all features
Features posts

The failure to bind and loose: Responses to Yoder’s sexual abuse

1.2. 2015 Written By: Rachel Waltner Goossen 30,037 Times read

Editor’s note: This is excerpted from a longer article, “’Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 89 (January), based on newly available documents and interviews with 29 individuals. Readers interested in Goossen’s work in its entirety, including documentation for women’s accounts of their experiences as well as Mennonite institutional responses, may order a hard copy of the issue from The Mennonite Quarterly Review. The MQR issue is also available as an e-book through MennoMedia.org, Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble. 

During the mid-1970s, the renowned Christian ethicist and theologian John Howard Yoder embarked on an experiment in sexuality, devising his own guidelines and selecting his own subjects, whom he called “sisters.”

Following a three-year term as president of Goshen (Ind.) Biblical Seminary, he developed “the notion of a distinction between two dimensions of sexuality, the familiar and the genital.”

Yoder speculated that people plagued either by inhibitions about sexual intercourse or by promiscuity would have difficulty attaining what he termed “the freedom of the gospel,” which he linked to Jesus’ encounters with women.

In a series of essays that he circulated on the seminary campus and beyond, Yoder speculated about Jesus’ sexuality as a model for his disciples, for the men who followed in his path.

Nearly two decades later, in 1992, a denominational task force established by leaders in Yoder’s congregation, Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind., confronted him with 13 charges of sexual abuse.

“These charges indicate a long pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior between you and a number of women,” the task force told Yoder, who had been ordained while serving as the seminary’s president. “The settings for this conduct were in many places: conferences, classrooms, retreats, homes, apartments, offices, parking lots. We believe the stories we have heard, and recognize that they represent deep pain for the women. … The stories represent … a violation of the trust placed in you as a church leader.”

In response to the task force’s recommendations, the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference suspended Yoder’s ministerial credential and urged him to enter counseling and make restitution to women he had harmed.

Yoder, who never disputed the 13 charges of sexual misconduct, agreed to take part in the disciplinary process but maintained that he had never intended harm.

Yoder phrased his misreading of women’s willingness to give consent as “falling off the bike”—that is, something that was regrettable but unintentional.

In the mid-1970s, when Yoder’s patterns of abuse emerged, he lived in Elkhart with Anne, his wife, and six children.

He was a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and taught part-time at Goshen Biblical Seminary, which shared facilities with Mennonite Biblical Seminary (now known as Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, AMBS.)

Yoder was a prodigious Mennonite leader, known for his lectures across Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Latin America. His 1972 book The Politics of Jesus was considered a classic on religious pacifism, and his influence across international academic circles was immense.

During the last 25 years of Yoder’s life, his sexual behaviors toward many women caused significant harm.

A highly mobile professor and churchman, he approached (mostly Menno­nite) women both near and far from home. Yoder’s advances included making suggestive comments, sending sexually explicit correspondence and surprising women with physical coercion.

In a 1974 solicitation in which he appealed to women to engage with him, Yoder wrote: “Only thanks to your friendship, sisterhood, can I do the theology.” Remarkably, he was conveying that they were tools for him to use in his quest to perfect Christian theology.

Precise numbers will never be known, but two mental health professionals who worked closely with him from 1992 to 1995 as part of the Indiana-Michigan Conference’s disciplinary process, believe that more than 100 women experienced unwanted sexual violations by Yoder, ranging across a spectrum from sexual harassment in public places to, more rarely, sexual intercourse.

More than 100 women experienced unwanted sexual violations by Yoder, ranging across a spectrum from sexual harassment in public places to, more rarely, sexual intercourse.

With no legal charges ever filed, adjudication took place in seminary offices, conference quarters and living rooms—often involving Mennonites connected to Yoder through congregational associations or even family relationships.

Despite Mennonites’ emphasis on local authority rather than entrenched hierarchies, these leaders’ interventions, while well-intentioned, were largely ineffectual.

By 1979, Yoder’s supervisor at the seminary, President Marlin Miller, was documenting a surge of disturbing incidents involving Yoder from as far away as South Africa and from Strasbourg, France, headquarters of Mennonite World Conference.

At the time, U.S courts had not yet consistently defined sexual harassment, and employers rarely called in law enforcement to respond to sexual misconduct.

Rather than firing Yoder, who was his intellectual mentor as well as predecessor in the seminary presidency, Miller kept meticulous records about what he learned. He summarized calls and letters received—mostly from English speakers, but also some in German and French—about women’s encounters with Yoder.

