ELKHART, Indiana (Mennonite Church USA / Mennonite Education Agency) — Mennonite Church USA leaders have outlined a process for proceeding with a voluntary independent outside investigation into responses by Eastern Mennonite University (EMU); Virginia Mennonite Conference (VMC); and Lindale Mennonite Church (LMC), Linville, Virginia, to abuse allegations against Luke Hartman, former vice president of enrollment at EMU in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
In follow-up to the May 13, 2016, recommendation from the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention calling for an outside investigation into the matter, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA; and Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency (MEA); met with representatives of EMU, VMC and LMC on June 8 and 9. They reached consensus on the following points:
- The boards of each of the three entities have named the following persons to speak on their behalf in future meetings related to the outside review: Herman Bontrager of Akron, Pennsylvania, representing EMU, Patsy Seitz of Harrisonburg, Virginia, representing VMC; and Gloria Lehman, of Singers Glen, Virginia, representing LMC.
- Mennonite Church USA staff (Stutzman; Romero; and Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA) will work with these designated board representatives. VMC and LMC will work with EB staff; EMU will work with MEA staff.
- Stutzman, Romero, de León-Hartshorn and the designated board representatives will work with Anna Groff, chair of the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention, in the process of selecting the outside investigative organization after calling for and reviewing proposals from several organizations. The panel will affirm the final choice prior to board approvals.
- Staff members of all three entities (EMU, VMC, LMC) have assented to cooperate fully with the investigation, providing appropriate access and sharing information with the outside investigative organization.
- The agreement with the investigating organization will include the request to seek interviews with Luke Hartman, Lauren Shifflett and the Benner family.
- The EMU board and MEA had already been planning to obtain a comprehensive independent review of this situation, including a review of EMU’s policies related to Title IX and the Clery Act. The other entities and the panel encouraged them to proceed with the policy review with the organization of their choice.
Stutzman said that all of the parties agree that the purpose of the independent review — as outlined in the panel’s initial recommendation — is to create space for survivors’ stories to lead to responsible action and change among church institutions; expose the truth of what happened; lead all involved institutions toward consistently following clearer, stronger and more obvious prevention, reporting and accountability policies; and build the integrity of institutions that cooperate with the investigation.
“The ultimate goal is healing in our church, with safety from sexual abuse,” he added.
Stutzman and Romero expressed appreciation to each of the groups for their willingness to address the issues in a forthright manner via an outside investigative review and to work cooperatively with each other. They hope that an organization can be engaged by the end of June and to have a report in hand by the end of the summer.
Groff said the panel was pleased to learn of the three institutions’ willingness to participate in an external investigation regarding Luke Hartman’s behavior.
“The process and selection of the investigator is important to victims, the institutions involved and the broader church — especially as we work at prevention,” she said. “The organization must have experience working with victims of sexual abuse, as well as experience in church and higher education settings. We are pleased that GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is included in the list of firms to consider.”
—Mennonite Church USA staff