Frank H Epp (1929-1986) #
What happened to Frank Epp is happening all over the evangelical and ecclesiastical world, including Jewish, Catholics, evangelicals and even Muslims; vicious, ferocious, mean – spirited polarising attacks on enlightened leaders by ultra - extremists. I prefer the ultra – moderates.
In early 2021, the Mennonite Church and the MCC, purportedly in good faith, investigated an historic allegation of sexual misconduct against a deceased alleged perpetrator. It hired an outside agency, believed to be to the police, to run an investigation into complaints lodged years ago against Frank H. Epp, an outstanding scholar, Pastor and father, who had died 35 years ago. The presumed victim had also died.
While it is vitally important to thoroughly investigate all allegations of a sexual nature, it is the quality of the investigation that determines its merits, its authority and its legitimacy. Perhaps a Human Rights lawyer would have been more appropriate. We need more info to make up our minds. Canada has laws against depriving its citizens of their natural rights - The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 is part of Canada’s Constitution supposedly protects every Canadian’s right to be treated equally under the law.
Most disturbing was the lack of balance evident in the public shaming of a prominent Church leader, on uncertain assumptions, insufficient grounds resulting in inconclusive findings. Some women know how to milk and manipulate the #MeToo movement.
The hypocrisy is that the anonymous Corporate leaders hiding behind walls, desks and spokespersons, claim to uphold confidentiality by not namig the victim, or details, however have no qualms about naming and destroying the reputation of a great man by implying and publishing unsubstantiated allegations in the context of violence and abuse.
The Mennonite Church is a lay chruch, but trust is in short supply when we are kept in the dark. God said: “Let there be light”, and Jesus is the light of the world, but the Church perfers darkness over transparency.
Honesty is the highest virtue. We are all sexual beings and its needs can at times be wild, messy and urgent. Women can easily manipulate men emotionally and sexually. We need to recognise and acknowledge the good, bad and ugly in both men and women.
My main objections to the Church’s findings regard its irresponsible reporting. It appears disingenuous, but gleefully triumphant. The acknowledgment that “lacking Epp’s version of events creates a deficit in information gathering, could easily qualify for the understatement of the year. This appears gormless. Were children sent on an adult’s errand?
Only two people know what happened and both are deceased. Believers believe God also knows; so why are they usurping The power of God?
Victims can become perpetrators. Early Christians were fed to the lions, but within fifty years of gaining power under Constantine, began to kill other Christians for heresy. Puritans, persecuted in England, fled to America where within fifty years began to persecute others. Mennonites died in their hundreds in Medieval Europe, but now turn on their own.
Frank Epp’s predicament fits a pattern of persectued prominent figures. It closely aligns with that of Hypatia in 415 CE.
Hypatia was the world’s leading mathematician and astronomer, a popular teacher and lecturer on philosophical topics, attracting many loyal students and large Christian audiences. Her philosophy was Neoplatonist and was thus seen as “pagan” at a time of bitter religious conflict between Christians (both orthodox and “heretical”), Jews, and pagans. Her philosophy also led her to embrace a life of dedicated virginity.
With the death Theophilus and the accession of Cyril to the bishopric of Alexandria, however, the climate of tolerance lapsed, and shortly afterward Hypatia became the victim of a particularly brutal murder at the hands of a gang of Christian zealots.
Incited by the Church, Hypatia, aged sixty, was murdered by a Christian mob in 415 CE accused of sorcery and witchcraft.
On her way home Hypatia was dragged from her Chariot, taken to a church called Caesareum, - stripped, stoned with roofing tiles, torn apart, her flesh scraped from the bones with oyster shells and then burned.
Hypatia has become a powerful feminist symbol and a figure of affirmation for intellectual endeavour in the face of ignorant prejudice.
Or consider Rhazes, the medical pioneer of ninth century Baghdad, beaten blind with his own compendium by a priest.
The heresy hunters of the inquisition survive today in the self-righteous “woke” fanatics, who no longer have the power to burn people at the stake but try to end careers, ruin reputations through cancel culture and close down discussions. Once accused, defence is futile; you and your family carry the burden for life.
