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Panel calls for investigation into institutions in Hartman case

5.16. 2016 Written By: Hannah Heinzekehr, with reporting by Gordon Houser and Rebecca Helmuth 4,094 Times read

Photo: Delegates at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City last summer passed a Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse. The Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention, which is calling for a review of three Virginia institutions, was appointed as a result of this statement. Photo by Vada Snider. 

In a May 13 statement, the Mennonite Church USA Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention called on Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., Lindale Mennonite Church, Linville, Va., and Virginia Mennonite Conference to initiate an investigation by an outside organization regarding the recent allegations of abuse by Luke Hartman, the former vice president of enrollment at EMU.

The panel wrote: “While Hartman is not credentialed through a Mennonite Church USA area conference, he was a leader, speaker and administrator—and we take that seriously. Therefore, we publicly recommend that—in coordination with the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board and Mennonite Education Agency—Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Mennonite Conference and Lindale Mennonite Church seek out and cooperate with an investigation by an outside organization in a timely manner. We invite the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board and Mennonite Education Agency to hold these institutions accountable in this process. We also recommend that the cost be absorbed by all the parties.”

The panel said the purposes of an investigation would include creating space for survivors stories “to lead to responsible action and change among our institutions”; to “expose the truth of what happened, avoiding speculation and taking sides based on incomplete stories”; to lead all involved institutions toward stronger prevention, reporting and accountability policies; and to build the integrity of all three institutions.

The panel suggested two possible organizations—GRACE: Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, an organization that has conducted independent sexual abuse investigations of organizations including New Tribes Mission and Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., and the FaithTrust Institute. According to Anna Groff, chair of the Panel and executive director for Dove’s Nest, the panel chose GRACE as its top recommendation, “due to its unique qualifications, its knowledge of issues related to sexual abuse in Christian settings and its dedication to victims/survivors.” GRACE is also named in an Appendix of the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse passed by delegates at the Mennonite Church USA convention in July 2015.

In a May 13 response to The Mennonite regarding the panel’s recommendation, Clyde Kratz, executive

Members of the Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention include: (l to right, back row) Ross Erb, Harrisonburg, Va., Anna Groff, chair, Tucson, Ariz., David Miller, Elkhart, Ind., (front, l to r) Jenny Castro, San Antonio, Texas, Regina Shands Stoltzfus, Goshen, Ind., and Nancy Kauffmann, Goshen, Ind. Photo provided.

Members of the Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention include: (l to right, back row) Ross Erb, Harrisonburg, Va., Anna Groff, chair, Tucson, Ariz., David Miller, Elkhart, Ind., (front, l to r) Jenny Castro, San Antonio, Texas, Regina Shands Stoltzfus, Goshen, Ind., and Nancy Kauffmann, Goshen, Ind. Photo provided.

director of Virginia Mennonite Conference, noted that the conference leadership has been developing an “independent panel to review leadership and pastoral responses to allegations of abuse in congregational life.” Kratz wrote, “I was surprised by the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention’s recommendation but also I am very affirming that an independent panel needs to determine a way forward.” At press time, Kratz had not responded to questions regarding where panel members would be selected from.

When contacted, Duane Yoder, pastor at Lindale Mennonite Church, indicated that the congregation’s board of elders had informed their congregation of their intent to participate in VMC’s review.

In a May 16 statement released to The Mennonite, EMU wrote that its Board of Trustees was ready to engage an external firm for a review last week, prior to the panel’s recommendation. After seeing the recommendation, President Loren Swartzendruber wrote, “We are open to be a part of the process that is being developed by the panel.”

The Panel released this recommendation after becoming “increasingly aware of the need for an outside, coordinated investigation with all three institutions involved,” wrote Groff, in a May 15 email. Groff emphasized that prevention includes both transparency and accountability. “We invite EMU, VMC and Lindale to be leaders in this opportunity to move forward with transparency and integrity,” she wrote.

The panel was appointed by Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board staff cabinet in December 2015.

