What’s to be done about John Howard Yoder? (guestpost)

[My friend and former Eastern Mennonite University faculty colleague Barbra Graber would like to invite theologians and others who utilize the work of John Howard Yoder into further discussion. So I have agreed to post a recent essay she wrote reflecting on Yoder’s hurtful sexual behavior and its continuing legacy. I invite responses in the “comment” section at the end of this post and hope we can think together a bit in response to Barbra’s provocative thoughts. After a couple of days, I plan to post a longer set of my reflections in response to Barbra’s post [here’s part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5]. This version of Barbra’s essay has been revised from what she recently posted on Rachel Halder’s website Our Stories Untold and at Young Anabaptist Radicals. Each of those postings has a lively set of comments. — Ted Grimsrud]

By Barbra Graber

July 30, 2013

(Note: This is an opinion piece from the perspective of a lay-person in the Mennonite church who has never been privy to inside information regarding the disciplinary processes of JHY and left to make sense of something that has made no sense in light of the church’s stated guidelines, mission and purpose. I don’t pretend that my limited perspective encompasses the whole. My intention is to provide impetus and fodder for more discernment and discussion on the larger topic of known and widespread sexual abuses of power by Mennonite church leaders, most powerfully symbolized by JHY. Hopefully others from inside the JHY story will be encouraged to come forward with new information. My issue is not with a deceased man, but the living and beloved church of my birth.)

I remember the Sunday morning two MYF (Mennonite Youth Fellowship) friends who were dating got up in front of the congregation to publicly confess their sins. They were pregnant out of wedlock.  Meanwhile John Howard Yoder, the most acclaimed Mennonite peace theologian and symbol of male power in the church, sexually assaulted and harassed untold numbers of women of the church over decades, and never publicly confessed.  And the Mennonite seminary, as well as many other Mennonite church agencies that hired him, were somehow unable or unwilling to ultimately fix the problem. Years of institutional silence ensued while files of complaint letters accumulated. In 1984, the Mennonite Seminary announced that Yoder “had resigned in order to teach full time at Notre Dame.” But no mention of JHY’s known sexually deviant behavior was made and students were left to wonder why their brilliant professor suddenly flew the coop. Since that time, no one has asked and the Mennonite Church at large has not explained or acknowledged its decades of apparent complicity.

Quite the opposite.

After public exposure of his abuses in 1992, followed by a highly secretive disciplinary process, he was declared reconciled with the church and encouraged to return to “teaching and writing.” The promise of a public statement of apology to the victims whose lives he upended, and the wider ecumenical community whose trust he betrayed, somehow never materialized. And no one seems to know why. Today John Howard Yoder continues to be lauded, his books roll off the presses, and there’s pressure from all sides to go back to business as usual. I wonder if the same would be true if he’d been busted for selling drugs or accused of grand theft.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse by men of the Mennonite Church, though not JHY. And I have walked through hell and back with many of the church’s soul-scarred women, including victims of JHY.  Over the decade of 1982 to 1992 I happened to encounter three women across three states that did not know one another; and each one told me a despicable story of life altering, traumatic encounter with John Howard Yoder.  Today many more stories have been documented. (See the Elkhart Truth 1992 articles by Tom Price and Ruth Krall’s The Elephants in God’s Living Room [volume 3 of Krall’s work is in large part devoted to the Yoder story]).

A long time friend, after reading my recent rant about glowing reviews of JHY’s books in our church’s periodical The Mennonite asked me, “So what needs to be done? It feels like we are stuck…is it possible to move forward?” I like a challenge from friends. I too would like to see us move forward. But we can’t cry “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”  There is no peace for many women who lost, along with their families, years of normal, healthy, joyous living for having been sexually abused by male leaders of the Mennonite Church.  And JHY remains a symbol of those widespread wounds like no other churchman.

Just this week, Sara Wenger Shenk, President of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN, where Yoder taught for many years, with support of Ervin Stutzman, Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA issued an online call for “new transparency and truth-telling” in the saga of John Howard Yoder. To applaud and support this bold new vision as well as respond to my friend’s challenge, I offer the following practical suggestions for moving us toward justice, peace, and healing within our Body of Believers.

1) Let’s all be clear and truthful about what actually happened in the case of JHY.  People still ask me what he actually did that was so bad. Words like “inappropriate”, “liaisons”, “alleged abuses”, “crossed boundaries”, “improprieties”, “misconduct”, “transgressions” and “sexual advances” to describe Yoder’s actions are highly misleading because they are far too mild, lack specificity, and leave everyone asking “so what did the women do to encourage him?” and “why didn’t they protest!?”  The actions of JHY reported to me and now documented by others, were sexually abusive assaults. They were sudden acts of aggression. They were obscene and persistent sexual harassments. Do your homework on why women, even today, tend not to report the sexual abuses of prestigious men in positions of power. Women would certainly not write letters of complaint to powerful institutions about “liaisons” with powerful men. They wouldn’t bother to write complaint letters about improprieties either.  Telling a sexist joke might be considered an impropriety, but JHY’s actions were clear perpetrations of sexualized violence, some of them criminal. Can we please all agree to to stop the whitewashing? Until we get the correct language on the table, we will truly remain stuck. It baffles me that scholars and writers who dicker over the accuracy of words, cannot seem to get them right in this case.

2) For Church leaders: Pledge to make the ending of sexual abuses of power a clearly articulated denominational priority. Create at least one setting for public acknowledgement of the years of enabling and continued harm.  A public confession could take place through an open letter in “The Mennonite”, signed by those involved or their representatives; and it could happen through a public ceremony of confession at a national (and international) church conference. It is also important to publicly honor the brave women who did the work the church was unable to do despite the criticism of their peers and resistance from their church. If all this ends in legal action, which is highly unlikely, so be it. Let the debt be paid. When this dirty business is simply and sincerely acknowledged by the broader denomination, without excuses, this festering wound will finally begin to close and the Spirit will be freed to breathe new life and health through our communities of faith.

3) For journalists and book reviewers:  Acknowledge the controversy when you discuss JHY’s work, at least every once in awhile. It could be the simplest of statements: “In troubling contrast to his work, we now know that John Howard Yoder’s life was seriously flawed by acts of sexual violence against women. Though he left a legacy of harm, ironically his writings continue to inspire and attract new readers.”  If this has ever happened in a JHY book review, or if it does, please forward on to me.

4) For scholars of JHY’s works:  Welcome, encourage and make efforts to include the analysis of the serious disconnect between Yoder’s ortho-doxy and his severe lack of ortho-praxy in the discourses you initiate. Stop barring, marginalizing and shunning anyone who suggests this might be a worthy and beneficial scholarly endeavor. Visit Ruth Krall’s Enduring Space website for the most thorough analysis and historical documentation of the rest of the JHY story, especially her ebook, “The Elephants in God’s Living Room-Volume Three: The Mennonite Church and John Howard Yoder.” 

5) For Mennonite men: This is a men’s issue because your gender is committing most of these abuses– on your wives, sisters, sons and daughters. So man up! Challenge your male friends who don’t get it and go to the police or social services about the friends you know or suspect are abusing now or have abused in the past. If you are or have ever been caught up in perpetrating sexualized violence, you are likely doing so out of an earlier unhealed victimization. If you keep making excuses and rationalizing your behavior, you will eventually be called out. Make confession and get serious about seeking help and healing now.