Miller’s diary-like entries included details about his informants’ marital status and whether they had reported “total disrobing,” as well as their rationales for engaging with Yoder in his project.

Miller also kept notes about women who reported that they had rebuffed Yoder’s sexual aggressions.

Although Yoder and Miller, hoping to avoid potential for blackmail, destroyed an unknown number of letters in 1980, surviving documents reveal not only the egregious behavior of Yoder toward some women but also the power that Miller used to enforce their silence. For eight years, 1976 to 1984, engaging with Yoder via theological disputation became the hidden agenda of Miller’s presidency.

Hoping to save Yoder’s marriage and career, he used the data he had gathered to repudiate his star faculty member’s notions about sexuality.

In 1980, Miller established a disciplinary process with a small group at Goshen Biblical Seminary in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Yoder to accountability.

This collection of faculty and board members, who drew up a secret “covenant” with Yoder, was the first of seven Mennonite groups to challenge Yoder from within institutional bases:
• Covenant Group, Goshen Biblical Seminary, 1980-1984;
• Confidential Task Force, Goshen Biblical Seminary, 1982;
• Board of Elders, Prairie Street Mennonite Church, 1986;
• Prairie Street Mennonite Church/JHY Task Force, 1991-1992;
• Church Life Commission, Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, 1992-1996;
• Accountability and Support Group, Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, 1992-1996;
• Executive Board, Indiana-Michigan Menno­nite Conference, 1992-1997.

These groups had varying goals: to engage Yoder intellectually in his unconventional notions about sexuality, to investigate rumors of sexual misdeeds; to arrange for meetings between women accusers and Yoder as a step toward forgiveness and to discipline him.

No group succeeded completely.

For the last two decades of his life, Yoder discussed, sparred and negotiated with these various parties.

In 1984, Miller and members of the Covenant Group, having failed to stop Yoder’s behaviors, recommended his separation to the seminaries’ boards.

Yoder was allowed to resign, and he informed the theology department at the University of Notre Dame that he was leaving his adjunct position at Goshen Biblical Seminary, adding that the decision had “delicate dimensions.” For the coming decade, seminary insiders maintained confidentiality, and Yoder, whose profile as theologian and ethicist would grow with his base at the University of Notre Dame, was no longer welcome at AMBS events.

Yoder’s professional reputation suffered only marginally.

He was never formally disciplined by the broader academic and religious peers with whom he was affiliated, including the Society of Christian Ethics, where he served as president in 1987-1988.

Yet through the remainder of the 1980s and into the 1990s, the secrecy that had veiled Yoder’s actions began to collapse.

Some women who had experienced Yoder’s sexual aggressiveness leveraged their collective will to force Mennonite leaders to stop his abuse. Their efforts at whistle-blowing culminated with several dramatic events in 1992, a turning point in the denomination’s dealings with Yoder.

Over the next several years, Yoder sharply contested Mennonite conference officials’ right to retain documents detailing his psychological functioning.

In 1996, concerned about the implications of the sexual abuse charges on his legacy, he informed Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference officials that he was consulting a lawyer about the conference’s plan to retain hundreds of documents—correspondence, meeting minutes and mental health records—that they had used in determining not to reinstate his credential.

Yoder’s dispute with Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference officials signaled that their four-year disciplinary proceedings would miss the mark of reconciliation.

A year before his death in 1997 at age 70, Yoder declared that “the initially stated goal of restoration has been abandoned.”

Since Yoder’s death more than a decade and a half ago, some admirers of his theology have offered various explanations for his behavior.

But in keeping the focus on Yoder rather than on the consequences of his actions, these speculations deflect attention away from institutional complicity.

Yoder had lectured extensively about the mandate of Matthew 18:15 for individual responsibility in confronting wrongdoing, and seminary president Miller, along with an entire generation of ordained leaders, had imbibed lessons on church discipline—in the biblical phrase, “binding and loosing”—from Yoder through his widely disseminated books and teaching.

Tragically, in seeking to apply the Matthew 18 mandate for resolving conflict, Miller and others in positions of authority responded with painstaking slowness to Yoder’s abuse of power. Years of wasted time, energy and denominational resources enabled the victimization of women living and studying on the seminary campus and beyond.

