Fire at Rainbow Mennonite Church: A Study in Organizational Trauma
What exactly happened?
In 2019, in Kansas City, Kansas, a woman named Kimberly reported a church employee had been abusive in the context of an intimate partner relationship to leaders at Rainbow Mennonite Church.
What followed was a twisting tale of villianization, abuse of power, secrecy, and shame.
Rainbow Mennonite leaders used their power over Kimberly to evict her from her home, silence her at her job until she felt forced out, and silently and without formal process excommunicate her from her spiritual community.
How did things go so wrong? We try to help you understand in this analysis of a church still reeling from a 2017 traumatic event.
To do conflict better, to stop demanding perfection or virtue from survivors, to move forward in a healthier way, we must understand the most typical toxic patterns.
Read about one church’s pitfalls in a report that every previewer has joked could have been written about their own church.
And while you’re at it – sign up to hear more about helping your church commit to courage over reputation.
How did it get so bad?
Our report spends thirty-three pages describing the particularities of one conflict in one church after one congregant reported abuse. While this may seem an absurd amount of time and space to dedicate to one conflict, Into Account has heard the same thing from each previewer who has read this. Once they began reading, they could not stop – not just because it is a gripping and disturbing story of toxic community dynamics, but because it is a recognizable one. Each reader made the same joke, “Did you write this about my church??”
Reader, we did not, but we probably could have. It is our experience as an organization tending to people harmed in Christian conflicts that we are not describing one uniquely bad conflict; we are describing typical toxic systemic behaviors that arise from untended trauma. And research backs us up. We encourage you to read this narrative and analysis, and to look into the book Organizational Trauma and Healing by Patricia Vivian and Shana Hormann.
Please, as you read this narrative, take care of yourself. Past experiences you may or may not be currently aware of, of church trauma, toxicity, abuse, and dysfunction, could rise to the surface for you.
I like RMC and/or people there! How do I grapple with this?
How Into Account assesses Kimberly Hunter’s report of abuse and RMC leaders’ subsequent behaviors differs greatly from RMC leaders’ and many of their congregants’ understandings.
In cases with such wide disparities in understanding between parties, it can be easy to say, “Well, we’ll never truly know what happened here, it’s a case of ‘he said/she said.’” It can be easy, as well, to get stuck battling over minute details, or to use distress as a measurement for who deserves sympathy, obscuring the bigger picture of who had institutional power and resources, and how they used them.
RMC’s likely response.
Into Account anticipates, based on their past statements, that RMC will release a prepared public statement in response to this analysis claiming some variety of the following: they have secret information that would change everything; there is a different way to interpret one or more of the events recounted here; Kimberly Hunter is “very ill” or otherwise to blame; their expertise outstrips Into Account’s; their work with sexual violence organizations on other issues extends to include approval of RMC in this case; and/or generalized legal threats.
If there is secret information to add, we welcome it. There may be different ways of interpreting or representing various events, yet the broader analysis of who had power and how they used it remains. Into Account stands with Kimberly Hunter against false representations.
Into Account’s credentials and body of work speak for themselves. Our friends and colleagues at Dove’s Nest did not investigate this case. Our friends and colleagues at Faith Trust Institute did not investigate this case. Any implications by RMC to the contrary are false. And legal threats won’t erase the truth.
Should you have questions or concerns about Into Account’s analysis, there is far more documentation available than is linked here, and you can request it by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. The linked documentation was pared down to avoid overwhelming the reader.
It’s all about power.
As you read, keep in mind that Rainbow Mennonite Church leaders have both community social roles and professional roles, responsibilities, and designations such as pastors, social workers, and nurses. By their own claims these leaders were acting in their capacities as pastors, social workers, and nurses in this case.
For example, it was as a social worker that Deacon Mike Peters called 9-1-1 and falsely claimed Kimberly Hunter had Borderline Personality Disorder and was making criminal threats against the church. It was as a nurse that Deacon Sallie Page-Goertz called Kimberly’s therapist and made claims about Kimberly’s mental health.
It would be difficult to overstate the inappropriateness of a nurse and social worker using their roles to exercise professional power in a church context over a congregant, or to overestimate the impacts for the congregant.
When reading this analysis, rather than thinking of yourself as a judge of each action of each person named here, think of yourself as a seeker of understanding – understanding of power, of trauma, of conflict, of vulnerability, of harm and accountability.