Sunday, January 7, 2018

Ruth E. Krall, "January 6, 2018: Early Morning Reverie" — "Institutional Abuse Magnifies the Criminality of the Original Abuse"

This powerful essay came to my email from Ruth Krall yesterday on the traditional date for the Christian feast of the Epiphany. As with everything Ruth writes about these issues of sexual assault and abuse and the abuse of institutional authority, it's epiphanic — a brightly lit signpost for the rest of us, pointing to ways in which we can proactively deal with these massive issues that span religious boundary lines.

As I read Ruth's work, I'm struck (all over again) by how right  Dan Barber is when he notes that the areas where two discrete, very different natural realities meet — as with the shore of the sea or the margins of a forest as field touches forest — are the most productive and diverse habitats in the natural world:

The most productive and diverse habitats for marine life are where the vast sea finally meets the shore (Dan Barber, The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food [NY: Penguin, 2014], p. 201). 

Ruth's research marries the Mennonite and the Roman Catholic worlds, two worlds that, on the face of it, have almost nothing in common. Her work shows that there's a commonality to issues like sexual abuse of vulnerable people by powerful men, and institutional aiding and abetting of that abuse — a commonality among religious groups and other institutions that appear to have little in common. Here's Ruth's essay:


Each morning I read Abuse Tracker – published on line by Bishop Accountability. This provides me with a window into the world of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation inside religious organizations and institutions.

Several years ago Abuse Tracker began to include the Mennonite world and sometimes I learn about Mennonite abuse situations in this way. The usual way, however, is from my daily electronic mail.Thus, I follow both Roman Catholic and Mennonite abuse stories for I believe them to be the same story dressed in different denominational cultures and languages. Structurally, as a cultural form or as an archetype, theses denominational stories are very similar even though the personalities and denominational theologies are very different.

In January 2017, American Dominican Father Thomas Doyle was in Australia for two weeks of testimony to the Royal Commission about clergy sexual abuse. On December 15, 2017 all twenty one volumes of this five year process - and findings - in Australia were released. (1) The news media have just begun to digest the report. I assume more and more attention will be paid to individual aspects of this report - all around the world.  

We, who are Mennonites, should at least be aware of this massive report's potential impact in church-state relationships. We should also be aware of the state's definition of and management of clergy abuse criminality.

This short essay has been re-written from an earlier email message to friends who are concerned about the sexual abuse and sexual violence pandemic of our contemporary time in history. Bill told me he thought that my short electronic message should be published and offered me space on Bilgrimage. For a wider readership I felt I needed to weed out some of the more personal narratives of my early January letter to personal friends and colleagues. In essence, however, this more professionally-written narrative retains my personal opinions and concerns at this moment in our collective denominational histories.

From Australia on January 4, 2018

One of the reasons that this report regarding Tom Doyle's January, 2017 Australian testimony interests me is the USA clergy housing allowance tax benefit. Ordination not only has spiritual implications around the world — usually there are tax and other financial benefits as well....for institutional churches and for ordained clergy.

1) When I moved into a tenure track faculty position in the Bible, Religion and Philosophy Department at Goshen College, I was asked by the college's business manager if I wished to be ordained. Until then, every member of that department had been both male and ordained. I was the first woman to be hired full-time and put on a tenure track in that department. This was clearly not a business manager's spiritual question. It wasn't even a denominational question per se. It was a question of salary benefits.

I thought about her question and eventually said "No." The housing allowance tax break would have been nice but the loss of intellectual and academic freedom would not have been. Not too many years later Indiana-Michigan Conference required its entire cadre of licensed and ordained clergy to sign a statement against full inclusion for LGBTQ individuals. I was so glad I was not ordained and could continue to freely teach in my classrooms what needed to be taught without denominational interference. Parenthetically, because I was not ordained in this situation, I could not be fired for non-compliance with Indiana-Michigan Conference regulations on this topic. Personal and academic freedom to me is worth much more than I can ever say.

2) But more importantly to these complex questions is the information I found in John Howard Yoder's archived files at Goshen. For a historical review of Yoder's abuse history, see Waltner-Gossen and Krall. (2)

By the late 1960's or early 1970's Yoder's pattern of sexual abusiveness was already known to church executives and managers. Yet, Indiana-Michigan Conference Bishop and Seminary Church History Professor J.C. Wenger promoted John's ordination — in part — because of the tax housing allowance breaks he would get as an ordained minister. In 1973, after John was quietly replaced as the President of the Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church ordained him in his parents' congregation where I assume he'd kept his membership. John's ordination service can be listened to by electronic media.  It is highly instructive. John always kept a foot in both conferences: Ohio Conference kept his ordination credentials while Indiana-Michigan kept his personal-congregational membership credentials. Neither conference, therefore, took responsibility to manage the growing body of evidence against him that he was sexually abusive to adult women and to some of his students.

Since 2006, when reading Yoder's ordination file in Goshen's church archives, I have thought about the corrupting reality of government housing subsidies for ordained folks. For Mennonites, the separation of church and state is a historical and theological foundation of our separation from the state churches of sixteenth century Europe. We Mennonites represent the historical reality of a radical view that challenged both church and state. Consequently, our history is one of bloody martyrdom. We were hated by the rulers, the Catholics and the emerging Protestants such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli.  

