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.”

canstockphoto1610641

©TrudyMetzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

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.

MLA2006-0138.jpg

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

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

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

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

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

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

Untangling More Thoughts: Sexual Abuse in My Mennonite Heritage

I am seldom emotional after writing, or posting a blog. But the previous post left me completely undone for a few hours. The tears started to fall, unbidden. And they only increased with the messages, comments, and emails of readers. Some messages were from people identifying. Some crying out. Most grieving. And all showing appreciation for breaking the silence.

The overwhelming support and encouragement deeply impacted me, while the strong identification, of so many having suffered saddened me.

Of course, there were one or two by the end of the day who questioned the validity of my post… is it really that bad? Is it an exaggeration? And, even if it is true, why expose it? But even those who questioned were kind.

That last question is another whole blog post, but the short answer is, “For freedom’s sake.” People need to know that they can get that ‘hell’ off of their chest. And if I can give them a safe place, by openly addressing it, that’s a first step. And I have connections to others who will listen.

Originally I did not intend ever to expose the things I posted. In the back of my mind I heard the shallow warning that, ‘If you speak of it, you will put ideas in their heads’. But that ancient echo holds no power. Or truth.

Those who are pure, will hear it (or read it) and cry out to God for mercy for His children, and  healing for our broken hearts and lives. Those who ‘feed’ on perversion, well, they would think of one perverse thing or another either way. At least I present it with a cry for truth and healing, unlike pornography sites or books.

It is a difficult thing to write, to expose, to bring to light. And the tragedy is that this darkness has badly scarred the beauty of a culture that was founded on faith in Jesus Christ. And it is not exposing it that has scarred the culture. It’s the hidden sin that’s doing the damage and escalating the epidemic. Yes, there were flaws and faults all along but with the passing of time, it is a culture that has, in many cases, slipped into legalism that makes image more important than truth. And that ‘perfect image’ is the very thing that has caused people to cover up and has allowed sexual abuse to flourish.

There is so much good to celebrate in the culture, even in the conservative roots. But, unfortunately, those roots have become ‘the god’ of the culture for many, and the God of Light and Truth–Jesus–has been lost for them. It saddens me that the good has become lost because of religious pride and unwillingness to go to the hard places. It is especially saddening because there are good men and women who want truth and healing.

My prayer is for redemption. and redemption will not come until the darkness is brought to light.

While some have all but lost sight of the truth, others are as sincere and godly as anyone will ever be. And, apart from possibly having known a friend or two who were abused, some are genuinely shocked to discover that the things I write here are happening in the Mennonite culture. I would apologize for breaking that innocence, but some innocence is destructive. I received three messages from people not identifying with abuse. One offered to help, any way possible and expressed sadness at realizing what others deal with and suffer through, and how prevalent it is.

I was asked recently about my Mennonite culture, “How many families do you know who have been impacted by sexual abuse?”

My answer, without hesitation was, “At least one hundred or more.” After the conversation I took a few minutes to write a list. I made it to almost fifty families, for a total of about seventy victims, without giving it much thought, based only on the people I have personally interacted with, via phone, email, and one-on-one meetings. I have not yet finished that list, but I know this, I will have closer to two hundred families when I am done. And I have no idea how many victims I will have.

That is jolting. And many of the victims on that list will read this and say, “I am one of them. I spoke with her.” But they will not have the courage to identify themselves. Nor do they need to. It is not an easy thing to be identified as a victim of sexual abuse in a culture that often hasn’t a clue what to do, how to help people, or inadvertently ‘labels’ and shames victims.

The list I wrote up did not include the many I know of in the USA, or those I’ve heard ‘rumoured’ locally but have not spoken with or personally confirmed. And it does not include many that would be referred to as ‘mild cases’, (a term I don’t like), by those not wanting to acknowledge the issue. (This is sometimes used when referring to groping or fondling and that sort of abuse.) The list also did not include many ‘child to child’ cases. And it excluded all my cousins or relatives, other than my immediate siblings. And it does not include those who attended conferences and identified themselves that way. And finally, it does not include any ‘mutual consent’ situations that have been shared with me. That is a different topic.

I am one person. If I know that many victims, many of whom I have only discovered in the last four months, how many more are out there? I know it is an uncomfortable thought for those of you who were sheltered, but the truth needs to come out. And to stifle it because it is uncomfortable, is not going to help.

If I knew that only 2% of children in my cultural background were being sexually abused, I would still feel compelled to do something. But it isn’t 2% we’re talking about. Tragically the real number is much higher.

Jesus said, in Mark 9:42, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

If Jesus takes offending a child that seriously, where is the church when it comes to doing something about this epidemic of sexual abuse? Why are perpetrators protected and ‘hidden’, while children’s lives are destroyed.

If I didn’t know that there were people who tried to go to leaders for help, in the CMCO and other Mennonite fellowships, it would be different. And if I truly believed most of the leaders are unaware, I would be cautious about speaking out so publicly. But I know that many know what’s going on, and many victims have tried to bring this to light quietly, within the culture, but unsuccessfully. Many have been silenced.

The sad thing is that some of the leaders are also victims. Some are perpetrators. Some are both. And they have a vested interest in silence. I have spoken to some of them. They know who they are… should they happen to break their own rules and read this. My intent is not to be harsh but to ask, Where are the men of God who will rise up and take a stand for the children? Where are the men who will lay down their lives for the little ones, to protect them, at the expense of religious image?

Pontius Pilate was not innocent simply because he washed his hands of Jesus. No more are we if we wash our hands of this epidemic of the victimization of children. God will hold us accountable. Of that I have no doubt.

On a positive note, there are some who have been willing to help and continue . I would like to thank Glen Jantzi, of Countryside Mennonite Fellowship, who played a key role in the life of one victim who is very close to me. Glen did not turn a blind eye when he knew the truth, and  he didn’t merely track down the perpetrator. He cared for the victim’s heart the best he knew how. I applaud that compassion and am blessed by it. In his actions I saw the Father’s heart.

And there are others. I know several leaders in the CMCO church, who, from all I am told, desperately want to help, but they don’t know where to turn. My prayer is that God will bring along the right people who will equip these leaders to help their people, and that the leaders will have the humility to receive that help.

Until the day I die, I will continue to do the little bit I can do, and pray it brings about good change. I have no desire to harm or destroy, but to bring truth and healing, through Jesus, to the culture and protect the children of the next generation. That is my mission and my ministry.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series