Reflections of a chagrined “Yoderian” (part five—where to now?)

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.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Reflections of a chagrined “Yoderian” (part five—where to now?)

  1. Ted, thanks for hosting Barbara’s insightful and helpful essay and your follow-up reflections. I’ve not been sure when—or whether—to enter this conversation. You and others are doing important work to try to sort this out and I bring no particular expertise to the discussion. I find it helpful to think of the specific but linked spheres in which a response is called for.

    1. There is PERSONAL HURT where it appears ongoing work is needed. I think Barbara’s suggestion endorsed by you that recipients of sexual and other abuse tell their stories as a way towards healing. John is dead so he cannot participate. The full extent of his transgressions may never be know due to professional standards of confidentiality, but I understand that more was involved that is publicly known.

    I’m not a trained therapist but theories of pastoral counseling suggest that victims’ desire to punish the offender do not lead to healing. Nevertheless, I think the New Testament demand to seek God’s righteousness/justice and for restitution where possible allow for continuing efforts to satisfy the demand that Yoder’s conduct not be explained away. The reported over 80 known recipients of Yoder’s violations may gain satisfaction that there is an institutional effort to be honest about past errors. I’ve never been great fan of the value of succeeding generations confessing the sins of progenitors—as in Anabaptist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed sins in the 16th century. However, as in the case of U.S./native Indian grievances where there are ongoing injustices and corrections are possible, I see more merit. I don’t see where past wrongs can be righted with regard to these personal issues.

    2. I see merit in the call for INSTITUTIONAL REPENTANCE and correction both for AMBS and the Mennonite Church. The main purpose of this is not to remedy the past but to avoid repetition in the futre. I agree that President Shenk’s well-formulated response for AMBS takes another step in the institutional work of remediation. Again, I see more value in that which creates sensitivity to the issues of abuse of power leading to violation of others and encourages responses that minimize possibility for similar failure of institutional responsibility in the future. I believe the Accountability Committee did good work at the time and reports of Yoder’s recalcitrance to the accountability work are disturbing.

    3. The ongoing work that you have engaged or trying to sort out the implications of Yoder’s personal failure and the value of his work will continue. I see merit in Graber’s suggestion that most—if not all—discussions at least in the foreseeable future will require a footnote to at least show awareness of this problem. However, the impact of the work of Barth, Tillich, et. alia, is not permanently limited to nor constantly reminded of their peronal failures.

    Andy Alexis-Baker makes a case that there is a deeper personal issue that showed up in a lack of gratitude and consideration of others. I must say that in my one personal encounter at a meeting of the American Society of Missiology, I saw John—the keynote speaker—standing alone outside the auditorium. It seemed persons were hesitant to engage him. I thought, he’s human like any of us and approached him. I asked about his not having published a work on systematic theology. He was congenial and told me of his unpublished Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method sold in the AMBS bookstore. He followed up our conversation by mailing me a signed copy. Rather than refuting Alexis-Baker’s theory, I find this as evidence of Yoder’s complexity and manifestation of the kind of personal ambiguity of which we all are capable.

    The questions whether concepts of commitment and fidelity per se involve violence go beyond my understanding. I leave those for specialists in the field. What I find more at stake is how leaders serving in Mennonite church institutions and moral theologians sort out the implications of Yoder’s conduct for their theological work.

    My intuition is that the drives that precipitated Yoder’s transgressions were personal—a part of the human dilemma best addressed from the psychological and pastoral counseling disciplines—and the rationalizations coming from a brilliant mind that manipulated ethical theory to serve not fully disciplined human desire analyzed theologically. The distance between the head and the gut is not necessarily bridged by theological acumen. In this regard, I find Hauerwas’s statement, “If I learned anything from John Howard Yoder, it is not to trust yourself to know yourself.” (Hanna’s Child,> p 242)

  2. Dan Umbel

    I must say, Ted, that I am fairly disappointed with your evasive comments regarding the possible connections between Yoder’s thought and his behavior. Why preempt honest probing of Yoder’s work in light of his sexual improprieties by encouraging us to separate that work from his actions ? I find this suggestion to be inconsistent with your written work and what I know about you and your theological passions. For instance, would you suggest the same about John Calvin ? Was there no relationship between Calvin’s theology and the public execution of Michael Servetus ? Should we in his case also proceed as if his theology should be hermetically sealed from his life ? Of course, examining Yoder’s thought in the light of his sexual sins could bias the analysis by suggesting dubious connections between the two. But should we hesitate in principle to risk such an analysis simply because it could produce erroneous results ? Is there not always the possibility of misinterpretation ? Again, I’m not suggesting that Yoder’s theology caused his behavior in any direct or simplistic way. But if there is something in his thought (or a lack of something in his thought) that contributed toward his actions in some way shouldn’t we be apprised of such ?