Those of us who are Mennonites in the United States and Canada should be aware of these complex financial issues which surround the clergy sexual abuse issue and the ordination issue and the church management of ordination credentials when there is a history of abuse. As is often the case, money and sex are part of the patriarchal power triangle that corrupts institutions ....and, alas, individuals as well.

To my way of thinking, institutional abusiveness is as great a problem — or greater — than sexual abusiveness to an individual. Institutional abuse magnifies the criminality of the original abuse and it magnifies the psycho-spiritual-communal damages done to individual victims of abuse. In addition, it also damages the credibility of Christendom as a spiritual faith community — corrupting it as well.

It is rare, in my experience, to see corrupted management of sexual abusers that is uncomplicated by corrupted financial arrangements. Certainly, in Yoder's case, the threats of lawsuits both by Yoder/his personal attorney and against Yoder by victimized women/their attorneys, form the complex tapestry of the church's mismanagement of his sexual abusiveness (and, in reality, his interpersonal abusiveness that was other-than-sexual).

As we think about sexual abuse advocacy work (intra-and inter-denominationally) to be done in the future, I think it is imperative that we stay focused on multiple realities:

1) The need to get rid of Statutes of Limitation in sexual violence/sexual harassment cases;

2) The need to look systemically and critically (and theologically as well) at the issues of clerical privilege(s) as these corrupt the church/state separation of powers;

3) The need to look with a much closer lens at these issues of institutional corruption - often dressed in fancy theological clothing.

4) For those of us with theological training and with clinical training, we need to start/to continue sorting out issues of religiosity and issues of spirituality in the wake of sexual trauma. The mis-shaping of a human soul by abuse (whether that abuse is sexual or institutional) is no small matter in these complex issues of individual, communal, and cultural healing.

I will keep reminding all of us: the goal is to change the culture and to do that we need to change the underlying metaphor system (i.e., the patriarchy) and we need to understand that the "master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." Thank you, Joseph Campbell and Audre Lorde. We need to keep prodding our respective cultures to change so that we approach the tipping point in which a new world begins.Thank you, Jean Shinoda Bolen.

For a new and different world and world-view to emerge:

A) A new tool kit must be designed

B)  We must continue to utilize the human capacity to create new metaphors

C)  We must make allies and we must collaborate wherever and whenever we can with others who are seeking to bring about cultural change ....the #MeToo movement is a good example.  

As we begin this New Year, I want to recommend two books - both of which I found immensely challenging to read and immensely helpful

1). Cohen, S. ( 2001). States of Denial: Knowing about atrocities and suffering. Cambridge, UK:  Polity Press

2).  Kalsched, D.  (2013). Trauma and the Soul: A psycho-spiritual approach to human development and its interpretation.  New York and London, Routledge.

Unlike my usual pattern of finishing a book in two or three days of reading, I read both of these books in 20-30 page segments and then walked around in a daze — attempting to integrate the wisdom being unearthed. Both authors begin with depth psychology and meander far afield in their search to understand trauma, violence, and our very human tendency to look the other way. Cohen looks systemically and socio-economically; Kalsched looks clinically: both seek transformation of individuals and of communities. When individuals heal, communities heal. The reverse is also true: when communities are transformed, the pathways to individual healing open. IMHO, this is always a both/and situation and never an either/or one.

The issues of individual and institutional (and indeed nation-state) corruption are, in my opinion, always corrupted by the reality of authoritarianism. Holistic nurse practitioner Ellen Swanson in her book Heart, Gut and Head: Creating a Healthier Hierarchy asks of us that interrogate our lives with the goal of creating a more holistic culture. Essential to individual healing and to communal healing, therefore, is the necessity to re-examine the patriarchal world view that is morally, ethically, and spiritually disintegrating in front of our eyes. I agree with her. (3)  

Our responsibilities as Christian citizens of the world of organized Christendom and as morally-ethically concerned citizens of the world of the organized nation-state are to bear witness, to resist, and to develop resilience in all of our relationships with each other.

To do this, I believe, we need to examine our own complicities and to think critically about what needs to change. Father Doyle and Australia's Royal Commission have opened Pandora's Box. We all need to be brave and begin to peer into its secret compartments.

Ruth E. Krall, MSN, PhD.
Professor Emerita, Goshen College, Goshen, IN

(2)  See Waltner-Gossen, R.  January 2, 2015). Defanging the Beast: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse (pp. 7-80).  Mennonite Quarterly Review 89,1.  See also Krall, R. E., (2013) The Elephants in God's Living Room: The Mennonite Church and John Howard Yoder, vol. 3, Collected essays. Retrieve from Ruth Krall's Enduring Space site.
(3)  Swanson, E. E. (2015). Heart, Gut, Head: Creating a Healthier Hierarchy. Edina, MI  Beaver Pond Press.  

The photo of Ruth Krall is from her Enduring Space blog.

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