Anabaptist-Mennonites Form a Chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests)

Microsoft Word - SNAPnetwork logo for publicity

PRESS RELEASE  June 23, 2015

Statement by Barbra Graber of Harrisonburg, VA, SNAP-Menno Leader

Press Contact: Stephanie Krehbiel, SNAP-Menno Chapter member, [email protected]

Anabaptist-Mennonites form their own SNAP chapter


Twelve Mennonite-related survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates have joined other faith groups to create an Anabaptist-Mennonite Chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Now in its 26th year, SNAP is an inclusive and independent advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse, created by survivor-activist Barbara Blaine and then joined by David Clohessy and Barbara Dorris to expose the sexual violations of clergy in the U.S. Catholic Church. Their influence has since expanded around the world to serve survivors of predators and pedophiles from within a variety of faith communities. SNAP’s mission: “protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded, expose the truth.”

Convened by long time victim-advocate Dr. Ruth E. Krall with SNAP-trained survivor-advocates Cameron Altaras, Barbra Graber and advocate Jeff Altaras, SNAP-Menno provides a safe place, entirely independent of institutional structures, for Mennonite-related survivors to seek healing alongside other Anabaptist Mennonites. Other founding chapter members are Rachel Halder (survivor-advocate), Stephanie Krehbiel (advocate), Keith Morris (survivor-advocate), Tim Nafziger (advocate), Hilary Scarsella (survivor-advocate), Lisa Schirch (advocate), Sylvia Shirk (survivor-advocate), and Jennifer Yoder (survivor-advocate).

SNAP’s helpline (1-877-SNAP HEALS) offers a confidential listening ear to anyone who has seen, suspected or suffered sexual abuse within a faith community. SNAP’s Survivor Support Groups, facilitated by SNAP-trained leaders and with a time-tested format created by SNAP survivors, provide a place where victims and their loved ones come to receive anonymous aid from other survivors. Many of these self-help groups are available across the continent for survivors and their loved ones. SNAP-Menno and will co-sponsor such meetings during Mennonite Church USA’s biennial convention in Kansas City, from 1-2pm on July 2, 3, and 4 in the Citiscape Room of the Aladdin Holiday Inn Hotel in KC.  Contact Barbra Graber for more information.

The 2015 Annual SNAP Conference will take place in Alexandria, VA, July 31-August 2. Concerned Mennonites are welcome and encouraged to attend. Register for a day pass or the full schedule:

CONTACT SNAP-Menno Leaders: E-mail: [email protected]

Cameron Altaras (Washington State): 206-930-7067, Jeff Altaras (Washington State): 206-930-7065

Barbra Graber (Virginia): 540-214-8874

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Pink Menno presents “On the Way: Dis-Covering Diversity” in Kansas City

At the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) bi-annual convention (in Kansas City, MO), Pink Menno will convene a symposium focused on intersectionality. “On the Way: Dis-Covering Diversity” will be held in Pink Menno’s hospitality space in Room 2504B of the convention center, right around the corner from the Grand Ballroom on Level 2.

The symposium will be built on four pillars: queer liberation, trauma healing and resilience,  structural power within MCUSA, and resistance to white supremacy. Each pillar will have its own day focused on providing education for participants. These pillars are designed as a starting point to enable participants to continue learning in their everyday lives.

The symposium includes a number of sessions that were rejected as seminar proposals by MCUSA for the official program. “In response to a church that continues to miss the mark in providing spaces to engage in complex and justice-oriented conversations, Pink Menno has the gift of standing in the void,” says organizer Christian Parks, “We know full well that our symposium will just graze the very tip of the iceberg of issues within our changing church, yet we are fully committed to creating accountable space where all are welcome to be full selves empowered by love and genuine curiosity.”

The symposium flows out of collaborative work with Inclusive Pastors, the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC) and Our Stories Untold (OSU).

Read more ›

How can I keep from singing? (Part II)

This series of posts shares interviews conducted by Bobby Switzer for a thesis project at Goshen College, curated for this series by Pax Ressler. The questions below are Bobby’s, with responses from Wilma Harder, Stephanie Krehbiel, Pax Ressler and Carol Wise. For more information about the Mennonite LGBTQ+ justice movement, see the appendix at the bottom of the page:
“A History Lesson with Dr. Krehbiel”.