    • Ted Grimsrud

      Dan, as I was responding to Hilary below I realized I had not yet responded to your comment. I hope that what I say to her does provide a bit more clarity. I am kind of dumbfounded though that you would imagine I am “preempting honest probing of Yoder’s work in light of his sexual improprieties” or suggesting Yoder’s theology “should be hermetically sealed from his life” (emphases added). If I was doing that, why would I have been having this discussion?

      I think what you uncharitably characterize as “evasive comments” are instead my struggling for clear language about what seems to me a very complicated issue. Sure it’s hard to articulate the distinction I’m trying to make (it clearly wasn’t clear to you), but I assure you I feel no compulsion to be “evasive.”

      At the same time, to use your example of Calvin, I would indeed see the execution of Servetus as something that needs to be considered in relation to Calvin’s theology, but if I find profound and life-giving insights in Calvin’s comments on the Psalms that I want to integrate into my own constructive theology, I would see those insights as valid apart from whatever happened with Servetus—and would think that being expected to bring Servetus into my discussion of Calvin’s insight into the Psalms as likely being an unhelpful distraction.

      • Dan Umbel

        Two responses: a) I like Calvin’s commentaries on the Psalms as well; b) I must have misunderstood your comments. If so, I apologize for further muddying an already muddy series of conversations.

  3. (Just as well, my entire previous post was just swallowed)
    Ted,
    thanks for your reply on post # 3 and I would like to respond with two narratives I came across in the past two days. http://www.jesusradicals.com/abuse-nonviolence-and-the-lords-supper/ Is the thoughtful and sensitive exposition of Hillary Scarsella about the experience of sexual violence that is silenced with theology.

    The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia http://www.vice.com/read/the-ghost-rapes-of-bolivia-000300-v20n8?utm_source=vicetwitterus is an even more harrowing and chilling account of sexual violence in one of our own communities, perpetuated by ignorance, patriarchy, prejudice and misguided theology.

    Just as in the case of JHY, I cannot see how our lived experience, our live life story and our constructed theology are not intricately linked. I hear you most clearly in the sentence above under # 3 that you find the discussion (and the link of theology and the particularity of JHY’s life and violence) uncomfortable. So do I – but for different reasons.

    Yoder’s book Politics kept me by the faith when I understood that the gospel is political. He was the main source for AB theology in my dissertation, and I deeply appreciate his metaphor of the church as pulpit and paradigm, which I still use. His challenge to live peaceably is ongoing for me. I would not be typing this if it wasn’t for his books, taught to me by many a good teacher at the Bienenberg and MBBS.

    However, I learned from patients who died of cancer that we cannot think, believe, feel, construct theology or love without our body. Our lived life story has an immediate and direct impact on our faith. The body-spirit, peace-violence, world-church dichotomies must be re-envisioned in light of our fallen hero (pun intended). In many ways, we are all perpetrators and victims at the same time. Gadamer’s Hermeneutic of Suspicion and Kaufman’s Serendipitous Creative have become a good challenges to my own Mennonite navel-gazing, and I echo Hauerwas’ quote above, never to trust that I know myself.

    We cannot understand the perpetrator (or put him in his rightful place) without hearing the victims, as already pointed out by posts on your blog #4. Sexual violence is rarely about sex, for that we have sexual affairs. It is a good sign that that dealing with our theological, historical,and human disasters makes us uncomfortable. We are then in good company with all the men and women and children who have been kept uncomfortable for a very long time (see links above)

  4. Hilary J. Scarsella

    I just read the six posts in the series again, and I want to say how much I appreciate the thought and energy (and prayer, I assume) that has gone into this conversation. It seems to me that giving the topic of sexual violence our attention is a good first (baby) step toward healing and building communities and churches that are safe.

    Ted, I’m trying my best to understand where you’re coming from when you say that Yoder’s behavior and theology must be kept separate. I hear you and others also saying that, “it is totally appropriate to scrutinize (Yoder’s) theology with this problem in mind.” And, I assume that you mean the problem of his violent behavior. If you wouldn’t mind, I would certainly benefit from a bit more explanation as to how you envision this scrutinizing to be appropriate in light of your claim that Yoder’s theology and behavior should be kept separate.

