory former workers, living and dead, Mennonites will continue to look up from the pews at their pastor and wonder “Has he concealed the names of persons in our congregation who have committed sexual abuse?” And parents sending children to church schools as well as the donors supporting them will wonder “Do the administrators at this school minimize and cover up reported sexual assaults? Do they understand the seriousness and the risk? Do they realize those in authority over our children must be above suspicion or be fired?”

Church officials routinely suspend employees when they find out about credible accusations of sexual misconduct.  But they do not announce this publicly unless a journalist breaks the story and exposes their secret. Many times, there are previous allegations of misconduct in a personnel file. Our view is that if a church employee is too dangerous to have working in a church agency or institution, then the larger community deserves to know about the allegations. It’s the duty of that employee’s supervisor to warn the public about him, not just dismiss him to continue abusing elsewhere, or allow him to continue in his high position with access to more potential victims.

When confronted by their church supervisors, offending church workers may lie, blame the victim, or minimize the misconduct. Frequent conflicts of interest (i.e. long time friendships) can cause church supervisors to believe the accused’s story too easily. They fail to take the matter to police for further investigation. They fail to ask the tough questions. When offending church workers repent and sorrowfully admit their crimes to supervisors, they are too often shown premature grace and shielded from public exposure in exchange for a disciplinary action or internal reconciliation process. This further manipulates, isolates, and silences the victim, does nothing to warn the public, and allows the abuser to continue abusing undeterred.

Many proven, admitted and credibly accused* Mennonite pastors, mental health professionals, choir directors, youth leaders, lay leaders, seminarians and other church workers now live – and sometimes work – among unaware, trusting and vulnerable neighbors and colleagues. That’s a reckless recipe for repeated crimes.

Credibility

Finally, we publish names because it’s what the Mennonite Church and its institutions and agencies have repeatedly pledged for decades to do: hold abusers accountable to protect those they have been ordained or commissioned to serve.

The Church Wide Statement on Sexual Abuse adopted by delegates at the 2015 MCUSA Convention in Kansas City pledges:

We resolve 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; and hold out hope that wounds will be healed…

The statement released on March 30, 2016 from the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention appointed by Mennonite Church USA states:

Sexualized violence (abuse, rape, molestation, harassment) affects people within our churches and institutions and our families at the same rate as society at large. And we have a history of ignoring it, not paying attention and even dismissing it. However, the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention will not take part in the enabling of the harm and violence by keeping silent…Sexualized violence is cancer within the church that we need to expose. In order to become whole, we must bring to light all that has been too long hidden in the shadows.

To this end, we ask all Mennonite church agencies and institutions to publicly post the names of credibly accused* church workers, living or dead, who have been dismissed from a post for any type of sexual or domestic misconduct. Or we ask that they send those names and applicable information or documentation to mennonite@snapnetwork.org for posting on The MAP List. Documentation may also be sent to: The MAP List, P.O. Box 1768, Harrisonburg, VA 22803. The identity of sources will be kept confidential.

James Coogins’ words published nearly 30 years ago still resonate:

These decisions can either pave the way toward a truly vibrant, redeemed, and renewed pacifist denomination, or continue to promote denial, complacency and inaction.

*To meet the standard of credibly accused, a church worker must be documented to have been federally charged, civilly sued, named  in a media article, or sanctioned or dismissed from a post for abusive misconduct.

4/3/16   Barbra Graber, The MAP List, SNAP Mennonite, 540-214-8874  mennonite@snapnetwork.org

updated 1/15/18

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