Bobby Switzer: Has hymn singing been used strategically in the inclusion movement? If so, how?

Carol Wise: In the 90’s, there was a series of conferences sponsored by BMC referred to as the “Dancing Conferences.” Titles included Dancing at the Wall, Dancing at the Table, Dancing at the Water’s Edge, Dancing in the Southwinds, and one called Leading the Dance. These conferences were held at various places in the US and were important in bringing together lgbtq people and allies. Worship and music were important components of these conferences. Jane Ramseyer Miller (who has directed “One Voice Mixed Chorus” here in Minneapolis for 20 years) even wrote “Dancing at the Wall” for one of these conferences. I’ve attached a scanned copy of it. Within the Church of the Brethren, songwriter Lee Kranbuhl wrote a very catchy piece called “We are Not Going Away” that energized many people and was often sung.

It was Pink Menno who brought hymn sings into the inclusion movement with more passion. I think part of the ability of PM to do this was not only because of the giftedness of young musicians, but also because hymns could increasingly be sung and claimed with more power now that the church is at a different place because of the work that has been done over the decades. The power rather than simply the pain of the hymns and all that they represent in terms of community and faith can now be claimed more easily. I see this as a positive sign of genuine change. Music that once brought harm is now able to heal, at least to some extent. Sadly, the hymnology of the church remains problematic for many.

“Music that once brought harm is now able to heal, at least to some extent.” – CW

Pax Ressler: Hymn singing has been used both as a strategic and celebratory action for the LGBTQ+ justice movement in the Mennonite Church. LGBTQ+ leaders and those who operate in solidarity with them sing hymns (a “traditional” Mennonite practice) in denominational spaces as a subversive way of reframing common misconceptions of queer people as a “new, divisive problem” in the Church. Hymn singing is a celebratory way for queer people to empower themselves through song.

Read more ›

How can I keep from singing? (Part I)

This series of posts shares interviews conducted by Bobby Switzer for a thesis project at Goshen College, curated for this series by Pax Ressler. The questions below are Bobby’s, with responses from Wilma Harder, Stephanie Krehbiel, Pax Ressler and Carol Wise. For more information about the Mennonite LGBTQ+ justice movement, see the appendix at the bottom of the page:
“A History Lesson with Dr. Krehbiel”.

Bobby Switzer: Why is hymn singing important to Mennonites?

Stephanie Krehbiel: That’s a mother of a question, isn’t it? I don’t have a particularly original answer. Mennonites have built a lot of their worship practices around getting rid of things: sacraments, aesthetic pleasures in worship, liturgy, ritual. Those eliminations have always had theological justifications. I think that’s part of how music has come to be so important. Of course, music is not separate from any of the sociocultural/political battles that have shaped the rest of Mennonite worship—all you have to do is look at the centuries-long conflicts over instruments in worship within Anabaptist groups to see that. Music is definitely a political arena. But it’s also the one place where a lot of Mennonites consistently seek spiritual nourishment and refuge, and that intensifies the desire to remove it from the realm of conflict and politics and make it into something “pure.”

“Music is definitely a political arena.” – SK

Carol Wise: Of course, music is essential to Mennonites. It has always been an important part of BMC conferences—often small groups offered various sacred pieces as part of the “entertainment” or for fundraising purposes. I recall many touching moments breaking into BMC events because of music. Music had an uncanny ability to remind people of the depth of their religious connections, even in exile from the church.

“Music had an uncanny ability to remind people of the depth of their religious connections, even in exile from the church.” – CW

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Longing for Home: A Daughter Reflects

Contributed by Katerina Friesen

When I was a sophomore in college, my mother saw a picture posted online of my friend Claire planting a kiss on my forehead. I forget what solicited that soon-to-be incriminating kiss, except that Claire comes from a family that is perhaps more inclined to physical affection than mine. My mom confronted me with the picture when I returned home on break. Her face was troubled as she asked, “I need to know: are you a lesbian?”

My mother’s deep-seated fear of the possibility that I could be lesbian shocked me. Since then, I’ve periodically faced her “homo-filia-phobia” (my term for fear of an LGBT or Q daughter), especially as I enter my late 20’s without a significant male other in my life. It’s painful to experience part of your identity questioned by a parent, someone who you think knows you inside and out. Yet in some ways, I am grateful for my mom’s questions. Beginning with that picture, she unintentionally “outed” me to myself as straight, casting a spotlight on my previously unexamined heterosexuality.

