Replacing the songs of David Haas

This article is part of our series on Voices Together, a new worship and song collection coming fall 2020 from MennoMedia, in partnership with Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.

 

ways to singBy Katie Graber, Sarah Kathleen Johnson, Anneli Loepp Thiessen

 

MennoMedia released a statement on Tuesday: in response to credible accusations of sexual abuse and spiritual manipulation by the hymn writer and composer David Haas, the committee compiling Voices Together has removed his songs from consideration. 

While these songs will not be included in the new hymnal available this fall, five songs by David Hass are in Sing the Journey (STJ) and Sing the Story (STS) and others are sung in Mennonite congregations. These include beloved songs “My Soul Is Filled with Joy,” “I Will Come to You in the Silence,” “Peace Before Us,” “Blest are They,” “We Are Called” and “Come and Be Light.”

Many communities are choosing not to sing these songs to prevent possible harm and to act in solidarity with survivors of abuse who are likely in their midst. Determining whether or how to continue singing these songs requires difficult community conversations with substantial leadership from survivors of abuse. Many communities will be best served by choosing not to sing these songs at this time.

We grieve the loss of these beloved songs, and at the same time we recognize that other songs occupy similar musical, affective, and theological territory. We know there are intangible aspects that cannot truly be replaced, but we offer the following lists to recommend alternatives that cover comparable theological themes in related musical styles. Links to recordings are provided for songs that are not in current Mennonite collections. Pending permissions, many of these songs will be included in Voices Together; we expect to release a full list of contents sometime in August.

 

“My Soul is Filled with Joy” has a text based on the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), and the tune is an Irish melody called WILD MOUNTAIN THYME.

    • Musical settings of the Magnificat 
      • My Soul Proclaims with Wonder (Hymnal: A Worship Book [HWB] 181) by Carl Daw and J. Harold Moyer
      • My Soul Cries Out (STS 124) by Rory Cooney 
    • WILD MOUNTAIN THYME arranged by other composers
      • Spirit, Open My Heart (OneLicense #20093) by Ruth Duck and congregational setting by Daniel Charles Damon (here is a choral arrangement by Alfred Fedak)

 

“Peace Before Us” is based on a Navajo prayer that has resonances with the imagery of St. Patrick’s prayer.

    • Themes of being surrounded by the love and peace of Christ
      • Christ Be All Around Me (CCLI #7016414) by David Leonard, Jack Mooring, Leeland Mooring, and Leslie Jordan
      • God, Be the Love (OneLicense #16018) by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan
      • Go, My Friends, in Grace (STS 57) by David Wright and James Clemens
    • Short songs accessible to children, some of which introduce a new meditative word to form additional verses.
      • Your Love is Washing Over Me (not on OneLicense yet), by Jaylene Johnson
      • He Came Down (STJ 31), Cameroon Traditional, arr. John Bell
      • Don’t be afraid (STJ 105) by John Bell
    • Songs with connections to Indigenous communities

 

“I Will Come To You In the Silence” draws on Isaiah 43 and a gentle folk musical sound to affirm a close personal relationship with God.

 

“Blest Are They” is a musical setting of the Beatitudes (found in Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-26) in a style that is known as Catholic folk. 

    • Musical settings of the Beatitudes
      • Blessed Are You (OneLicense #102130, you can hear this song in a video about halfway through this article) by Adam Tice and Benjamin Brody
      • Blessed Are the Persecuted (HWB 230) Tonga traditional, adapt. Ester Bergen

 

“Come and be Light” and “We Are Called” are high energy songs that call us to work for justice.

    • Calls to act for justice in a similar musical language
      • The Lord Is My Light (STJ 97) by Lillian Bouknight
      • God of Justice (CCLI #4447128) by Tim Hughes 
      • Beauty for Brokenness (STS 115) by Graham Kendrick
      • Will You Come and Follow Me (STS 39) by John Bell and Graham Maule, Scottish traditional, arr. Lloyd Kauffman
      • Longing for Light (STJ 54) by Bernadette Farrell 
      • God of the Bible (STJ 27) by Shirley Erena Murray and Tony E. Alonso

 

Additional composers who write in related musical styles: 

 


For more information on Voices Together, visit voicestogetherhymnal.org.


 

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4 thoughts on “Replacing the songs of David Haas

  1. I am a survivor of sexual abuse by clergy. As I read your article, I was uncomfortable and could not name my feelings… My husband said it well, when he recalled King David (from the Bible), who was also a sinner (perhaps in similar ways to David Haas). King David was a musician and a psalmist… I don’t believe anyone has thrown away any of King David’s writings because of the sinner that he was. Granted, we see that King David repented of his sin… The songs of David Haas have become integral parts of my life with meanings for different time periods… Now knowing more about the author does not change the songs or their meaning or me… I pray that MC USA will also take the time to look for David Haas’ repentance and redemption and not just report and “punish” him… I pray that we as a church community can embrace all of us, with all of our sins as we name them. These decisions made by MC USA are indeed significant and I am certain you did not make them lightly… I am not angry, I am not judging… I am raising more questions… May God’s Peace and Healing reign….

    1. A response from the Voices Together committee:

      We are very sorry that you have experienced abuse. We acknowledge the deep and personal meaning that these songs can carry. We also recognize that engaging with artistic work from someone who has passed away is different from entering into a contract and providing a platform for someone who is living. We do not see replacing the songs as the only option, although we are aware many communities are making this choice and aim to provide practical support in this post. As the press release about the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee and MennoMedia decision regarding removing the Haas songs from Voices Together describes:

      “Because worship, especially singing, is an embodied practice, worshipers develop a particular intimacy with songs, the committee notes. Once a song is imprinted on our hearts, the question of who owns it becomes complex.

      Hilary Scarsella, assistant professor of ethics at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and director of theological integrity at Into Account, says, “It’s possible for music composed by someone who behaved abusively to be intentionally separated from the composer and reclaimed by worshipers in resistance to his violence. However, this can only be done ethically when it is done in careful solidarity with survivors and at survivors’ lead. Survivors’ testimonies call each of us who have an inward connection to Haas’s music to engage the complex and painful process of taking their testimonies to heart and redefining our relationships with songs that we have held dear.”

      Removing Haas’s work from Voices Together was a complex decision made within particular time constraints, Kauffman noted. “With Haas’s work in circulation on numerous platforms, not including it in Voices Together focuses ongoing conversations among worship committees, pastors, leaders of worship, and congregants. The actions announced here are not the end of a conversation, nor an implied prohibition of ever engaging work by this composer.”

  2. We are all sinners, yet the problem with David Haas is that he purported himself to be a minister to others through his music, particularly within the Catholic Church. He wasn’t just a faceless composer. He was very well-known and presented himself as a mentor. It was in his young adult music workshops where he was able to gain access to his victims and groom them. This continued for many years. His former wife, fellow composer Jeanne Cotter, was alao one of his victims and spoke about this on her Facebook page. While we should pray for Haas and look for his repentance, justice must be served as well. We are called to judge others’ actions.

  3. Thank you to Sarah and Mennonite Church USA… I really appreciate the depth of what you are sharing… Thank you for hearing me and working so hard at such a complex issue… May God continue to be your guide…

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