Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Peace-Loving Anabaptist Tradition"

Sexual Abuse Among Anabaptists

In a statement to WFAA Homestead Heritage defends their position by making an appeal to Anabaptist beliefs by writing "We find our spiritual roots in the 500-year-old peace-loving Anabaptist tradition, which stresses simplicity and an absolute commitment to nonviolence." On their website Homestead sarcastically says to "[j]ust look at those who have kept these moral boundaries the most intact, such as the Amish and Mennonites, and we should expect to see vast numbers of pedophiles compared to the population at large." Putting aside the fact that their "spiritual roots" lie in the United Pentecostal Church International, of which there are some who do not think very highly of them, let's take a closer look at the "tradition" that Homestead chooses to identify with.

To many people, the Amish beliefs about non-violence and forgiveness are legendary. Many people know about their response to a shooter who "walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse" and killed "four and wounding seven before killing himself." Amish members in turn "visited and comforted" the shooter's "widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held" the shooter's "sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him." It's not very common to find that kind of response from people whose children have just been targeted and killed. 

As noble as this forgiveness toward a murderer is, it isn't quite as heartwarming when expected of children who are sexually abused, as explained by the mother in one family who left the Amish "after discovering their children had been sexually abused."
When they brought up the issue with leaders of their church, they said they were told to forgive and forget, something the couple just couldn't bring themselves to do.
"Just because you forgive them doesn't make it right what they did," she said. "And you don't just leave them out there to go do some more."
"It gets to a point where I was like I cannot agree with your system any more," adder her husband. "So they were like, 'Well, if you don't agree with the system, I guess you're going to have to leave.'"
 For Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Judge Dennis Reinaker, presiding over the case of Jonathan and Melvin Smucker was a hard lesson.
The Amish father and son were convicted of sexually abusing young girls in 2010.
But the victims would only agree to cooperate with prosecutors if they were promised that the two men would not face any jail time.
"That's been the Amish community's approach from the very beginning, is to just get the victims to forgive the abusers and then there's a sense that everything has been taken care of, and we know that's not the case," Reinaker said. (Source)
According to Nadya Labi's article in Legal Affairs titled, "The Gentle People"
No statistics are available, but according to one Amish counselor who works with troubled church members across the Midwest, sexual abuse of children is "almost a plague in some communities." Some police forces and district attorneys do their best to step in, though they are rarely welcomed. Others are slow to investigate or quick to let off Amish offenders with light punishments. . .
As Donald Kraybill explains in his book The Amish and the State, there are two kingdoms in Amish theology: the kingdom of Christ, inhabited by the Amish, and the one in which everyone else lives. To maintain the boundary between the two worlds, the Amish hold themselves apart from the secular state as much as they can. In the mid-1900s, dozens of Amish fathers went to prison rather than agree to send their kids to public schools with non-Amish children, The community opened its own one-room schoolhouses, where the curricula ignored subjects like science and sex education. A woman who now lives near the Amish in Ohio's Guernsey County reports that many of her neighbors weren't taught that the earth was round. "A lot of Amish will tell you they don't want their kids to be educated," she said. "The more they know, the more apt they are to leave." . . . 
Last March, a detective in Wisconsin phoned trooper Janice Wilson to tell her about statements that Mary and her family had made about rampant incest in the Amish community in which they grew up. That community is in New Wilmington, Pa,. near where Wilson works, When she started investigating, she was stunned to hear reports of extensive sexual abuse, and of births resulting from incest.
Amish insiders say the problem is so common that a bishop in the area has preached against it. Johnny Byler said that, growing up in Lawrence County, he thought it was normal to have sex with his sister. "Other kids would talk about it," Johnny said. When I asked Mary's cousin, David Wengerd, whether he had molested his sister in addition to Mary, as Mary has charged, he responded, "I'd rather not answer." , , , 
When Anna turned 11, she told me, her 19-year-old brother began molesting her, stopping just short of intercourse. When he moved away, another 17-year-old brother started raping her. (The court documents involving Anna's family are sealed.) Anna didn't try to stop her brothers at first. "You don't tell your brothers, who are so much older than you, No," she said. But when she got her period at 13 and realized she could have a baby, she started to fight back. "He would make sure he put a lot of pressure on my top so I couldn't breathe," she said of the younger brother.
Anna wanted help, but she didn't think she would get it from her church. So she began dropping hints about the abuse to English neighbors. When they didn't pick up on her cues, she got bolder. In 2001, while cleaning house for her family's landlord, Anna used the phone to call a battered women's shelter in Mt, Vernon, Ohio. The counselors on the other end of the line didn't take her seriously, But after a month of calls, the shelter alerted Children and Family Services Division of Knox County.
 When a social worker visited Anna's home, Anna told her about the sexual abuse. She also reported that her parents were moving the family to Pennsylvania. Laurie Roberts, one of the social workers on Anna's case in Ohio, said she was taught in training that sexual abuse among the Amish is pervasive, and seldom reported. (The problem is significant enough that the counties near Knox publish a pamphlet to educate the Amish about sexual abuse.) Yet the county left Anna in her home. "Oh Gosh, I wish I could get it in those C.S. people that my parents will absolutely kill me now," Anna wrote at the time to a cousin who had left the Amish.The social workers "say you'll have to be hurt by them before we'll do anything about it," she continued. 
Anna tried to run away. But when her parents figured out where she was and called the woman who was sheltering her, Anna was sent home. Fannie began locking Anna in her room. The family moved to Tionesta, Pa., where Fannie tried to get her daughter declared mentally ill. She took Anna to a doctor who found that Anna's eardrum had collapsed from repeated blows to the head and seemed doubtful that the damage had been caused by buggy accidents as he'd been told. Fannie next tried a massage therapist, Barbara Burke. Noticing scars on Anna's legs, Burke called Children and Youth Services in Clarion County. On a later visit, Burke massaged Anna's father while CYS secretly interviewed Anna in the basement. The agency later visited Anna at her home. But it didn't take her into protective custody. (CYS declined to comment.)
When Fannie found out about the CYS visit, she and Anna went with 13 other kids to the home of John Yoder, an Amish dentist who lived an hour and a half away in the town of Punxsutawney. Yoder's living room had a recliner with a tin pan and some needles next to it. Anna watched as the other kids each had one or two bad teeth pulled. When it was her turn, Yoder shot some novocaine into her upper gum. She shook her head and told him that two of her lower teeth had cavities. He shot the lower gum, and asked Fannie which teeth should go. Anna's mother answered, "Take them all," and Yoder pulled--along the upper gum, along the lower gum, until every tooth was gone. "After he had pulled the last tooth," Anna remembered, "my mom looked at me and said, 'I guess you won't be talking anymore.'" (Source)
I encourage you to read the whole article above. I can't quote the entirety, but it shouldn't be missed.

