Hilary Scarsella is a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University, researching the intersection of theology, gender, violence and psychological trauma. She directs the network Our Stories Untold. This piece was originally published on the ABC Religion & Ethics website.
behavior of Mennonite peace theologian John Howard Yoder, Hauerwas’s own evolving response over the years, and how Yoder’s work ought to be regarded into the future.
Hauerwas’s article appeared during a week in which social media platforms were globally flooded with #metoo accounts of sexual harassment, abuse and assault.
Moved to speech, on one hand, by the testimony of those harassed and assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, and on the other, by indignation at the pervasively systemic cultural and institutional dynamics that enabled Weinstein’s violent behavior to continue unchecked for so long, the voices of people who have survived abuses like Weinstein’s and Yoder’s rang in public discourse at a volume that at least momentarily sparked a collective consciousness that these voices regularly surround us in overwhelming numbers and are, most of the time, silenced.
That silencing often happens through explicitly hostile disdain for people who report harassment and abuse. It is also enforced, however, through subtle logics and forms of rhetoric that are less easily recognized.
I must say at the outset that this response to Hauerwas’s article is only in part about Hauerwas. The reason I write has less to do with the individual Stanley Hauerwas and more to do with the fact that the problematic aspects of Hauerwas’s article are representative of logics and rhetoric that muddy reflection on sexual violence broadly. Because Hauerwas’s voice carries weight in the academy and the Christian church, it is necessary to name and address the ways his commentary on Yoder’s abusive behavior works against the interests of those harmed by Yoder and many harmed by sexual violence generally.
That is the goal of this response: to read Hauerwas’s article in a way that makes visible myriad forms of logic and rhetoric that perpetuate systems of sexual violence and, in so doing, risk enflaming the wounds of sexual violence survivors. My hope is that by using Hauerwas’s article to practice careful reading of logics and rhetoric that exacerbate sexual violence, we will get better at catching ourselves and others when we observe or participate in them.
Let me also state two other factors that inform this response to Hauerwas.
First, I am Mennonite. I am of the community-the local, geographic community, as well as the broader community of faith-that absorbed the multidimensional harm of Yoder’s predatory behavior most directly.
Second, I am the Director of Theological Integrity for Into Account, an organization that offers support, advocacy, strategy and resources to survivors of sexual violence seeking to hold perpetrators and enablers of sexual harm in religious settings accountable. Our roots are in the Mennonite community, and Mennonite survivors of sexual violence-including some who were abused by Yoder-make up the majority of those with whom we partner and to whom we are accountable.
Hauerwas begins his article by registering his hesitation to write it in the first place. Aside from the fact that he feels personally pained by the task of reflecting on Yoder’s behavior, Hauerwas’s first concern is for the effect his reflections could have on members of Yoder’s family. He tells us he knows them personally and finds them to be wonderful people. Hauerwas is sad to write critically of Yoder because he imagines that doing so will increase the burden of being Yoder’s wife or brother or grandchild.
Yoder’s family members are rhetorically presented here as innocent and suffering victims, but victims of what is unclear. We would be right to name them as secondary victims of Yoder’s abusive behavior, but Hauerwas does not do this. Instead, the agent he most clearly describes as responsible for inflicting harm on them is himself. It is Hauerwas’s words in condemnation of Yoder that risk adding to their pain, not Yoder’s behavior that has made this kind of speech necessary in the first place.
In this case, the one doing the naming and condemning is a public figure, and the reader is tempted to consider Hauerwas’s self-criticism here as an example of commendable humility. Much more commonly, however, those doing the naming and condemning are the very ones who were sexually harassed or assaulted by the perpetrator, victims and survivors. Though Hauerwas has ultimately decided to engage in speech that does address and condemn Yoder’s abusive behavior, the logic he uses to present his concern for Yoder’s family indicts him for doing so and, thus, indicts along with him Yoder’s survivors and survivors of sexual violence more broadly who choose to speak.
