By Stephanie Krehbiel, Executive Director
MMN Claims “Collaboration,” Prioritizes Reputation Over Survivors
In response to the press release issued by Mennonite Mission Network on December 17, 2021 pertaining to that agency’s failure to act on a 2018 report of sexual harassment by their former employee, Kent Peters, we at Into Account would like to clarify our own role in MMN’s investigatory process.
Anabaptist World published a December 20, 2021 story on MMN’s investigation in which they quoted MMN’s statement: “Mission Network is grateful for the courage of survivors to share their experiences, and for the advocacy and collaboration of organizations like Mennonite Abuse Prevention (MAP) and Into Account.” Because Anabaptist World did not contact Into Account while researching this story, we had no opportunity to share our perspective on the “collaboration” to which MMN refers.
While we appreciate Mennonite Mission Network’s acknowledgement of Into Account’s role in bringing Mr. Peters’ abuse of girls and young women to their attention, “collaboration” implies shared priorities that simply do not exist. MMN’s priorities differed from ours throughout the course of our survivor client’s participation in their investigation.
"Collaboration" implies shared priorities that simply did not exist.
MMN Refuses Transparency, Hides Investigation Results
While we know that Ken Regier, the MMN employee who violated policy by ignoring the 2018 sexual harassment report, is no longer working at MMN, we don’t know what consequences he experienced for violating the policy, and we don’t know the circumstances under which he left. Nor do we know what measures, if any, MMN is taking to ensure that Mr. Peters’ sexual harassment record will follow him to subsequent employers. There is almost no public transparency about what kind of accountability actually happened within the institution.
From the beginning, Into Account staff made it clear to MMN leadership that our client wanted to participate in a process that prioritized transparency. Erin Bergen, Into Account’s Director of Student Advocacy and the primary advocate for the survivor in the investigation, described her experience with MMN:
“We were in no way in collaboration. I was kept mostly out of the loop, because of my own insistence on transparency and on expecting communication in writing. Institutions often try to get around this by asking for private meetings or insisting on phone calls. But it’s easier to hold institutional leaders accountable for their words when you have those words in writing. It makes them take the time to think about what they would say if they were being held accountable by their constituents, or by the public.”
Erin is describing a basic best practice of advocacy for survivors who are confronting institutional betrayal. Without this kind of rigor, I doubt MMN’s constituencies would know anything at all about MMN’s failure to respond to our client’s 2018 complaint against Mr. Peters.
Based on our knowledge of FaithTrust Institute’s standard investigation procedure, we knew that FaithTrust would likely prepare a summary of their findings and encourage MMN to make that summary publicly available. We also knew, however, that the final decisions about transparency would remain with MMN leadership. Unfortunately, MMN’s leadership chose not to make the summary publicly available, and made more decisions that compounded the institutional betrayal of our survivor client.
MMN Tells Survivor They Must protect the Organization [Over Her]
In their post about Kent Peters, Mennonite Abuse Prevention details some of this betrayal:
“The woman [survivor] had understood she was to be given a copy of the report summary, but Weaver [Lyz Weaver, former director of MMN Human Resources] said the executive summary needed to remain confidential. With the support of advocates, the woman expressed her concern about the lack of information on what MMN was doing to address any recommendations from the FaithTrust investigation. After some weeks, the care coordinator, Tonia Martin, noting changes in leadership at MMN and the considerable contributions the woman had made to the investigation, offered to let her review—but not keep—a copy of the executive summary. When the woman and two support persons met with the care coordinator and MMN’s senior executive of operations, Martin Gunawan, to review the summary, Gunawan emphasized their need to protect the organization.”
Their need to protect the organization. What does that actually mean?
In our work as advocates, Into Account has accompanied survivors from denominations across the Protestant spectrum, as well as many Catholics. Selling out survivors for the sake of institutional protection is a ubiquitous phenomenon, but Mennonites seem to have a special gift for suggesting to survivors that their priorities and a church institution’s priorities should be one and the same. The same theology that teaches Mennonite survivors that their autonomy is an existential threat to the church is now here to put a theological spin on liability prevention.
MMN’S Behavior Demonstrates They are afraid to be honest
If we let you do as you wish with this piece of paper, the logic goes, you might do something that could cause more people to know the contents of that piece of paper, which could lead to more people doubting the fundamental goodness of our organization, and that doubt, we can all agree, is a bad thing, because this organization’s commitment to the common good must be seen as above reproach.
So who, we might ask, is part of the common good that we protect when we “protect the organization”? Who counts? Do eager volunteers fresh out of college count, who are treated as targets by those who are sexually violent? The people in communities that are struggling to meet basic needs, the communities often served by church volunteers on missions of supposed benevolence – all of whom are in populations frequently targeted by those who are sexually violent – do they count? Do the undocumented people in those communities count? Do the children of missionaries count? When missionaries turn out to be predators – and they do, at the same high rates as other positions that provide power over one or more populations– do the people they prey upon count? Who counts as “the organization”?
MMN said they wanted to protect the organization, instead of prioritizing the needs of survivors, which makes us ask, When missionaries turn out to be predators – and they do, at the same high rates as other positions that provide power over one or more populations – do the people they prey upon not count as part of the organization? Who counts as “the organization”?
“Collaboration” suggests that Into Account and MMN are trying to protect the same things and the same people. But I don’t think we are. Into Account is, and has always been, a survivor advocacy organization. We interact with institutions on behalf of survivors, with the consent of survivors. With our combined expertise in direct survivor services, gender-based violence, organizational trauma, and abuse-enabling theology, we will always advocate for institutional transparency and honesty.
We believe that institutional life is real life, and cycles of abuse within institutions are the same as cycles of abuse everywhere. Without exposure, without honesty, and without any shared understanding of what went wrong, cycles of abuse will always continue.