Pt 1: Are religious leaders (who offend sexually) untouchable?

One of my favourite things about university has been the freedom to guide my own path in the area of research. Returning to studying after years of experience it was critical that it fit with my work with sexual violence in religious communities. For most projects and all research I chose to look at various aspects of religion and crime – mostly sexual abuse – in a variety of contexts, including Latter Day Saints, Orthodox Judaism, and conservative Anabaptists. I grew up in a series of conservative Mennonite churches – thanks to parents who never found peace in any of the ones we tried – so I am not unfamiliar with the terrain of religion. But I was shocked by the similarities in function between other fundamental religious groups and my background. We are not the only ones structured to protect top leaders.

At first I questioned if it was actually structured that way (on purpose) or if it was merely the inadvertent and inevitable outcome of ultimate power given to bishops and leaders. But after a bit of digging and searching for answers, I concluded some are intentionally structured to make leaders untouchable. Why? I am not certain, beyond the need to make the religious culture look perfect and maintain image. (To see how this plays out in the Orthodox Jews, read Michael Lesher’s: Shonda and Concealment). And then there is this notion that those called to ministry are just a bit more sacred and holy than the rest. Here I would propose that the calling itself may be entirely holy, but the human executing that calling is entirely flawed, completely human and particularly vulnerable to corruption when placed at such a level.

Someone said, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, or something close to that. I would echo that. Power that is accountable to no one is absolute power, and it absolutely is corrupt. No human gets to play God, be untouchable by those they lead, and still stay human and flawed in their own mind. That kind of power leads to grandiose thinking, narcissism and idolatry. When people who follow such a leaders start believing they have a special kind of ‘in’ with God, and maybe it’s okay for them to do things others can’t, rather than exposing leaders’ crimes, we have a real problem. And these were the testimonies of some of the women in the studies I read; rather than exposing crime they saw leaders are having ‘special permission’ from God. This matches what I’ve heard from victims I’ve worked with.

Every spiritual leader and person in ministry I’ve known is prone to failure and sin, myself included. We all have to repent. Every last one of us. Knowing many others, and knowing myself, I have concluded we are all the same. All human, just like you. All sinners saved by grace. We, like the Apostle Paul, do the things we don’t want to do and don’t get done what we want to do. But true leaders do not justify sin and crime in their own lives.

Do away with the pedestals. They are not stable and only stay up as long as people are willing to hold them up. On a pedestal repentance is difficult, as is facing consequences for sin and crime. There’s the fear that if people discover how broken and human we are they will be destroyed by our imperfection and lose their faith in God. Even in this we raise ourselves to a God-like-status. But it’s not truth. They’ll be fine, believe it or not, if they see our humanity. And if they aren’t, the perception of perfection is better crushed. It’s their one hope of replacing leaders with God, and giving God His rightful place.

So how do leaders rise to that place in the minds of (their) people? Because, let’s face it, none are ‘all that and a bag of chips’ once you get to know them. They may be wonderful and nice, and all, but they are human. And I’ve not met one that isn’t somehow selfish, no matter who they desire to be. Me included. We are all human; you and I, and on the same level.

I can’t speak to the ‘how’ of every religious community, but it struck me in my readings for the research I did, that it is a taught and controlled path to the top. A path carefully laid out in the constitutions and rule books, including Anabaptists and Orthodox Jews among others. Of course my ‘knowing’ from experience and observation also gave me insights other ‘outsiders’ wouldn’t see. (Regrettably, I cannot use the material from that research publicly at this time, t is also part of my PhD application package.)

Some church constitutions state that charges or allegations can only be brought against a church leader if there are several witnesses. If there is one thing sex offenders and child molesters know, it is to never leave room for witnesses. The lengths to which they go in planning and scheming, or their skill at taking advantage of the vulnerable person at hand, would leave room for little chance of ever having even one witness, let alone two. They are opportunistic, and have an uncanny ability to sniff out the vulnerable ones who have no voice.

Now take those skills, give them to a revered church leader who knows who is who, and what church families struggles with, and who is vulnerable, insecure, abused (by parents, spouse or teacher etc), and you have a perfect storm. When sex offenders and molesters become preachers and bishops, or ministry leaders, and especially if they have that lovable personality, they have access to victims with a reputation that is well fortressed. Offenders in church leadership are often very charismatic leaders who ‘love’ people, and are loved and worshiped by their followers. They have no need to defend themselves, because they have built their empire so that no one will believe the allegations, and the people will rise to their defence so they need only to sit back and watch as their voiceless victims scramble for someone, anyone to hear them.

These offenders will likely have made certain to have enough trusted relationships with the demographic of their victims who can vouch for them as respectful and safe, to ensure that allegations sound foolish and far-fetched. (For example, students are often shocked when the teacher is caught molesting because the teacher was respectful to most students. The ministry leader or minister who violates the vulnerable wives of the abusive men they help may have the respect of many of the wives of these men, having never made moves or crossed lines, thus making the rest sound ridiculous when they bring forward their allegations. And the leader who molests girls may leave his own daughters untouched, so that the whole family can vouch for him. You get the picture.)

These are skilled criminals, not people who ‘fall’ into affairs in leadership. These are not pastors, bishops and ministry leaders; they are wolves. They are predators. They are power-mongers with lust issues; lust for power and lust for sex. They excommunicate and ostracize those who fail to live up to the constitution, and excuse their own sin. They  have no regard for the sacredness of sex and God’s laws, not to mention the laws of the land. They rape, overpower, molest and lust… and excommunicate victims for not being silent. (In any case, if a leader molests or abuses someone, he/she should be removed and dealt with, even if only a one time offence. They are not safe in positions of power.)

The more these allegations against church and ministry leaders come to light, in various communities and churches, the more certain I am that one of the key sources of the larger problem is the result of corrupt leadership. Be that 20% of the leaders, or 50%, or 5%, it’s too many. And, unfortunately, those leaders who are pure of heart genuinely struggle to grasp that a fellow-leader would/could do such a thing, and they too write things off as false allegations made by a troubled church member. This needs to change.

And that leads me to the the next thing in the constitution… The word of a member in good standing, according to some constitutions, is to be taken over that of those who are not in good standing. It takes little imagination to see that sex abuse victims are often very troubled and don’t do ‘constitution following’ very well, making their testimony easy to write off. And those victims who are faithful constitution followers are silent, because that’s what the constitution sets up. Some state that members are to first attempt resolving issues directly with those who wronged them, before going to leaders, meaning victims must first face their offender before seeking help. They further state that once communion has been observed and peace is expressed, a matter is to be considered forgiven and done.

The way these things are structures make church leaders – especially bishops, but also prominent ministry leaders and lay members of good rapport – almost untouchable. And that perpetuates the crimes both at a leadership level and among the people. Almost untouchable…

But God…

But God is not done. He will expose. He will bring to light. And He will give voice to victims so that these wolves will be stripped of their facades, and they will stand naked in their sins. And more than giving them a voice He will be their voice and He will speak boldly. And then there will be no constitution to manage damage control. There will be no hiding. The truth will be revealed.