Hauerwas likely did not intend his comments of concern for the impact of his article on Yoder’s family members to figure prominently as far as the content of the article is concerned, but that intention is beside the point. One woman who was abused by Yoder reported to me in 2012 that she and many other survivors of Yoder’s abuse were, over the years, regularly told by Mennonite leaders and community members that their requests for the church to more adequately address Yoder’s abuse could not be met because doing so would be unacceptably painful for Yoder’s family.
When I was a seminary student in the building where Yoder once taught and was abusive, I took a class that featured Yoder’s theology and remember listening to my professor explain that we would not be discussing allegations of Yoder’s abusive behavior, to a considerable degree, out of respect for members of his family (some of whom, granted, were in the room). When the Mennonite Church USA and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, decided in 2013-in large part due to survivors’ wisdom and persistence-to open sealed files on Yoder’s abuse and tend intentionally to silenced wounds, objections made on behalf of Yoder’s family were frequent, fierce and retraumatizing for many of Yoder’s survivors, as well as for other survivors of sexual violence whose voices had been likewise shut down by concern for their perpetrator’s family.
With remarkable consistency, concern for Yoder’s family-legitimate or contrived-has been one of the primary tools used to shame Yoder’s victims (“Do they have no regard for how it must make Yoder’s children feel to hear their father spoken of that way?”), silence them, and foreclose broader conversation on Yoder’s sexual violence and the dynamics of Mennonite (and other) communities and institutions that enabled it.
This tactic of deploying real or feigned concern for a perpetrator’s family against those sexually harmed by that person is not unique to Yoder’s case. In my work I see it used repeatedly in communities of all kinds to manipulate survivors of sexual violence into silence and justify the decision not to address institutional or community dynamics that enable harm.
Hauerwas’s decision to begin his reflections on Yoder’s abusive behavior with an expression of concern for the impact of his writing on Yoder’s family is, thus, alarming and cause for concern for a second reason: it reinforces a logic that bears considerable responsibility for the quality, duration and intensity of the suffering of Yoder’s victims. That logic positions Yoder’s family fundamentally against the people Yoder abused and assumes that the well-being of one is necessarily achieved at the ultimate expense of the other. Because members of Yoder’s family are secondary victims of his abusive behavior, applying this logic of opposition displaces those most directly harmed from central focus (where they have a right to stand) by creating a sense of competition between them and another worthy victim class. In other words, it attempts to move onlookers by the presumably innocent suffering of Yoder’s family members to relativize our commitment to hearing and respecting the voices of those who directly endured Yoder’s acts of abuse.
Whether or not it is intended, a version of this oppositional tension is precisely what the reader observes in Hauerwas’s pained hesitation to write his article. He is unhappy to write about Yoder’s sexual violence because, at least in part, his commitment to Yoder’s family is in competition with his growing awareness of his obligation to the people Yoder abused and efforts to resist sexual violence in general.
Because Hauerwas’s indictment of himself for making the decision to writes marks survivors who speak similarly as likewise guilty, the operative logic frames Yoder’s family members as the truest and most innocent victims because they alone have not contributed to another’s harm.
I will not pretend that Yoder’s abusive behavior could have been addressed in a way that honored survivors’ experiences and caused members of Yoder’s family no distress. Members of Yoder’s family are secondary victims, and with that comes pain and suffering and complexity. However, it is an injustice to both Yoder’s survivors and his family to narrate them into positions of such stark opposition. It is not likely that Yoder’s family members are of one heart or mind on the matter. Some of Yoder’s family members-several of whom I, like Hauerwas, know, appreciate and respect-might like to be portrayed as standing with, rather than against, Yoder’s victims.