My mom and I have had a turbulent relationship over the years as we figure out how to love one another despite great theological differences. In the midst of the tensions, we share a love of debating the scriptures and our phone conversations often become a kind of midrash as we go back and forth on different interpretations of Biblical passages. I’m someone who tends to see all sides to issues and can end up mired in ambiguity, so my mom’s sense of clarity often pushes me to take more of a stance, albeit one that does not always align with her beliefs. Talks about hell, truth outside of Christianity, and my choices of friends have often ended in frustration. Yet our love for one another and our mutual desire to journey further into relationship with God continue pulling us back into conversation.

Last week, however, she emailed me out of the blue and asked me not to come home for her birthday, saying that she did not want to see me for a long, long time. She wrote, “I do still love you, but as your mother, am in deep emotional distress over your life choices at this time.” She went on to describe the most recent choices: I decided to do a seminary internship at the First Mennonite Church of San Francisco, a church that openly affirms LGBTQ relationships, with a pastor as my mentor who has officiated marriages of gay and lesbian couples. No matter that my internship is focused on climate change, my life choices have brought me into worship with sinful people who “teach the degradation of God’s good creation of sex between man and woman,” in her words.

At the end of her letter, my mom urged me toward repentance with images from the story of the prodigal son: “When you repent from the lies you have chosen, I will accept you back as the daughter I love – with open arms – but you do need to leave the ‘pig trough’ you have been feeding from.”

Honestly, part of me wanted to laugh in disbelief after reading this last line. “Pig trough?!” Really? If only she could witness the profound faith I’ve encountered in people at First Mennonite of San Francisco, gay or straight. I wish she could hear the prayers shared during our time for “joys and concerns,” and listen to the refreshing openness and trust as the community shares one another’s burdens and gives thanks together. I long for her to see how this congregation channels God’s healing love for those who were rejected as whole persons in other churches.

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All Are Welcome in This Place: Re-Theologizing Christianity’s Common Meal

by Ruth Krall, cross-posted from Enduring Space

Let us build a house where all are named

Their songs and visions heard

And loved and treasured,

Taught and claimed as words within the Word

Built of tears and laughter

Prayers of faith and songs of grace

Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter

All are welcome. All are welcome.

All are welcome in this place.

– Marty Haugen[ii]


Introductory Comments 

Recently I have been part of multiple cyber-space discussions about the Mennonite Church’s unwillingness to recognize partnered sexual minorities as fully human and as sharing in God’s divine image: created in God’s image as male and female; as young and old, as straight and lesbian, etc. In particular, the questions regarding LBGTQ people and their essential human nature have coalesced. Is a homosexual orientation, for example, a state of disordered creation? Or, is it a healthy and statistically predictable variant of the human genome? In the words of Pope Benedict, are sexual minorities essentially and intrinsically disordered? Or, are they created in God’s image?

These conversational partners have been located in the strongholds of Mennonite identity – in places such as Wichita, KS; Harrisonburg, VA; Philadelphia, PA; Goshen, IN; and Lancaster County, PA. To date, my colleagues, friends and correspondents have all cast their theological lot with the need for the Mennonite Church to move towards full inclusion for individuals who represent sexual minorities. Full inclusion means that LBGTQ individuals – partnered or un-partnered; married or single – would become eligible for membership in the Mennonite Church. They would also become eligible for all of the rights and privileges of membership including faculty positions in the Mennonite academy, ordination to ministry, and church-performed and recognized marriage ceremonies.

My correspondents see the correlations between twentieth-century civil rights movements for people of color, for women, for individuals from many different minorities such as ethnicity or national origin, aging people or handicapped people or children. All of my correspondents are dismayed by the homophobic and discriminatory language and choices being made by the current ruling patriarchs of the United States branch of the worldwide Mennonite Church. Read more ›

Communion in the Midst of Diversity—the Biblical case for LGBTQ inclusion

Written by Karl Shelly, pastor at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana.

Karl has been “charged” with officiating at a same-sex wedding ceremony in May and, as a result, is having his ministerial credentials reviewed as called for in the Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines.  The Credentialing Team of Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference asked Karl for a written statement detailing his theological rationale for his actions, and below is the statement he submitted.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Response to IMMC Statement of Charge against Karl Shelly  

July 25, 2014

Greetings to you, sisters and brothers in Christ on the IMMC Ministry Credentialing Team.  I greet you as a fellow servant in God’s kingdom and on behalf of my congregation, Assembly Mennonite Church, where it has been my privilege to pastor for over 15 years.