The peace theologian’s perpetration of sexual violence upon women had far-reaching consequences among families, within congregations and throughout church agencies—from AMBS to Mennonite Central Committee and missions programs to Mennonite-affiliated institutions across the globe.

And the reverberations continue today for anyone seeking to read Yoder as a credible theologian.

Rachel Waltner Goossen

Rachel Waltner Goossen

Rachel Waltner Goossen is professor of history at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., and a member of Southern Hills Mennonite Church in Topeka.

For blogger Tim Nafziger’s commentary, “Feminist organizing challenge institutions’ silence on Yoder” click here.

To promote constructive dialogue, the editors of The Mennonite moderate all comments and comments don't appear until approved. Anonymous comments are not accepted. Writers must sign posts or log into Disqus with their first and last name. Read our full comment policy.

49 Responses to “The failure to bind and loose: Responses to Yoder’s sexual abuse”

  1. James brunk says:

    God help memory we are all in the same boat. The only response should be a cry for mercy and not judgement on his life

    • Melanie Springer Mock says:

      Excellent excerpt. For the very reason mentioned by Mr. Kraybill–that the problem is not dead–our “only” response should be far more than a cry for mercy. Instead, the church should be working to make sure something like this never happens again, and that cases of abuse are brought to light, rather than dealt with covertly, as seemingly happened with Yoder. The women Yoder abused–most of them assuredly very much alive–also deserve to have their stories told; those who believe we should honor a long-dead Yoder and forget his crimes in essence are silencing his victims as well.

  2. This article should be on the cover of the next issue of The Mennonite. The time is long past for sweeping this story under the rug. It needs to be exposed to the bright light of day. Yoder may be dead, but the problem is not.

    • anna says:

      Charlie, this article is in our January 2015 issue, but it is not the cover article. Thanks for your interest. Anna Groff

  3. Marlene Brubaker says:

    What does it mean to be a pacifist? An ethicist? A person who is interpreting the gospel? JHY could not realize that sexual harassment is a form of torture for the victims. The question becomes whether there are JHY peers, who think and feel as he does? Also, what to do those who felt the need to ‘keep it quiet’… how culpable are they?

    We see what happened at Penn State, when one of the icons of football was found to be a sexual predator… those in charge of overseeing Sandusky’s actions also were called to task.

    This JHY issue brings up a big question, how ‘pacifist’ are we, as Mennonites? Is not going to war enough? Is not physically killing others enough? What about killing the self-esteem of women? When will we stop doing that?

  4. Joann says:

    I would love to hear his wife and children’s perspectives/stories and the impact on them.

  5. Larry Eby says:

    Thank you Rachel for this article. I was on the AMBS Board when President Marlin Miller presented the “John Howard Yoder Problem”. And I was one of those sworn to secrecy.
    As suggested in the Title, when I asked Marlin what he thought John was trying to do the said, He wants to show that “You can tame the beast”. That struck me at the time as strange phrase, but seemingly how John looked at his experiment.
    The other thing that impressed me was Marlin’s account of a psycologist’s evaluation; that John (in spite of his genious level intellect) had arrested in psychological level as an adolescent. That combined with his outstanding reasoning and persuading ability explains a lot toward how he justified his behaviour.
    I had a conversation with Marcus Smucker this summer not long before his sudden death. He was on the Board at the same time as I. He talked about how difficult it was to talk to John about this or anything. John cvould win any debate.
    A most unfortunate part of a man’s life that colors everything he did. And an illustration of how unprepared the Church was to deal with John and the many other men in leadership positions in the church who had soimilar behaniour, often with members of their own family.

  6. Lisa Schirch says:

    Thank you Rachel and MCUSA for documenting this history.

    I think it is very important to note that Ruth Krall first documented and analyzed the church’s silence and defense of JHY and his sexual abuse in her very insightful book The Elephant in God’s Living Room: Clergy Sexual Abuse and Institutional Clericalism, which provides an important analysis of sexual abuse in religious contexts. Krall asks critical questions about what shaped Yoder’s view of women and what went wrong in his life that allowed for him to relate to women in a way perceived as abusive. Krall’s book is by far the most helpful clinical and psychological analysis of what Yoder himself may have suffered or experienced that influenced his abusive actions. It is both compassionate and generous to Yoder’s humanity. Krall’s book has great appeal to me in moving forward a pacifist theological conversation.

