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

Reflections from a chagrined “Yoderian” (part four—Yoder’s theology)

Ted Grimsrud—August 4, 2013

A great deal of my energy for “thinking aloud” here about John Howard Yoder’s sexual violence stems from how important Yoder’s theology has been for my life and work. I can’t really put into words how important that theology has been for me. So, how do I reconcile this influence with such deeply problematic behavior? I have been reflecting on the behavior, and now I want to take some time to reflect on the theology—to sketch why I have found it so important. It’s not just that Yoder is famous and important and widely read and cited. It’s that his work has had a profound effect on my own life and thought in many, many ways.

I can probably pinpoint pretty much the exact moment when John Howard Yoder became my most formative thinker. I was a recent graduate of the University of Oregon and in the winter of 1976-7 worked swing shift at a Eugene, Oregon plywood mill. For about two months I had “lunch” all by myself. During those thirty minutes, six days a week, I got a lot of reading done. I read The Lord of the Rings and The Politics of Jesus—a fascinating juxtaposition.

After that winter, I read everything by Yoder I could get my hands on and a few years later, Kathleen and I moved out to Indiana to study with Yoder at the Mennonite seminary where he taught. One of the highlights of that eventful year was receiving copies of two sets of Yoder’s at the time unpublished lectures, “Christian Attitudes Toward War, Peace, and Revolution” and “Christology and Theological Method.” I also photocopied numerous unpublished articles that were in the library.

I have continued to read Yoder and absorb his theological insights. I would like to believe, though, that I have followed a path he would have approved of, which is using his ideas as stimulants to develop my own. Yoder himself did very little writing where he focused in detail on other people’s theology. He mostly referred to the Bible, history, and to the practical outworking of the ideas. It was not theology about theology but theology about life.

As my friend Earl Zimmerman presents it in his fine book on Yoder’s intellectual development, Practicing the Politics of Jesus: The Origin and Significance of John Howard Yoder’s Social Ethics, Yoder’s decision to become a theologian came a young adult working in post-World War II Western Europe. He became convinced that the epic disaster of that war was an indictment on Western Christianity. What the world needs is a different way to think about faith and social life. Yoder believed that the 16th century Anabaptists provided a good model, but that what was needed was something more universal—which he found in the life and teaching of Jesus.

So, what I see as the model Yoder provided was an approach to theology that cares deeply about contributing to peaceable social life in the world for the sake of the world and draws deeply on the Bible and the Anabaptists. Yoder’s theology was anything but “sectarian.” The on-going power and influence of his work witnesses to the perceptiveness of his insights. I have been inspired to follow his method and construct theology that is socially engaged based especially on the Bible and inspired by the Anabaptists. Yoder’s ideas are catalytic for my own constructive work—which I would call “peace theology,” not “Yoderian theology.” Continue reading “Reflections from a chagrined “Yoderian” (part four—Yoder’s theology)”

Reflections from a chagrined “Yoderian” (part three—Yoder’s violence)

Ted Grimsrud—August 4, 2013

I remember back in the mid-1980s when I learned that John Howard Yoder would no longer be teaching at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN. My wife Kathleen and I had attended AMBS in 1980-1 almost solely because Yoder was teaching there. Right after our time at AMBS we decided we wanted to become Mennonites.

Yoder had been teaching only one class a semester at AMBS for a number of years once he started teaching also at Notre Dame in nearby South Bend. I first assumed that he had decided himself to focus only on his Notre Dame responsibilities. However, I began to hear from friends at AMBS that this move was not Yoder’s decision, but that AMBS had decided to end the relationship. However, the reasons for this termination were top secret. No one I talked with had any sense what the problem had been, only that AMBS administrators were indicating that there had to be no information given due to legal confidentiality purposes.

I was troubled, but for many years had no idea what the problem might have been. Then, Kathleen and I returned to AMBS for a semester in the spring of 1992. And the other shoe dropped. Yoder had been invited to speak at Bethel College in Kansas, and due to voices of protest raised by women who Yoder had hurt and their allies, Yoder’s invitation was rescinded. We had a forum at AMBS shortly afterwards which was the first time I heard a more detailed explanation (though still pretty cryptic) that the reason why Yoder was no longer teaching at AMBS was because of sexual misconduct.

Then, in June 1992, reporter Tom Price of the Elkhart Truth, wrote a series of articles based on interviews with a number of those directly hurt by Yoder as well as numerous other church leaders, et al. Price also included a summary of one of Yoder’s unpublished essays that seemingly gave at least an indirect rationale for Yoder’s actions. [Price’s article on this may be read here.]