Perhaps the most dishonest aspect of this entire case is lack of critical information - not for prurient purposes, but for understanding. Like all enhanced interrogations, the Church claims to have extracted a concessional admission of wrong from the family, despite their total lack of knowledge about the alleged affair. According to Marlene Epp’s poignant and dignified reflection, published in The Canadian Mennonite, they were told to “maintain confidentiality about the investigation”. So much for open justice!
History has learned, to avoid the creation of martyrs, you first extract a confession.
Girolamo Savonarola was a complex and conflicted fiery Florentine Friar who preached against art as a contributing factor to the spread of vice and spiritual decay – particularly overt same sex activity prevalent in Enrique’s court in Sergovia. His prophetic fire and brimstone preaching exhorted the masses to reject the secular materialism and corruption of Rodrigo Borgia’s Papacy. He was known for the destruction of secular art and culture, and his calls for Christian renewal. He denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule and the exploitation of the poor.
His attacks on the openly dissolute Papacy of Alexander VI found many adherents throughout Europe, including Queen Isabella from 1492. The Pope tried to appease him by offering to make him a Cardinal, which he rejected.
Savonarola then faced an Inquisition, was tortured, confessed that ”his sermons were acts of pride for personal glory” and having given the Church what it needed, was hanged and his body burned. Even his supporters abandoned him as Florentines threw gun powder on the fire to make the blaze hotter. Mobs are fickle and dissenters seldom prosper.
Martin Luther survived and succeeded, because he maintained the support of the Princes.
The humanist Michael Servetus, a 16th century physician credited with discovering pulmonary circulation, was tortured and burned along with his books on the shores of Lake Geneva at the personal behest of John Calvin.
In the 17th century, Galileo spent his last years under house arrest, forced by the church to recant the heretical belief that the earth orbited the sun. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Catholic Church finally acknowledged that Galileo may have been right.
The last witch hanged in Europe in 1782, 15 year old Anna Goeldi, employed by a rich married politician and Churchman, had the temerity to fall pregnant to him, denounced for witchcraft, claiming she made his daughter spit pins and suffer convulsions.
Anna insisted on her innocence but confessed after being strung up by her thumbs with stones tied to her feet.
Anna Goeldi was executed even though the law at the time did not impose the death penalty for nonlethal poisoning. Dead people tell no tales.
Goeldi’s torture and execution was even more incomprehensible as it happened in the Age of Enlightenment when “those who made the judgment regarded themselves as educated people”.
Today there is a museum dedicated to Anna Goeldi, - her employer’s name doesn’t warrant a mention.
To prevent martyrdom, in Orwell’s 1984, you were vaporized; treated as if you had never been alive, eliminated from history, no matter how important you might once have been.
Since, in Frank Epp’s case, both of the parties are dead, you would think the Church would be content with trusting God to cast judgment; the chances of God ascertaining the facts of the case are much better than any flawed human investigation. Instead, the anonymous Church leaders, usurped God’s authority, presumptuously casting stones hitting many innocent lay members, undermining their own credibility, authority and legitimacy. Any reputational damage to the corporatized Church is entirely self-inflicted.
Like Roy attacking his maker, Tyrell in Blade Runner, The Cannadian Mennonite, turning on its founding editor, is perhaps the most unconscionable betrayal of them all.
Encouraging its readership by framing the issue through the false impressions of salacious innuendo - “sexual abuse”, “violence” and ”power differentials” . There appears no conclusive or corroborated evidence of either. Hugging, kissing, sexual touching and intercourse, fail to support their disgraceful characterisation of sexual coercion. All the evidence points to a consensual tryst outside their working environments, Where is the evidence of any power imbalance? It takes two to tango and women are historically attracted to Alpha males. If there is evidence - produce the body. Publicity is the very soul of justice. Bentham)
Has The Canadian Mennonite succumbed to tabloid journalism (popular, mindless, and glossy) tending to sensationalise personal pedestrian issues with an alarmist, provocative or inflammatory approach? If the postings are any guide, it reaches out to trivial, grubby issues ordinary people can relate to. Human interest is paramount. Writers pander to the masses, dumbing down the stories to the lowest common denominator to appeal to as wide an audience as possible to maximise circulations. Media beat-ups whip up hysteria creating an artificial state of frenzy with plenty of heat but little light.