My congregation

Assembly has been a part of Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference for all of its 40 years of existence.  Today it is the spiritual home to over 300 members and participants, one-third of whom are youth and children.  It is a place where God’s Spirit is alive and doing wonderful things.  In fact, our growth is leading us to expand our building in order to accommodate all those who want to worship with us.  But more important than numerical growth is the work of God’s Spirit in people’s lives.  Here at Assembly, youth and young adults are getting baptized, families are dedicating their newborns to God, young and old are giving themselves to Christian service in the local community and abroad, and many are actively witnessing to the biblical message of peacemaking and non-violence.  We have over 25 small groups that meet regularly for prayer and community-building, and our worship is vibrant and provides opportunities for all to lead, preach, and testify to the work of God in their lives. Read more ›

Being Forced Out of the Church

Contributed by Reuben Sancken

I’ve been very busy since starting seminary. Not just with school work, but also with acclimating to a new place and making new relationships. While there have been struggles since coming to Indianapolis, overall it has been a good experience and I believe this is where God calls me to be. In my pastoral care and counseling class last semester, I studied trauma and grief. One of the things that I’ve learned is that if one doesn’t take the time to grieve, then it will eventually catch up with them. It is time for me to voice my grief. The events that aggravated this grief are important for people in the Mennonite church to know. Especially, in light of the recent statement released by the Executive Board.

I started seminary in the fall of 2013. For each student pursuing a Master of Divinity degree, they contact their denomination to begin the process of ordination. I had several conversations with the denominational minister, a member of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) staff, who processes new ministry inquiry applicants. I wanted to be honest with her, so I was upfront with being openly gay. She told me that MC USA no longer is processing openly gay or lesbian applicants (unfortunately, bisexual and transgender people are not a part of the conversation). This ruling was made quietly in January of 2013 by the MC USA Executive Committee. I’m astounded that the MC USA Executive Committee could make a decision to exclude a group of people from being considered from leadership. It is especially of concern that this decision was not made public knowledge.

The denominational minister then told me that I could go through the ministry process if I was in the closet. She told me she would not tell anyone that I was gay. I was horrified that she even suggested this. I told her that I was not going back into the closet. I don’t think she had bad intensions by suggesting that I go back in the closet. Still, it is not good to suggest someone go back in the closet for several reasons. One, it can be harmful to the person’s sense of who they are if they are forced back into the closet. A person’s sexual orientation (also gender identity) is an important component to who they are. Making someone go back in the closet could harm their mental health. Another reason that suggesting someone go back into the closet is not helpful is that it is potentially harmful for the congregation to have a leader who is closeted. Authenticity and honesty are important components of leadership. I believe the best option is not encouraging someone to go back into the closet. If LGBT people desire to be “out,” then walk beside them and encourage them to be honest about being a member of the LGBT community. Read more ›

Pink Presence at Leaders’ Breakfast with Ervin Stutzman

Pink Presence at Leaders’ Breakfast with Ervin Stutzman embedded from Storify.

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Naming Violation: Sexualized Violence and LGBTQ Justice

Contributed by Stephanie Krehbiel

This is a strange time to be writing about Mennonites and sexuality. In less than a year, I’m scheduled to defend my dissertation on sexual diversity, LGBTQ Anabaptist activism, and the effects of heterosexism in Mennonite institutions. And just following the news cycle is keeping me so busy that I have to force myself to write.

Anyone who reads this blog is probably aware of all the things that have been happening in the Mennonite Church USA lately that both challenge and reaffirm the dominant heterosexist practices of its institutions and communities. What I’d like to talk about here is how those practices intersect with the enormous and still largely unrecognized problem that Mennonites have with sexualized violence.

You might be nodding now, if you know from experience how bad that problem is. Or you might be wondering, “Is it really as bad as all that?” Or—the question I sometimes get when I tell Mennonites about my research—“Are Mennonites really any worse than anybody else?”

Here’s how I want to respond, sometimes: Are you asking because you don’t believe there’s anything interesting to say about Mennonites on this subject, or because you’d rather that people who write about Mennonites restrict themselves to topics that make Mennonites look good? Read more ›