In February 1992 a group of men from the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church gathered in Colorado for a consultation. The clearly stated focus was to have male church leaders confront the violence being perpetrated against women. The experiences and leanings of that weekend had a profound impact resulting in confession, repentance and renewal for the participants. Following that event a call has come for the Mennonite Church to adopt a statement on male violence against women.
Too often in our biblical teaching and practice, we have distorted the Genesis account to mean that the curse was part of God’s creation order. We must be clear–the rule of man over woman is the result of sin. In Jesus, the redemption, this curse has been lifted. Jesus restores the blessing and shows how to live in the New Creation “like one who serves” not as Gentiles who “lord it over.” (Luke 22:25-26).
We believe that life is a gift from God and that women and men are created equally in God’s image with inherent worth and dignity and entitled to the same respect. The fall into sin has shattered God’s intended mutuality of women and men, distorting personal relationships and resulting in dominance and violence of men against women. We believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has saved and transformed us from these broken relationships and that Jesus calls us to live in love and harmony with all (Genesis 1:27; 2:20-24; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 5:21, 25-33).
However, we live in a society whose structures imply men’s power and superiority over women. Within that system too many Mennonite fathers, husbands, employers and even church leaders have used their power in oppressive and violent ways. They have excluded women from opportunities, silenced their ideas and protests, sexually harassed them and violently abused them.
We confess that we, women and men, have by our silence consented to the system of male dominance and to individual acts of abuse. We also confess that while we have claimed to be a peace-loving people, we have not effectively translated our theology into peaceful interpersonal relations in our homes, churches and institutions.
We the delegates gathered at Philadelphia 93 have heard the word of the brothers calling us to acknowledge the sin of male violence against women. We are aware that more work needs to be done on the broader expressions of abuse. There is difference among us on the biblical interpretation expressed in the preamble so we accept it as a challenge to further study and dialogue.
Therefore as delegates we resolve:
1. to break the silence and admit that there are Mennonite men who abuse women in various forms such as verbal abuse, psychological control, sexual harassment, battering wives and children, committing incest or rape;
2. to listen to, believe and feel the pain of women who have been violently abused or sexually harassed by men;
3. to declare that abuse is a violation of the marriage covenant and that persons are free to be sheltered from exposure to acts of violence while working at the confrontation and healing processes.
4. to hold abusers accountable for their actions, to call them to repentance, and to support them toward healing.
5. to provide safety for abused women and children;
6. to hold church agencies accountable for dealing appropriately with abuse that occurs within their organizations;
7. to model, within our congregations, alternative and counter-cultural ways of being male and female; to practice parenting skills that help families learn how to share power and resolve conflict peacefully;
8. to encourage study in our congregations and church schools of issues of violence against women. (Suggested resources include these materials prepared by Mennonite Central Committee: The Purple packet: Wife Abuse; Broken Boundaries: Child Sexual Abuse, and Crossing the boundary: Sexual Abuse by Professionals. Lessons 9 and 10 on “Widening the circle through care of victims and survivors” are in the WMSC and Women in Mission resource packet 1991-92. See also Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches, Herald Press (March, 1993) by Carolyn Holderread Heggen.)