6) For Mennonite pastors: 93% of sex offenders describe themselves as religious. No more secrecy and silence. Make it a sermon topic. Assume you have both predators and victims sitting in your pews every Sunday. Create safe and open spaces for people to come forward and name names. Learn to recognize a predator’s grooming behavior. Believe the victims who report their stories to you (and assume the named perpetrators have other victims in your midst who’ve not come forward). Act on your suspicions. Err on the side of protecting women and children. Sexual abusers are not innocent until proven guilty. Suspicions must be immediately confronted and reported. (see Victor Vieth on the Jerry Sandusky story http://vimeo.com/60690302 ) The onus of proving their innocence must be placed on the accused.  Stop covering up crimes in the naive belief that the church is equipped to handle these things on its own. Applying restorative justice models and assigning accountability groups to work with a sexual predator will only exhaust everyone involved and change little. Report them to law enforcement. If the law does nothing for you, hold the named predators accountable as best you can. Demand a confession to the congregation and create strict boundaries. If the accused perpetrator refuses to cooperate, cut him off from fellowship and take out appropriate restraining orders. Make certain lawyers you hire are sensitive to your responsibility for the protection of the vulnerable in your congregation as well as your management of liability and risk. Unfortunately there are no guarantees or prescriptive outcomes in this hornet’s nest called “confronting the perpetrator.” And it is by far the most complex challenge before us. But secrecy and silence is not the answer! That only makes the wellbeing of a respected perpetrator and the disruption of his family more important than the lives of the hundred or more victims he may violate in a lifetime. And keep in mind the charges of complicity you could face if you do nothing. Discern together, but include in your meetings knowledgeable consultants who understand the nature and behavior of sexual predators.

7) For Mennonite educators: Sexualized violence is a peace and justice issue!  Make the topics of multi-generational incest, childhood sexual abuse, and sexualized violence against women central to your curriculums and conferences. Make Krall’s work available, if not required reading. Encourage discussion of the contradictions and ponder the reasons for the Church’s historical silence and resistance on these issues. Invite leaders involved in the disciplinary process with JHY to share their experience and talk about what, in hindsight, might have been done differently. Make and model the creation of safe and appropriate spaces to talk about experiences of sexual violation and the impact it has had on our lives. Teach and practice the art of deep listening. Partner with organizations like the Catholic Whistleblower Network and The National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State. Also see #4.

8) For survivors of sexual abuse: Whether you are male or female, break the silence and tell your story (anonymously if you wish) at http://www.OurStoriesUntold.com. 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.

9) For everyone reading this:  Pray. It tends to change things. Every Thursday at 3:00, join our “Call to Prayer for Sexual Healing in the Mennonite Church.” Follow this link.

Through the months and years ahead, may our resolve remain steady—-as we acknowledge and name this cancer in our midst, struggle to understand its historical causes, and fearlessly confront the pervasive presence of sexualized violence in our homes and churches. The task before us is embarrassing, difficult, messy and arduous… but it is time we pull our communal head from the sand and join together to lead the way toward safer, healthier communities.

Call me naive. Say these things will never happen. l will hold out hope for the good people of the Mennonite Church and the power of Spirit led healing and reconciliation till the day I die.

“God of grace and God of glory, on your people pour thy power….Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour…..for the living of these days…lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.”    Harry E. Fosdick

[Here are links to some other discussions of Yoder’s sexual misconduct: Ruth Krall’s Enduring Space website has a long and thorough e-book that Professor Krall has written (mentioned above)—The Mennonite Church and John Howard YoderThe Jesus Radicals website has some thoughtful reflections by Andy Alexis-Baker along with a lengthy set of often-perceptive comments—“John Howard Yoder and Sex: Wrestling with the Contradictions.”  In his memoir, Hannah’s Child (Eerdmans, 2010), pages 242-7, Stanley Hauerwas wrote some informative reflections as a close Yoder friend. A couple of years ago, I posted some of my thoughts on this blog in two parts—“Word and Deed: The Strange Case of John Howard Yoder” and “Addendum.”  An indispensable series of investigative articles written in 1992 by reporter Tom Price was published in Yoder’s hometown newspaper, The Elkhart Truth. These may be accessed here.—Ted Grimsrud]

58 thoughts on “What’s to be done about John Howard Yoder? (guestpost)

  1. Among the secrets that are being kept are papers JHY wrote defending his behavior outside of marriage. While I have not more then heard of these writings second or third hand, I believe that it would be very important work to examine. This work should be made available to scholars studying the public writings.

    In addition, JHY’s early psychological history ought to be explored. In psychology we talk about ‘reaction formation’ as a defense against unwanted impulses. The fact that JHY wrote on issues related to peace, and yet demonstrated psychological functioning at best at an immature level, suggests that this kind of thinking may have played a part in his theological explorations. What was it that led to his focus on peace? Was he battling unacceptable violent impulses? If so, where was their origin? what was their target?

    Most importantly, how did his psychological flaws influence his work? This question is different than the facile question of how to separate his work from his deeds. Indeed, I believe (to use one of JHY’s tricks) this to be the wrong question. His work cannot be separated from his deeds. To do so would be a mistake. The right question to ask is what was his motivation to do this work? How was it a reflection of his conversation with his own internal impulses and desires, with his history, with his culture? As with all of us, our work is first the result of an internal conversation long before it was made public. Further exploration of evidence for the motivations and influences on Yoder would go far in understanding the work of this influential Mennonite.

    It would be valuable to do a psychological autopsy on this influential Mennonite. It should be done before his childhood contemporaries are no longer available. Interviews about his childhood should be recorded, even if their use is delayed until some more appropriate time. There are multiple scenarios that could result in the behavior Yoder exhibited. To fully understand his academic work, understanding the one who produced it is essential.

    1. Thanks, Lamar.

      I don’t know that Yoder’s “papers…that defend his behavior outside of marriage” are necessarily “secret.” I did hear a rumor recently that someone might be working with them with a possible publication forthcoming. When I was at AMBS in the early 1980s, the writings were in the library. I don’t know where they are now.

      Tom Price’s fourth article in the 1992 Elkhart Truth series quotes extensively from some of that writing. I reflect a bit on it in my 2011 post.

      I love your idea of a close study of JHY. The ideal researcher, I think, would be someone without an axe to grind—either pro or contra Yoder. Right now, there seems to be little objectivity in the Mennonite world about this.

      1. Ted, I’m surprised you think anyone can be “objective.” We all see the world through our own perspective and experiences, and it is much more honest and transparent to acknowledge this rather than pretend to be “objective” or “neutral.” We are not God.

        Further, do you expect people to be “objective” in the face of abuse and violence? Does not Jesus’ example call us to stand with those who’ve been victimized? What I see in the gospels is not someone who is objective. Rather, Jesus’ strongest words were to those in his society who used their power in harmful, oppressive ways; and it is still a great challenge to us to know how to follow his lead.

      2. Thanks for sharing Linda. You make a good point—but notice I said “objectivity” not “objective.” I would assume that you would agree that “objectivity” as in seeking to be accurate and truthful in how we understand and describe things is a worthy goal even as we recognize that none of us are truly “objective”?

        I will write a lot more about what I think about these issues over the next few days. I agree that our most important responsibility is to seek for healing for vulnerable people who are hurt by powerful people.

      3. I have to say, I share Linda’s surprise. Seeking truth and accuracy is surely important, but I don’t believe that objectivity (in the sense that one has no predetermined opinion of Yoder) would be helpful in finding the truth in this case. Having a soul that is deeply troubled by JHY’s violent behavior and mind/body disconnect would be essential to one’s ability to formulate “right questions” and move toward “right answers.”

        Rather than objectivity, I’d say what is important is being motivated by a desire for collective healing – the kind that is genuine, thick, deep, and whole.

  2. i really enjoyed this piece. This part of it, however, gave me pause:

    “Err on the side of protecting women and children. Sexual abusers are not innocent until proven guilty. Suspicions must be immediately confronted and reported.”

    i have a mixed reaction here. i agree that it’s bad that the guilty get to used a socially-presumed innocence in order to continue perpetrating their evils.

    However, there are also people who are falsely accused. And particularly in this area of immoral behavior, no matter how much a person is proven innocent in fact, that man will likely be socially tainted the rest of his life. A life can be effectively ruined by what seems to me to be the already-present presumption of guilt. In other words, however vindicated the accused turns out to be, he is now marked and suspect forever in the eyes of anyone with knowledge of that accusation. i understand that not everyone will share my intuitions here, but i find this at least as grave an injustice as when the guilty enjoy the social presumption of innocence.

    1. I worked as a therapist with children and adult victims for 45 years. I know of no cases in which the reporting victim was proven to be lying.

      1. i do.
        But good-i hope they are as rare as that.
        Nevertheless, it’s either unjust for the innocent to be punished or it isn’t. i think it definitely is.