It is possible that some of them may be tired of being used, intentionally or not, to minimize and distract from the harm of Yoder’s actions on those he abused. Even if this is not the case, it would remain objectionable to give concern for Yoder’s family such prominence in a public article addressing Yoder’s abuse, first, because of the power and effectiveness with which concern for Yoder’s family has for decades been deployed as a weapon against those abused by Yoder; and, second, because the logics that give this weapon power to work are used daily, consistently and relentlessly to silence sexual violence survivors in communities of faith across the Western world.
After stating his concern for Yoder’s family and describing a number of other concerns that leave him reluctant to write in condemnation of Yoder’s abusive behavior, Hauerwas explains nonetheless, “I have to revisit Yoder’s life and work because I do not want what he has taught us about how we should and can live as Christians and how we think theologically to be lost,” and, “I do not want to write this article, but I think I have to write about this part of John’s life, because I owe it to him.”
Janna Hunter-Bowman has rightly observed, “This statement on Yoder’s abuse pivots on what is owed to Yoder. The people he abused are peripheral at best.” Though Hauerwas expresses concern for those abused by Yoder elsewhere in the article, it is his respect for Yoder that moves him beyond his hesitation to speak.
The logic of this point reasons that what justifies Hauerwas in speaking at all about Yoder’s abuse – and specifically in a way that may pain Yoder’s family – is the idea that doing so is necessary to do right by Yoder, not that doing so is necessary to do right by those Yoder harmed.
Of course, victims and survivors who choose to speak do not often (perhaps, not ever) make the claim that they have come by that decision out of concern for the one who abused them. They speak, usually, out of concern for themselves and others who might be harmed in the future. The method Hauerwas uses to justify himself in condemning Yoder, therefore, is not available to Yoder’s survivors or any survivor of sexual violence who is not willing to prioritize the well-being of their assailant over their own. Therefore, whereas Hauerwas’s earlier indictment of his decision to speak indicts survivors’ speech along with his own, his method of self-redemption leaves them behind.
Hauerwas’s second hesitation to write the article is that he finds it hard to respond to those who “have worried about what [he] thinks about ‘all this’ because they worry [he has] not appreciated the seriousness of what John did.” Here, Hauerwas understates the concerns of his critics. I, for example, am convinced that Hauerwas has, in word and action, demonstrated an inadequate appreciation for the gravity of Yoder’s behavior and has, as a result, failed in certain ways to responsibly resist Yoder’s abusive behavior and the systemic dynamics of thought and action that enable abuse pervasively.
Hauerwas, in a way, claims at least the former-that he has not always respected the gravity of the harm Yoder inflicted-when he writes, “Nor did I appropriately appreciate at the time how traumatizing John’s actions were for the women involved. For that I can only say I am sorry and I have learned an essential lesson.”
The latter-that Hauerwas’s response failed adequately to resist the immediate and systemic dimensions of Yoder’s violence-can be gleaned, in part, from Hauerwas’s own historical review of his knowledge of Yoder’s violence in the same and previous paragraph. We learn that a graduate student reported Yoder’s behavior to Hauerwas and that Hauerwas did not thoroughly follow up. We learn that Hauerwas read some of The Elkhart Truth articles detailing claims of abuse made against Yoder by victims, but did not find these to be sufficient to raise his concern to a level that would move him to action. By Hauerwas’s own description, what convinced him to begin to take these claims seriously was not the voices of survivors published in the news or of a report made directly to him by a student. It was concern expressed by Yoder’s family, people Hauerwas knew and trusted whose claims about Yoder, because of their relationship to him, were nearly impossible to dismiss. When Hauerwas explains that he “realized [he] was getting the straight story from Al and Mary Ellen,” he implies that he had not been convinced that his graduate student or the survivors quoted in the newspaper had been representing the full truth. He depicts himself as having either not believed them, not considered their accounts to be worthy of a response, or both.