    Recognizing that I may not yet be understanding you correctly, I resonate with the comment above. From where I stand, it seems vitally important to be aware of Yoder’s violent behavior while reading his theology in order to be properly mindful for how we each are being formed by it.

    Many in my generation were taught Yoder’s ideas (the 10 you outlined in a previous post) as soon as we could speak. And, we didn’t receive them as one theologian’s ideas to consider in the midst of many others. They were taught as the generic “right way,” not even attributed to the person who first wrote them down. When I read The Politics of Jesus for the first time, I was bored to tears. It felt like a basic review of Sunday school lessons. This is not to diminish the significance of the book or of Yoder’s thought. If anything, this speaks to the degree to which his work has been influential in shaping the Mennonite church. In many places, it has become a part of the air we breathe. One thing that has been valuable to me in reading this series is that doing so has helped me gain a better sense for how powerfully transformative Yoder’s work was for the generation before me (and continues to be for those who are not raised on similar ideas). At the same time, I regret that there has not been more participation from younger voices.

    Since Yoderian ideas were taught to me as the general wisdom of the church, my own development (spiritual, psychological, emotional, etc.) was shaped by them. And, in order to address the poorly developed parts of my own self, the theological task I’ve needed to wrestle with most has been learning to see the ways that Yoder’s thought (and thought inspired by him) falls short. Painfully obvious is its lack of emotional awareness and lack of respect for psychological approaches to understanding oneself in relation to others. Because these dynamics are implicit in Yoder’s theology, I learned them at the same time that I was learning to think about Jesus as a political figure. The more I now learn about Yoder’s violent and abusive behavior toward women, his relationship to power and authority, his skepticism of psychology and his lack of interest in engaging himself emotionally, the better I am able to understand the harmful effects being formed by his thinking has had on me (and others). Again, this isn’t to say that being formed by his thought has not had positive effects as well. Surely, it has. I can’t help but think, however, that if my Sunday school teachers had been aware of Yoder’s violent behavior toward women and able to look for related warning signs in his theology, some of the harm that came from being formed by his thought might not have happened.

    I don’t think that holding Yoder’s theology together with his behavior means that we will lose the pieces of his thought that are helpful, right, and good. Honestly, I can’t imagine a scenario in which it would even be possible for the Mennonite church in the US to divorce itself from his influence. For that reason, it is hard for me to understand the anxiety there seems to be in having more direct conversation about the theological problem of Yoder’s violent behavior. To me, holding his theology together with midfulness of his behavior means that future generations might have a chance at escaping the pieces of his thought that aren’t helpful, right, or good. It would also aid in preventing his single voice from having such a dominating influence on formation. Surely, we and our children are better off and more balanced when we can learn from the whole & diverse “community of saints.”

    • Dan Umbel

      I just wanted to affirm your insightful comments, Hilary, about the connections between the lack of emotional awareness displayed by Yoder and how his theology is reflective of that lack. It’s seems to me that a critique of Yoder’s work along those lines is long overdue.

  5. Ted Grimsrud

    Thank you, Hilary, for taking the time to read my posts and, even more, for taking the time to share your thoughtful questions and reflections.

    I am sorry I wrote in such a way as to give the impression that I think that in some fundamental way Yoder’s theology should be separated from his actions. These are blog posts, of course. I tried to write carefully and take time for each post, but obviously still was a bit careless.

    At the end of the third post, I do say, if you want to quote a bit out of context, that “it is best to separate Yoder’s behavior from his theology.” I think, though, this is clearly stated as a preliminary conclusion (and I did write this before I had formulated the points I would elaborate in parts 4 and 5). Plus, even then I indicate that I have in mind Yoder’s written ideas as contributions to our own constructive theology, not that we should make this kind of distinction in relation to his theology in general or his theology as he formulated it in his own life (e.g., related to a biographical accounting of Yoder’s theological development).

    What I do then, in the fourth post is briefly summarize ten ideas of Yoder’s that I have found helpful for my constructive theology, with the suggestion that these key ideas stand regardless of what Yoder’s behavior might have been. So by now, I am not talking about his theology in general but his theology insofar as it provides ideas that we draw upon for our own theology. My point is that these ideas now stand or fall of their own accord regardless now of what we learn about the life of one who articulated them many years ago.

