Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Mixed Legacy of John Howard Yoder

I just ran across Mark Oppenheimer's New York Times article about Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, a man who has inspired thousands of Christian pacifists with his book The Politics of Jesus.  It seems Yoder had a problem with groping and making inappropriate contact with women during much of his teaching career.

Here is a taste of Oppenheimer's piece:

Mr. Yoder’s scholarly pre-eminence keeps growing, and with it the ambivalence that Mennonites and other Christians feel toward him. In August, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, which has about 100,000 members, announced the formation of a “discernment group” to guide a process to “contribute to healing for victims” of Mr. Yoder’s abuse.
In 1992, after eight women pressured the church to take action, Mr. Yoder’s ministerial credentials were suspended and he was ordered into church-supervised rehabilitation. It soon emerged that Mr. Yoder’s 1984 departure from what is now called Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, in Elkhart, Ind., had also been precipitated by allegations against him. He left for Notre Dame, where administrators were not told what had happened at his last job.
But Mr. Yoder emerged as a hero of repentance. His accusers never spoke publicly, and their anonymity made it easier for some to wish away their allegations. And in December 1997, after about 30 meetings for supervision and counseling, Mr. Yoder and his wife were welcomed back to worship at Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart. To cap a perfect narrative of redemption, he died at 70 at the end of that month.\

Oppenheimer adds:

Mr. Yoder’s memory also presents a theological quandary. Mennonites tend to consider behavior more important than belief. For them, to study a man’s writings while ignoring his life is especially un-Mennonite.