Everyone's a pacifist between wars. It's like being a vegetarian between meals. -Colman McCarthy link
What is pacifism?
I am not a pacifist as it is defined in some Christian circles and, to be quite frank, I experience regular guilt that I am not. Pacifism as it is defined in Merriam Webster seems to fit me.
Inclined to live in peace and to avoid war
The antonyms for pacifism,from the same source, do not describe me.
bloodthirsty, hawkish, martial, warlike
However, Christian pacifism is another thing altogether. Peace Theology defines it this way.
We might best think of “pacifism” as the conviction that no value that could justify the use of violence takes priority over the commitment to peace. Hence, “pacifism” is more than simply approving of peace, which everyone in some sense would do, it is the conviction that the commitment to peace stands higher than any other commitment.
The early Christians were nonviolent.
I have studied the persecution of the early church during the reigns of emperors such as Nero, Diocletion, Severus, Decius and Galerius. Something that has stuck with me for years is that the early Christians were brave, loving and nonviolent. They went to their deaths in the Coliseum and as Nero's torches with joy and peace.
In 203, Perpetua, a noblewoman who had converted to Christianity and had just given birth to a daughter and her Christian servant, Felicitas, who was 8 months pregnant, were sent to face the lions. Perpetua was led into the arena, her breast dripping with milk standing beside Felcitas. Those who were to be killed were often unclothed. She faced her end with such dignity, even guiding the gladiator's sword to her neck, that many in the crowd began to question such treatment. The Romans slowly began to turn away from such entertainment.
Each time I espouse the just war theory, I always think of Perpetua and realize that there are differing ways to view things. Perhaps the most well known theologian who defined and espoused the theology of Christian pacifism is John Howard Yoder (1927-1997.)
Who was John Howard Yoder and why does he matter?
Wikipedia does a good job giving the particulars of John Yoder's educational and career background on which I will not linger. I have highlighted his transition from Associated Mennonite Seminary to Notre Dame because this had something to do with the abuse allegations.
Yoder earned his undergraduate degree from Goshen College where he studied under Mennonite theologian Harold S. Bender.He completed his Th.D. at the University of Basel, Switzerland, studying under Karl Barth, Oscar Cullman, Walther Eichrodt, and Karl Jaspers.
…Yoder began his teaching career at Goshen Biblical Seminary. He was Professor of Theology at Goshen Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Biblical Seminary (the two seminaries that formed Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) from 1958 to 1961 and from 1965 to 1984. While still teaching at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, he also began teaching at the University of Notre Dame, where he became a Professor of Theology and eventually a Fellow of the Institute for International Peace Studies.
Yoder developed the theology surrounding Christian pacifism.
Here is a bit more on his pacifist scholarship. It is important to see that his dedication to this ideal apparently did not extend to his view and treatment of women. His most well known book is called The Politics of Jesus. According to Theopedia
In it, Yoder argues against popular views of Jesus, particularly those views held by Reinhold Niebuhr, which he believed to be dominant in the day. Niebuhr argued a particular view of just war philosophy, which Yoder felt failed to take seriously the call or person of Jesus Christ. After showing what he believed to be inconsistencies of Niebuhr's perspective, Yoder attempted to demonstrate by an exegesis of the Gospel of Luke and parts of Paul's letter to the Romans that, in his view, a radical Christian pacifism was the most faithful approach for the disciple of Christ. Yoder argued that being Christian is a political standpoint, and Christians ought not ignore that calling.
The Politics of Jesus was named by evangelical publication Christianity Today as one of the most important Christian books of the 20th century.
Interestingly, his view on pacifism became more nuanced near to his death. Again from Theopedia
Needless to say, Yoder's account of Christian faith and ethics has been controversial. Towards the end of his life, interestingly, he began to think about the use of a global police force as a limited instance where Christians could support the use of coercive force.
It is important to understand that Yoder's work on pacifism greatly influenced a couple of generations of theologians not the least of which is Stanley Hauerwas link and link who Time Magazine declared is the greatest theologian of our generation.
Yoder had a long history of sexually harassing and abusing women.