    However, I also state there, I think strongly and clearly, that I think studying Yoder’s behavior is important if we are working on his theology itself as our object of study (rather than as a source for our own constructive theology), something I reiterate above in point 4 of this 5th post. I have a hard time seeing how anything I wrote here (including being willing to repost Barbra Graber’s manifesto and to encourage discussion of this issue as well as to make my own contribution now and a couple of years ago to this discussion) reflects “anxiety…in having more direct conversation about the theological problem of Yoder’s violent behavior.” As I say, even if it makes us uncomfortable, we have to talk about it.

    In the comments to the 4th post, my friend Dr. Heike Pekruhn states well the distinction I am trying to make between Yoder’s theology as an object of study and Yoder’s ideas as stimulants for our own constructive theological work: “I think we are very much agreed then, regarding the two different responsible approaches of theological study possible: Yoder’s theology vs. using his prompts for theological construction. In the end, any of our theological imaginations and constructions is built with what is imaginable, and this includes the building blocks of theologies that might be intimately known to us or come to us in tidbits, insights we owe to others whose stories we do not know. And I certainly do not advocate that we must become historians of every single person we would like to ‘use’ in our theological work.”

    I wish I could agree with you that Mennonite young people have grown up with an innate sense that Yoder’s ideas are the “right ideas.” You suggest the ten points I summarize in my fourth post are what Mennonite children absorb “as soon as [they] can speak.” In my 30 years as a Mennonite pastor (the last 17 years also as a Mennonite college professor), I have seen little evidence of this. I would have to go into a lot more detail in elaborating the ten points, but each one seems to me to be either missing altogether or understood in pretty banal and superficial ways in the Mennonite communities I am familiar with.

    Likewise, I do not share your sense that it is due to weaknesses in Yoder’s theology that Mennonites tend to have a “lack of emotional awareness and lack of respect for psychological approaches to understanding oneself in relation to others.” I would claim that Yoder’s theology for me has made a profound positive contribution to my emotional and psychological awarenesses. If there is a correlation between these lacks in Mennonite communities and Yoder’s own lacks, it makes much more sense to me to see Yoder’s thought and life as a consequence of the lacks, not their cause.

    I am sure that one’s view of Yoder’s theology, et al, will have a lot to do with one’s experience of its roll in one’s own life. I have found his thought to be extraordinarily life-giving in many more than ten ways. Others haven’t and hence are more prone to perceive problems in the theology that correlate with problems in his behavior (and I don’t know how I could have been more clear in critiquing that behavior—I don’t feel any motivation to “let Yoder off the hook” for his violent actions).

    All that said, I strongly agree with you final point about not wanting to have “a single voice” have a dominating influence. I am a huge fan of Gordon Kaufman (more so that almost any Yoderian I know of) as well as wanting to draw on other sources, Mennonite or not. I would hope that would be apparent were one to read my writings (that actually don’t cite Yoder that often). My main assertion, really, is that Yoder works best when we focus on his life-giving insights and join them with life-giving insights from other sources and creatively construct our own theology (in conversation with others, of course, and always with the purpose of enhancing embodied peaceable living). Still, I am not too worried about Yoder’s voice being too dominant among Mennonites because I believe it never has been dominant and is less so all the time (though, sadly, not generally for very good reasons).

    • Hilary

      Thanks for taking the time to respond, Ted. This has been helpful and clarifying. I sensed many of the points you spell out here and probably got caught on a few statements in the third post (as you mention) that weren’t meant to carry the weight I read into them. In many ways, I agree with you. On certain points, we disagree or have had different experiences of the church and Yoder’s influence on it, and that is to be expected. It broadens my view to be able to take in your experience, and I am grateful for that. I assure you, also, that there are at least parts of the Mennonite landscape in the US that are as I describe.

      When I mentioned the anxiety I sense some have over addressing Yoder’s behavior directly, I should have also acknowledged the energy you and others here have put into engaging this difficult conversation head-on. The space for reflection you have created here and the freedom with which participants have been able to respond is a gift that I dearly appreciate.

  6. Scott Holland

    As one who knew and studied under John Howard Yoder, I have been following this conversation with interest. Last night I visited Mark T. Nation’s blog where he posted a more historical account of the Yoder Case and offered his commentary. I found Nation’s account of the complicated historical Yoder an important corrective to the current rhetorical whirlwind around his life and thought. Although the historical record of the Yoder case has not changed, the current language games have shifted dramatically, with respondents freely and carelessly substituting the original formal language of “Yoder’s misconduct” with the rhetorical charge of “Yoder’s violence.” This does change the story.