  3. First of all, thank you Barbra for your willingness to be honest, vulnerable, and prophetic about this very serious issue. I’m also glad to know that others in the church, especially leaders and educators therein are taking this seriously and asking the difficult questions that need to be further explored.

    Although I did not grow up Mennonite, I graduated from both EMU and EMS and feel quite comfortable identifying myself as an Anabaptist. But as a relative “outsider” I do have a few observations that may be helpful for us all to reflect upon.

    It has occurred to me only quite recently that there may well be a connection between aspects of Yoder’s theology and his own very problematic behaviors.

    One of the things I have noticed in Yoder’s work is that it leaves very little room for the honest acknowledgement of human frailty, the recalcitrance of human sin, and the depths of our estrangements from God, self, and one another. There are various ways to analyze this theological lacuna in his work and explore it extensively but to my knowledge this has never been done.

    I would offer as a caution, however, and point out that there is probably not a causal connection between Yoder’s theology and his actions. Rather, it’s more like what is lacking in his work did not give him the tools necessary to adequately acknowledge his own inner issues.

    There are no easy answers, of course, but surely some sort of examination and critique of Yoder’s thought along these lines is warranted by his behavior.

    1. Thanks, Dan. You point to the kinds of issues I am especially interested in. I tend to think the theological issue may be Yoder’s sense of the presence of the kingdom here and now that could have fostered a kind of “idealism” about transcending traditional ethical restrictions concerning intimate relationships in the church—combined with a pathological lack of empathy toward the women he wanted to try this out with.

      I’m not sure how this fits with your thoughts. Maybe they link in the sense that a person truly “filled with the Spirit” is not going to experience the “estrangements” you allude to. The problem can then be that, of course, what I want to do is not sinful since I am in tune with God. It’s hard to have that refuted when you are so much “smarter” than everyone else.

      1. Hello Ted,
        I know that Yoder wrote specifically about issues that would directly relate to his improper behaviors towards women, i.e. his writings on singleness, celibacy, sexuality, etc. But I have never read them. So I didn’t have that in mind as germane as they would be.

        What I am talking about is more difficult to pinpoint in Yoder’s work but it is definitely there: a focus more upon the objective than the subjective in defining the Gospel (moral goals over moral intentions, the socio-political over the existential, the communal over the personal) that may have prevented him from attending to his own inner, subjective, personal issues.

        Does that make sense ?

        What I intended to say above is that Yoder’s theology, for several different reasons, tends to bypass an acknowledgment of human frailty, irrationality, and habitual sin (as well as the more affective/emotive needs of human nature as well) in a way that may have made it difficult for him to admit his own frailty, sinful habits, and/or emotional needs.

        Some of the reasons this is the case in Yoder’s work are as follows: a) the early influence of Anders Nygren upon Yoder’s definition of selfless love and the disapprobation of mutual/reciprocal love, b) the early influence of Guy F. Hershberger’s ethical idealism upon Yoder’s definition of Anabaptist distinctives, c) the spiritual poverty of Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision” (as roughly hinted at by Dintamin’s essay many years ago), d) a misunderstood definition of and condemnation of “pietism” along with an overly realized focus upon divinely accomplished objectivity that Yoder picked upon from Barth and other German neo-orthodox theologians, e) a rather unnuanced reliance upon “free-will” inherited from some Anabaptist sources but never subjected to close scrutiny on Yoder’s part….

        …all of which combine to result in the following: a) a Christology which fails to understand the vicarious nature of Chris’ts example thereby reducing it to a mere examplarism, b) an objective soteriology that sees the cross as a result of opposition to God’s goodness in Christ but fails to see it also as the center of salvation’s atoning work and thus also as the result of God’s goodness, c) a theological anthropology that has little place for the passions, desires, and emotions, d) a subjective soteriology that overestimates the freedom of the will and underestimates the continued need for God’s forgiveness and God’s empowerment, e) a preference for issues of sanctification over justification, f) a failure to have any working pneumatology which would do more justice to the need for God’s empowerment in righteousness.

        You may not agree, Ted, with all I’m saying here. But surely there is some element of truth in my analysis. And yet, I would only add that none of these problems undermine Yoder’s strong points or his overall mission of emphasizing and bringing to our attention the social/political/economical ramifications of the Scriptures in general and shown in the life of Christ in particular.

  4. Thank you Guy. When I first learned this approach was being recommended by the professionals who work more closely and intensely than I on this issue, it also gave me pause. But given that sexual predators are masters of manipulation, often well respected and considered above reproach, it makes sense to me. The near pandemic rates of victimization we continue to see, coupled with the knowledge that the compulsive behavior can intensify over a predator’s life time, has caused many to say it is time to err on the side of the victim. I refer you to some excellent Vimeo video presentations by Victor Vieth and Michael V. Johnson at a conference at William Mitchell College of Law. Vieth’s presentation is linked in my article. Johnson’s presentation includes a film of an interview with a predator that is the best I’ve seen. It can be found once you are in to the Vieth link. Thanks for raising this question.

  5. Thank you Barbra. I, too, am guilty of one of those book reviews — one regarding the legacy of his work and future potentialities, but nevertheless, his sexual violence did not get a mention.

    I think that like Ted (I am referring here to one of his above linked postings https://thinkingpacifism.net/2010/12/30/word-and-deed-the-strange-case-of-john-howard-yoder/), I am unsure what to do about the tension given to us here, the tension between the importance of his theological legacy, and the significant personal impact his violent behaviors caused. But your prodding is crucial here. To continue naming JHY behavior as violent (rather than inappropriate, offensive, or the like; AND to take the victim/survivors words for it), is an important step BECAUSE his theology significantly configured Mennonite (and beyond) peace theology.

    My further thinking is again prodded by something Ted invoked in his post – the possibility of Asperger’s (or another form of autism) via Temple Grandin, and the chance (though not aleaviating any tension) that head and body space might have been compartmentalized in JHY’s life. This is where I would like to address the tension in quite differently. E.g., in Grandin, we see how living on the Autism spectrum is not only not disconnected from her work and scholarship, but directly, embodidly related.

    Surely, social and mental difference can lead to compartmentalizing of thinking and action. And yet sometimes I am suspicious if the tendency to let someone “off the hook” (however committed we are to truth), because we need some of that for ourselves — we are all guilty of violating our principles and hurting others, and yet we all want to be taken seriously when we have something to say. I am guilty of hurting others, sometimes quite deliberately, and yet I do not want to be dismissed as a theologian because I am a fallible human being.

    And this is where keeping bodily life and though together is critical to me. Because I am convinced that we always think in and through our bodies, our theologies are experienced in and emerge out of our bodies, out of our experiences. Our experiences are our perspectives and reflections on the world, and our theologies are us – even the stuff that does not make it into writing. (Another example might be that of theologian Paul Tillich, whose sadomasochistic practices are remembered by his wife. How might we understand his theology of salvation and existence in light of his bodily desires and experiences?)

    To let JHY, or others in our communities off the hook in terms of violence, is not only an offense to those hurt. Drawing wider circles, it hurts our communities in regards to how we learn to think of ourselves as Anabaptists. If we can’t carefully examine our “flagship theologian” for fear of diminishing his work, how can we possibly examine our Christian witness and commitments? For example, in light of our commitment to non-violence, sustainability, peace, and hospitality, examining our involvement in legacies of colonialism (e.g. violence in, Indian boarding schools) and how it was not an exemption, but came out of Mennonite experience and is directly related to our theological commitments is crucial. Examining our own histories of violence as intimately connected to our theologies — again, not as an accident, but directly related and emergent FROM it — is what can help us discern our witness today and tomorrow.

    1. I find your points very helpful, Heike. You last point especially strikes me. Hopefully one fruit of reflecting on the Yoder story might be to challenge all of us better to recognize “our own histories of violence”—maybe especially how the Mennonite experience in North America intersects in deeply problematic (and largely unexamined) ways with the eradication of Native communities. It’s interesting, and surely telling, in this context to remember how much of the violence in the Indian boarding schools was sexual violence.

