Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Unfinished Business

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Unfinished Business

Article excerpt

John Howard Yoder's history as an abuser clouds his legacy.

JOHN HOWARD YODER, who diedin 1997, was a theological educator, ethicist, historian, and biblical scholar. He is best known for his 1972 masterpiece The Politics of Jesus, his radical Christian pacifism, his influence on theological giants such as Stanley Hauerwas, and his advocacy of Anabaptist perspec- tives within the Mennonite community and beyond. Many testify that Yoders exposition of the gospel allowed them to grasp radically good news in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

There is a dark cloud over Yoder's legacy, however, that refuses to dissipate. Survivors of Yoder's sexual abuse and other advocates have renewed their calls for the Mennonite Church, including Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), to revisit unfin- ished business with his legacy.

On Aug. 19, the executive director of Mennonite Church USA, Ervin Stutzman, announced the formation of "a discern- ment group to guide a process that we hope will contribute to healing for victims of John Howard Yoder's abuse as well as oth- ers deeply hurt by his harmful behavior. We hope this work will lead to church-wide resolve to enter into lament, repentance, and restoration for victims of sexual abuse by other perpetrators as well."

A brief history: Charges against Yoder of sexual abuse were reported as early as the mid-1970s to the president of Goshen Biblical Seminary (now AMBS), where Yoder was a professor and former president. After pro- longed and failed attempts to work with Yoder in a biblical, Matthew 18 manner, his employment at AMBS was quietly ter- minated in 1984 and he moved to full-time work at Notre Dame. At the urging of several survivors of Yoder's abuse, a taskforce from his local congregation convened in 1991 to deal with "persistent rumors of sexual mis- conduct." They concluded that Yoder had "violated sexual boundaries." Finally in 1992, Yoder submitted to a disciplinary process led by an accountability and support group of the Indiana-Michigan Conference of the Mennonite Church. Following an intense four-year process, leaders reported its con- clusion in the church press. While they recommended continuing an accountabil- ity plan, they also encouraged the church to again "use [Yoder's] gifts of writing and teach- ing. …

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