Hartman was employed at EMU from 2011 to 2016. Prior to that, he was associate director of admissions at Hesston (Kan.) College from 1999 to 2004 and men’s basketball coach from 1996 to 2004. He also was a speaker at four Mennonite youth conventions. In April, a Harrisonburg judge dismissed a solicitation-of-prostitution charge against Hartman.

In a March 20 letter to congregants, the staff and board of elders of Lindale Mennonite Church confirmed that staff had been aware of reports of an abusive relationship since August 2014.

In an email sent to the EMU campus on April 22, President Loren Swartzendruber wrote that Lindale church leadership approached EMU in September 2014 “about a situation that was described as a ‘consensual sexual relationship’ between Luke Hartman and a young adult woman.” The statement claims that EMU was not aware of any harassment or threats and were told that “the affair” ended prior to Hartman’s employment with EMU.

Calls for accountability

The panel is not the first group to call for greater accountability. On April 12, Lauren Shifflett wrote a blog post on the website Our Stories Untold that included accounts of being stalked by Hartman as recently as August 2014. According to Shifflett, some of these events happened while she was a student at EMU. Shifflett says she first met Hartman at age 15, when he was serving as her Sunday school teacher. Interactions outside church did not begin until three years later. Since its publication, Shifflett’s post has been read over 28,000 times.

Shifflett, along with her sister, Marissa Buck, reported this information about Hartman to Pastor Dawn Monger of Lindale Mennonite on Aug. 30, 2014.

In February, Buck and Shifflett responded to an invitation from the Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of the Survivors Network of Abuse by Priests (SNAP Menno) inviting any individuals who may have experienced abusive behavior from Hartman or others within Mennonite Church USA to report the behavior to police, local crisis centers, civil attorneys or independent survivor groups like SNAP. According to Buck, she first heard about a Feb. 2 Mennonite Church USA blog post, also published on The Mennonite’s website, calling for anyone who may have experienced abuse by Hartman or others in MC USA to come forward. Mennonite Church USA removed the post on Feb. 4, by the time Buck began searching for it. They found a SNAP press release on The Mennonite blog and were able to contact SNAP member Barbra Graber in Harrisonburg, Va., via SNAP’s confidential e-mail.

SNAP members worked with the whole family, which eventually led to Shifflett, Buck and their parents choosing to file a police report this spring. According to Corporal Philip Wonderly of the Harrisonburg Police Department in a May 2 phone interview, although police had “plenty of probable cause,” statutes of limitations for allegations of stalking and threatening behavior are one year and had expired by the time the report was made in 2016.

In a May 16 press release, SNAP members applauded the panel’s recommendation and said: “No institution can police itself. Though it takes courage to do so, those with information or suspicions of sexual violence or cover-ups in churches and universities must call the unbiased, independent, experienced civil and legal authorities. If or after this is done, it may be appropriate for other investigations to start, but only if they are conducted by truly independent parties.”

In response to Shifflett’s story, two 2013 EMU alumni, Emily Harnish and Erika Babikow, created an open letter asking EMU to offer a formal apology to Shifflett and other students “for placing us in harm’s way” and also asking the university to take a “clear, verbalized public stance against abuse and sexual violence”; demonstrate a commitment to ending the “culture of shame and fear that facilitates abuse and sexual violence”; and demonstrate “transparency and accountability in the months to come as we all deal with the fallout of this trauma.”

“For me, EMU was such a good place when I was a student, and when I graduated, I left with a feeling that I had grown so much as a person intellectually and spiritually and in my ability to just understand my place in the world,” said Harnish in an April 23 phone interview. “We want more information and we’re frightened and upset that not everyone at the university had the good experience that we did,” she added.

As of May 13, the letter was signed by 274 alumni. In response to EMU’s April 22 statement, Harnish and Babikow are continuing to push for more accountability, calling for an “investigation into what happened here at EMU with Luke Hartman” and asking EMU to provide more resources, including a dedicated Title IX coordinator position (the role is currently held by the director of human resources) and more support and resources for the student-led Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention.