So, we have a man of peace who influenced countless others in the way of Christian pacifism. However, this well regarded theologian had a dark side. Unfortunately, it appears that the Mennonite leadership turned a blind eye to the countless reports of sexual abuse and harassment. After all, he put Mennonite theology on the map.
Michelle Van Loon wrote an excellent post Content Trumps Character? The Real Message Of Disclaimer Labels On Theological Books in which she succinctly defined the issue with Yoder.
For all of his intellectual brilliance, he was a man of deeply flawed character who abused a number of women from his position of power. His brilliance rationalized those actions by relying on the notion that a spiritually-mature man could engage in intimate, “healing” physical touch just this side of intercourse with a woman, insisting that this contact wasn’t sinful if he didn’t feel lust prior to or during the contact. He managed to repackage his own needs and appetites by deconstructing Scripture with his well-trained mind while insisting that his more evolved spirituality was the reason he could give his non-sexual luvin’ to his cross-gendered friends. He was a peacemaker, after all.
Well, except for the sexual assaults.
…it took years for the rumors of his abuse to come to light, and for the victims to discover that they had plenty of company. Shortly before he died in 1997, Yoder affirmed that he’d uh, probably crossed a few non-blurred lines and went through some sort of formal restoration process with his home church. None of the women he’d assaulted received an apology, nor was there any sort of counseling or financial remuneration follow-up offered them as far as I could discern.
Mennonite World in Peaceful Theology, Violent Acts documents some of the claims.
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 Indiana-Michigan’s disciplinary process believe that more than 100 women experienced unwanted sexual violations by Yoder, ranging from sexual harassment in public places to, more rarely, sexual intercourse.
Yoder develops theology to justify his actions towards women.
The blog, Thinking Pacifism, in a post titled Word and Deed: The Strange Case of John Howard Yoder (addendum) gives us Stanley Hauerwas' perspective. He describes the development of Yoder's theology of intimate relations between men and women.
Stanley Hauerwas’s memoir, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Eerdmans, 2010), 242-47, provides some fascinating background on this episode. Hauerwas was a colleague and close friend of Yoder’s at Notre Dame, though by the early 1990s he had moved on to Duke. These are some of his comments (from pages 242-7):
I had long had in my possession unpublished papers of John’s in which he argued that the mainstream church was wrong to assume that the only alternative available for men and women in the church are celibacy or marriage. John, who thought that, first and foremost, Christians are called to be single, argued that for brothers and sisters in the faith there should be other ways of relating bodily with one another. In short, he thought there might be ‘nonsexual’ ways that Christians could touch one another short of intercourse. It seems he set out to test his theory” (244).
“John began his seductions of ‘weighty’ Mennonite women—women of intellectual and spiritual stature in the community—by asking them to help him with his work. He would then suggest that they touch him, and that he touch them, without engaging in sexual intercourse. John was intellectually overwhelming. He may have convinced some women that what they were doing was not sexual, but they later came to recognize that John was clearly misusing them. They somehow made contact with one another, compared notes, and John was in a heap of trouble” (244).
In January 2015, Mennonite World Review published New sources give clearer view of abuse by theologian. The Mennonite Church USA commissioned an historian, Rachel Waltner Goossen, to carefully look into the history of the claims of abuse surrounding Yoder.
She used her experience as a scholar of 20th-century U.S. history, with focuses on peace and Mennonites, to independently delve through extensive Mennonite conference records, seminary presidential files and correspondence with victims. She conducted 29 interviews with Yoder’s seminary colleagues, Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference workers, mental health professionals and victims.
Goossen found a theologian who over many years experimented with what he considered a new theology of sex.
“He didn’t concede that [it was wrong],” Goossen said. “Yoder wasn’t blithely doing this once or twice. He was deeply engaged with this for a very long time, even when people very close to him, including his seminary president, directly challenged him over a number of years. . . .
“Part of his project was he believed that as a Mennonite theologian he could help women sexually. I know that sounds strange, but he had a very high sense of what he could do for women, and he engaged with very many women who he believed that he was helping.”