As someone raised as a Mennonite, the son of a highly regarded Mennonite leader and Bishop, I struggle to understand the splintering of churches, communities, and relationships over petty pusillanimous disputes. Apostasy sets in when power and unentitled privilege gravitates to institutional centralism.
The anomaly there is the honorific - Bishop D.D. Klassen - a title alien to the founding Mennonites. Upon the advice of his son, William, and many other enlightened leaders, including Frank H. Epp, in the early 1960’s, reforms devolving and decentralising the power structures of the Bergthaler Church were put in place, against powerful opposition of the senior Bishop.
This year (2021), in Frank’s case, I reached out to dozens of fellow Manitoba Mennonites, family and friends. All voiced surprise and concern. Most were shocked, feeling a deep sense of betrayal and shame for the failure in the lack of due process. It’s everywhere.
I first met Frank as an impressionable nine year old when my oldest brother brought him home from College. We were all impressed and my esteem grew from there.
In stark contrast to the faceless Church leaders, Frank was clear in his writing, sedulous in his research - with great attention to detail - sometimes too much. He loved to report on meetings with reference to minutes and the names of all who attended and contributed to the deliberations.
He advocated for Christ’s life affirming message of hope, love and forgiveness, often hi-jacked by its antithesis; life denying, religious rigidity of institutional codes, rules, dogmas and doctrines. These man-made strictures entrench power, keeping the faithful tribal, submissive, dependent and often infantile.
I never met any of his family but from all reports they too are a credit to him and his wife Helen.
Frank’s daughter, Marlene expressed their concerns most clearly in her “Reflections” to The Canadian Mennonite, (November 2021) which applies to all allegations:
Church agencies must develop alternate policies and procedures for trying and convicting the dead—principles and steps that are now absent. The dead should have advocacy and representation. As should the living. Both the accuser and the accused must be directly involved in an investigation and its outcomes.
Note the authority of the imperative mood.
The accuser has the right to safety and protection. The accused has the right to a voice, whether that expresses denial and defiance or regret and confession. The accused, or a representative if they are deceased, should know precisely what they are accused of and by whom.
This has a distinct Kafkaesque stench to it. That was more than 100 years ago.
Natural justice assumes that investigations are imbued with fairness, absence of bias and willingness to listen to all sides. There should be openness, clarity and accountability on the part of everyone involved. Confidentiality should not be used to protect institutions and their policies from scrutiny and accountability. Victims are brave to come forward and need to be protected, but the level of opacity and secrecy that now exists only leads to misplaced and damaging speculation.
It could not be expressed more measuredly, yet more forcefully.
For small time mindsets there are always character assassins, there are always the envious. To some, bringing down tall poppies, through conformity, is an absolute way of life.
As part of the bigger picture, the Mennonite Church is simply following trends in other religious institutions – attempting to attract new members through embracing the worst features of modern culture and politics.
They appear to have abandoned Bible based ethics in favour of evangelical inspirational, slick marketing ploys and entertainment. Religion is used to make people feel better about themselves by what Peter Wehner of The Atlantic, describes:
“churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.”
Christ, the lamb, as redeemer and savior has been replaced by Christ the tiger, of hate, retribution and harsh unremitting judgment.
Jonathon Swift, Dean of Garros St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, pithily but aptly observed:
When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
I would never put it as bluntly as that!
An aggressive, disruptive, and unforgiving mindset that characterizes so much of our politics has found a home in many areas of life, even the Mennonite Church.
As Janet Malcolm put it:
“The pleasure of hearing ill of the defenceless dead is not a negligible one, but it pales before the pleasure of hearing ill of the living. There is simply no choice between a dead bad guy and a live one, except that condemning the former is an act of cowardice”.
In the long run we should not despair. Through his writing, his children and his contributions to making this world a better place, Frank’s legacy will outlive us all. He will still be highly regarded by the time we, and all his detractors, have long been consigned to the dustbin of history. Now that’s a useful cliché.