Price’s articles have remained the main source of specific information about Yoder’s actions that I am aware of. A few years ago, Yoder’s friend, the prominent theologian Stanley Hauerwas, included a short but informative discussion of Yoder’s situation in his memoir, Hannah’s Child. [This discussion may be read here.] Continue reading “Reflections from a chagrined “Yoderian” (part three—Yoder’s violence)”

Reflections from a chagrined “Yoderian” (part two—sexual violence)

Ted Grimsrud—August 3, 2013

For all of my adult life, ever since I was nearly drafted into the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, I have thought constantly about issues of violence, its effects and how to overcome the problems it causes. Most of my focus has been on violence in relation to war, but I have thought about violence more generally as well. John Howard Yoder’s theology has been influential for me, but others have perhaps influenced me even more in thinking about violence’s origins and impact on our world.

Violence as a central Christian issue was the focus of my graduate studies both in my M.A. program as Associated Mennonite Biblical Studies and my Ph.D. program at the Graduate Theological Union. My doctorate was in Christian Ethics. Part of my training as an ethicist has involved the discipline of “ethical description.” One element of an ethicist’s work is simply to describe the situation, the issues, the interested parties, the various points of view. I was never attracted to the neutral bystander, strictly descriptive approach, but I have found the work of seeking to describe to be useful, even if mostly as a prerequisite for the most useful kind of prescriptive work. I suppose, too, my undergraduate training in news reporting has been useful.

So, this conversation about John Howard Yoder as doer of violence (see Barbra Graber’s initial guestpost, “What’s to be done about John Howard Yoder“, and the first part of my set of reflections) links in with my interests on several levels. Certainly on the level of how to make sense of the actions of my teacher  who helped me learn so much about peace theology. But also on the level of thinking about a terrible and oh so personal aspect of the phenomenon of violence—men acting violently toward women, especially in Christian communities. And also in thinking about how to apply things I have learned about violence from many sources over the years. So, I struggle ahead, mostly for the purpose of myself trying to understand a little better (more than affecting anyone else).

Important sources for understanding and responding to violence

I have found four writers to be especially helpful for my thinking about understanding and responding to violence and seeking peace: Walter Wink, Alice Miller, James Gilligan, and Howard Zehr. Continue reading “Reflections from a chagrined “Yoderian” (part two—sexual violence)”

Reflections from a chagrined “Yoderian” (part one—introduction)

Ted Grimsrud—August 2, 2013

Back on July 10, I put the finishing touches on a blogpost on connections between John Howard Yoder’s thought and anarchism. I drew heavily on a fine article by Ted Troxell, “Christian Theory: Postanarchism, Theology, and John Howard Yoder.” I was (and still am) excited by how Troxell displays in a fresh way the on-going relevance of Yoder’s theology (and, more importantly than simply drawing attention to Yoder, displaying how Christian pacifism might speak to the contemporary task of embodying a humane politics).

Almost immediately after I posted my article, my family left home for a short trip to Arizona to spend time with extended family. After a two-day delay mostly spent in a Richmond hotel keeping my 7-year-old grandson and 3-year-old granddaughter occupied, we finally made it to Phoenix. Even then, I found it difficult to find computer time, and hence mostly missed out on vital moments of what was a stimulating conversation in response to what I wrote.

The Yoder dilemma

More challenging, though, by the time I got back home, my Yoder-oriented energies had been diverted. While we were in Phoenix, I had gotten an email from Barbra Graber wondering if I would be interesting in putting up a guestpost from her. This post would be a kind of manifesto speaking to on-going dilemmas related to Yoder’s continuing prominence as an important theologian (an importance certainly affirmed on this blog) standing in tension with Yoder’s own violent life of widespread sexual harassment.

I responded positively to Barbra’s suggestion. I have not had many (actually no) guestposts, but I am certainly deeply interested in this distressing aspect of Yoder’s legacy. I had alluded to Yoder’s violations in a 1998 tribute article I wrote in The Mennonite shortly after his death (an article that I would write differently today but that gives a good sense about why I agonize over how to respond to Yoder’s sexual violence) and then had written a more lengthy reflection December 2010 followed by an addendum in February 2011. Barbra had been in touch with me in the midst of that conversation and had actually helped arrange for me to get electronic access to the remarkable series of investigative articles by reporter Tom Price published in Yoder’s hometown newspaper, The Elkhart Truth, in the summer of 1992. I posted those articles on my PeaceTheology site.

Barbra’s manifesto was initially posted on the website Our Stories Untold and then on Young Anabaptist Radicals. The attention it attracted witnesses to the strong interest the Yoder situation still commands. She thought it would be of value still to have the piece posted here given the potential of reaching a somewhat difference audience. Plus, she continued to revise it and welcomed the chance to publish an updated version (which may be read here).

Continue reading “Reflections from a chagrined “Yoderian” (part one—introduction)”