What excites me is that God is raising up leaders ‘among them‘ who will not be silent.  Leaders who will not look the other way, and who will hold them accountable and turn them over to the law. These leaders and their wives have reached out to me, internationally, and encouraged me to never quit, never give up… And God is also raising up a network of law enforcement workers across USA who are listening. They are seeing the patterns, the cover-ups and the crime in the name of God.

Reckoning day is coming…

And that doesn’t even begin to account for standing before God with these sins exposed, their covers blown.

Victims have long been brutalized by organized religion, and have been silenced. But God…

(To be continued…)

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

Excerpt (Chapter 18): Between 2 Gods

The following is an excerpt taken from Chapter 18, Between 2 Gods; a Memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community. This portion takes place in my ‘rebel years’, shortly after my 17th birthday, as I try to navigate living arrangements and party life, running from God, evening denying Him, yet finding myself, face to face with the reality of His love. 

EXCERPT:

[…] And so it was that only weeks after I moved in with Cheri and Annette, I moved out again and settled into my new home with Kyle and Amy. We had arranged one quick meeting for me to check out the bedroom and agree on rent, and it was a done deal.

I arrived at their door with my belongings and was greeted by a large black dog, barking furiously. Dogs are wonderful pets, when they like you, and you are familiar with them. Large, strange black dogs, who bark like you’re their lunch, are not so nice for pets.

Fido was gated in the kitchen, so that he could not come to my room, but every day I had to step over that gate, dodge through the kitchen, jump over the other gate, and go downstairs to shower before work.

I refused to admit it, but that dog terrified me. “No, no, I’m fine,” I said, when Kyle or Amy asked, but every time I faced that dog when they were gone, my heart first stopped when the dog barked or growled at me, then restarted with furious energy as I braved the kitchen. For several weeks I silently endured that dragon-sized beast. Daily I imagined my remains on the floor, for Kyle and Amy to clean up when they returned home. But each day I survived the mad dash, and landed on the other side of the gate laughing from the adrenaline rush.

Needless to say I didn’t eat much when Kyle and Amy were away, as I never lasted long enough in the kitchen to scrounge together a meal. Gradually I accepted these inconveniences as part of my new environment, and stored food in my room.

Then, suddenly, everything changed. Kyle and Amy decided they wanted to parent me. They set a curfew. I would need to tell them who I was with, where I was going, and how long I planned to be gone. And any other detail they would like to know, I would be required to tell them. I had been on my own for a year, with no one demanding those things, and I was not about to play that role in a tenant relationship. I came and went as I pleased. I was responsible for my own meals and groceries, except the occasional dinner in the evening, so there was no need for them to know my plans. I was renting a room. Nothing more.

[…]

About that time I met up with my past party friends again. In conversation I told them about my living conditions—the dog, the “babysitting” and curfew—and they offered me a room in their apartment. I accepted immediately

We drove to Kyle and Amy’s to collect some basic items, and I informed them of my decision to move out. I made arrangements to return for the rest of my belongings the next day. […]

So began the adventures, in early December 1986, of living with my party friends. They were “responsible” party friends, and great roommates.

[…]

It wasn’t much of a life, really, working and partying, but it kept reality at bay, and prevented me from facing memories of home and childhood. And it effectively drowned out the voice of God, so that I didn’t need to contend with Him, or the reality of my sin and rebellion. Most of the time…

Every now and then, when I watched 100 Huntley Street, and listened to the testimonies and stories of Jesus, or when I was alone at night, and sober, His voice would whisper, and I would find myself contemplating God, and my eternal destiny. When friends or roommates were present, I boldly cursed Him, even dropping the “f-bomb” when we stumbled upon Christian TV programs. But in the absence of company, I listened and wept. On one occasion, I even called in for prayer, after listening to Reverend David Maines, and a sweet Grandma prayed for me and encouraged me. Still, had someone asked me, I would have said God didn’t exist, that I didn’t believe in Him and, at best, I was an agnostic. Probably atheist. There was no way, in my mind, that a loving God could exist, given the life I had known up until that time, and with my experiences in church. But in those moments, alone, when I heard His voice, and felt Him move deep in my fragmented spirit, I was compelled to believe.

What was more, in those moments He was not condemning or harsh. When that Grandma, in her shaky, aged voice, told me of God’s love and prayed for me, it was as if God Himself reached down. And the voice I heard in the stillness, alone in my room, was one of love and invitation. Standing at my window, looking up into the night sky, I felt as though my chest might burst and the tears would fall, unashamedly, as my heart cried out to this Being, whoever He was. And, if just for a moment, my spirit would come alive, and life would breathe into my soul. And then the moment would pass, and life, with all its harshness, returned.

On the harsher days, when God was far away, I scoffed and mocked the very God who breathed that life into me. On one such day, walking down King Street just outside King Centre Shopping Plaza, a group of Beachy Amish Mennonites congregated, handing out religious tracts.

I resented my cultural background and wanted to be rude, but I recognized the man reaching out his hand with the tract. Elroy Wagler. He didn’t recognize me, but my older sister had worked for him and his wife, Dianne, and I had visited their home and played with their children, Anita, Lynette, Loretta, Nathanial, and Timothy. Suddenly it was personal and I didn’t have the heart to decline or be rude. I didn’t identify myself, but I smiled and graciously accepted the pamphlet.

As I walked away, I shredded the pamphlet and tossed it in the garbage can on the sidewalk. Why did the people seem so nice when, in my reality, so much of the culture had been harsh? Were they all pretending? Was any of it real?

[…]

I was forced to see good and evil, so that I could not simply write religion off as a curse or a fantasy. And always I would find some chaos, drama, or party to push that reality far away, and leave God lost in the shadows of the past, the shadows of religion and time.

Had I known how to look past both—good and evil—to see only God’s pure love, and His desire for relationship, then I might have believed and been transformed.

–Conclusion of excerpt: Chapter 18 Between 2 Gods; a Memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community 

BETWEEN 2 GODS is currently on sale (paperback) on Amazon USA, for only $13.61 (04/27/2015) I have no influence on how long it will be on sale.  

On the roller-coaster of those teen years, there were highs–literally–and there were lows. Reconnecting with my friends was a high, but only weeks later in that very apartment, I would experience an all-time low. I would be raped by a friend, triggering a flashback, and derailing my roller-coaster completely and leaving me lost and wandering. But each tragedy, over time, became a pathway that would lead me back to the love I had searched for so desperately; a love that had been there all along, lost behind the shadows of my broken story.

I pray that you, too, find love, acceptance and hope if you have not yet. And if you have, I pray that my story encourages you to continue clinging for dear life to the One who gives that love freely.

Love,

~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

MENNO SIMONS… (Part 4): Excommunication, Love & Compassion

My intention is not to belabour Menno Simon’s teachings, but his views on Excommunication deserve further exploring, in my opinion.

The most outstanding, and maybe even astonishing, things I found was Menno’s views on how sin should be handled, when an individual comes forward in repentance. (The only exception to this, which he addresses first, and I will address after, is in a case of a criminal offence.)

When an individual sins (privately, as Menno calls it, meaning a sin that is not known publicly) Menno urges the church to deal gently and privately with the sin. If the individual confesses a sin to a ‘brother’, it is not to be taken to the church for discipline, with the exception of a criminal act.