Choosing not to believe or take seriously reports of sexual abuse made by students and survivors, in the first instance, is a choice, and second, is an act that directly enables abuse to continue. But Hauerwas discloses this history in an argument designed to make the opposite point: that because he only knew of a handful of allegations made against Yoder he cannot be blamed for not appreciating the gravity of Yoder’s abuse prior to the publication of Rachel Goossen’s “Defanging the Beast,” which suggested the number of women Yoder abused was much higher.
Though Hauerwas admits that every instance of sexual violence ought to be taken seriously (“one woman would have been too many”) the fundamental shape of his self-defense-the argument that he did not have access to information that would have enabled him to take Yoder’s abuse more seriously sooner-demonstrates a failure to recognize that he could and should have been moved to adequate concern and action in response to the report made by his graduate student and in response to the victim reports that he read in The Elkhart Truth. Failing to realize that one has made a choice not to believe or take seriously survivors’ and bystanders’ reports of sexual harassment or abuse is not a matter of innocent ignorance. It is ethically-laden negligence shaped by one’s embeddedness in white heteropatriarchal rape culture, and it has lived consequences for people being sexually harmed.
Furthermore, the logic Hauerwas uses to defend himself belies the authenticity of his claim that “one woman would have been too many.” One woman was quite literally not enough to convince Hauerwas that Yoder’s behavior required direct, explicit, consistent and thorough condemnation. In order to be sympathetic with Hauerwas’s self-defense, one has to reject the claim that one woman is too many and instead take up the position that it is tolerable for a theologian to abuse several women. Only when the number grows large enough to shock and overwhelm-as seems to have been the result of Goossen’s research for Hauerwas-can friends of the accused be expected to realize the extent of the harm each individual victim endured and the corresponding obligation of all associated to participate in active resistance.
[Note: I expect that for some readers my choice to pursue this particular argument will seem like an untoward attack. The reason it is necessary to draw attention to Hauerwas’s apparent negligence and to the inappropriateness of its defense is that if we allow ourselves to be convinced by his argument that it was reasonable for him, personally, to have not responded more adequately to Yoder’s abuse earlier, we put ourselves in a position to become unable to recognize the kinds of acts he defends-namely, inaction, unawareness, lack of speech-as acts that enable sexual violence. As Judith Butler helps us see in Precarious Life, negative acts like these are political practices that make the suffering of those they elide “ungrievable,” and thus, their lives unliveable. If there is not, first, recognition, there can be no resistance; prospects for change become feeble.]
Despite all of this, one might still be tempted to read this section of Hauerwas’s introduction as an apology of sorts. He describes himself as engaging in a “Matthew 18” process, since he is writing on the topic because others told him he should. He names ways his thought and speech have fallen short of that which would have been optimal. Specifically, he acknowledges that his comments on Yoder’s abusive behavior in Hannah’s Child “did not appropriately acknowledge how destructive John’s behavior was for the women involved,” and “gave a far too positive account of the disciplinary process by the church.” He apologizes explicitly once, as I quoted earlier, for not comprehending sooner how traumatizing sexual abuse is for those upon whom it is perpetrated. And, he names as a mistake of his that he has been “too anxious to have John resume his place as one of the crucial theologians of our time.”
These admissions do not acknowledge the ways that parts of Hauerwas’s response to learning of Yoder’s violence were enabling. They also do not amount to an effective apology for the shortcomings Hauerwas does admit, because they are made within arguments that take a decidedly defensive posture.
For example, when Hauerwas confesses that he has been too eager over the years for Yoder’s theology to be held in high regard, he follows that admission immediately with justification, saying, “In my defense-and it is not a very good defense-I think it is true that I simply did not understand what was going on.” Likewise, he presents his lack of acknowledgment of the destructiveness of Yoder’s abuse in Hannah’s Child as regrettable but warranted because at the time he “simply did not understand the extent of [Yoder’s] activities.”