In his memoir, Professor Hauerwas alludes to what Tom Price, a reporter for the newspaper The Elkhart Truth, described in a five-part 1992 series as Mr. Yoder’s defense of “nongenital affective relationships.” Mr. Yoder said that touching a woman could be an act of “familial” love, in which a man helped to heal a traumatized “sister.”
Mr. Price quoted from “What Is Adultery of the Heart?” a 1975 essay in which Mr. Yoder wrote that a “bodily” embrace “can celebrate and reinforce familial security,” rather than “provoking guilt-producing erotic reactions.”
Ms. Heggen, called Tina in the newspaper articles, told Mr. Price that Mr. Yoder had a grandiose explanation for his advances, which he tried out on multiple women.
“We are on the cutting edge,” Mr. Yoder would say, according to Ms. Heggen. “We are developing new models for the church. We are part of this grand, noble experiment. The Christian church will be indebted to us for years to come.”
Interestingly, Yoder used Matthew 18 (which TWW believes is often one of the misused verses in the Bible), to slow the discovery process down. Goossen remarks
Since Yoder’s death, some admirers of his theology have offered explanations for his behavior. By keeping the focus on Yoder rather than on the consequences of his actions, these speculations deflect attention from institutional complicity.
Yoder had lectured extensively about the mandate of Matt. 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 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 had far-reaching consequences among families, within congregations and throughout agencies — from AMBS, to Mennonite Central Committee and missions programs, to Mennonite-affiliated institutions across the globe.
What did those in leadership over Yoder do? Not much.
Attempts at intervention began as early as 1979. Mennonite World in Peaceful Theology, Violent Acts reports:
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 Mennonite World Conference headquarters in Strasbourg, France. 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 and 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.
So, they did what many churches and denominations have done when they wanted to get rid of a predator while protecting the reputation of the institution. They let him go to Notre Dame without sharing information about his sexual abuse. Again from Mennonite World in Peaceful Theology, Violent Acts:
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 Miller used to enforce their silence. From 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.
In 1984, Miller and members of the Covenant Group, having failed to stop Yoder’s behaviors, recommended his departure to the seminaries’ boards. He was allowed to resign, and he informed the theology department at Notre Dame 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 Notre Dame, was no longer welcome at AMBS events.
A less than successful intervention
Eventually, there was an intervention which was spurred on by Stanley Hauerwas. In 2013, the New York Times published A Theologian’s Influence, and Stained Past, Live On
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.
Without denying the wrongness of his acts, his supporters continued to celebrate Mr. Yoder and the Mennonite leaders who had rehabilitated him.
“How John’s community responded to his inappropriate relations with women” was “a testimony to a community that has learned over time that the work of peace is slow, painful, and hard,” wrote Stanley Hauerwas, a retired Duke University professor and Yoder’s heir as the leading pacifist theologian, in his 2010 memoir.
Reconciliation with victims was a bust.
However, reconciliation was not achieved. In fact, Yoder became somewhat belligerent about the discipline process. Again from Mennonite World in Peaceful Theology, Violent Acts:
Yet into the 1990s, the secrecy that had veiled Yoder’s actions began to collapse. Some women who had experienced his 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 — including the withdrawal of an invitation for him to speak at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan. — a turning point in the denomination’s dealings with Yoder.
Over the next several years, Yoder sharply contested Mennonite conference officials’ right to retain records documenting his abuse. In 1996, concerned about the implications of the sexual abuse charges on his legacy, he informed Indiana-Michigan 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 those 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.”
Confession, honesty and repentance by the Mennonite Church may be in the near future.
However, there appears to be some light at the end of this dark episode. It appears the Mennonite Church USA will have a ceremony of confession, repentance and reconciliation at their convention in March 2015.
Ted Koontz, a professor at Mr. Yoder’s old seminary and a member of the church’s discernment group, said the church needed to take stock of what was — or was not — done for Mr. Yoder’s victims.
“There are a lot of different opinions about what was done and wasn’t done to hold him accountable,” Professor Koontz said.
The committee will probably conclude its work, he added, in time for the Mennonite Church USA’s 2015 convention in Kansas City, Mo., where there may be a ceremony “of confession, repentance, reconciliation.”
Michelle Van Loon also documents the following in Content Trumps Character? The Real Message Of Disclaimer Labels On Theological Books.
