I am grateful to Barbra Graber for her initiative in writing and circulating her statement. It clearly has served the purpose of stimulating thought, conversation, and hopefully even action. It has led to an unprecedented amount of attention to this website, for which I am grateful. It also challenged me to keep thinking and to write as I think (see the earlier posts—Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4).
I have taken the discussion in a more theological direction due to my own interests. I’ll conclude my set of reflections with the post, confessing that my brain feels a bit fried in relation to this topic. In fact, it is difficult to think of much more to say right now. I invite comments and questions in the comment section below for a chance to think more about aspects of this issue that remain unsettled or unclear.
I will close with just a few comments:
(1) I think Barbra does an excellent job in outlining numerous practical responses to the presence in our midst, as it were, of the unresolved pain of John Howard Yoder’s celebrated theological legacy existing side by side with our awareness of his hurtful actions toward many women. Her eighth point seems especially important: “For survivors of sexual abuse: Whether you are male or female, break the silence and tell your story (anonymously if you wish) at the Our Stories Untold website. It takes courage, but in my experience it is the first step back to health. Or dare to tell your secret directly to trust-worthy others. Either way, you will watch the shame and fear begin to fall away.”
(2) I hope this present discussion, joined by numerous others in the past and yet to come, might lead to some concrete action that will enhance the healing process for the people Yoder hurt, for the institutions that did not act quickly or decisively enough to stop the violations, and for the broader Mennonite church world. I appreciate the initial statement Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary president Sara Wenger Shenk made, and hope it is a harbinger for AMBS investing its own resources in supporting the healing process.
(3) Obviously, given the attention I have been paying this issue here, I support the call for more clarity and truthtelling about this part of Yoder’s life. Still, I do find this discussion uncomfortable. Though I fear the tone and emphases of some participants might distract either from the need for focusing on present-day expressions of sexual violence in our communities or the need for an on-going appropriation of key insights in Yoder’s theology, I believe we need to move through this difficult topic rather than avoid it—and to welcome all voices even when they do cause discomfort.
(4) I do hope, though, that in time interest in this part of Yoder’s legacy will diminish. In relationship to sexual violence in Mennonite communities, it seems to me, being reminded of Yoder’s story should serve as a wake-up call, but is not itself a useful longterm point of focus. It will have been wasted energy to talk about Yoder if the discussion does not lead to better practices in the present to overcome the violence. In relation to Yoder’s own life story and his theology as an object of study, this part of the story will of course remain relevant and important. But personally, I prefer to focus more on constructive peace theology in the present than simply analyzing a past theologian’s work. I am concluding that Yoder’s personal failures are only of limited significance for that work. His insightful ideas remain insightful.