Hauerwas himself might be read as momentarily hinting in this direction, perhaps also unintentionally, when he says after claiming not to have understood what was happening, “However, in truth, I probably did not want to know what was going on.” It is a missed opportunity that Hauerwas does not pause to reflect on this point further. Whiteness, heteropatriarchy and rape culture (overlapping as they do) each depend on the desire not to know. Their logics have power to persuade, at least in part, because cleaving to them enables the kind of not knowing toward which Hauerwas motions. It is an acknowledgement and apology for this dis-ordered desire and its repercussions that would have been useful for Hauerwas to make, because it is the desire not to know that ultimately funds logics and corresponding acts that silence and dismiss the sexually abused.
The sentiment with which Hauerwas takes up the task of making sense of Yoder’s abuse assumes that something extraordinary must have gone wrong in order for a scholar who produced such singular ethical reflection (in Hauerwas’s opinion) to have behaved so atrociously. Hauerwas’s first approach to making sense of Yoder’s abuse is to portray Yoder as a victim of his own brilliance. Hauerwas’s comments on the subject are worth quoting at length:
“One of the aspects of this whole sad story that saddens me is that I have had to recognize how much energy John put into this aspect of his life. His attempt to maintain these multiple relationships would have exhausted any normal person. But John was not normal-intellectually or physically. When I think about the time he dedicated to developing justifications for his experimentation, I feel depressed. Of course, John gave us the great gift of the clarity of his mind, but that same analytic ability betrayed him just to the extent that he used it to make unjustified distinctions-such as those about the significance of different ways of touching that could only result in self-deception.”
Putting aside the inappropriateness of expressing a sense of awe at Yoder’s ability to maintain multiple sexually abusive relationships at once, Hauerwas’s description of Yoder explains Yoder’s abuse as a repercussion of his extraordinary intelligence. Though Hauerwas, on one hand, uses language that recognizes Yoder’s behavior was a matter of Yoder’s own choice, he, on the other hand, blurs that recognition by stating that Yoder’s “analytic ability betrayed him.”
The latter positions Yoder as a passive victim of his own mind rather than an agent responsible for his own actions. Using both forms of rhetoric side-by-side, it is as if Hauerwas knows he must state clearly that Yoder’s behavior was indefensible but can only bring himself to make statements that affirm Yoder’s culpability (for example, Yoder “made unjustified distinctions”) by adding others that call that culpability into question (Yoder’s “analytic ability betrayed him”). But as long as Yoder’s abusive behavior is traced, in part or in full, to the burden of his own brilliance, appreciation for Yoder’s theological contributions will serve, in part or in full, to justify Yoder’s violent actions.
Another approach Hauerwas considers for making sense of Yoder’s abuse brings disability into the conversation. Hauerwas alludes to the fact that some attribute Yoder’s sexually abusive behavior to undiagnosed Asperger Syndrome. Hauerwas grants that Yoder may have had some form of Asperger’s but says this “tells us little.” Here, I agree with Hauerwas. Whether or not Yoder was on the autism spectrum is irrelevant. However, since there are so many who use the possibility to explain Yoder’s violence it is worth a brief comment.
The assumption of those who take this position is that Yoder had a disability that made him unable to correctly interpret social cues, which then led him to cross sexual boundaries without having any way to know that he had done so. Interpreting Yoder’s abuse as a consequence of disability is meant to separate Yoder from responsibility for his actions just as effectively, if not more effectively, than portraying Yoder as betrayed by his own brilliance. Here, however, in addition to functioning as a mechanism that protects Yoder from culpability for his actions, this approach to understanding Yoder’s violence incorrectly and damagingly suggests a link between the autism spectrum and perpetration of sexual violence. I am aware of no study that has affirmed such a link. The vast majority of people on the spectrum seem to be quite able to refrain from sexually harassing, abusing and assaulting scores of women, which suggests the obvious: Yoder’s violent behavior cannot be explained by an Asperger’s diagnosis. To presume that it can egregiously stigmatizes those who do have such a diagnosis and fails to recognize both the agency Yoder expressed in his perpetration of sexual violence and the agency people with Asperger’s have to refrain from behaving violently.