    Unlike Ted, I am no Yoderian. However, the church, academy and society have learned and benefited much from his fine work on the politics of Jesus and the critique of Constantinianism in church & society thinking. I continue to use his texts in seminary and graduate level Peace Studies classes and I will use Pete Blum’s new book in an upper level Postmodernism class this fall.

    In conversations with Yoder, I suggested that I could not follow his theological path because, in my view, he offers us an anthropology of the disciple but not an anthropology of the human person. Further, he presents readers a high ecclesiology but a very low theology of culture. His project thus encourages a mimetic recovery of Christian origins rather than an active theological imagination and a poetics of being in the world with others. But dare I say this is rather normative Old Mennonite theology? The daughters and sons of GC Mennos have more freely entered theology as imaginative construction and the honest recognition of the bio-historical origins of even the most lofty God-talk and churchly practices.

    No, I’m no Yoderian but neither am I a fan of this New Inquisition.

    • Professor Holland, by inferring that John Howard Yoder is now the victim of a “New Inquisition” by uppity women who dare to question his validity as a respectable Mennonite icon you have taken an historic event and turned it on its head. (Incidentally that is precisely how JHY also seems to view himself in Chapter 5 of John C. Nugent’s The End to Sacrifice: The Capital Punishment Writings of John Howard Yoder)

      To refresh your knowledge of history, the Inquisition was primarily a holocaust against innocent women at the hands of powerful male church leaders. So your use of the Inquisition word in this context is in the best case inappropriate, and in the worst case mean and wrong spirited. John Howard Yoder’s misogynist legacy is not unique and did not happen in a vacuum.

      Christians, at the time of the Inquisition were asked, as we are still being asked today, to honor corrupted church leaders. This was in fact an accepted doctrine. (Spinka’s History of Christianity in the Balkans) A missionary writer of the 14th century taught his converts “the worst man, if he be a priest, is more worthy than the holiest of laymen.” Would be reformers within the church were usually silenced and those who dared preach against abuses by church leaders were executed. (Coulton’s Inquisition and Liberty) I guess we can be thankful we’ve progressed in that regard.

      A rector of the University of Paris protested in an open letter that “the Popes were ravishers, not pastors of their flocks….Who do you think can endure, among so many abuses …your elevation of men without honesty or virtue to the most eminent positions?” (Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror)

      We now know that witches were for the most part country dwelling herbalists who believed the earth to be sacred and filled with spiritual meaning. They were not evil in practice or intent. They simply did not take kindly to the new Catholic version of a singular punishing male God with his heaven and hell and shame and guilt being forced upon them. Some also happened to own property the church wanted to confiscate. In 1524 1,000 witches died in Como. 500 were executed within 3 months in Geneva. The city of Treves burned 7,000 witches, 400 in a single day at Toules. The chronicler of Treves reported that in the year 1586 the entire female population of two villages was wiped out, except for only 2 women left alive. (Walker’s Encyclopedia of Women’s Myths and Secrets) And I’ve not even mentioned the sexualized violence recorded as part of the torture of women during the Inquisition.

      Yes, there are certainly strong correlations here, but hardly the sort you are making. And while we are drawing correlations, the Inquisition was primarily developed for vast profits to the church coffers. (Lea’s The Inquisition of the Middle Ages) It appears Herald Press perhaps succumbed to similar temptation. There are email exchanges at http://rossbender.org/AMBS-JHY.pdf documenting that when some of JHY’s earliest behavior was exposed, at least two church leaders demanded Herald Press stop the presses on his books, but even they could not bring themselves to do so.

  7. Thank you, Barb

    I too was offended at Scott’s language and invocation of witch-hunting as a proper male theological response to the work of the past two years. It is impossible for me to understand how explicitly-written compassion for everyone touched by the JHY story can be turned on its head in this way.

    Ruth Krall

  8. Stephanie

    Thank you, Barbra. This needed to be said. The Inquisition reference was insulting and absurd. I’m also extremely bothered by Scott Holland’s thoughtless characterization of people who say “John Howard Yoder’s violence” rather than “misconduct” as being “free and careless.” Scott, read Ruth Krall’s book on Yoder. She explains quite clearly how “misconduct” has been used as a part of a “language game” that enabled people–particularly church leaders–to equivocate about a lot of unambiguously violent behavior. Of course this changes the story. No one’s being cagey about that. The historical record may be unchanged, but it is now subject to public interpretation by people who are more interested in the truth about sexualized violence than they are in preserving the legacy of a theological icon or the reputation of the Mennonite church. If you read Krall, and the Tom Price articles, and the Our Stories Untold blog, and still believe that those initiating the new conversations about Yoder’s violence are inquisitorial, careless, or uninterested in historical accuracy, then you’re being just plain willfully ignorant. Either that, or you believe that about forty women are lying about the nature of what JHY did to them.