    The link to this book is here: http://ruthkrall.com/downloadable-books/elephants-in-gods-living-room-volume-one/

    Ruth Krall and other women who attempted to raise important issues of pacifism and theology with church leaders were silenced and vilified. Based on a false assumption that Krall’s book is somehow a vendetta (a claim made by men who deny the severity of Yoder’s violent impact on women), few Mennonite theologians have even taken the time to read Krall’s book or understand the broader field of study of sexual abuse in religious contexts. In all the many books on Yoder, few Mennonite men do the courtesy of citing Krall’s or other Mennonite women’s writings about Yoder.

    This raises the important question of the broader institutional setting which nurtured Yoder’s disrespectful relations with women.

    Those of us who teach about sexual violence and the broader patterns of sexism and patriarchy in the church that continue until this day have been called all matter of names, excluded from male hierarchies and positions of power, and belittled. Mennonite theologians have emailed me, accusing me of taking their time away from the important work of pacifism’s resistance to war by highlighting sexual abuse in the Church. They chastise me for not forgiving Yoder. In doing so, they make the assumption that forgiving Yoder would silence my critique of sexual violence in the church. I hold no grudge against Yoder. Because of my pacifism, not in spite of it, I feel compelled to keep the focus on the main issue here. The problem is not with Yoder at this point in time. Yoder is gone.

    The problem is a Mennonite Church that continues to highlight the voices of men at the expense of women; to silence those of us who want a pacifism with integrity; and to be blind to the dynamics of power and its abuses in heterosexual relationships by instead focusing on consensual homosexual relationships.

  7. Mark Kind says:

    Churches simply cannot afford to BOTH 1) pay the monetary damages owing to all the victims of ministers and spiritual leaders AND 2) be honest and open about where the money is going. The offering plate will be empty. Years after I watched (and participated in) the firing of a minister/denominational executive for sexual misconduct with innumerable women, I quite accidentally mentioned to a conference treasurer the name of one of the victims (we were talking about someone else entirely, who bore a strong resemblance to the victim). The treasurer halted our conversation and asked what I knew about the woman that I had mentioned by accident because he was always curious about why he’d’ been writing checks to her for years. So yes, in order to stay in business, churches need to keep even the people who write the checks in the dark about why the money is flowing out of the coffers. This is not a circumstance that encourages full disclosure to those outside leadership.

  8. Jonathan Beachy says:

    Many people have asked persons telling this tragic history to let it go; this very well done account tells us why we collectively dare not let it go. God forbid that I should judge by hindsight, but it seems abundantly clear to me that those with knowledge and power to hush others who knew and “swear to (them) to secrecy” are the reason this must be aired and resolutions passed that it will not happen “on my watch!” JHY’s actions are deplorable and criminal, but so too is the failure to say enough is enough. I pray for the healing of the victims, and the healing of those hushed, and yes, the healing of those who hushed. We are all in need of grace, but grace is not blind or ignorant of evil.

  9. I’d like to highlight the brave souls that participated in what the article says:

    leveraged their collective will to force Mennonite leaders to stop his abuse. their efforts at whistle-blowing culminated with several dramatic events in 1992, a turning point in the denomination’s dealings with Yoder.

    Beyond Ruth Krall, mentioned above, who should be highlighted?

    As the Roman Catholic church experienced, there should be a financial consequence for institutional irresponsibility. Funding transportation to Elkhart? Is that appropriate/adequate?

  10. Lisa Schirch says:

    I hope The Mennonite will also publish an excerpt of Carolyn Holderread Heggen’s MQR article on “Sexual Abuse by Church Leaders and Healing for Victims.” It will be unfortunate if the Yoder story receives all the attention – rather than the broader story of sexual abuse within Mennonite institutions and families.

    Carolyn Holderread Heggen points to a very significant and unique aspect of sexual abuse among Mennonites: how a Mennonite theology of redemptive suffering sets the stage to silence victims and enable people to continue abuse. This deserves far more attention – as it continues to drive Mennonite decision making about how to deal with sexual abuse. Perhaps stemming from the Dirk Willem’s story, Mennonite congregations today seem to place far more emphasis on reaching out to and including sexual offenders rather than providing healing and safe space for victims.