“I understand that […] brethren are of the opinion that if some brother should secretly have transgressed on something or other, and, in sorrow of heart should complain to one of his brethren that he had thus sinned against God, that hen this same brother should tell it unto the church; and if he should fail to do so, that he, then, should be punished with the transgressor. This opinion is not only absurd but it sounds in my ears as a terrible one. For it is clearly against all Scripture and love, Matt. 18: Jas. 5:19-20.

Excommunication was, in one respect, instituted for the purpose of repentance. Now if repentance is shown, namely, the contrite, sorrowing heart, how can excommunication, then, be pronounced against such. O, my brethren, do not put this doctrine in force, for it will lead to sin, and not to reformation.

If we were thus to deal with poor, repentant sinners, whose transgressions were done in secret, how many would keep from repentance, through shame. God forbid that I should ever agree with, or act upon such doctrine! Lastly, I understand, they hold, that if any one, in his weakness, transgresses, and openly acknowledges his transgression, that they should consider him, then, as a worldling.

This, again, is an absurd doctrine; for, if the transgression was done through weakness, then, let us not be arrogant and too hard on the poor soul, lest we commit a worse fault.

Not the weak, but the corrupt members are cut off, lest they corrupt others. Of such unscriptural doctrines and practices I want to be clear. I desire that excommunication be practiced in a sincere paternal spirit, in faithful love, according to the doctrine of Christ […]

My chosen brethren, guard against innovations for which you have no certain, scriptural grounds. Be not too severe, nor too lenient. Let a paternal, compassionate, prudent and discreet heart, and the Lord’s holy word, actuate you.” (Exceprt taken from the Third Letter by Menno, “An Epistle […] to the brethren at Frenekar.)

In a nutshell, Menno discourages running to the church with every sin confessed to us. In other writings he instructs that relational issues, where ‘brother sins against brother’, reconciliation and forgiveness is to be pursued according to Matthew 18. He distinguishes between a sin against God, and a sin against each other, in that we cannot forgive a sin against God. An individual must seek forgiveness from God, but we are to forgive a sin against us. Where these relational offences, sins, and hurts can be resolved without church involvement, and the offender takes ownership, it is not to be handled at a church or public level.

All public sin, however, in Menno’s teachings, needed to be confessed publicly, but, again, he distinguishes between sin and offences that are not sin, if I understand him accurately.

Where a crime is committed, Menno does not allow for warnings and second chances before discipline. He addresses this, in the same letter, in response to having heard that there is a ‘violent dispute’, between two opposing views on excommunication. One would like to see church members get three warnings before discipline, and the other insists on heavy-handed, no warning excommunication. He speaks against both views.

His advice, to the one looking for three warnings, is, “I cannot agree with this doctrine. For there are some sins […] which require summary punishment at the hands of the (law). If we were to admonish transgressor thrice, in such cases, before they were punished, then the sweet bread of the church would be changed into sour bread, before the whole world. Therefore, act with discretion, and do not treat criminal matters, especially if they are public, the same as you would other carnal works, which are not considered, by the world, as requiring disgraceful punishment.”

To the other man he writes, “That doctrine is, according to my humble understanding, erroneous and against the world or Christ, Paul, and James. For averice (or, greed/pursuit of wealth), pride, hatred, discord, defamation and quarreling are carnal things which work death, if not repented of, Gal. 5:19-20; James 3:16; notwithstanding, they are not punished until after having been thrice admonished as the Scriptures command. I wish that it were taken into consideration, that, as “the wages of sin is death,” so also, the repenting, converted heart brings for life…”

There is no indication, anywhere that I have found, that Menno Simon endorsed the careless and quick excommunication over things that having nothing, whatsoever, to do with sin. In most cases I have seen, apart from the ones involving sexual immorality, or drunkenness, excommunication has been exercised over issues of opinion and rules not being followed, or some label such as ‘bad attitude, which usually comes back to a rule that is in no way connected to the word of God, the ten commandments, or any other sin.

For many years I have found this troubling, and believed that this way of operating was based on Menno Simon’s teachings. It has been healing for me, though I disagree strongly with Menno’s view on shunning, to read his writings and see how strongly he sought to honour God. No where can I find any indication that he made decisions based on protecting church image, hiding sins of the prominent, or any other perverse and selfish control.

It seems he tries earnestly to follow God’s word, while exercising his understanding of it, with fatherly compassion, a heart to restore, and no desire to wound or control.

His prophetic word or questioning, that if repentant sinners are dealt with harshly, then how many will avoid repenting for fear of being shamed, has come to pass. Every adult with whom I meet as a coach and mentor, as we work through the aftermath of abuse, we also go through a time of confession and repentance for hidden sins. Most, if not all, share sins of which they cannot repent at church, for that very reason. Many have looked at me, tear flowing down their faces, as they tell me they wish they could have that kind of openness at church.

I sat with a young woman this week, not yet nineteen years old, who had told me she is looking fora church. I asked her what she is looking for, what it is her heart longs for and seeks.

Her answer took me off guard, coming from one so young. I might have expected, ‘no strict rules’ or ‘no man-made rules’, even ‘a lively church that is fun’. But she said she wants a place she can go and confess and repent when she has sinned, without fearing shame or judgement. She wants to live a life of purity and holiness, and have accountability, fellowship, and prayer support.

“A place where I can go and confess when I have sinned…” No shame. No harsh discipline, unless it is a matter of crime.

I think Menno would have applauded her. And I think he would have done his best to give her such a church home.

Menno does address the issue of a person repenting, but not producing ‘fruits unto repentance,’ and says there is a time to discipline when the follow-through is not there.

In such a case, my heart tells me to come alongside that person, struggle with them and understand them, disciple them, teach them, and they are far more likely to walk in victory. I know this because of the number of people I have discipled, who have overcome addictions after months, and years, of strongholds. 

While I don’t see eye-to-eye with Menno Simons, I have appreciated the wisdom in his writings, and can’t help but wonder where the church would be, if the passion for biblical truth, practice and understanding had remained as sincere as his writing portray….

He addresses numerous times, in his writings, the sin of materialism and the pursuit of riches, among other ‘sins’. As I read that, I thought of the church today. Almost any denomination. What has more power, more pull, more prestige, than materialism and riches?

Changing the church, like any other transformation, begins with personal transformation. So my prayer to God is, “Give me a hear that loves You, more than anything else in the world. Give me a heart that understands your commands, and your desires, and the courage to live them. Create in me a heart that is clean, pure, true and tender, and fill that heart with compassion. And let that compassion flow to every person whose life I am blessed to impact, so that they will know You, through me.”

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©TrudyMetzger

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MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 3): Shunning & Excommunication

The practice of excommunication, with or without shunning, is not unique to Anabaptist churches, but seems to be most commonly practised among churches with Anabaptist roots. Excommunication is considered an ‘ordinance’, or ‘authoritative law or decree’, given by Christ and the ‘holy Apostles’, as Menno calls them, for the ‘church’.