  6. And so the familiar dismissives, so common in this saga, continue.
    Ted Grimsrud, since you claim objectivity is important and imply that I and others are just out here grinding axes, with inaccuracies and untruths and a terrible lack of objectivity; and that we therefore have nothing legitimate to offer the conversation or the task of further research on John Howard Yoder—-allow me to set up a hypothetical for you:

    Let’s say you and your beautiful wife or daughter-in-law got to know John Howard as friends and socialized with him and his family. So when he shows up one evening at your house when you happen to be away, she thinks nothing of it and welcomes him in. As they sit on the couch together talking, without warning he lunges toward her, throws him self on top of her, pins her down, and starts humping her, forcing gross, slobbery kisses, shaking violently. When she finally succeeds in pushing him off and starts to protest, he ridicules her for being too uptight. When you come home you find her on the floor in a closet, curled up in a fetal position, in shock. When you confront the man you have so admired as a mentor and friend, he dismisses you and never responds to any of your letters requesting further conversation. She meanwhile sinks into a deep depression because she has been the victim of attempted rape. She stops eating, sleeping, cooking, doing housework or homework, you worry that her work outside the home is not sustainable. She is no longer interested in the lively conversation that’s always been the mainstay of your relationship. The spark has gone out of her eyes. She is no longer there for you or your son. She has descended into a world of her own, shut you and your son out, closed the door. And you are left to swallow and protect your family secret because no one would believe you much less forgive you for rocking their world of Peace and Justice and the Mennonite way in the name of John Howard Yoder.

    If you think your objectivity would remain intact after such an experience or that somehow your lack of objectivity would not be of any value to this discussion, then you have much to learn about this topic and this issue; and your scholarship of John Howard Yoder’s work is indeed lacking in objectivity. This wide river of sorrow has evidently never touched your life. And for that you should be exceedingly grateful.

    1 in 3-4 women. 1 in 5-6 men.

    *This hypothetical story is created from a composite of actual first hand reports on the grooming and predatory behavior of John Howard Yoder and the well-known impact of attempted rape on the lives of its victims and their families. Did this actually happen? Of course it did! To one woman? No. To many. And we are legion.

    1. Barbra, I am surprised at your adversarial tone. Do you think that if I thought you were “just out here grinding axes, with inaccuracies and untruths and a terrible lack of objectivity” I would have wanted you to post your essay on my blog?

      1. I am surprised, too, since I find Ted’s engagement quite empathetic and open to critical engagement with Yoder, quite different from other “defenders” of Mennonite orthodoxy.

      2. Those who make it a habit to speak out about sexualized violence experience being dismissed and shutdown overwhelmingly often. Whether or not this was the intention of anyone here, there are certain words and phrases and mannerisms that are used as dismissive tools so often that (at least for me) they are difficult to hear any other way. A call for objectivity is one of them (which could also be a call for rationality, voicing distrust for emotions, anger, strong speech, etc.). Directing the focus of conversation away from victims and toward concern for perpetrators (or implicated institutions) is one of them. Bringing up “what ifs” is one of them. Questioning the veracity of victim’s stories is one of them. Of course, there are many more, but each of these that I mention has surfaced in this conversation somewhere. It’s not that these kinds of questions should never be brought up. When they are brought up, however, a high degree of mindfulness must be given to one’s motivations and to the impact that this line of conversation might have on v/s (victims/survivors) and their ability to be heard.

        I’m not accusing anyone here of being intentionally dismissive. I do want to say that in order to have this conversation healthfully and in a way that will move us toward understanding, it is important to also talk about what it means to be an ally to victims and survivors of sexualized violence in the process. Trauma v/s (victims/survivors) have a whole set of complex, horrific experiences, and also (hopefully) powerful experiences of healing, that others don’t share. In a certain way, this means we are communicating somewhat cross-culturally.

        To be an ally, one who has not experienced systemically oppressive violent trauma has to be mindful that in commenting on the subject s/he will always need to be making an effort to learn from those who have. If a v/s acts as if s/he has been offended, disrespected,dismissed or shutdown, chances are (think cross-culturally), it’s true. The appropriate question is not, “Why did s/he misinterpret the situation?” It is, “What offensive thing might have just happened that I did not see, and how can I make it right?”

        Everyone has a valuable contribution to make to this conversation. We’ve got to give those who have experienced abuse firsthand heaps of respect and the benefit of the doubt.

    2. Barbra, I’m very surprised at your over-reaction here, especially when Ted was gracious enough to allow you to post on his blog and especially when there is nothing in what he has said so far that discredits or in any way fails to take seriously what you have suggested. Furthermore, although any full and open processing of all of this will involve rage and anger from victims. But we also do not want to demonize the perpetrator.

      1. Dan, I’ve appreciated much that you say here and want to thank you for your support and engagement on this important issue. I’d like to respond to your request that we “do not ….demonize the perpetrator.” A related phrase I’ve heard is ” let’s not be guilty of going on a witch hunt.” Actually, I’m in a conundrum about what to do with perpetrators and hope others can enlighten me. Certainly it is finally dawning on us that our historic tendency to pass them quietly along to another unsuspecting organization, rush to forgiveness, seek reconciliation, dismiss, blame and disbelieve victims, or just look the other way while they continue to destroy the lives of the most vulnerable among us– all in an effort to avoid demonizing them– has not helped and only hindered. As a whistleblower, I (and many others) have certainly been repeatedly demonized, but I’ve survived. If demonizing me helps keep me from irreparably harming less powerful persons under my tutelage and care, then demonize away I say!! And Someone we claim to follow has modeled the practice of demonizing quite well. He got all up in his favorite disciple’s face and said “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16:23. That’s pretty clear. His prescription for anyone that dared harmed a child was “to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6. That’s not terribly objective. He called the Pharisees “whited sepulchres, which appear beautiful outwardly, but within are full of dead men’s bones.” Matthew 23:27. That’s pretty harsh. I daresay any peace-loving Mennonite in ear-shot would have been shocked and dismayed, ready to gossip about his shameful lack of kindness, gentleness and self control at their next small group gathering. You can’t have it both ways, Dan. You can’t allow victims their rage and anger while telling them to make sure they don’t demonize the perpetrator. Believe me, his chances of survival are much greater than theirs.

  7. Barbra, thanks so much for furthering the discussion by sharing this opinion piece. I have found it helpful and thought-provoking. As I’ve read various articles/opinions over the past few days regarding John Howard Yoder, I realize how long the journey will be, and should be, as we seek to move forward. I believe your practical suggestions put us well on the way toward that journey. For the moment I simply wanted to comment on one of your suggestions, specifically #6 where you talked about “Applying restorative justice models and assigning accountability groups to work with a sexual predator will only exhaust everyone involved and change little.” You go on to mention some very specific ways to move forward that I would include in “restorative justice” so I was confused by your above comment.

    Restorative justice, I would argue, is not simply a model that provides a surface or symbolic response to harm, conflict or crime but provides a way of responding to needs of victims and offenders as well as their communities. Restorative justice values call us to ask victims what they need, hold offenders accountable (in various ways) while acknowledging that this is exhausting work specifically because we are in community with one another and do not, should not, want to be absolved of our responsibility to one another.

    I think restorative justice provides one way to ensure that those harmed are heard and that those who have harmed are held accountable in ways that our legal system is unable to (but can still be useful). They may, or may not be, punished by our legal system which isn’t the same as being accountable to the individuals and communities they have harmed. Having just facilitated a dialogue with a victim and the man convicted of murdering her loved one, I can assure you it was exhausting but I believe they would argue that it did more than “change little”. It not only shifted how they thought of “the other” but also provided a safe space to talk about the impact of what happened on their lives and to have answers to questions that the legal system never provided.

    I think these and other processes will allow “the Spirit to be free to breathe new life and health through communities of faith,” as you beautifully stated. Again, thank you for raising this and calling us to further discernment and discussion on the larger issues of sexual abuse within our community of faith.

  8. I am all for no cover-up of the great man’s sins, but so much condemnation has me wanting to read whatever might be said by way of sympathetic explanation. As one of those non-Mennonites who was drawn to the Anabaptist orbit by Yoder’s writings on peace, I am having trouble buying the idea that his name must always and forevermore be footnoted “violent predator.”