Let’s allow a Christian, homo-sexual poet have the last word: “We must love one another or die.” W. H. Auden
Submission to the Church Executive Council #
The following is a submission I made to the Church more than six months ago.
I would have appreciated it to be considered by MCEC Executive Council in reviewing their procedures to provide more respect, judicial fairness and thus credibility and authority.
To date I have not heard from them.
Update: I finally heard on December 22nd 2021. Our family will consider our response, but I will keep this posting up until we reach a mutual understanding.
I declare my interest:
I am a retired English and History teacher specialising in Theories of Justice, the Law and abuse of power. I grew up near Homewood Manitoba, and at the age of thirty, migrated to Australia. I identify as a Mennonite, Canadian citizen and taxpayer. To be clear, I speak for myself and our family only. While I knew Frank well, I do not know any of his family.
Frequently political and personal agendas drive a burning zeal for ‘justice’.
Frank Epp was a voice of reason and positivity challenging the impervious authority of indomitable Bishops from the fifties. He, with many others, was trying to take the Church back to its original tenets. In this he had the absolute support of our father, Bishop D.D. Klassen of Homewood, and his family, especially Aaron, William, Kathy Martens and twelve siblings. My father was a man of integrity and I have every faith in his judgement of character.
Frank’s revival of founding values inspired many through a positive loving approach to “an abundant life”. He affirmed a full Christian life of joy and love for all.
While we in no way condone violence or coercive sexual predation and fully support the Church’s aims to take all complaints of whatever nature seriously, we question the extrajudicial processes. It is all in the expertise of the investigation. We must at all costs avoid a misguided and dangerous zealotry at work in any investigations. Before you convict someone, the onus of the burden of proof lies with the accuser. Was there any credible evidence of violence or abuse of power? Prudence means treating serious cases with due caution.
“Believe the woman” and related attempts to lower or reverse the burden of proof, or to treat the presumption of innocence as a legal technicality should be damned just as we might damn attempts to make it harder for an alleged rapist to be convicted.
It’s bad enough that the Canadian Mennonite treats their founder, Epp as so monstrous that they ditch normal journalistic standards. When the zeitgeist mimics the Church’s mantra of “believe the woman” we have a bigger problem than tacky journalism. There is healing power in revealing the truth.
Frank was not perfect; to err is human, to forgive divine. Where is the Church’s forgiveness, sense of decency and fair play?
History abounds with the flaws of good men and women. Potipher’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph and when he resisted, she accused him of rape. Salome, requested the head of John the Baptist for her mother’s revenge. “Hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned”. Who knows whether a guilty conscience prompted this allegation?
The figures of King David—shepherd, warrior, and divinely protected king—-and of his son Solomon—great builder, wise judge, and serene ruler of a vast empire—have become timeless models of righteous leadership under God’s sanction. Yet, as Leonard Cohen puts it, ”You saw her bathing on the roof / Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya”. David’s iniquity with Bathsheba and young virgins in old age, and Solomon’s affairs with heathen women, countless wives and concubines, failed to dent their stellar reputations or legacies.
Though the origins and causes of the Spanish Inquisition are many, at least one theory says it was driven by the fear of Turkish expansion and pious attempts of Queen Isabella of Spain to enforce Catholic orthodoxy.
The root causes of the Salem witch trials may have been murky but local populations that enforced them were apparently convinced they were doing God’s work.
Note the pattern. Lynch mobs started by people who want to make their communities safe from perceived evildoers. But noble and zealous motives do not, and can never, justify treating allegation as proof. This is the case now, where the central plank of modern social engineers of the Church and elsewhere is “believe the woman”. It’s dangerous because it’s demonstrably false. The sad fact is that some women do lie. Or make mistakes or simply forget what really happened. Investigations must be thorough, soundly based and conclusive beyond reasonable doubt.
Leonardo da Vinci was denounced for sodomy as a young man, but such charges were often brought to damage the reputation of a rival in politics or business in Renaissance Florence.