It isn't just the Amish that have a poor track record of handling sexual abuse. The Mennonite Church USA also has its problems.
A core Mennonite belief is nonviolence and pacifism, Mennonite communities are generally focused on doing justice, bringing reconciliation, and practicing nonresistance, even in the face of violence and warfare. A symptom of believing so strongly in reconciliation and peace is that controversial subjects within the church that make the general public uncomfortable are often swept under the pew. One of these hot-button, undiscussed, topics is sexualized violence against women. . .
I, too, was molested as a child, a story I didn't let myself acknowledge until the age of 22. While attending a Mennonite college, I also learned of a handful of friends who had been sexually assaulted by their neighbors, father's friends, family members, or high school boyfriends. I decided that our stories couldn't be the only ones out there. There's no way the Mennonite community is immune to sexualized violence, even if we don't talk about it. (Source)
The author of the above quoted article, Rachel Halder, started a blog "aimed at provoking conversation about sexualized violence in the Mennonite church" called Our Stories Untold.

Perhaps the most well known reports about sexual abuse in the Mennonite church are those of one of its most well-known theologians, John Howard Yoder.
Yoder had lectured extensively about the mandate of Matthew 18:15 for individual responsibility in confronting wrongdoing, and seminary president Miller, along with an entire generation of ordained leaders, had imbibed lessons on church discipline--in the biblical phrase, "binding and loosing"--from Yoder through his widely disseminated books and teaching.
Tragically, in seeking to apply the Matthew 18 mandate for resolving conflict, Miller and others in positions of authority responded with painstaking slowness to Yoder's abuse of power. Years of wasted time, energy and denominational resources enabled the victimization of women living and studying on the seminary campus and beyond.
The peace theologian's perpetration of sexual violence upon women had far-reaching consequences among families, within congregations and throughout church agencies--from AMBS to Mennonite Central Committee and missions programs to Mennonite-affiliated institutions across the globe. (Source)
Author and speaker, Mary DeMuth, has met victims of sexual abuse from the Anabaptist communities as she shared her story of sexual abuse.
The men used to be Amish. Now they lived on the "outside" with jobs and wives and kids. They'd just heard me speak about my own story of story of sexual abuse. I looked at them both, remembering all those sweet bonnet books that peppered the shelves of Christian bookstores, these books that offered escape from modern madness, harkening us back to a simpler time. I couldn't shake the dichotomy.
"In order to get healing," the other man said, eyes solemn, "we had to leave the community and get help." 
We talked an hour or so, me still trying to wrap my mind around the conversation. Generational abuse. Bestiality. Sexual perversion. Spousal rape. Physical abuse. All behind the white doors of white houses and white barns dotting idyllic countrysides. People lived with secrets they could not tell, or risk shunning or excommunication. . .
When I spoke at Grace Mennonite Church in Ohio last winter, I had another eye-opening conversation with Larry Kaufman, the lead pastor there. He lives smack dab in the middle of Mennonite and Amish country. I asked him if these stories I'd heard represented reality. Sadly, yes. (Source
So, a "peace-loving Anabaptist tradition" does not ensure, or even make it likely, that issues of sexual abuse will be handled properly.

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