  9. Lamar, I also have professional interest in JHY’s psychological make up. However, I think we might be able to better understand his behavior that was so out of line with his theology if we explored his personal spirituality. I believe I got a disturbing glimpse into it when, in what I later came to learn was common grooming behavior of his, he began writing me about how depressed he was feeling because of unnamed, “false” accusations made against him. I told him I would not be his therapist and he needed to find one in Indiana. I even gave him several recommendations. He told me he would never consider seeing a therapist or pastoral counselor. Then I suggested he read some of the Psalms I have found helpful when I have been depressed–Psalm 18, 27, 31,46, 57, 62 and others.

    His response explains a lot to me. He wrote, “You don’t understand, Carolyn. I don’t read the Bible like that. I read it for information.”

    1. I could not help but reply to what you have shared about Yoder, Carolyn because his way of reading Scripture corresponds to what I have often felt is a serious lack in his tacit theological anthropology. My hunch is that we are dealing here with a rationalist model of human nature whereby the conscious emotive/affective elements of the psyche, not to mention its’ subconscious elements are practically denied. Although I did not know the man, from what I gather, he must surely have been an INTJ. If so, this may partially explain his comments. I would also add, however, that even if there is no way to know with any degree of clarity about Yoder the man, this is certainly not the case with his theology. And his theology, despite being correct in it’s primary foci, is nevertheless lacking in some major areas. For instance, Yoder seems to presume that a combination of the right moral goals, lucidity of mind, and strength of will alone are all that is required to achieve obedience. Yoder also makes very disparaging remarks about “pietism/piety,” “mysticism,” “inner life” etc. that seem to me to undermine individual existential needs. This disparaging attitude combined with a strong emphasis upon self-sacrifice and self-denial amount to a consistent failure to do justice to genuine human needs and desires.

      1. One specific “blind spot” that I’ve never seen criticized–perhaps because it’s the sort of interpretation that most contemporary Biblical scholars would support–is his polemic against the traditional understanding of what it means to “take up one’s cross.” Certainly the phrase means what Yoder says it means–to bear nonviolent witness against the powers of the world. But he’s curiously insistent that it can’t mean anything _else_.

      2. Yes, Edwin, that would be an example of the sort of thing I issue I was talking about. Yoder does seem to define the meaning of cross bearing in a way that is unduly narrow. It’s as if he is so intent to demonstrate the “politics” of Jesus that he actually ends up buying into precisely the antitheses (between social/individual, political/personal) he ought to be subjecting to critical scrutiny. Thus he ends up with a political Jesus defined over against the personal and the existential. But is this really an improvement over the apolitical depictions of Jesus in Troeltsch ? Isn’t it just trading in one reductionism for another ? Yoder is attempting to retrieve the socio-political relevance of the gospel, which can hardly be argued against, but in order to do so he brings a contemporary definition of what constitute the social to the text that is foreign to the text itself. The solution to this problem is not to emphasize one category over another (contra both Yoder and his interlocutors) but to become aware of how all human action is simultaneously all of these categories at once. Furthermore, and this makes all of this germane to the current dicussion, I continue to strongly suspect that because Yoder works with a reductionist understanding of what the Gospel was and is he was unable to relate the Gospel to his own sexual issues.

  10. My thoughts exactly, Ted. You had just posted my article, for which I was very grateful, and then your first comments about it were the following:
    “The ideal researcher, I think, would be someone without an axe to grind—either pro or contra Yoder. Right now, there seems to be little objectivity in the Mennonite world about this” and later “….objectivity” [is] seeking to be accurate and truthful in how we understand and describe things.”
    I’m certainly in the Mennonite world doing my best to be objective under the circumstances and the essay you are commenting upon describes things that many do not believe to be accurate or truthful about John Howard Yoder. So please explain yourself. As for my adversarial tone, it reminds me of the guy in a bar who told me he’s “never met a woman who was angry enough.” Perhaps if a few more leaders had been willing to risk being labeled angry and adversarial in their dealings with JHY and other predators among us, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Pacifist men who truly want to walk with victims of sexualized violence (of both genders), will need to get over being offended by angry, adversarial tones. Just the opposite, you will need to cheer them on. Instead of engaging with and responding to the story and ideas I presented, you chose to patronize me for my tone. Really?

    1. Again, Barbra, I think you need to understand Ted’s comments as coming from the perspective of an intellectual and a theologian when he talks about “objectivity.” I understood said objectivity to apply primarily to an analysis of Yoder’s thought and his work. Recall that Ted said “the ideal researcher,” not the ideal victim, victims’ advocate or restorative justice mediator. (Although obviously the latter needs to be just in relation to both victim and victimizer if there is going to be reconciliation.)

    2. To clarify, Barbra. I meant my comment about the “ideal researcher” to be in response to Lamar’s suggestion about the value of a thorough, scholarly account of Yoder’s life from a psychological perspective. Your essay was not on my mind at all; I was not commenting on it.

      1. Thanks for the clarification, Ted. It is obvious from other comments that I was not alone in mis-taking your reference. And I checked with a few folks before responding to make sure I was not misreading you. But still I was, we were. For the record, I am indeed a researcher, an artist, an intellectual, a writer, and a scholar of theater, psychology, and gender studies, all of which inform my thinking on this issue. My passion and activism are fueled by my experiences as a survivor (no longer victim) and survivor’s advocate, as well as my indirect and strangely circumstantial encounters with John Howard Yoder (the flawed man, not the brilliant scholar) over two decades. So yes, I consider myself an “ideal researcher” in the psychological study of Yoder’s life, especially as it relates to the lives of his victims, because as you know, it is the human story, the relational story that drives me. I would not have thought to exclude myself or my essay from your comments to Lamar. But enough on our squabble. I’m looking forward to your further reflections on my essay, and hope you will address the questions raised by me and Hillary and Linda regarding your understanding of objectivity in matters related not only to JHY’s thought and work, but to his lived life, and most importantly to the lived lives of the many he harmed.

  11. Lorraine, thank you very much for your professional and skilled perspective on Restorative Justice. I am not a student of RJ, so stand corrected. I am encouraged to know there is a place for this important alternative to our justice system in the arena of sex crimes. Since we cannot ask the 14 year old girl who has been groomed and then raped by her youth pastor to sit in front of him and tell him what she needs; and since the goal is not reconciliation with or forgiveness of her pastor but simply her protection from further harm, and his removal from our organization, how is the RJ model adjusted to apply in these cases? I watched one such case and heard of others that proved disastrous for the victim, but my experience is limited. I would welcome your perspective and sharing of RJ materials that address the nuances of working with sex offenders and their victims along with those positive case studies. It is something I’ve been wanting to research more for several years now…..

    1. Thanks for your response Barbra. In retrospect , I probably shouldn’t have used the example of the victim and offender coming together for a dialogue since that perpetuates the idea that restorative justice is just about a dialogue. Sorry about that. I think the processes used certainly depends on the situation but in one case where a church member was arrested for soliciting sex with a minor and the church was interested in a healing service before his incarceration they were encouraged to enter into a deeper conversation around the issue before thinking about a healing service. First, there needed to be an acknowledgement that there were victims (perhaps not his) in their congregation who were paying close attention to the church’s response.

      Second, engage in a time of education around sexual abuse, sex offenders so they had an understanding of the patterns of violence. Just as those who offend, and their families, are, and should be surrounded by prayer, support and accountability, be sure victims have a place to share their stories, their hurts. Set up a fund for counseling for victims because of what this may bring up for them. And, never make an assumption that the offender and victim need to sit together for a dialogue. That is only for a victim to request if and when that would be appropriate for them.

      I would say that some of the very suggestions you have made Barbra are one’s I would consider models of restorative justice processes. So, thank you again. As far as resource one book you might find helpful is Mark Yantzi’s Sexual offending and restoration”, a Herald Press publication. There is also a series of books “The Little Books of Justice & Peacebuilding” through Good Books on various restorative justice processes. The most recent is “The Little Book of Restorative Justice & Sexual Abuse: Creating Safe Communities” which is currently being written. Hope that’s helpful.

      1. Restorative justice is a trick concept when dealing with recidivist sexual offenders. In the work done during the writing of Volume One of Elephants I worked closely with one or two of the Roman Catholic authors in the field to make certain I was not mauling their work because of Mennonite prejudices. But since JHY worked for Notre Dame he was exposed to RC traditions, etc.