Because of how frequently this ‘ordinance’ is abused, it is easy to simply turn the other way, and not even try to understand it. Tragically, in my own experience and that of my years in the conservative Mennonite churches, I saw this practice abused in most vile ways. One man in his sixties, or thereabouts, was excommunicated for listening to radio, but the lead minister, who later became the bishop, carefully covered for his son’s immorality, when it was discovered that the son had sexually violated numerous youth.

While the devastating reality is that his son had been dreadfully violated by a man in his late twenties or thirties–I cannot recall his age accurately–it was an imbalance to excommunicate one man for breaking a man-made law, while harbouring another who sinned outright, and directly violated God’s law. Over the span of several years, numerous members were excommunicated for violations such as bad attitudes, listening to instrumental music, watching tv, and various other ‘sins’, all while the young offender, and others like him, were protected.

For this reason I still find it hard to trust anyone on the topic of church discipline and excommunication. Every church I’ve had connections to, who exercised any form of the ban, did so with this same level of corruption at some level of leadership. Having said that, I am very aware that only some leaders knew about the corruption, and they intentionally withheld that information from other leaders, or misrepresented it. There are good leaders who try to do the right thing, and are not always well informed.

For years I skipped over Menno’s writings on the topic, and anyone else’s, for that matter. It all seemed to have become a perverse power trip in the hands of the wrong leaders, and hearing it from our ‘founding father’, as Menno was often referred to, didn’t appeal to me. What I read and understand in the Bible is a far cry from anything I’ve ever heard taught on the topic, and ultimately it is God to whom I give account for what I believe. Not a religion, denomination, or culture.

Recently, though, something drew me into this section of Menno’s writings and I was quite intrigued. He is completely on target in some areas, and as far off base as anyone I’ve heard before, in other areas.

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The most disturbing of beliefs, in my opinion and understanding, is the notion that an excommunicated spouse needed to be shunned by the other spouse, and the family. That view quite stunned me. Menno goes to great lengths to prove and convince his readers that it is not only in the area of spiritual ‘communion’, or the ‘breaking of bread’ that Paul commands the church to break relationship, but to very literally not speak a word to the person excommunicated, in conversation, beyond an ordinary greeting of ‘good morning’, or the like.

Taking this to the extreme of applying it in marriage, based on Menno’s article titled ‘Excommunication’ as well as ‘Questions and Answers’, then anything  beyond common greeting and politeness would end with the excommunication of either spouse, leaving no room for marital intimacy, deep communication, or eating together. And that is precisely what I understand him to promote.

Whether many Anabaptist churches still take it to this extreme or not, I cannot say, but that directly collides with Paul’s command in Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 7:5

New King James Version (NKJV)

“5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Menno’s extreme views on excommunication here, and Paul’s teachings cannot both be accurate. Since one is the scripture speaking, and the other is another individual’s interpretation of scripture, I take the former at face value, and assume the latter is missing something.

Menno Simons on Excommunciation & shunning a spouse 002

Menno on Excommunication & shunning spouse 001

By comparing scripture with scripture, it is clear that there was a misunderstanding of excommunication as Menno taught it in relation to marriage, but in other areas he was more biblical than any church I’ve ever known, who use the ‘ban’.

Menno quotes a lot of scripture throughout his writings, but rather than coming across as though he is ‘comparing scripture with scripture’, it seems as if he is using scriptures to endorse his particular view points. Viewpoints which he seems to sincerely believe are the most accurate interpretation of the intended message.

In studying further, and looking deeper at Menno’s use of the ban, these extreme views are brought into balance somewhat in his caution about using the ban. It seems he did not carelessly or casually use the ban for things that were not scripturally wrong, or sin issues–there is no indication anywhere that he would do so. And if someone disagreed in this area of shunning in marriage, and a spouse would not agree to treating their excommunicated spouse with extreme shunning, he extended grace.

In explaining this, he encouraged the church to be aware that not all commandments are equal, and a misinterpretation–or what I would call a disagreement with his viewpoint–should not be viewed with the same harshness as murder, adultery and other ‘abominable works of the flesh’.

Menno Simons on Excommunication & shunning a spouse 002

In this way, it seems, Menno differentiated between ‘sin’, and interpretation of ‘ordinances’. While strong, and very black and white in his views, when the issue presents itself in real life, his ability to reason through it is obvious. He doesn’t want to wreck marriages, and the strong tone in his writing becomes more mellow.

In my next blog we will explore further Menno’s views on Excommunication, with one view, in particular, that was pleasantly surprising. A view that, if we lived by it today, would give the Mennonite church permission to make confessions without fear of discipline. Many of the confessions I hear, day to day, from clients, would not be hidden so long, if fear of harsh discipline was removed…

… Be Continued…

©TrudyMetzger

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MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 2): Personal Ponderings

It’s a bit uncomfortable, seeing our heritage through a whole new lens, with a very different beginning than we have imagined. The truth is a bit intrusive… Never ind, it’s downright disruptive, at times, and demands of us to see life a differently than we always have… to see ourselves a bit differently…

But I, for one, prefer the truth, no matter what. So, when I discovered, in returning to our early history as non-resistant folk, that ‘our side’, the Anabaptists, also brutalized their enemies, it was with mixed emotions.

I was saddened by the atrocities, yet thankful to know the truth, and thankful to see the bigger picture. Knowing our true history and heritage, I believe, better equips us in breaking generational sins and the strongholds of our ancestors. And maybe it even removes the temptation to surrender to religious arrogance, and causes us to see our own humanity.

I first learned of these horrific things a few years ago, and was reminded of them again recently, when I read my friend, Ira Wagler’s blog, where he some of that story. Rather than retell it, I will link to his page, for you to read what he shared, at: Distant Roads: The Cages of Muenster.

Understanding some of these realities, it makes far more sense, to me, that Menno Simons refers relatively frequently in his writings to the importance of dealing with murderers and violence, through church discipline and excommunication. Without that knowledge, it would seem a bit over stated. I mean, it’s not every day that someone in the church murders someone. Why put it in the list of things to excommunicate for? Clearly this violence is something that troubled Menno, and was appropriately dealt with under his leadership.

In my next blog I will begin exploring the matter of shunning and excommunication, looking at some of Menno’s amazing strengths, as well as what I would view as biblical weaknesses. (In sharing these weaknesses, I expect very few readers, at least with Anabaptist heritage, will disagree with me. And, in his strengths, many will cry a silent ‘amen’ to him and wonder where and when we lost what he had.)

Regardless of his strengths or weaknesses, I am convinced that he was a man passionate about God, pure of heart, and as sincere a man as any I’ve known or studied. (And, as for his weaknesses, at the end of the day, we are probably all a bit misguided in one area or another, to which I say, “Thank God our salvation lies in Jesus, not in perfect understanding of God and His word, nor in our faultless delivery of that understanding.)

With that I will return to my exploring of the big, ugly, brown book… which, I might add, turned out not to be boring after all….

In fact, it made its way off of my bookshelf numerous times, over the years, and then ended up on my night stand a year ago, or so, and now it rests by my writing chair. Next to my Bible, it is probably the most ‘marked’ book I own. More pages are ‘dog-eared’ than any other book I own. I laugh. I read it out loud. And now I’m writing about it. 