    Of course, I am both a GC daughter and a humanities graduate student, so on both fronts I’m preconditioned to recognize the biohistorical origins of paternalistic academic masculinity.

  9. Jeff Altaras

    Dear Mr. Holland,

    Too much time on the professorial pulpit? Academia, has clearly dulled your humanity and has closed your mind from your obligation toward bettering the world.

    Mr. Holland, I wonder what your words would be if it were your daughter or wife that Mr. Yoder had groped and grabbed in secrecy while he was filling the Mennonite Ethics closet full of hypocrisy.

    As a former Ethics Executive of a major international corporation, I have to say that anyone who engages in this kind of abhorrent and deviant behavior, at the expense of the vulnerable, cannot be held in regard for anything they have done. In fact, in my business, anyone, at any level, who engages in behavior like JHY did, is fired immediately.

    For you to defend JHY as a respectable man who had good ideas, even after violating so many people, might cause one to question your own ethics and your own moral code. Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Silvio Berlusconi had good ideas, too. Should we continue to hold both of these men as models for leadership — in any context?

    We, as educated and worldly-wise people, must defrock, dismantle, and eliminate this kind of behavior, no matter what the person’s position, their sex, their education, their power — or their good Mennonite name. We have the obligation to bring about a more peaceful and loving world that respects equity and harmony.

    It worries me to hear that our future leaders, in your classes, are learning that we can turn a blind eye to the indiscretions of this man, because he had some other good things to say. It concerns me that these future leaders may come to my Company, with a less than clear ethical framework. How can you, as Professor of Theology and Culture and Director of Peace Studies Programs, consciously teach the words of a man that did not live ethically nor bring about peace?

    As someone, somewhere in the past said: “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6).

    John Howard Yoder’s actions were far from Christ-like, and far from bringing about peace. Frankly, he was too deep in his head, with a clear deficit in his heart. A dangerous combination.

    Thanks for the opportunity to write.

    • Marilyn Kennel

      Thank you, thank you, Mr. Altaras! As has often been the case, we have to look outside the institutional church for a clear and unequivocal statement. The reality is disheartening. I long ago tired of and abandoned the study of theology, choosing, rather, the practical belief that how one treats one’s neighbor is the more important thing.

    • Thank you Mr. Altaras. Refreshing words.

      • Jeff Altaras

        Thanks for the feedback.
        I must add: I believe in the importance of justice. Justice is not about revenge; justice is simply about bringing out the truth. Those that participate in hiding the truth and/or justifying abhorrent behavior, are clearly not in a position to teach, guide, preach, or lead.

  10. Laura Weaver

    I, too, thank you, Mr. Altaras!

  11. Sylvia Klauser

    Mr. Altaras,
    as fellow ethicist I sincererly thank you for your conscise words. As Anabaptist theologian and pastor, I still watch and read and wonder whether I should stay or go, I am that disturbed and appalled by so much male privilege blindness

  12. This conversation is going on at Anabaptist-Nation too. It is time to cross-reference the two blogs once more

    http://emu.edu/now/anabaptist-nation/2013/08/13/what-to-say-about-john-howard-yoders-sexual-misconduct/

    Ruth Krall
    http://www.ruthkrall.com

  13. Scott Holland

    Thank you for the push back. Please read my comments in response to these genuine critiques over on Mark Nation’s Anabaptist Nation blog. The suggestion that I am defending JHY’s behavior or even his theology would stun true Yoderians who exiled me from their Anabaptist guild long ago. This charge represents a misunderstanding of my admittedly overly provocative signifier used to tame or turn what seemed to be a rhetorical whirlwind spinning far beyond the sins of any one man. In the Anabaptist Nation post I thanked Ruth, Andy, Stephanie and others for their correction and counsel. Barbara, in light of your post above I add you also to that list. Many of us who have worked, lived and ministered in Mennonite communities for the past several decades have witnessed a fair share of Mennonite “Inquisitions” generally carried out by uppity, angry, pacifist men filled with repressed rage. I was using the signifier, as I have used it in other contexts, metaphorically and the theopoetically, not historically. In this current context, this was an injudicious use of the signifier which I regret.

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