        In these conversations I became convinced that we Mennonites need to re-theologize forgiveness. As part of that re-conceptualization, we need to recognize that the only path to healing for perpetrators is what Simon Wiesenthal’s collection of essays call deep conversion – full accountability for our actions as the only path to restoration and healing – for the perpetrator.

        John refused this path. Inside Elkhart County in the 1980’s it was known that he disdained therapy and therapists as one of the enthusiasms to be avoided. He mightily resisted the work of the Support and Accountability Group.

        The pathway to healing for John, therefore, was blocked by his own actions – not the actions of his victims.

        As a clinician-thealogian I distrust the wisdom of his book – Body Politics – and see parts of it as a exquisitely written rationalization for his behavior.

        Ruth Krall

  12. I want to respond to several intellectual issues here – avoiding the argument of “did” vs :”did not.”

    1) Hauerwas in one of his articles about Yoder states that Yoder is in the Augustinian lineage in terms of his thought. He also discussed Yoder’s big Wittgensteinian-like brain – one of history’s rare big brains. When we look at the current academic landscape in Yoder studies, there is a plethora of idolatrous adoration and a serious lack of critical analysis. My thinking, therefore, is that we need a Roman Catholic theologian who fluently understand Augustine and the subsequent theologies that have derived from both his life and his work. I doubt there is any Mennonite who is capable of such an analysis. I most certainly am not. While I have read Augustine, I am not fluent in the nuances of his thinking. This is a critical absence of analysis. Future generations who are not tied to this conflict of knowing and adoring or knowing and not-adoring Yoder will do better work than any of us in here – with the exception of the brilliant twenty-year old folks who are looking for a dissertation topic.

    2) Andy Alexis-Baker at Jesus Radicals stated that Yoder’s sexuality papers were soon to be published. I see this as a good sign IF they are accompanied by critical analysis and not adoring comments about the wisdom of his “transgressive sexual theology.” These papers are, indeed, not secret. They were as of 2007 and 2008 available for study in the Mennonite Church Archives in Goshen on the Goshen College campus. I assume that if you look up the Mennonite Historical Church Archives in Goshen, you can find an on-line listing of each box and its content. That said, former male students at Notre Dame have told me that there are more secret papers – in which John explored polygamy and other related sexual topics. These were, I have been told, given only to privileged insider male students. I have no idea if this is a fact or a fiction. But I have heard it from several former UND/Yoder students.

    3. Regarding Yoder’s biography. I think it is inevitable as the Mennonite Church approaches 2027 that it will authorize a biography of Yoder much as it did for H. S. Bender. My personal beliefs about such a biography is that it will need to avoid hagiography – which is how I see much of the current biographical information about Yoder in the public sphere. The exception to this is Budzizewski’s study of Yoder’s political views. That was a much more naunced – while still sympathetic- view of Yoder’s thinking about the nation-state.

    Here is the informationL

    Budziszewski, J. (Ed). (2006). Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices in Political Through and Action: Carl F. H. Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaefer, and John Howard Yoder [includes response by Ashley Woodiwiss], Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Books.

    I agree, therefore, with the general premise of Lamaar Freed’s post above about the need for a good biography.

    There are several models as examples.

    One is Erik Erikson’s biography of Gandhi
    Erikson, E. H. (1969). Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence , New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

    Another is Pauck and Pauck’s biography of Paul Tillich

    Pauck, W. and Pauck, M. (1976). Paul Tillich: His Life and Thought, New York, NY: Harper and Row.

    A third is Sondreger’s ongoing work on the biography of Karl Barth:

    Sondregger, K. (September 8, 1999). Charlotte von Kirschbaum and Karl Barth: A study in biography and history of theology, Christian Century (September 8, 1999), 1-3.

    Ted: I apologize for the length of this post. But these issues need to be kept together as the church’s religious academy moves forward now in its Yoderian studies

    Ruth Krall, (Professor Emeritus, Goshen College)

    1. No apology needed, Ruth. I appreciate what you are adding to the conversation.

      I think you know Mark Thiessen Nation has been writing a biography of Yoder. I think he expects it be out before 2027. I am not sure what kind of “authorization” it has. He does have the support of Yoder’s family.

      A student of Hauerwas’s, Charlie Collier, wrote his dissertation of Yoder and Augustine—it is forthcoming as a book. I have always thought of Yoder as one of our best alternatives to Augustine. Collier, like Hauerwas, I think sees them as complementary.

    2. In terms of Augustine/Yoder the person who comes to mind here is Gerald Schlabach. But, to my mind at least, Yoder is not Augustinian in any real usual sense of the label. It’s a bit like calling Yoder a Calvinist because he emphasizes ethical living.

  13. Thank all y’all for an interesting morning read. As much as I want to respond to each of you, time and space are limited. I, too, am guilty of using JHY in my dissertation (2002) with little knowledge of his interpresonal split and consequent sexualized violence towards women (and men, maybe?).

    As a German Anabaptist theologian, ethicist, and chaplain, I would like to add a few more observations, as way of questions, that must be taken into account when dealing with the Causa JHY.

    1. What early childhood influences on his own developing sexuality lead him to his later stance on sexuality? Which developmental factors put him on the trajectory towards the outcome we’re dealing with? What was then/is now, the churches responsibility to notice such ‘deviant behaviors’ , understand, name, and appropriately confront it?

    2. What is the story of the ‘other victims of his misguided behavior’? How does his wife and family deal with this ‘demigod of Mennonite standing’ who is found to have clay feet? What victimizing occurs in ourselves? The one Mennonite who made us someone, theologically speaking, has fallen from his high place and splatters us all. How do we deal with this fall ‘objectively and with objectivity’?

    3. Several systemic issues in the global MCUSA will be uncovered by the Causa JHY:
    – White male privilege with its deep ruts in our own midst, as aptly pointed out by Iris de Leon Hartshorn on http://www.femonite.com.;
    – lacking a comprehensive sexual ethics that takes into accoun sexual development and experiences when developing peace and justice theologies;
    – the value of (victim) narratives to speak for themselves, that cannot be explained, objectified, interpreted, or even understood as James Dawes points out in Guts of Atrocities, http://www.guernicamag.com/daily/james-dawes-the-guts-of-atrocity/ – We have many more Mennonite communities, in which sexual violence is an ongoing issue, as Dave and Margaret Penner have pointed out in the Aug 5 issue of Menno Weekly. Abuse of any kind lurks in the shadow of illiteracy, sectarianism, and seclusion. Our theology of separation must come under scrutiny by the Causa JHY, as J.L Burkholder already pointed out is his dissertation.

    I have a few more ideas, but i’m running out of space, and maybe y’alls patience. What strikes me most are two things: the Causa JHY has potential to further divide us, and, the story is wide and deeper than any of us can imagine.

    1. Good morning, Sylvia. I went to sleep last night with your questions and comments. While John was a part of several Mennonite consultations on human sexuality in the 1980’s he was suspicious of scientific sexual studies. Willard Krabill and I taught Human Sexuality at Goshen and learned via the Mennonite grapevine that John was dissing our work behind our backs in an effort to derail out work. Willard as the college physician had the forethought to get the board of overseers to approve his proposed course before it began. It was sold out until Willard’s retirement. Multiple women helped him co-teach it over the years. I was just one of these.

      There are questions in my mind – but I am neither a historian nor a a biographer. John’s brother died – the second child of his parents – died when John was a young child – before his sister’s birth.. John’s own second child died in infancy. Given John’s resistance to therapy as one of the “enthusiasms” it is quite likely that grief affected him over a long period of time. This is not to suggest it caused his sexual abuse but it may have contributed to something Hauerwas wrote about in an early essay on Yoder – that Yoder did not consider his personal emotional state to be something worth investigating. Being happy according to an interview with Merle Good and reported by Hauerwas was an extraneous question – one that he didn’t need to reflect upon.

      There are two disorders that I see in Yoder’s life and neither are autistic in origin.

      1) He had an empathic disorder and 2) he had an obedience disorder. These are both related to in a correlative rather than causative manner to a host of diagnoses. Armchair psychiatry is always dangerous and may even be, in studies of Yoder, disingenous.