New resources for sexual abuse prevention and survivor support

The Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention is not the only new organization focusing on education and prevention of sexual abuse in Mennonite contexts. In the last two years, two organizations—SNAP Menno and We Will Speak Out—dedicated to providing resources for congregations and survivors of abuse have launched.

SNAP Menno was founded in June 2015 and has worked on a number of projects to support survivors of abuse and raise awareness about abuse in Mennonite contexts. In April, the group launched the Mennonite Abuse Prevention (MAP) list, an online directory of “credibly accused clergy and church workers” within Mennonite contexts. To date, the list includes 10 names.

SNAP member Barbra Graber created the list and was joined by fellow SNAP members Stephanie Krehbiel and Tim Nafziger. In order to be named on the public list, an individual must be either criminally charged, sued in civil courts or named for being accused of a sex offense in a public media article, legal document or employment record.

According to Krehbiel, the list serves several functions, including safety and prevention. Krehbiel notes that statistics across “multiple fields of study” show that people who commit rape, sexual abuse and harassment are rarely one-time offenders. “It’s an ugly truth to face, but we have to face it. And one of the ways we can deal with it is by making sure that people who offend sexually are kept away from those who are vulnerable to them,” she wrote.

Jay Yoder, another SNAP member, says the MAP list is also meant to prompt introspection in Mennonite congregations and organizations. “I hope institutions begin putting transparency practices into place themselves, turning immediately to outside experts when violence needs to be investigated.…We are not the right experts for our own context.”

The MAP list grew out of a file that Graber began collecting in the 1980s, when survivors of abuse or their friends and family would talk with her about abuse in Mennonite contexts, but it wasn’t until her first encounter with SNAP that Graber thought about publishing names.

In an online essay entitled “Why a MAP list,” Graber names several reasons for naming names: prevention, healing, deterrence, reassurance and credibility. “This is a powerful warning to people who are predators and know they’re predators; they really need to get help,” said Graber in a May 15 interview. Graber notes that it’s also possible to reach victims and survivors by listing a predator’s name. “It’s a powerful healing mechanism to know you’re not alone.”

The We Will Speak Out campaign, sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee, officially launched in October 2014. The project’s goal is to strengthen and equip MCC constituents to better respond to and prevent sexualized violence.

According to Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, Restorative Justice Coordinator for MCC and director of the project, the main focus of the project thus far has been learning from constituents and church leaders what they need in order to adequately address and prevent sexual abuse in their contexts. To solicit feedback, the group has launched a survey (open to responses until the end of May) and also hosted several focus groups.

Stutzman Amstutz says one theme that has emerged is that survivors don’t see churches as safe places to share their stories of violation. She also notes that people are looking for conversation and education about mutuality and healthy relationships between men and women.

The We Will Speak Out website also includes links to myriad resources aimed at helping congregations equip themselves for preventing and responding to sexual abuse, although Stutzman Amstutz cautions churches against trying to handle allegations of abuse internally.

“Do not assume you can deal with this internally,” she said. “That’s one of the ways we can further harm people….Part of this is a self- protection that churches have to move away from. There are outside experts who can help churches know how to respond, especially when someone who is harmed and the person who has harmed are both in the congregation.”

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8 Responses to “Panel calls for investigation into institutions in Hartman case”

  1. Frank Lostaunau says:

    Thank You for this reassuring story. Thank You.

  2. Debra Bender says:

    Nothing like the fox investigating the chicken coop . . .

  3. G. Bucher says:

    “Hartman was employed at EMU from 2011 to 2014.”

    Correction: Luke Hartman was employed at EMU from 2011 to 2016, not 2014 as written above. See The Mennonite’s story from 1/9/2016: https://themennonite.org/daily-news/emu-vice-president-charged-in-sting-operation/

  4. M. South says:

    “In April, the group launched the Mennonite Abuse Prevention (MAP) list, an online directory of “credibly accused clergy and church workers” within Mennonite contexts. To date, the list includes 10 names.”