The history of the western world goes back at least 5000 years with time tested, guiding principles of judicial fairness, due process and a fundamental concept that, “justice must be done, and seen to be done”, Openness is the very soul of Justice.
The presumption of innocence is another guiding principle in all procedures and a foundational standard for the assessment of the evidence. Each trier of evidence must marshal all the available material, be rational, objective, and impartial in order to disprove the presumption of innocence and generate certainty about the final determination.
The accused must be afforded the right of reply and an opportunity to test all assertions.
All of the above are glaringly missing in the case of Frank H Epp.
These are fundamental precepts for any just society.
As both the accuser and the alleged perpetrator were dead by the time of your investigation, in my opinion the verdict lacks merit and is utterly void.
Information is power. The main abuse of power in this case appears to be the suppression of information. The highest authority, in a democracy is the power of reliably informed people.
Respect for the laity #
Conrad Grebel, advocated for the separation of Church and state, respecting the laity to carry through the necessary reforms of God-given convictions instead of the state. Like other reformation leaders, he believed in the absolute principle of plain Scripture teaching. Grebel integrated classical antiquity and biblical Christianity. He was also one of the first to re-baptise (anabaptist) adults on confession of faith, and to be re-baptised. The major reform introduced by the Mennonites in the 16th C. was an egalitarian structure levelling the hierarchical nature of Catholicism.
Rather than “infantilising” the laity, behind a shroud of secrecy, you need to respect us. If you have probative evidence, you need to make it available to all.
It was the early Catholic Church which saw fit to treat people like ignorant masses who could be manipulated with falsehoods.
St Augustine maintained:
“There are many things that are true which it is not useful for the vulgar crowd to know; and certain things which though they are false, it is expedient for the people to believe otherwise”.
Or, Gregory of Nazianzen (329 – 389) writing to Jerome:
“Nothing can impose better on people than verbiage; the less they understand, the more they admire…we don’t say what we think, but what circumstances and necessity forces us to”.
The Mennonite Church, notionally, is one that respects lay people who are encouraged to rely on the supreme authority of scripture.
The Bible is full of quotes on Justice, likely influenced by Sumerian and Greek concepts of what is a Just society; Hammurabi and Solon.
Behold Your God: The God Who is Just and Merciful | Isaiah 30:18
The Lord is merciful, and just (the Lord is merciful, and he is good); and our God doeth mercy. Psalm 116:5-7
And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter." Isaiah 59:14
Another legal principle that comes from the bible is:
“It is better that ten guilty people escape than one innocent one suffer”.
The saying has its origin from Genesis 18: 23 – 32:
Abraham drew near, and said, “Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it? … What if ten are found there?” He [The Lord] said, “I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake."
Paranoid and insecure tyrants like Draco, Henry VIII or Stalin were diametrically opposed and executed anyone merely on suspicion of disloyalty.
“All judges had rather that ten innocent should suffer, than that one guiltyshould escape”.
Like Aeschylus, in the Oresteia, Jesus turned retaliatory law on its head in the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council;
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Matthew 7:1-3:
He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. John 8:7
The Apostle Paul warns that oppressive power often resides in the very institutions meant to protect us:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, /but against the rulers, against the authorities, …., / against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.' Ephesians 6:12
The greater the piety, the greater the injustice.
The sixth-century Digest of Justinian provides, as a general rule of evidence:
“Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies”.
Sir William Garrow coined the phrase “presumed innocent until proven guilty”, insisting that defendants' accusers and their evidence be thoroughly tested in court.
Dead men find it difficult to defend themselves.
Jonathon Swift, Dean of Garros St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, cynically claimed:
“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another”.
Finally, since the two central characters have passed on, they are subject to God’s judgement - where revenge is God’s retribution; not man’s respite.
There are opposing or dialectical views on revenge; on the one hand, personal and punitive, while on the other the more altruistic ones of restorative justice, reconciliation and healing.
I suggest the four institutions should declare the investigation null and void and draw up fairer procedures that are in line with Christian values and Canada’s democratic procedures.
I trust you will accept these suggestions in the constructive spirit in which they are offered,
With respect, Charles Klassen, Melbourne, Australia