      Obedience disorders are deeply tied to authoritarianism. Yoder had two had several authoritarian mentors – Hershberger, Wenger, Bender, and Barth. He, himself, as noted in many places was authoritarian. IMHO all of his works on radical subordination need to be examined in the light of authoritarian theory.

      Alice Miller’s clinical books about childhood discipline are also useful in understanding Yoder – not excusing him – but seeking to understand him

      Ruth Krall. .

      1. Thank you Ruth,
        for your thoughtful reply, Over the weekend I took time to read Hauerwas’ Hannah’s Child and your Elephant 3. Several more interconnected problem areas have surfaced while reading, some are sociological/anthropological, others psychological and theological in nature.

        It seems to me that JHY’s behavior towards women is just the tip of the iceberg of dismissive, marginalizing, and abusive behavior of women that still occurs in Mennonite communities. Such behavior was allowed to fester because women were not allowed an educated, or in leadership or encouraged to think theologically or for themselves. This neglect of one member of the body of Christ caused a theology and ecclesiology to grow that has a minute dogmatic of grace, and small theology of human sexuality, and a peace and non-violence that is nary applied in our own churches and families. It also fostered a persistent refusal to look into our own church processes that focus on restoration and forgiveness WITHOUT naming the evil that has been inflicted already. As in the physical body, the spirit cannot heal when the wound is only covered up by a band-aid of forgiveness and restoration, A cleansing must happen first, which is messy, ugly, it stinks and it hurts like hell – everyone who is involved.

        Family systems needs to apply here, in that it looks thoroughly at generational patterns that have gone unnoticed because “we ought to love one another”. The more I read, the more convinced I am the JHY was a child of his time who wanted to experiment sexually, but could not because of the rigid boundaries of his theology and up-bringing. Likewise, the women were rarely encouraged to speak up for themselves and call ‘a man of God’ to account for his actions, to his face and/or to a panel of his peers.

        I’m all for understanding the pathology behind his actions, but frankly, he is dead. From all accounts, there seems to have been behavior closely associated with the Autism spectrum. Pathology seems an easy label today to excuse behavior that must be named. Those who live, and must live on with the experience they had with him are my core interest.

        Mennonite anthropology and sociology play a humongous role in his acts of sexual boundary violations. Male church paternalism and female submissiveness plays a role. Who are we as a community and how do we narrate ourselves to make sense of life? Questions of radical separation and sectarianism must be addressed,
        Psycho-social and spiritually, we are dealing with deep wounds because emotions are not valid in the strange land of Mennonitetism, Frequent emotional enmeshment occurs to “keep the peace” so no one gets hurt- homeostasis, in Family system language. Inter-marriage between related families is another issue that hinders accountability because then familial and clan ties are called into question.

        My greatest wish is to foster healing in those who have been wounded and to teach and educate new generations of young people to speak up for their own safety.

  14. Questions and comments to add to the mix:

    1. Is there a relationship at all to practices of ordination in the past and abuse of power and sexualized violence?

    My impression is that some individuals like JHY and other Mennonite abusers were ordained as very young men and not to serve a congregation, which was the traditional purpose of ordination—in other words they were almost boys given unsupervised license to use power, to develop notions of themselves and be “pastoral” as they saw fit without the checks and balances of a body of watchers who had witnessed their ordination.

    2. Could it be that the idea of “separate from the world” is active in the assessment of JYH?

    When being separate from the world was no longer manifest in Mennonite female dress (in some places not really dropped as physical evidence until 1970) and yet the need to distinguish Mennonites as Mennonite still continued, how was the theological energy expressed?

    Was JYH as person and writer and thinker seized upon as “example” to the world? Discussion of his brain size and his brilliance seem incredibly parochial and echo a bit the discussion of dress length and devotional covering area. He seems to be a beloved objectification of what Mennonites want the world to believe they are, and a problem going forward is how to keep him as “best example.”

    3. What would happen if Mennonites could embrace what has been posed in Shenk’s questions, some of which seem a bit rhetorical, but okay, what if they were systematically examined with all of the cultural language and justice issues resolved one at a time?

    In looking at the scandals in the Catholic church and their ongoing resolution, I think there is a model of what could follow by bumps and jumps:
    –payments to victims that are not simply symbolic words and rituals of confession but also monetary in nature (something Mennonites would dread because of the negative publicity it would generate and because it would involve courageous victims claiming even more fully their victimhood, their lawyers who may or may not be Mennonite, and Mennonite institutions needing to pay extensively in what would be a snowball effect and involve courts);
    –examination of Mennonite history and theology for misogyny;
    –rigorous frank examination of human sexuality with the likelihood that institutions like MCC would lose even more support than has already been lost;
    –willingness to change current thinking about forgiveness and not to uphold Amish forgiveness as the ideal.

    To look to the Catholic church or to do any of these things would be to risk a historic and beloved distinction, but who knows? It may be the best way forward.

    1. Thank you Joyce. This quote, from the legal team who worked with Vienna Presbyterian Church in the case of an offending student ministries director, gives me hope. “Sexual abuse injuries have very emotional components, which include betrayal of trust, isolation, guilt and anger. Oftentimes, victims do not want to sue their church – they want compassion, not compensation. Commonly, victims and families will sue their church only after the church has refused to own responsibility and has further isolated them. In short, they sue because they are frustrated and angry. When a church (even one that has mishandled an outcry) comes alongside the victim to accept responsibility and apologize, this is oftentimes enough – and no claim is ever filed.” I have every hope that our Mennonite leaders will take lessons from the Catholic failures to address reports and apologize for past failures— before they turn into law suits. The full article can be found here: https://www.ministrysafe.com/resources-helpful-articles/VPC-CostofBeingaShepherd6-1-11(3).pdf

  15. I affirm the many fine points that have been brought out in the above discussion, but want to comment specifically on the issue Graber raised about institutional complicity in keeping the silence. I was a student at AMBS from July 1988 – May 1992 and was never told on a formal or informal level, nor did I hear it through the grapevine, that there were concerns about Yoder and sexual violence. I was never warned, as a woman student, to be careful. Indeed, I recall being in a lecture room on AMBS campus to hear Yoder speak during this time frame.

    It seems to me that our “readiness for ministry” peer group sessions with faculty, an MDiv requirement, would have been an appropriate venue to apprise students that the institution was aware of and addressing Yoder’s sexual violence. Having such a discussion in the peer group setting would have also lent itself to a constructive consciousness raising for ethics and issues around boundary setting as pastors in training. It seems to me that women students who lived at (rented ?) room at Yoder’s home during these years should have been made aware/given fair warning. Perhaps if I had attended the Peace Theology and Violence against women seminar (was it open to the public ?) held during that time frame I might have become aware, but I didn’t. [available as an Occasional Paper #16 from IMS].

    In my context, in Ontario, I have observed that the impetus to have a congregational discussion and create a “safe church policy” has been driven by the requirements of insurance policies, otherwise dialogue about interpersonal/familial/institutional violence continues to go unspoken/unaddressed.

    Several years ago I gave a sermon about violence against women, and how it is prevelant within our own Mennonite congregations as much as “in the world.” I used statistics from MCC British Columbia (a Mennonite source) to back up my points. I also named the ways that women who speak out are dismissed and silenced. I received mixed responses. The most disconcerting was upon finishing the sermon (even before the hymn of response was sung !) a male leader in the church stood up and announced to the congregation that we have a compassionate response already in place at our congregation for “victims” because there is a set of brochures available in the narthex for people facing violence in the home, AND, he noted, that they have to restock the brochure holder frequently. I experienced his actions as a need to “fix” and soothe the discomfort my sermon caused in the group.