As I familiarized myself with Menno’s writings, I discovered the various sections and how at least some, if not quite a few, of his writings were responses to accusations of his ‘enemies’. This immediately intrigued me. His enemies inspired him to express himself, to write out his beliefs, even if in defence of their attacks on him, and stand firm on his faith. And he did it with very little hostility. 

Hmm… what if we, as Christians today, did that, rather than surrendering to culture, society, and those who oppose us? Oh sure, some of the back and forth seemed a bit juvenile, and therefore a bit entertaining–like when Martin Micron called Menno a cuckoo (see pic below),  and Menno  says at another place that Micron “…repeats the same song, but he sings it to the unintelligent, and to a little better tune”, when referring to Microns inconsistent presentation of his own distorted doctrines.

Menno Simons 2 007

Menno Simons 2 009In another instance, Menno responds impulsively, then apologizes for his insensitivity in his writings, but closes with leaving it to Microns own consideration as to who should get the greater blame.

Menno Simons 3 001

Menno Simons 2 012 b

Seeing the side more ‘reckless’, as Menno describes himself, or more impulsive, I gained a whole new fascination with him. Human after all… And possibly a bit more like myself, with a blend of the Apostle Peter and Apostle Paul. Not quite as composed and ‘perfect’ as I might have previously imagined. A bit of a smart-alec too… Something I can appreciate in a strong spiritual leader, if it isn’t abused, because it makes for an engaging speaker.

Along with that ‘reckless’ humanity, I also saw the root of some things not quite so noble. There is an obvious thread of our spiritual arrogance on which our faith was founded. I don’t mean that rudely, but the reality is most of us Anabaptists have been raised with a strong sense that we are the most right…. Just a bit more saintly than other Christians, if, in fact, they are Christians at all. We’ve been taught in subtle, and not so subtle, ways that we have the ultimate truth. (Yeah, yeah, I know… there are many others like us, who believe the same thing about themselves. Odds are their founding forefathers carried some of the same arrogance about ‘a perfect understanding’.)

At one point Menno writes, in his reply to Martin Micron of a younger ‘adversary’, Herman, “I told him twice, ‘dear Herman, you are too young; you will have to learn a great deal before you ought to try to defend your cause. What is become of all the bold assertions, which you made at the start?’ Yet, Micron writes that some of their weak brethren were very much strengthened by Herman during discussion. I will leave the matter here. Thus they hoodwink the reader that he may not observe that Herman acted so childish, to their shame....” [pg 359, Reply to Martin Micron, Menno Simons, Complete Works.]

Another place Menno says to Martin Micron, “…Good Martin, you would be well if you would learn to know yourself better, for you are yet too much of a novice in the scriptures to defend yourself.”

His calling Herman ‘much too young’ as grounds for trying to silence him, and again  calling Micron a novice, seems not only a bit of a power trip, but it isn’t biblical. Paul tells Timothy to not let people despise him because of his youth, but to be an example. (1 Timothy 4:17) While it may have been accurate, in Menno’s case, his words could have come across as an attack and were not necessary.

In this way it is obvious that Menno condescends to those who oppose him. Had he already done all that he could, in a non-adversarial tone, to communicate effectively? I cannot judge that. However, the way he talks down to anyone who does not agree with him, is something that sounds oddly familiar. Come to think of it… I think it is my own voice I hear, echoing in the not-too-distant past. So I will keep my stones in my pocket and not judge, since I, too, have sinned with my words. Far greater sins than these…

While I agree with only some of what Menno Simons teaches–particularly in the area of excommunication, where he seems to get derailed brutally by human reasoning–I give him credit for one thing. The man knew his Bible and passionately taught what he understood it to say. 

So I find myself vacillating, as I read his writings… Caught between deep admiration for a man who stood with courage for his faith, in one moment, and wondering at his less than admirable character, and beliefs, in the next moment. It is his transparent humanity in the less noble side that I admire deeply, even with the obvious flaws.

With that in mind I will delve into his teachings on excommunication and church discipline, starting next week.

… Be Continued…

©TrudyMetzger

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MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 1): Teachings on Divorce

MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works…

Menno Simons Writings 003

My father handed me the big, fat book, of boring, religious writings. (Forgive me. I mean no disrespect, but old English, for me, is associated with a distant, non-relational God.)  An ugly brown. Go figure. As unappealing to look at, as the thought of reading it. Another book in the collection of the ‘Never Read’ section of my book-case.

Most likely it was my father’s way of reminding me to never leave the Mennonite church–in whatever ‘brand’–and his attempt at keeping me on the ‘straight and narrow’.

“Thank you very much,” I said. And I meant it.

Whatever his motive at the time, and however (appropriately) plain, and even boring, the book might be, my father had given me a gift that meant the world to him. He handed it to me with almost a sense of reverence. On ‘this’ man, Menno, our faith heritage was founded, and that was something my father treasured. Still, it stayed a step below his near-sacred Martyr’s Mirror, which I had spent much time reading as a child. Now that book I would have loved, had he given it to me.

(I must inject here that, in 2001, my father became very ill, suffering from diabetes, that had, unfortunately, only worsened with his love for cultural fried foods, desserts and other taboo menu items, and led to him needing an amputation. While in the hospital I spent more time with him, one on one, than any other time in my life, and during that time he blessed me to leave the Mennonite church. The ‘brand name’ no longer mattered to him. He had discovered grace, he said.)

This gift, of Menno’s writings, was given to me in my mid-twenties, or thereabouts, and it lay dormant for quite a few years.

One Sunday morning, while I was still in a conservative Mennonite church, the pastor preached enthusiastically on  ‘Divorce & Remarriage’ and the church’s stand on it. He referenced Menno Simons, our fore-father, our spiritual ‘leader’, more than he referenced the word of God. And, quite frankly, Menno wrote about it more than the New Testament, for sure.

What it was about the strong referencing of Menno Simons that inspired me, I don’t know for certain, but something tweaked my curiosity… A desire to hear it from ‘the man’ himself.

Maybe it was my irritation at hearing more about this ‘founder of our faith’, than Jesus Christ, on that particular morning, or the frequent preaching of the church’s positions, rules and constitutions, rather than the teaching and doctrines of Christ and the Word of God in general. Whatever it was, I do recall that these things always aggravated me, and unsettled me, and that particular morning enough to make me act.

Regardless the cause, the questions began… What did this man really teach and believe? Do we assume that what is taught, Sunday after Sunday, church service after church service, and what is attributed to this great leader of our denominational faith, is accurate? Or does anyone ever reference his actual writings? (Or, do they, like me, find that big ugly brown book a little drab, inside and out?)

Are we like the daughter who, when she moved out on her own, went to prepare a roast, and instinctively cut the end of the roast. When questioned as to why, she couldn’t  answer more than, “My mother always did.” When she questioned her mother, she said, “Your Grandma always did.” And when they asked the Grandma, she said, “Because my roast pan was too small.”

Do we ask the questions, make sure we know and understand truth, or do we simply accept, without questioning, what we have seen and learned?

I had no reason to believe he was being misrepresented… No reason to believe that our denominational views had evolved over time and morphed into something very different than what I had heard my entire life was the beliefs of our founding fathers. Such a thought never occurred to me.

