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Songs by accused composer removed from hymnal

7.6. 2020 Written By: Tim Huber, Mennonite World Review

Planners of a new Mennonite hymnal are dropping seven songs from the book just months before publication after learning of sexual misconduct allegations concerning a composer.

MennoMedia, the hymnal’s publisher, announced June 23 that songs by David Haas, a Catholic composer, recording artist, author and conference presenter, are being removed from Voices Together.

The Mennonite Worship and Song Committee made the decision after learning about accusations announced in late May by Into Account, an Anabaptist organization that advocates for survivors of abuse in church contexts.

Into Account sent a May 29 email to Haas’ associates indicating it had received reports of “repeated, unethical abuse of the professional and spiritual power he has had in church music circles” to “create conditions in which women felt obligated to perform sexual favors in exchanges for professional opportunities.”

Into Account described its information as “a series of disturbing allegations spanning 30 years, from multiple, credible individuals who know Haas well.” The youngest alleged victim was 19 at the time of alleged sexual battery, when Haas was over 50 years old.

Prominent hymnal publisher GIA Publications announced on June 13 it had received allegations about Haas earlier this year and was severing its publishing relationship with him.

Haas denied the allegations in a June 16 statement on his website, calling them “false, reckless and offensive,” and indicated he “stands in solidarity and prayerful support of sexual abuse victims.”

National Catholic Reporter (NCR) interviewed multiple alleged victims and Haas’ ex-wife who described getting to know him as teenagers at his Music Ministry Alive summer music programs in St. Paul, Minnesota. The area archdiocese took action against Haas in 1987 following a report of sexual misconduct.

One person told NCR it is difficult to navigate church services to avoid his music, because when she hears one of his songs “I have been wrecked, just knocked on the floor.”

Voices Together general editor Bradley Kauffman said in an interview that the hymnal committee agreed to remove all seven songs by Haas that were planned for inclusion in order to not amplify his voice and increase the possibility of ongoing harm.

“There are folks who say we can separate the art from the artist,” he said. “But what if a survivor comes in and is triggered in that moment?”

Decisive action

A 2016 survey conducted by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee revealed three songs by Haas ranked among respondents’ top 30 “heart songs,” with “My Soul Is Filled With Joy” ranking seventh. Others in the top 30 were “Peace Before Us” and “I Will Come to You in the Silence.”

COVID-19 and other factors delayed some aspects of the hymnal’s finalization, which gave the committee time to process the Haas accusations before the final product goes to press for delivery this fall.

“One of the reasons this moment calls for decisive action is because for decades people have made a way for this composer to continue to have platforms,” Kauffman said. “The level of intimidation he was able to leverage and cultures of secrecy have allowed this to continue.

“In this moment we have credible stories and accounts of abuse. If there’s something we can do to stop perpetuating this cycle we want to make that action decisively.”

Hilary Scarsella, assistant professor of ethics at Colgate Roch­ester Crozer Divinity School and Into Account’s director of theological integrity, said it is possible for music such as this to be intentionally separated from the composer and reclaimed by worshipers in resistance to their violence.

“However, this can only be done ethically when it is done in careful solidarity with survivors and at survivors’ lead,” she said in a MennoMedia release.

“Survivors’ testimonies call each of us who have an inward connection to Haas’ music to engage the complex and painful process of taking their testimonies to heart and redefining our relationships with songs that we have held dear.”

If pastors and worship leaders choose to use Haas’ songs in worship, the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee urges them to prioritize the goal of reducing harm and providing pastoral care for survivors of trauma. The committee is developing a resource to support congregations having these conversations, with the goal of pursuing trauma-informed worship.

“If there’s a time — broadly speaking — for the church to return to this man’s work, there’s an awful lot of work that will have to happen in a healthy way,” Kauffman said. “We’re not making any claim that we’ve purged the collection of problematic sources. We’ve built this in good faith as people of faith in the church. Statistically, we know there will be other problematic characters in this collection. We’re simply taking action on what we can now.”

The songs by Haas that were intended for Voices Together are:
“Peace Before Us”
“I Will Come to You in the Silence”
“My Soul Is Filled with Joy”
“Blest Are They”
“Dust and Ashes” (tune)
“Deep Within I Will Plant My Law”
“Come! Live in the Light!”

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