    In her MQR article, Heggen writes that while “…Mennonites do not have reliable statistics available to know the full extent of leader sexual abuse. Webs of secrecy built around perpetrators, disbelief at accusations of sexual assault, and unhelpful responses to others who have disclosed abuses combine to make it less likely that victims will report abuses. Anecdotal information and research provided by sociologist Conrad L. Kanagy, however, suggest that Mennonites have rates of sexual abuse at least equal to that of the general population. (see article for citation) Because Mennonites’ history of suffering and martyrdom is central to their identity, and because nonviolence, peace, love of enemies, and forgiveness are Mennonite core principles, victims may find it harder to resist violation and to report abuses.”

    Heggen’s article also lays out an agenda for addressing sexual abuse in church settings. This is extremely important to include for The Mennonite readers. Very few Mennonites understand the psychological dynamics of sexual abuse. While the Waltner Goosen article gives voice to Heggen’s experience as a survivor, it only begins to explain the field of study around sexual abuse. We need to listen to and read the insights of experts like Heggen. If we only emphasize the history of the Yoder story, we will never get to the very real changes still needed in the church.

  11. […] from the Editor: This piece is cross-posted from The Mennonite, which excerpted it from a longer article, “’Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses to […]

  12. Nancy Frey says:

    I think it is worth noting that the full story is now coming out at a time when the president of AMBS is a woman. (I saw a similar occurrence in a church setting where stories of abuse — some 50 years old — only came out when a woman was hired as pastor.) For me, part of the take away from this history is that until women are in positions of power and authority, they will continue to be silent victims. Men — even well-intentioned men — do not understand how sexual abuse impacts women or how it devalues all women. If Marlin had been a woman, would he have handled it the same way?

    Thank you Lisa for helping to keep our focus on the larger issue of sexual violence and the need to be clear about sexual abuse as a form of violence. Treating it as a marginal issue or trying to keep it quiet enables the abuser without helping the victim.

  13. Lisa’s right – Yoder is surely not the sole Mennonite predator. For the safety of the vulnerable and the healing of the wounded, the full truth about all clerics who prey on innocent kids and devout adults should be disclosed.

    David Clohessy, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, 314 566 9790, davidgclohessy@gmail.com

    • Ruth Krall says:

      David

      Thank you for coming here. Yoder most assuredly was not an only perpetrator. Since this article has been posted, my inbox has been filled with stories. I have been in tears more often than I can say these past four days. Yoder was not even the only perpetrator protected by church institutions.

      • Rachel Nafziger Hartzler says:

        Bless you, Ruth. Keep doing your good work–for the sake of all victims and potential victims, and for the sake of the reign of God.

  14. Tim Nafziger says:

    Lisa, your comments above are vulnerable, profound and powerful. I used quotes from the first to conclude my blog post on the articles in this MQR issue:

    Feminist organizing challenge institutions’ silence on Yoder
    http://themennonite.org/feminists-confronting-mennonite-institutions-case-john-howard-yoder/

  15. […] a Jan. 4, 2014 comment on The Mennonite website, Mennonite scholar Lisa Schirch describes the response to Krall’s work in the last […]

  16. […] a Jan. 4, 2014 comment on The Mennonite website, Mennonite scholar Lisa Schirch describes the response to Krall’s work in the last year […]

  17. Robert V Peters says:

    The issue is really power and hierarchical structures of leadership. We need to get back to a system of unpaid leaders and create systems where all are equals and power is shared and transparent. I was a student of Yoders and finally left the Mennonite church because of the constant abuse of power I have seen from mainly(but not only) male leadership. The Anabaptists offered us a radical alternative in how power is used, decisions made, the gospel lived out among a peer group of equals where everyone’s gifts are lifted up and celebrated for the communal good.Nothing will change until our male dominated systems do…Till power is really shared in transparent and true partnerships!

  18. Are Yoder’s controversial essays in print or online somewhere? I’ve read any number of mentions but never see a link or a source.

    “In a series of essays that he circulated on the seminary campus and beyond, Yoder speculated about Jesus’ sexuality as a model for his disciples, for the men who followed in his path.”

  19. Kathy Shantz says:

    Why is there a charge for this issue of MQR? In my view this issue should be available as a free download at MennoMedia or as a free hard copy from MQR. The costs associated with production of the issue should have been born by AMBS, MennoMedia and MCUSA. And if not offered for free then any proceeds from downloads and hardcopy sales should have been channeled to a survivors fund.

