WIT welcomes Laura Sider Jost, the Admin Director of the MAP List, as a guest poster. The MAP List is a resource for the prevention and healing of sexual abuse among Mennonites. Working with a network of people in the U.S. and Canada, the MAP List team documents cases of church leaders who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. They are building an archive and providing a real-time tool for restorative justice. Laura joined the MAP List in July 2018, following on her work in public health communication and development.
In 1995, when Dalton Jantzi was found responsible by Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) for sexual violation, he may not have agreed he needed to restrict his contact with women and children, but to work for the church, he had to agree to that condition. His pastor at Danforth Mennonite Church, Tim Reimer, may not agree that Jantzi is at risk of offending, but as a church leader, he must agree to his legal and professional responsibility to protect the vulnerable.
We know by now that sexual abuse of power is almost never an isolated incident but a pattern of behavior that persists, often even after sanction. “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church” says Matthew 18:17, but we know now that the church can be an abuser too. Sexual abuse is not interpersonal conflict. It’s not only a private problem of spiritual or mental health. It’s a public health problem and a human rights problem. It calls for a churchwide truth and reconciliation commission.
The church must reconcile its accounts and bring them into agreement with all those to whom it would bring Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.
Christians can be reconciled to God through Jesus’ call to account, his one-man truth and reconciliation commission for followers. To be reconciled to God, we first enter into an agreement of accountability to God. To be reconciled with one another, we must enter into an agreement of accountability with each other.
Beyond that, we know by now, reconciliation is not a one-size-fits-all affair. It must take as many shapes as there are people. We know that reconciliation does not require someone harmed to resume relationship with the person who harmed them. It does not require we trust in offenders like we trust in God. It does not ask an individual who has been harmed to get over it or otherwise go against their boundaries for “the good of the church.” Paradoxically, unity in any community requires radical honoring of the individual—and even of division (see Matthew 10:35).
Reconciliation, like unity, doesn’t require that we agree about everything, only that we enter into an agreement of accountability that allows us to follow our own chosen paths to peace within the body of Christ or in relation to the body of Christ. This principle is also central to restorative justice for sexual abuse, which is often equated with its optional tool of victim-offender mediation. But restorative justice is a process focused first on establishing safety and accountability and then on participant-led paths to healing that are built on that foundation of safety and accountability. The process need not and often cannot include victim and offender together. It does, however, demand action from all those who would be in restored community with victims or offenders.
Jantzi’s community includes a local hospice and community center that have allowed him to volunteer with vulnerable people. These organizations did not know, before the MAP List notified them in January 2019, that Jantzi was disciplined for sexual violation of many people over many years, was given conditions for the restoration of his ministerial status, and then ultimately had his credentials removed.
MCEC told a victim of Jantzi’s abuse that it removed his credentials for disciplinary reasons, possibly around 2004. But there’s no record of exactly when or why, and documentation from 2015 shows he was honored for 40 years of ordination. What kind of accounting allowed for this administrative error? Who came into agreement to remove his credentials discreetly, perhaps without any circulation at all? The hospice and community center, at least, were not part of the agreement.
In the name of mercy, we have undermined mercy. In the name of reconciliation, we have undermined reconciliation. We have failed to lay the foundation necessary for the many paths of personal and interpersonal restoration. The church must reconcile its accounts and bring them into agreement with all those to whom it would bring Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.
Mennonite Church USA is now in process of reconciling its ministerial misconduct records with conference records and revising its protocol for releasing those records. The MAP List has recommended that instead of relying on the judgment of a few individuals who likely have conflicts of interest, MCUSA should make critical safety information from misconduct files directly available to the public. This is the work of a people reconciling unto itself, its neighbor, and God. Rather than cower at the prospect of shame—the shame of sexual abuse and our failures to prevent and heal sexual abuse—we must claim it. Bring the shame and the harm into the light of consciousness, face our embarrassment and pain. Cut through the stigma to find our common humanity. Then we can begin to effect lasting change. This is the ministry of reconciliation.