Now, after years of discernment meetings and discussion, Yoder’s publisher, Herald Press, will be publishing a disclaimer, acknowledging his history of sexual sin while continuing to commend his writing to readers.
The public views an attempt at nuance with disdain.
There was a recent attempt by Mark Yoder to nuance John Yoder's behavior in a post at Eastern Mennonite University. I call this the "John Yoder was weird anyway" defense.
And then, who among those who knew John would have been surprised that his approach to extra-marital, intimate “relationships” would have been awkward or even weird and that he would have been quite unaware of how he was being perceived?
However, this attempt at nuance was not well received as indicated by the comments to that post. For example:
One woman's story that says it all.
I leave you with one woman's story of her abuse, how she was ignored by the leadership in spite of a tape recording, and her advice to women who have been abused in the Mennonite Church. John Howard Yoder -My untold story after 36 years of silence. Please read the full story of Sharon Detweiler. Here is an excerpt.
In 1992, I happened upon an article that reported that Yoder was being investigated for inappropriate sexual activity. After reading the article I contacted Marlin Miller whom I had known personally through my previous work with the Church. I told him what I had experienced with Yoder and he asked me to send the cassette tape to him that I told him I possessed; I had transported the tape with me all the way to California from Pennsylvania in 1981.
What was on that tape? Yoder had recorded his unique sexual philosophy for me in no less than 60 minutes, as his deep sonorous voice repeated intellectual-sounding theories about how the Mennonite Church, because it is so limited in its thinking, doesn’t understand sexual intimacy and how it was to be played out in the true community of believers. He sent that tape to me, admonishing me to keep it private, never share it with anyone, and then record over his words with my own thoughts and reactions to what he had said.
I was then to send it back to him. As I listened to his recording, I heard what appeared to be an office chair noisily creaking in the background. It was, needless to say, very, very creepy.
So, at Marlin Miller’s urgent request, I agreed to send the cassette tape to him for his committee to [images] confront Yoder with proof of his actions. I waited. Nothing happened. No one contacted me. Nothing, as far as I knew, was being done. I finally concluded that, as it turns out, way back in 1981, my intuition had been correct—no one in the church would listen to my story and respect my experience. Yoder’s position and reputation—and the Mennonite Church’s position and reputation—had seemingly been the paramount concern.
The tape went missing, of course. Sharon addresses Mennonite women.
My personal opinion is that Yoder was a very sick man who was coddled by the Mennonite Church and feared by many. He was not held accountable by church leaders who, by not exposing his behavior, were complicitous with his behavior. By not doing anything, these church members repeatedly and knowingly exposed Yoder’s predatory sexual behavior to young Mennonite women.
The leaders were not only naive, they were proud, self-righteous men who could not, and would not admit defeat. They would never confess to themselves, or the church, that they had no ability to lead. Simply put, these church leaders had been out-manipulated by a man who wore the mask of a respected intellectual but was really just a very sick man mired in his own deceit.
For the women who suffered at the hands of Yoder I feel deep compassion. I personally experienced what it was like: creepy, awful, shameful, disgusting, shocking. I also know that the deepest suffering comes in the years long after the abuse. The initial shame, followed by deep feelings of complete and total abandonment by one’s church of origin is simply not something that can adequately be put into words. It can certainly not be shared with anyone who would possibly misunderstand. For these women, I tell my story. I understand. I get it.
If you are in the Mennonite Church and suffering, for whatever reason, as result of self-righteous, ponderous leaders who will not listen to your humanity, your story, I would suggest that you consider exploring the depths of your faith elsewhere. Perhaps in that “elsewhere”, wherever it may be, and with whomever it may be, know that ultimately, and most assuredly, truth and love will prevail. You are loved by God. Nothing is more important than that.
It appears that the Mennonite Church, along with other denominations, is slowly waking up to the pain of sexual abuse. We have a long way to go. TWW expresses its heartfelt wishes for healing and truth for those who were abused.
Lydia's Corner: Exodus 30:11-31:18 Matthew 26:47-68 Psalm 32:1-11 Proverbs 8:27-32