    Additionally, a key female leader in the congregation met my sermon with the response “I find it hard to accept those statistics are accurate” and “If a man is living a Christian life he would not behave like that in the home.” This experience and others have convinced me that our Peace theology and Ecclesiology as “peace church” is disconnected from being able to institutionally address what it means to have a “safe church” and for church to be a place of healing. I think this institutional inability to own the violence in our midst, also has implications for our capacity to know how to address the contradiction of Yoder’s theology, fame, and violence against women.
    (apologies for the long post)

    I have made further comments relevant to this discussion under Ted’s post entitled “….chagrinned Yoderian.” {My sermon is called “Vashti and Esther Speak Out” and is available at my profile in Academic.edu}

    1. Thank you for your astute observations, Susan, and for sharing directly of your experience. But thank you most of all for using your gifts of speaking and writing courageously and diligently in your own congregation. We need your voice. The response you received is familiar, but never mind. Be fearless and carry on. I would very much like to read the writings you reference– your sermon and the Occasional Paper #16—but have not been able to find them with the information you provide. Could you please provide more specific search tools?

    2. The Occasional Papers are available from the Institute of Mennonite Studies on the AMBS campus in Goshen. They are a small booklet.

      The conference was open

      For USA Mennonites the Conrad Kanagy led study at the Young Center in Elizabethtown has surveyed Mennonites about sexual violence and abuse. If I recall correctly some of the data is posted on the Dove’s Nest website in Harrisonburg.

      Ruth KRall

  16. The Church, not only the Mennonite Church has long been obsessed with sexual sins, and almost always the wrong ones. We have spent a great deal of time and energy censoring, shunning, firing, and all manner of disciplining LGBT Mennonites who are harming no one and letting people like JHY continue to teach, write, speak (have a job!) while doing devastating harm to others. Shame on us!

  17. I couldn’t agree with you more, Jean. It is truly the kind of absurd and infuriating contradiction that can keep me up at night and wish I had limitless powers and energy and time. Speak up every chance you get and carry on in your corner, Jean. There are many who support you.

  18. I quake to enter this discussion. I attended AMBS in the early 1970s, and sat in on several of Yoder’s courses. Our biggest challenge, after a class, was to lament that where we thought our questions had three to four levels, Yoder invariable assigned them sis to seven levels. We too were in awe.
    However, I also knew (and know) a number of women) who almost left (and some did leave) the church because of Yoder. After a stint with MCC, and a failed first pastorate (of a mere three months) in the Mennonite church, I ended up pastoring an Anabaptist-affiliated (not Mennonite) congregation in Chicago for thirty years. (Now retired, I again attend a Mennonite congregation.)
    For these thirty years, I had to deal with a New Testament teacher whose intellectuals achievements were minimal, at best. But his arrogance knew no bounds, and he abused women, who were doubly maltreated as they sought a measure of justice. I was, as his alleged (intentionally used) pastor, never told of this for a number of years, until someone opened a window to me. Once I became aware, I was shocked by the travesty of church discipline–all the words used by spineless church leaders to minimze or even deny any abuse.
    The Yoder discussion prompted me to look back at some documents of my experience, and I was overwhelmed by how the institutional (and male) leaders closed ranks to protect the church. Even my own congregation would not support me in any action. I did, however, figure, out a small line of defense, and my wife was also incredibly clear to a number of church members that we would draw some lines even as the church would not.
    This discussion has filled me with remorse over the abuses of white males (with whom I have to number myself). My concern at this time, is of the danger of still trying to valorize formal theology with such a male eurocentric framework. Sometimes I think I sniff a bit of Euro-Mennonite protectionism going on. I hold to much of what Ted Grimsrud outlines as Yoder’s theological contributions, only I think “chagrined” is a bit too tepid. As a dear hip hop poet/preacher once warned me , “I think we can overthink this stuff.” We could use much more input from our own experiences, family systems, psychology, and multiple cultural contexts. Violence is far too pernicious to leave it to theology.

    1. I’m so glad you entered this discussion, orlandoredekopp. It’s the kind of discussion that makes me quake as well and its the first time in my life I’ve felt strong enough to speak so openly from my truth, my experience. I’m deeply grateful to Ted for giving me this opportunity. Like him I also had to take a break, but I’m back. Your willingness to look over your life experience and the documents that informed it moves me very much–that you would take the time to do that and self-reflect. I agree with your concern that there is a “danger of trying to valorize formal theology with such a male eurocentric framework.” Mary Daly argues in her “Beyond God the Father” that theology’s entire conceptual system was invented by men to serve the interests of men—and, not incidentally, to restrict and suppress the interests of women. So as a woman it is sometimes difficult to know quite how to engage, how best to engage, and still ‘To thine own self be true.”

  19. This week’s New Yorker magazine (online) has an article headed “Rape in a Mennonite Community” with a link to a longer article “The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia.” The article is by a journalist who reported on the trials in the Old Colony Mennonite group in Bolivia two years ago. He returned to find out that abuse, incest and rape continue. A money quote:

    “In the wake of the crimes, women were not offered therapy or counseling. There was little attempt to dig deeper into the incidents beyond the confessions. And in the years since the men were nabbed, there has never been a colony-wide discussion about the events. Rather, a code of silence descended following the guilty verdict.

    “That’s all behind us now,” Civic Leader Wall told me on my recent trip there. “We’d rather forget than have it be at the forefront of our minds.” Aside from interactions with the occasional visiting journalist, no one talks about it anymore.”

    BTW, the author, while aware that there are 1.7 million Mennonites in 83 countries, seems unaware of the history of North American Mennonites other than the Russian brand.



    1. Thank you for posting this horrific story, Ross Bender. It just gives me more certainty that the task before us is an important one for our church and we need every hell raiser, every level headed mediator, all those timid and those courageous to step up to the plate, do what we can in our corner and never ever let anyone shut us up again. Thanks for putting the tough questions out there (I’ve seen elsewhere). Keep asking.

  20. In 2004 I began an email listserv to collect material for a potential biography of my father, Ross Thomas Bender. There were about twenty participants, including as many of my father’s former colleagues as I could contact. Also on the listserv were Joe Springer and John D. Roth from the Mennonite Historical Library in Goshen, Indiana, and Sam Steiner from the Conrad Grebel Archives in Waterloo, Ontario. Thus the material on the list was on the record and participants were aware that it was being collected at the two archival sites above.

    A small part of the discussion concerned John Howard Yoder at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, particularly during the years when my father was on the faculty as Dean and later Professor of Christian Education.

    These emails are presented at the link to my website below.

    The material demonstrates that there was a good deal of confusion at AMBS (and incidentally at other Mennonite Church institutions) as to how to deal with Yoder’s sexual exploits as well as his relationships with the administration and other faculty. There are references to at least two disciplinary committees and to their outcomes, or lack of clear outcomes. Presumably AMBS has archival material such as minutes from these committees. These would be of obvious value to objective historians or investigative journalists.

    Click to access AMBS-JHY.pdf

    Ross Bender
    Philadelphia, Pa

  21. Finally, the story hits the New York Times:

    “A Theologian’s Influence, and Stained Past, Live On”
    by Mark Oppenheimer, 10-11-1013

    Ross Bender
    Philadelphia, PA

  22. Yoder’s conduct has been exaggerated and misstated. It was not sexual assault, rape, attempted rape, or sexual abuse. Nor was he a sexual offender. And the term ‘harassment’ can only be applied anachronistically. At most it was socially inappropriate or perhaps in some cases immoral. Criminal terminology should not be used. Furthermore, the church discipline process to which he was subjected was itself unjust. The whole matter raises issues of deeper concern than what Yoder did or did not do.
    See my detailed (35 page) analysis in my article “The Church Discipline of John Howard Yoder: Legal and Religious Considerations,” posted online on Mark Thiessen Nation’s Blog “Anabaptist Nation.” I respond there to this article by Barbra Graber and to the lengthy collection of essays by Ruth E. Krall.


  23. Dr. Friesen’s comment here and his article cited above are not factually correct in a number of ways.

    The MCUSA 2014 Discernment Process will release a report in the coming year that will address his accusations. See this link for more information: http://www.mennoniteusa.org/2013/09/23/11987/

    Historian Rachel Waltner Goossen is currently doing research on some of the archives that Dr. Friesen is speculating about here. She will likely be publishing the results of this research in multiple forums.

    In the meantime, articles to minimize Yoder’s actions only serve to mobilize the legions of women who stand behind Barbra Graber and Ruth Krall. To move peace theology forward, men and women together need to address the unresolved issues of how we understand what happened and how we move forward.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s