Still, with the curiosity sparked, I found myself, the following Monday morning, searching Menno’s big, fat, ugly book for answers. I flipped furiously at first, having found no title page, simply scanning, looking for key words, ‘marriage… divorce… remarriage… etc’. Nothing caught my eye.

When I finally discovered the book’s index system, I made progress. On page 311, of ‘A Humble & Christian Defense‘–ah… there’s our humility, boldly advertised, so as not to have it missed…–I found what I was looking for… but it surprised me.

I admit, I was fully expecting Menno to support everything I heard preached the previous day, and my whole life, but I had to see it for myself. What I found, instead, rather stunned me. I am confident that my Conservative Mennonite Churches of Ontario (CMCO) leaders, and all other conservative Mennonite leaders, whether in school, Numidia Bible School, or any other potential influence, never intentionally misled me about Menno Simons’ beliefs. But clearly they didn’t do their homework, because not one every mentioned that Menno Simons had it wrong.

Rather than type out his words, I have photographed what I found that day. His writing is in response to a false charge that the Anabaptist church allowed polygamy, having wives in common, and that any man could say to a woman, “Sister, my spirit desires your flesh’. [MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works, pg 310, in ‘A Humble & Christian Defense‘.]

Menno goes beyond simply answering to those charges. He expounds on where the church stands on the issue of divorce and remarriage, among other things, before he even ventures to address their accusation.:

Menno Simons Writings 001

Menno Simons 4 001

Menno Simons 4 002 b

Lest anyone would quickly argue that ‘they cannot be separated from each other, to marry again’ is a stand alone ‘belief’, and the ‘otherwise than for adultery’ applies only to the separation, I did my homework to find out if in fact I read this correctly. What I found was the ‘Wismar Articles’.

In 1554, seven key Dutch Anabaptist leaders, including Menno Simons, Dirk Phillips, and Leonard Bouwens met together in conference to discuss some pressing issues, and the result was the ‘Wismar Articles‘.

“Article IV. In the fourth place, if a believer and an unbeliever are in the marriage bond together and the unbeliever commits adultery, the marriage tie is broken. And if it be one who complains that he has fallen in sin, and desires to mend his ways, then the brethren permit the believing mate to go to the unfaithful one to admonish him, if conscience allows it in view of the state of the affair. But if he be a bold and headstrong adulterer, then the innocent party is free – with the provision, however, that she shall consult with the congregation and remarry according to circumstances and decisions in the matter, be it well understood.”

That Monday morning, still in a state of shock, I called the wife of the minister who had preached the previous morning, and asked if they happen to own the Complete Works of Menno Simons. They did.

“Could you turn to page 311, in A Humble & Christian Defense, and read, out loud,  the second from the bottom paragraph on the left column of the page?”

She began reading, and gradually her voice faded, as she absorbed what she found. There was a pause, followed by, “Well, we have to remember Menno Simons was just a man.”

I didn’t say it, but the thought went through my mind, He sounded like a powerful authority on the subject yesterday… on this topic, I might add. I wondered then how we had come to idolize a man with such differing views from our present practice and teaching.

My intent that day wasn’t to endorse careless divorce and remarriage. However, my findings did force me to contemplate whether there are other ‘biblical teachings’ that we have reinterpreted, reinvented, adjusted, and enforced that might, in fact, have another valid biblical interpretation… Possibly even one endorsed by our denominational hero, Menno Simons.

I have friends and relatives whose marriages survived affairs, and some who did not. I have Christian friends who understand Jesus’ teaching on divorce precisely as Menno Simons taught them, and have remarried fellow believers. I judge neither view, because biblically I can see both sides. For myself, I have predetermined that absolutely nothing will ever sever our marriage bond. I am committed to Tim for life, no matter what. But that is easy to say about a man who loves and honours me with his whole heart.

Having seen the impact of affairs, sexual addictions, and brutal betrayals, woe is me if I should judge harshly another individual on the matter, when the Bible, and our forefathers, allow room for divorce and remarriage.

In writing this, I am not arguing for or against Menno’s position. I am merely exploring some of what he believed, and sharing it with the world….

…To Be Continued…

©TrudyMetzger

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The Amish Beard-cutting Fiasco: A Time to be Silent & A Time to Speak

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7b-8a

A Time for Everything

   There is a time …  and a season for every activity under the heavens:
   … a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate

The time for silence is past, and the time to speak has arrived. I’ve done well, these past nine months, or so, since the Amish beard-cutting scandal hit the news, and I heard of it. In spite of the fact that it reeked of all kinds of corruption, and in a plain culture, from which I come, I didn’t write a word about it, and barely said a peep to anyone. Until tonight.

Photo Credits

And I wasn’t silent because I don’t have thoughts or opinions on the matter. I have thoughts and opinions on just about everything that I am at all educated on, and I had followed this story closely, reading everything I saw on it.

I kept silent because the story is negative in every way, and I don’t like to feed negative energy. And I didn’t want to give the story any more power or attention than it’s already getting. If the man (Samuel Mullet Sr) was already on a power trip, and as corrupt as they come, before he made the news, I don’t see bad publicity being any good for him. He’s probably tallying up brownie points somewhere for having so effectively, and publicly, shamed a community. But that’s not really what made me decide to write now, and it’s not what I will focus on.

Tonight, when my friend and fellow blogger, Katie Troyer posted a link to a news article on the story on Facebook, I read again about all the people Mullet victimized, and I was angry. For the first time I felt compelled to speak. The beard cutting is bad enough, but it’s the sexual victimization, coercion, manipulation, seduction and fear-mongering that enrages me as much as anything.

I know well, from my own past, the power of religious leaders and the spiritual abuse and control they can impose on people. I know how the truth can be twisted into a lie, and a lie into the truth, through brainwashing, by power-hungry, evil men. (Which they are not all, though there are more than enough.) I’ve walked that road. But Mullet took that corruption to a whole new level of evil, compared to anything I experienced, or saw previously.

When I read the stories of the women he victimized, I was repulsed and angry. Repulsed that any man claiming to represent God would violate the vulnerable so completely, and angry that religion is used to accomplish such evil ends.

To be honest, I was cranky before I ever read the article, and my mood didn’t help. Lately it seems the devil is having way to much fun, wrecking lives. It seems that, where God is doing good, the devil is working overtime at a discounted rate, to undo any good that’s been done.

Last night that got the better of me. It made me angry. Not the ‘external, yell at people, and do some damage’ kind of anger, but that inner anger at watching lives disrupted, relationships damaged and hearts crushed or broken. Especially when there are religious entanglements, and inappropriate religious controls–often based on a stand-alone Bible verse or two, pulled randomly out of context. That kind of thing sets people up to struggle in their faith and become completely disillusioned.

For example, preaching ‘children obey your parents’ and ‘honour your father and mother’ to an adult in their twenties, or thirties-old or older, for choices that don’t comply with a parent’s wishes, while disregarding, ‘Fathers provoke not your children to wrath’, brings incredible imbalance to interpretation of scripture. It makes a mockery out of God’s word and His intended message, when people use random verses to support personal agenda. Granted, often with a good heart, but wrong none-the-less.