    The link given to the MAP list above is

    http://www.snapnetwork.org/

    But I couldn’t find reference to it anywhere on that site. Where is it?

    I did see that there are suggested generic comments given for posting in as many venues as possible:

    http://www.snapnetwork.org/snapjudy/tips_for_posting_comments

    I would rather read comments that are the original thoughts of those posting, instead of boiler point opinion mass postings, because it then resembles a propaganda program rather than genuine personal interaction by those trying to understand and deal properly with specific issues and situations.

  5. The Lindale pastors had three options after hearing Lauren Shifflett’s account of her affair with Luke Hartman and her fears of renewed contact: encourage Lauren to seek an Order for Protection, encourage her to file a police report, or directly contact Luke Hartman (a member of the Lindale congregation) and demand he cease any communication/contact of any kind with Shifflett and cooperate with congregational discipline, including the pastors’ report to Hartman’s employer. They chose the third option and implemented it successfully.

    After hearing the pastors’ report, EMU commenced an internal discipline process with Hartman.

    Now, in response to bystanders second-guessing the decisions made by those personally acquainted with the individuals involved and directly informed by their confessions of sin, three Mennonite institutions will spend many tens-of-thousands of dollars in consulting fees, attorneys’ fees and staff time. Why? Because the bystanders are shouting “abuse,” “violence” and “cover-up.”

    Has everyone lost their bearings? God help us!

  6. M. South says:

    There’s no doubt that the sinful sexual behavior evidenced by those on the list was violating and disgusting. That these people could actually use their positions for purposes of sexual deviance, even where it was passive without physical contact, violating others’ privacy and personhood, is thoroughly pathetic.

    I cannot imagine any normal person, especially Christians committed to scripture and honoring Jesus, to excuse this aberrant, sinful behavior.

    Since it is clear that these deranged individuals will go to amazing and convoluted lengths in order to photographically record others in restrooms, employing any number of deceptions and excuses, it is extremely unwise to be allowing any physically male person to use these facilities set aside for biological women, where females of any age may be in states of undress.

    In almost all of these cases, there are more than simply violations of statutes occurring. All of those named, except perhaps one, are obviously very psychologically disturbed, due to the nature of their voyeurism and using situations where their victims’ privacy was compromised.

    Who knows which one of the many gender multiples it is alleged to exist, which sound more like disturbed psychological states of troubled men, that these offenders fell into? One thing they weren’t were those persons who know what properly being a man is, and who as men would be taught they must have respect for and propriety towards others, avoiding all sin, whether those others are men, women or children.

    In an age where individuals increasingly lack discernment for proper boundaries of behavior and appetites and temptations of all sorts are encouraged and accountability is weakened in the name of acceptance, I can think of no better guide than the authority of scripture for eliminating confusion. Among those who claim to be Christians it ought to be the case, although lately it has come into disrepute. When those among us have succumbed to temptation and where scripture was no longer held to be a reliable guide, one can’t help thinking a credible fear of the Lord instead of a theology of standardless Holiday Inn hospitality could have averted tragedy.

  7. Frank Lostaunau says:

    M. South, hang in there and take good care of yourself and loved ones.

    Have you considered working as a volunteer at a dog shelter?
    I bathe puppies regularly that are looking for loving homes. They need to be taught how to behave so that a family adopts them. They are wonderful little friends.

    Giving puppies a helping hand is good medicine. It makes the world a better place…do it!

  8. Frank Lostaunau says:

    It’s good to know that children/vulnerable adults have a better chance of remaining safe when their abusers are identified and reported to the police.

    The best medicine is to understand and respect the reasons why it matters that perpetrators are reported to legal authorities and held accountable.

    Many individuals have abused the trust of the Mennonite nation.
    They never cared about the safety of their fellow Mennonites, families and communities.

    To defend the perps is a crime against humanity. Their defenders will eventually be publicly identified and held accountable.

    All Mennonites have a right to be informed so that they and their loving communities remain safe.