  20. Phyllis Bixler says:

    Actually, from what I have learned indirectly about the theories Yoder used to justify his real-life experiment, they may be worth looking at. Twisted as they may seem, these theories apparently attempt to expose the unhealthy inhibition as well as rigidity of definition in many conventional religious views of sexuality. Issues which are playing out in the church’s current discussions of lgbtq inclusion as well.

    One of the many “lessons” I draw from this sad story is how an ideology/intellectual construct/scriptural interpretation can blind one to the actual human suffering involved in putting it into practice. Or how one can intentionally or unintentionally use an ideology to justify behaviors satisfying to oneself but injurious to others.

    This insight might provide a bridge to reassessing other aspects of Yoder’s theology as well. And theology in general as often practiced. I.e., when and how does an intellectually engaging, abstract discourse become disconnected from individual and collective experience, past and present? What happens when the head becomes disconnected from the heart?

  21. […] Eve service + early in 2015 two significant documents have been released related to sexuality: an depth research and reporting on the abuses of Mennonite theological John Howard Yoder, and results from a survey to credentialed leaders regarding attitudes toward LGBTQ […]

  22. Coming across the preceding discussion, I’m made to wonder if being Mennonite has anything to do with being followers of Jesus Christ, a Name I had not come noticed in the above letters.

  23. […] Rachel Waltner Goosen, who’s historical overview in The Mennonite meticulously recounts John Howard Yoder’s true legacy, thank you from the […]

  24. Dora Dueck says:

    In reading this article and the subsequent comments, I was suddenly powerfully reminded of the “bafflegab” a number of us received from academics and Mennonite Central Committee some years ago as we attempted to draw attention to and a elicit a more rigorous response to the allegations of rape and sexual abuse in the Mennonite colonies of Bolivia. I recall an academic conference on “horse and buggy” Mennonites in which the topic was avoided the entire time and when raised in a question from the floor, the response was essentially a sad “I was afraid that would come up”. I, who had raised it, felt shamed for doing so. — Individually, various people responded with reminders that there’s plenty of sexual abuse in NA too, it’s complicated, the colonies won’t let us in, and so on. All of which is true, but still! I think we were seen to be attacking the “horse-and-buggy” way of life or theological approach and somehow trying to bring the many fine people in those communities into disrepute… I think there was fear to alienate the more conservative supporters of MCC. — What was I looking for? A greater sense of horror for starters. I finally acknowledged to myself that I was too far from the situation to keep pushing. I confess I gave up, beyond a series of blog posts. — But this bleat now, on a matter admittedly different than JHY’s legacy/abuse. Thanks for the opportunity to add it.

  25. […] 2, 2015:  The Mennonite publishes the article, The failure to bind and loose: Responses to Yoder’s sexual abuse  by Rachel Waltner Goossen excerpted from her longer article in the […]

  26. Ann Detweiler says:

    Another sad example of the way in which Peace and Righteousness and Justice have been wrongly aligned in many situations in the Mennonite Church. If Peace becomes “God” the other two are lost. If the first two are fought for, Peace is an inevitable byproduct. I have seen many righteous folks shut down in their pursuit of justice on behalf of others through vilification as breakers of Peace. It’s a very handy mechanism for leadership to sidestep uncomfortable responsibility for pursuing Righteousness. As a result, although profoundly Mennonite theologically, I have moved to participate in a congregation where leadership is quickly very clear on two points when something’s out of whack #1 “We love you like crazy” and #2 “That’s not how we do things here.” The outflow of that is peace, life, safety, joy, ministry to those in and outside the congregation. A light on a hill, not because they’re all perfect but because they’re quick to fix what’s wrong for the sake of His name not for the sake of protecting their own names individually or corporately.

  27. My wife and I ‘joined’ a Mennonite Church when we moved to Lancaster PA in 2005. The older people were wonderful. The pastor, meh. In eight years of sojourning with the Mennonites what I have discovered is this: they have an obsession with recording history, of themselves, their families and their churches. Most of what is recorded is the ‘good stuff’ with an occasional bit of dirty laundry thrown in to show the author has a sense of PC.

    Our local congregation suffers from the same syndrome that I read about in the above article: the need to hush up problems, sweep them under the rug (sadly the ‘problems’ are often people [or in the case of the article, women]), and take forever to process everything to death. I have never encountered such a bureaucratic institution as the Mennonite Church. And I grew up Roman Catholic!

    Suffice it to say, while I have never been a big JHY fan, I am frustrated with how the Mennonite Church handles issues of human sexuality, not to mention issues of peace and justice. One would expect people who seek peace and pursue it to be much more open ethically and theologically than they pretend to be. But then when the institution is more important than the actual people, should we really expect any different?