Having witnessed the damage of that type of thing yesterday, and then reading this article today, I realized just how far wrong religious control can go, if left unchecked.

It is as a good friend said today, “It seems, sometimes, that the ‘whiter the robe’ (religious pretentiousness) the darker the sin.”

And that is just what I thought when I looked at the picture of Samuel Mullet Sr. and saw that boldly religious exterior, while reading somewhat of a horror story of who the man was, or is, and the crimes he committed against the women in his church, never mind his own daughters-in-law.

Photo Credits (Samuel Mullet Sr)

Surely he must have read the verses in Leviticus that say a man is not to be sexually involved with his daughter-in-law…  And if not that, at least the ten commandments instructing us not to commit adultery. He must have known better. And then there’s always that simple bit about common sense and moral standards that would tell a leader that engaging in sexual interaction, on any level, with those under leadership is grossly inappropriate.

Oddly, while neglecting these most basic common-sense Christian principles, he has the audacity to enforce a host of man-made rules, that have nothing whatsoever to do with faith, salvation, or Christianity in general. They do, however, fully support his agenda, control and oppression. And falling back on fear-mongering and religious abuse to manipulate young women into submitting to sexual abuse that they would otherwise never give in to, is the ultimate violation of God’s heart, and their trust.

I find this story appalling, and given the opportunity I would go out of my way to help these victims recover, though that’s not too likely. (Unless of course, if by divine providence they show up at the Faith Girls Unleashed Conference in Canton Ohio, God willing, October 12 & 13. Though, what are the odds?… still, it can’t hurt to dream of helping.)

The one bit of good news in the entire article was found in the final paragraph, immediately following a rather pathetic statement:

“The defendants say the government shouldn’t intrude on what they call internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias. They’ve denied the charges and rejected plea bargain offers carrying sentences of two to three years in prison instead of possible sentences of 20 years or more.”

For any religious, or other, group to insist they are above the law, especially on issues that are clearly evil, isn’t terribly noble. It’s arrogant as it gets. And, besides, everyone seems to think that Amish are ‘cute’ and ‘quaint’ and peaceful. And most of the Amish I have met have been very kind and wonderful people, who, I am certain, are terribly embarrassed by Samuel Mullet’s behaviour. I don’t see a lot of anti-Amish bias going on, though there’s definitely anti-abuse and violence going on.

When it’s all said and done, it is good news that they are not falling for the plea-bargain offers. I feel much better knowing there’s a chance they will be locked up for twenty years. Two or three years, in my opinion, does not cut it–no pun intended–for the ongoing, deliberate, unrepentant abuse.

A dose of reality, including a twenty year prison sentence seems appropriate. And maybe, while there, they will be introduced to the true gospel of Jesus Christ and have a genuine encounter with Him. That would be, in my mind, the best case scenario.

Pure religion, on God’s terms, is a beautiful thing. But religion that is used for any other thing than to lift Jesus high, and draw humanity to Him, has a level of corruption and evil one cannot even put to words. It is the natural progression of things when religion and religious controls become our focus, rather than faith in Jesus Christ. It can’t produce any good. And where that line is crossed, who can know for sure?

© Trudy Metzger

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One Heart, A Thousand Tears: Two Worlds Juxtaposed

“Mom, can you give me a ride to work please?” My daughter asked.

To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood. Had it not been raining, I would have told her a walk would be good for her. I was in the middle of a project and the interruption wasn’t welcome. None-the-less, I laid aside my work. It was the only reasonable thing to do.

After dropping her off, I remembered several errands I needed to run. I would do those before heading home, and save myself another trip out. With that, I drove to the Home Hardware Store.

Waiting at the stop sign in our small town of Elmira Ontario, I heard the clip-clop of horses hooves, a common sound in Mennonite country. I watched the horse and buggy, coming my way, with other traffic following patiently behind. Or, not so patiently.

A monster of a truck, jacked up on those over-sized wheels, making an even bolder statement in an electric blue colour, followed tight on its heels. Clearly annoyed. The line-up of vehicles behind it looked non-menacing, compared to that one, lone, angry-looking machine.

As the covered buggy rounded the corner, the Monster revved. Hard. The horse startled slightly. The buggy lurched forward. The Monster driver was clearly irate at having had to hold back his own horse power, thanks to a little Mennonite buggy, with live horse power.

A young man, probably in his mid-twenties, stuck his head out of the buggy, straw hat pulled over his head, eyes gazing at the Monster. A world just beyond his reach. You could see it in his eyes. The longing to experience that kind of power. He stretched out further, his eyes following the Monster, until it slipped out of sight. The Monster’s roar, echoing long after it was out of sight, almost seemed to taunt the young man.

 

Slowly the young man pulled his head back in, eyes filled with something akin to sadness. The world beyond his reach.

I can’t say for certain that I interpreted the scene accurately, but it is what saw, in my mind’s eye. Maybe, in reality, the young man thought the Monster owner to be a fool, and his look was one of sadness for the ‘lost soul’ inside. I will never know.

I drove on, the scene replaying in my mind, and wondered at this colliding of cultures. I can almost hear the Monster driver spewing his frustrations—I’ve been with people, on occasion, who do that. No doubt he muttered things like ,”take your horse back out to the farm, where it belongs!” or maybe, “C’mon!! This is the 20th century!!”

Regardless, the buggy with its bridled horse power, juxtaposed with the Monster and its unbridled horse power, was an image I wished to have captured permanently. It forced me to contemplate the stark contrast between these worlds, and the ways they collide, from time to time.

I arrived at the grocery store, to grab a few items, declining a woman’s offer to have her cart—and the 25 cents she had invested in it. A small basket would do.

Scurrying about the store, picking up a few necessary items for our vegetable skewers for dinner, I was keenly aware of other shoppers. It isn’t like me, really, to be so aware of detail. While I have a fairly graphic memory, detail like that isn’t my strength. Yet, even now, more than 24 hours later, I could describe many of the shoppers.

A young father walked purposefully through the store, his little girl prancing about delightfully, as he shopped. Another woman, with long, straight black hair, walked more slowly, looking stern, or somber. And so on…

Had the buggy and the Monster created the sensitivity? Possibly.

I smiled politely. Greeted a few I recognized, and continued my speed shopping. No time for socializing. Dinner was in an hour and I looked forward to the steak and veggie skewers. The pasta was an afterthought. Could have done without it, but my husband and five children would have been ravenous shortly after dinner. Especially our three boys. The girls would have been fine.

I rushed to the counter, relieved to find I was second in line at one of the check outs, and pleased that I had made it out without getting caught in conversation. That’s rare. Usually someone stops to chat. Tells me their story of pain and tragedy. That’s just how it is with me. I don’t know why.

In fact, years ago my husband asked me, “How do you meet these people? You walk into a public washroom and come out knowing someone’s life story.”

“I don’t know,” I said. It just happens. “I can’t explain it.

Not weeks later, he had attended a doctor appointment with me. As we rode the elevator together, along with one other woman—a perfect stranger to us both—we did the typical elevator behaviour. Brace against the wall. Look at the lights as we move from floor to floor. Gasp a little at the rise and fall of each stop. (Did I mention I am sensitive to that feeling? An elevator could as well be a roller coaster. Though I have gotten better with time.)