Dismissing the Asperger’s theory, Hauerwas finally states that what “might be closer to the mark” is that Yoder’s behavior reveals a deficit in empathy. In the introduction, Hauerwas says that even this is of relatively little help in understanding Yoder’s behavior, but he develops the analytic throughout the body of the essay at a depth that suggests he does find it convincing and useful enough to be used as a lens through which Yoder’s theology can be critiqued and, ultimately, saved.
It is possible that Yoder lacked empathy. If we are going to venture down this path of reflection at all, however, we must also consider the possibility that Yoder did not lack empathy, but rather used it as a tool to perpetrate sexual violence, cover up that violence and avoid accountability. In other words, Yoder’s apparent disregard for how his behavior affected others could reveal a lack of knowledge and feeling, or it could indicate an abuse of these. Empathizing with another person does not mean that one will choose to respond ethically to the feeling and knowledge gained. In fact, being adept at reading the feelings of others is a hallmark of sexually predatory behavior in that it is a skill that enables people who serially perpetrate sexual violence to more effectively manipulate those they harm and those who attempt to hold them accountable.
Yoder, we know from Goossen’s research, was quite successfully manipulative. While no definitive assessment of Yoder’s psychological condition is going to be achieved post-mortem, depicting Yoder as lacking empathy, rather than abusing it, is a choice that, again, attempts to protect Yoder from full culpability for his actions. It reasons that he was violent because he lacked skills that would have enabled him not to be. It implicitly denies that Yoder’s violence was a result of intention, desire, or informed choice.
What I am coming down to is this: Hauerwas calls Yoder’s pattern of abuse “bizarre,” but it wasn’t. Yoder’s abuse followed the regular patterns of sexually predatory behavior. Considering Yoder’s abuse bizarre and a case that demands unique explanation is to fail to recognize and accept that the framework of sexual predation, if it is a framework of any use at all, applies quite appropriately to Yoder. This kind of denial-or, this kind of wish to find in Yoder some dynamic that allows us to make sense of his behavior-is an attempt to preserve one’s need to see Yoder as good enough to occupy a place of continued ethical, spiritual or theological authority. Because indulging this desire seems to lead, so far, to minimizations of the harm Yoder caused and to minimizations of Yoder’s culpability for that harm, its fulfillment operates as a mechanism that prioritizes the needs of those who find value in Yoder’s thought over the demand sexually abused persons issue to theology: that sexual violence be resisted within theological thought and practice without compromise.
The desire to preserve one’s ability to see Yoder as good enough to remain an ethical/theological exemplar is a form of the desire not to know at work. It silences survivors who do know because it refuses to believe what they know: that people who perpetrate predatory forms of sexual violence are often people who participate willingly and even enthusiastically in the erasure of another.
Hauerwas’s belief that we can make some degree of sense of Yoder’s violence by observing that Yoder lacked empathy is not unrelated to Hauerwas’s assessment of the problem with Yoder’s theology. He describes what is missing from Yoder’s thought as “insight and wisdom about learning to live well as a human being.” Leaning on Alex Sider’s work, Hauerwas argues, “Yoder is so intent on the primacy of the social dimension of the Gospel that he ignores the personal and psychological dimensions.” In other words, Hauerwas worries that Yoder’s theology does not have a way of recognizing, valuing and assessing the quality of one’s personal interactions and moral development, just like he worries that Yoder lacked empathy that would enable him to do the same in his interpersonal relationships.
I wholeheartedly affirm that, whether or not he knew how, Yoder did not live well as a human being, and I agree that his theology makes little space for the personal and psychological. To regard this as a reason that Yoder’s theology ineffectively resists sexual violence is, however, problematic in that it reads sexual abuse as a matter lodged primarily in the private and psychological spheres as opposed to communal and social spheres. While there are certainly personal and psychological dimensions of sexual violence, reading sexual violence as personal rather than social re-inscribes old and long-critiqued patterns of thought that minimize and silence the voices of those who experience sexual violence by reasoning that these voices have primarily personal, and not social, import.