  28. […] The failure to bind and loose: Responses to Yoder’s sexual abuse (Goossen, The Mennonite, 2 Jan 2015) […]

  29. […] the Mennonite Church dives into its first real attempt to name him as a serial abuser with a distorted sexual politic, one question surfaces over and […]

  30. John Oyer says:

    After reading so many responses, I am struck with the following observations:

    1) What make so many readers think that the Mennonite Church is any different from any other denomination in terms of a dynamic of human behavior?

    2) There seems to be a thought that says that when women are in charge, everything will be handled differently. Really?

    3) The Mennonite Church does not have a centralized heirarchy of management, unlike the Catholic Church which does. The result is a very different response to the discipline of wayward members, which leads to a multiple system of responses. Those who are in charge most often do not have the training or expertise to help them deal with these issues.

    4) There seems to be a belief that there is a connection to religion and sexual expression. There is not! There is however, seemingly a readiness to use religion to justify one’s sexual exploits, especially in a setting where such justification certaily must be necessary to avoid exposure/disapproval/expulsion/prosecution.

    5) An apparent failure to admit that being in a religious institution does not shied one from the ravages of human exploitation (sin) which is a universal phenenom.

    So, what am I advocating? Nothing really, except to say that change come slowly and some times that change is unwelcome by the majority, sometimnes it comes and does not bring with it the intended improvements. Perhaps I am saying that maybe people are falling into the same trap that JHY fell into by using theological concepts to justify one’s position. Or by using theological concepts to explain behavior. That is a risky endeavor.

  31. […] the Mennonite Church dives into its first real attempt to name him as a serial abuser with a distorted sexual politic, one question surfaces over and […]

  32. […] about Yoder’s misconduct and the ongoing pain he has caused for so many women. The publication of Rachel Waltner Goosen’s article in the January 2015 issue of The Mennonite Quarterly Review, detailing what Yoder did, brought to […]

  33. […] groups attempted to deal with Yoder privately and secretly while largely ignoring the needs of his more than 100 victims still hiding in shame and secrecy. These institutional patterns must end […]

  34. Frank Lostaunau says:

    Hopefully, the women that were raped by Mr. Yoder will receive the care and support that they will need from their communities.

    Is that possible? Please describe the support that the women will receive.

    Is there reason to believe that some of Yoder’s victims may have been children and males of various ages?

  35. […] recent years, it has come to (more public) light that during his lifetime, Yoder was a serial molester – that it is estimated he abused, molested or raped more than 100 women, in the name of […]

  36. The outflow of that is peace, life, safety, joy, ministry to those in and outside the congregation. A light on a hill, not because they’re all perfect but because they’re quick to fix what’s wrong for the sake of His name not for the sake of protecting their own names individually or corporately.

  37. […] and secret accountability processes it had used to address its star theologian, John Howard Yoder. More than one hundred female students and colleagues had reported sexual violations by Yoder. I watched as prominent Mennonites denounced the victims who spoke out, and made efforts to silence […]

  38. […] Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Why Christian?” conference series by Stephanie Drury; The failure to bind and loose: Responses to Yoder’s sexual abuse by Rachel Waltner […]

  39. […] Yoder, well-known pacifist author of The Politics of Jesus, made a practice of attempting to manipulate Christian women to entertain him sexually. Most of the women resisted him, but were scarred by what he […]

  40. […] recent years, it has come to (more public) light that during his lifetime, Yoder was a serial molester – that it is estimated he abused, molested or raped more than 100 women, in the name of pursuing […]

  41. […] John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) is often described as the most prominent Mennonite theologian of the 20th century. Author of the acclaimed The Politics of Jesus (1972) and a staunch proponent of Christian nonviolence, Yoder taught for many years at what is now the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary before joining the faculty at the University of Notre Dame in 1984. His decades of professional misconduct (i.e., his so-called “experiments”) with numerous women have been subject to two disciplinary proceedings in two contexts, but “the story of his abusive behavior remains painfully unresolved,” particularly as a 2015 report based on newly available documents and interviews makes clear. […]

  42. […] groups attempted to deal with Yoder privately and secretly while largely ignoring the needs of his more than 100 victims still hiding in shame and secrecy. These institutional patterns must end […]

Leave a Reply