We had not yet reached our floor when the woman looked at me, smiled, and said, “hi”.

“Hi,” I said, smiling politely.

We reached our floor, and exited the elevator. The woman followed. We walked to our doctor’s suite. Again she followed. After checking in with the nurse, we seated ourselves. She seated herself just around the corner from us.

By the time we left, I knew her story. She was divorced. Had fought hell and high water to keep her son because her husband slandered her. Her cousin was married to my brother. And she had just moved weeks earlier, to our area, from a town two hours away. I have never seen the woman again.

As we left, I said to my husband, “You asked how it happens. That’s how it happens.”

As I stood there at the checkout yesterday, preparing to pay, relieved to have escaped any such conversations, I turned, and looked to the line now forming behind me. Timing is everything some days. A minute later and I would have been at the back of that line. And that’s when I saw them….

My story is one of overcoming extreme abuse and violence. Childhood made me hypersensitive to hurting people to such an extent that I can see a perfect stranger and often know what they’ve been through. Even what they’re thinking. Some find this creepy. I don’t. I had to know what people were thinking, as a child, in order to survive and stay a step ahead of the game. Now I use that survival skill in coaching and mentoring people. It helps me ask the right questions. It helps me see things that no one else might know about the people around me.

And that is precisely what happened when I looked to the back of the line. A slightly heavy-set woman who appeared to be in her sixties, nearly ran her full cart into another shopper. An awkward apology, as the shopper glared at her. She looked almost frightened, as she squinted behind the inch-thick glasses that made her eyes look quarter of their actual size. She laughed nervously. Quietly. Obviously feeling a bit lost. Out of place. Her stained, crooked teeth—what were left of them—mocked her laugh.

She wore traditional Old Colony Mennonite garb. A black kerchief wrapped around her head, little frills falling off the edges. I know the culture. It’s my background. I know how closed they are. How secluded. How alone. How different they feel when they mingle with ‘worldly folk’. That aloneness was visible.

A younger woman, maybe in her forties, and thin, almost to an extreme, stumbled up to her. But for the weight difference, and the age, I would have sworn I was looking at a ghost of the same woman, from days gone by. Her younger years. No doubt this was her daughter.

The daughter, dressed almost identical to her mother, wore no glasses, but was clearly visually impaired. She squinted, leaning in close, awkwardly placing her face very near the other woman. She spoke. I couldn’t hear the words. Though I wished I could have. (Not that I make a habit of eavesdropping… most of the time.) This was different. I know their mother-tongue, and could have understood their words, had they spoke louder. Probably just as well.

Their body language screamed of victimization. I know the signs. I watched my mother, as a child, and heard her screams. The horrors of domestic violence.

I turned my attention back to the cashier. “That will be $41.26.”

I slid my card in the card reader and entered my code. The cashier asked a question. I nodded, looking intently at the POS machine.

Something in my chest hurt. I felt grief rise up. A sense of identification from childhood that I had never encountered this way before, in public, with strangers.

A tear formed, threatening to spill. I choked it back down. No tears. Not now. I could feel my heart, tightening up. Squeezing more tears out of my chest and up into my eyes. I swallowed hard. Took the receipt. Turned with my small box of groceries and left the store.

In my car the tears started. Falling for these strangers, they trickled down my face. One by one, at first, and then a stream.

Such stark contrast between their world, and the world of the beautiful little girl, skipping through the grocery store beside her daddy.

One short trip in a small town to take my daughter to work. Two worlds juxtaposed. One heart… A thousand tears.

© Trudy Metzger

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Mennonite Bishop’s Bold Stand In Sexual Abuse Case!

Finally, some good news to share! On the heels of The Elephant Grows Fat in Church, it is a thrill to share how a bishop in  Mennonite church, in Ontario, took an unusual and bold stand in a childhood sexual abuse case.

But, good news, in the case of childhood sexual abuse, is always bittersweet, because it comes at a price. Tragically the good news always hinges on the initial crime of victimizing a child. That, in and of itself, makes today’s post as tragic as it is exciting for me to write about.

When it comes to the topic of sexual abuse, I find the material heavy and somewhat depressing. I take a bit more emotional ‘down time’ just washing away the darkness that inevitably wishes to latch on to me, depressing me. I cry out to God a little more. I feel a bit more emotional. A bit more vulnerable. There seems little good to write about.

I admit, I feel badly exposing the dark side of my Mennonite heritage when there is so much good in it, but I fear if I remain silent, as many have, the good will be lost. So, depressing as it may seem, I press on….

But this post is different. It is a beacon in a dark and stormy night, giving hope to the many on the rough waters of victimization in the Mennonite culture.

To protect the identity of any victims, I will not use real names, and will not disclose the ‘brand’ of Mennonites, other than to say they are very conservative. That fact gives me hope that more will follow suit.

The perpetrator, Dan, is a friend of mine from the past, whom I met when I lived in Fresno, California, in the summer of 1987.

Dan was a ‘nice’ guy, and respectful. He had Mennonite background but didn’t ‘buy in’ until he was in his twenties. And that was twenty years ago. Over the years he stayed single, a member in good standing in the church. From time to time, when mom had talked to him, she would pass on his greetings, saying he would love to see me again, and meet my family.

Recently Dan’s bishop discovered that during his twenty years in the church, he has been sexually abusing young boys. What makes the bishop’s response unique, and a noteworthy detail, is that Dan is related to him, quite closely, through marriage. What’s more, Dan’s family is ‘highly respected’ as the ‘elite’ in the church, which alone gives cause for cover up at times, because the potential damage to church reputation.

To his credit, Dan’s bishop talked with Dan and told him he needs to turn himself in to the local authorities and offered to drive him. I am sick and saddened by the discovery that Dan violated young boys all these years. My heart breaks for the victims, some of whom are now adult men, no doubt struggling to make sense of their journey.

And my heart aches for Dan, for making choices that brought so much destruction. I know a bit of Dan’s story. His father was a rather vile man whose example was about as destructive as they get. His older brother raped my best friend in California while I was there.  Who was there for him? Who showed him the way? What was his story? Did he first suffer at the hands of another perpetrator?

Unanswered questions. None of which, if answered, would make the wrongs right. They could only shed light on the journey, but could do nothing to bring any sense of justice to the victims.

Above all, I am proud of the bishop for taking the hard road within the culture. I know him, though not well, having had occasion to speak with him a few times. It encourages me to see men of integrity within a culture of silence, men who are willing to take a stand. I never want to overlook honouring them and acknowledging the good they do.

Whether it will be the new norm, I don’t know. Whether this means that victims will be acknowledged and helped, emotionally and spiritually, without any guilt and shame placed on them, I don’t know. I pray so. I pray this is a new standard being set, for the purpose of hope and healing through Jesus, not any other reason.  Not to judge, punish or condemn. But to bring redemption, through JESUS, to the mess stuff of humanity.

Jesus came to give life, hope and freedom,  and truth is the channel through which these flow. Often we, humans, are called to guide that truth, to carry it, ad to ensure it is protected and revealed. Thank God for those who do it honourably.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series