I will say no more, here, about Hauerwas’s attempt to mend Yoder’s theology. One reason for that is that I do not find this to be a worthwhile project. As far as I can tell, Yoder’s theology has not proved necessary (or even useful) for theology interested in dismantling the powers of whiteness, patriarchal gender constructions or rape culture. To the contrary, the work of Mennonite feminist scholars like Lydia Neufeld Harder, Elizabeth G. Yoder and Carol Penner reveal that the peace theology Yoder espoused has often proven hostile to women, and I would argue that it is similarly hostile to LGBTQ persons and people of color in Western communities of faith. Especially problematic dimensions include, at the very least: revolutionary subordination, ethical perfectionism (which Hauerwas also identifies as a problem), intolerance for theological diversity and lack of sustained critical engagement with feminism, womanism, black theology, liberation theology and queer theology.
A second reason I will say little more at this time about Hauerwas’s comments on Yoder’s theology is that this essay has held as its focus the logic and rhetoric through which Hauerwas discusses Yoder’s abuses. There is not room left to now change registers and reflect on the contours of the theological paradigm Hauerwas holds out to his readers. That project is necessary and will have to come in the future. For now, I will end with one final look at the reasoning Hauerwas uses when putting together his theological argument that silences sexual violence survivors and is complicit with the systemic perpetuation of abuse.
Hauerwas supposes that women will have trouble reading Yoder’s theology, but then insists that they do so anyway, for their own good. Specifically citing the work of Stan Goff, he says, “But ‘trouble reading’ is not the same thing as ‘not reading’. For it is surely the case that there are aspects of Yoder’s work that are of constructive use for the concerns of women.” This rings with a male chauvinism that positions Hauerwas (and Goff) as more capable of knowing what is in the best interest of women than women themselves. In addition, Hauerwas seems to be unaware of or unconcerned with the previously cited feminist critiques that read Yoder’s work as hostile to women. This is unsurprising, since he goes on to affirm that throughout his career he has “not been prepared to discuss feminist theology in principle.”
Continuing to express male chauvinism and showing the degree to which he is uninterested in feminist thought, Hauerwas explains that he is compelled to preserve Yoder’s theology as a fundamental resource for the church because Hauerwas himself has found it indispensable to his own theological formation. This, however, is not a good enough reason to insist that the church or the academy likewise hold Yoder’s work in high regard. Hauerwas’s attempt to position Yoder’s thought as centrally important for theology requires that those put at risk by Yoder’s thought continue to endure that risk so that the thought-worlds of others, like Hauerwas, who do not experience the same threat, can be preserved.
The approach to theology represented by Yoder and Hauerwas has so far not been able to make much headway in resisting sexual violence, much less understanding it. As public knowledge of Yoder’s sexually violent and predatory behavior settles in, what we need is to become willing to consider that this approach to theology is not currently equipped to help us understand sexual violence, hear the voices of survivors and resist this violence’s systemic perpetuation. Hauerwas’s repeated use of logics and rhetoric that perpetuate the harm of sexual violence suggests as much.
Rather than investing our intellectual and spiritual energy in the goal of fixing a system of thought that has produced such harm, we would be wise instead to set our intention on cultivating theological space committed to thinking with and through the experiences of sexual violence survivors and the logics that empower survival and well-being in the face of sexual threat.
Hauerwas is right to be anxious that the theological paradigm he holds dear may not survive the transition. It is shortsighted, however, not to realize that inviting the Yoderian thought-world to rest, lie quiet, listen and change is the only response to Yoder’s violence that has the potential to avoid repeating Yoder’s abuses.
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