Sergeant Wilson’s account of the events that occurred at the Mast residence December 19-20, 2020, and the weeks leading up to that day when little Jessica Mast was murdered at the hands of Ethan Mast, Kourtney Aumen, James Mast and Mary S. Mast, is brutal to read. As a child raised observing vile beatings, it has been a gut-wrenching story to follow, and has impacted me in ways that I cannot put into words, but are observable to my husband. (Our abusive home-life is well documented in my book, Between 2 God: A memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community). I caution anyone who has been through severe trauma including, family violence (including harsh beatings, often referred to as ‘spanking’, religious abuse and extremism (including the teaching to ‘spank until limp’, and the like. Be aware that the Probable Cause statements which describe the scene of the crime may be triggering, and it may be wise to have a friend, your support person or someone with you when reading, or available to debrief after.
Besides the terror that sweet child felt, and the unthinkable neglect as she ran for her parents and they fled, what is so utterly horrifying to me is that she and her little brother were to hold still while they were beaten; they were to surrender. A two year old and a four year old, to surrender to a beating and hold still for it.
This is the same mentality that I was raised with. We were forced to hold still and comply with violent whippings. The more we moved, the more we were whipped. On at least one occasion, my father intervened when my mother whipped a sibling. Had he not done so, she would likely have beat my sibling to a bloody pulp. Other siblings bear the scars to this day, of the violence they endured at the hands of my parents.
It is the same mentality that is taught when I child is to be “paddled until they go limp” as a sign of surrender; a teaching at least one of the accused killer’s churches taught.
I understand that my call, in my previous blog, to the Charity church that taught this to acknowledge the wrongness of that teaching, and repent (recant) of it, is offensive to some. Those offended by a call to repentance are the people who are the least safe. When was a call to take ownership of a faulty teaching and a call to repent of it ever a bad idea? To see something as horrific as what happened in Missouri, by someone raised with that mindset, and to see in this report how shockingly it mimics the teachings, should bring all to a place of brokenness who teach such things.
It is not my place to say all spanking is wrong. That was and is not my point. The law leaves room for it, with restraint. The Bible has been terribly misinterpreted as allowing for beatings that go far beyond loving discipline. That simply is not the way of Jesus, and it is not the way of love. Spankings, with restraint, I leave between an individual and God. Sadly, those of us who were raised with harsh spankings (aka beatings), or the mindset of ‘spank until they go limp’ or surrender, are conditioned for ‘discipline’ that is very unhealthy, and is, in fact, abuse.
An Anabaptist gentleman I met on Facebook, who is 16 years my senior — therefore 16 years wiser, though he stated he wasn’t sure about that — and who started gently calling me out on things that he finds questionable in my writings — wrote me after I posted my last blog. I appreciate him and consider him a friend, though we’ve never met. The following is our exchange, shared with his permission:
Hi Trudy, just some thoughts…what happened in Mo., simply awful. I would like to point out another side, tho. I attend a church, (not Charity style) that has LOTS of small/young children. These children are bright-eyed, open faced, happy, contented (tho not perfect)…they love their parents, and they know their parents love them. These are parents that believe in spanking (properly done, NOT in an abusive way). They love their children in every way, and these are some of the happiest, obedient, full-of-life kids I’ve ever seen. Proper use of spanking (which is only part of the big picture), produces great children. These parents and their children have some of the greatest relationships I have seen, ever, anywhere. What happened at Charity was often wrong, but at the time they probably thought it was the right thing. So sad.
I responded with the following:
If I could go back, I would not spank our children. I was too broken. Too lost. Too unaware of God’s grace and the kind Abba Father He is. And that is the story of many of us. As I say in the one FB conversation [referenced in previous blog] — and I don’t even know if it’s one of the ones I used [in my blog] — I don’t judge every parent who spanks as [being] abusive. I thought I was doing what was supposed to be [right]. And it was wrong. It wasn’t relational. God is a relational God. I didn’t know that. So I won’t judge the parents who reserve spanking for the rare situation (although I [also] did not spank often) and who are gentle. But I wouldn’t do it again.
Having worked with victims of sexual and domestic violence for eleven years now, I know that the number of homes that beat children ‘nigh unto death’, or where children are actually threatened with death, is shockingly high. By that I don’t mean “90% or even 50%”. I mean, it is shockingly high for what we would expect in a nonresistant people claiming to know Jesus.
Anyone who feels compelled to defend that mindset and teaching, or respond with knee jerk reaction to my call to repentance, by taking what I said out of context and making it about ‘hating Anabaptists’ or blaming them, has an agenda that is not inspired by Christ. It’s that simple.
So I say again, without apology, that I pray those who have taught these things will repent and recant of those teachings. They are abusive and damaging teachings. It isn’t their ‘fault’, what happened in Missouri. I am not blaming the Charity church for this. That was not my message last blog, and it is not my message today. But to recant those teachings is drawing a clear line between what is right and Christlike, and what is wrong and abusive.
I am told by someone with whom Mose Stoltzfus (preacher of Ephrata Christian Fellowship who passed away December 6, 2020) spoke firsthand, as well as having it confirmed from someone who was from Charity, that Mose was extremely concerned about the situation with Kourtney Aumen living with the James Mast family. He was concerned about how it came to be that Kourtney lived with them, and tried to influence against it, but he was not heard. He was especially concerned that James Mast — a male in his twenties — had been asked to drive Kourtney — a troubled girl in her late teens — some 15 hours by himself. He saw the dangers, but others involved in that decision disregarded him. So it was not that the leaders did care. Thus, my message is not one of harsh criticism or blame.
My message is that some of the teachings in Charity and Charity-type churches, regarding spanking until limp — including infants — were abusive. I believe there would be value in recanting them. Out loud. For those they influenced to hear. I believe there would be healing that comes to the many who were negatively impacted — whether those who practiced this, or victims of that practice. I believe it would be a good and God-honouring thing for the church to do. And the Bible states that when we know of good that we could do, and we don’t do it, it becomes sin. (James 4:17)
That was my message two years ago, and it is my message today. I pray that we will live to say the day this is done. If we are the body of Christ, and if we are to reflect Him well, then we must be humble enough to learn a better more loving way. (And I do consider Charity-type Christians as my spiritual family. Some of my most loved and respected family and friends are Charity-type. They are gentle. Kind. Christlike. Spirit-led). I pray that God will bring redemption out of this tragedy, and a new and more Christ-reflective way will be birthed out of this, so there is a much clearer line between abuse/violence and loving guidance.
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger 2020