In response to calls across the church, Ervin Stutzman, Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA, and Sara Wenger Shenk, president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, convened a discernment group to continue healing and reconciliation work in the wake of John Howard Yoder’s abuse of women and ongoing questions about how the church responded to it. They said in an earlier release: We hope this work will lead to church-wide resolve to enter into lament, repentance, and restoration for victims of sexual abuse by other perpetrators as well.
- Review the evidence to document the scope of Yoder’s abuse and the church’s response to it.
- Publicly thank the women who “tenaciously persisted over many years to bring [Yoder’s] abuse to light to prevent further victimizations and to seek healing” and also thank “those in church leadership who worked hard to hold [Yoder] accountable with a desire for his restoration.”
- Work through area conference leaders and the Mennonite Church USA website to provide resources for victims of sexual abuse and to encourage educational experiences to prepare pastors and leaders for caring for abuse victims.
- Arrange for a public service of lament, repentance and healing at a large church gathering, most likely the 2015 convention.
- Explore the possibility of a denominational statement addressing sexual abuse.
Discernment Group Members
Ervin R. Stutzman is Executive Director for Mennonite Church USA. Before taking on this role in January 2010, he served for nearly 12 years as Dean and Professor of Church Ministries at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Va. He has also served the Mennonite Church in the roles of pastor, district overseer, missions administrator, conference moderator and, from 2001 to 2003, as moderator for Mennonite Church USA.
Sarah Wenger Shenk’s experiences in mission, church planting, teaching and administration have fostered a unique combination of leadership gifts. She has served as President of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. since fall of 2010.
Linda Gehman Peachey is familiar with some of the victims; she heard their stories while serving as director of women’s advocacy for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. in Akron, Pa. In that role, she helped to arrange support groups and provided resources for victims of abuse, as well as resources for church leaders on ways to prevent and respond to abuse.
Chuck Neufeld is conference minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference. He brings both personal and professional knowledge of sexual abuse issues to the group, and artistic gifts to help the church move toward healing.
Ted Koontz is a long-time professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, a former colleague of Yoder, and one who values many of his contributions to peace theology. Encounters with some of those wounded by Yoder’s abusive behavior have given Ted a deep desire to help heal these wounds and an appreciation for the need to integrate theology and spiritual formation.
Regina Shands Stoltzfus is a professor at Goshen (Ind.) College. As a founder of the Damascus Road antiracism training, she brings particular expertise in the analysis of various forms of oppression, along with a passion for healing and reconciliation.
Carolyn Holderread Heggen serves as an advisor to the group. She is the author of Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches, published by Herald Press. Carolyn was one of the eight women who in 1992 went to the General Secretary and other leaders of the Mennonite Church to share their personal stories of violation by Yoder. She helped develop the eight steps the women asked the church and AMBS to take to protect others from Yoder’s abusive behavior and to hold him accountable.