rape and the church

“The person offended is not excused from the responsibility to reconcile; yet neither is anyone else who knows about it.”

– John Howard Yoder

We were meant to talk about the ideas we encountered in John Howard Yoder’s Body Politics. Instead, we started talking about Yoder’s life. One student brought up that he has sexually abused women and, as far as it is known, has not apologized, has not made amends, has not done any of the reparation and community-reconciling actions that he advocates in his work. The professor who assigned the reading asked us if we thought it was right that we still read his work in light of what he has done. I spoke: yes, read it…but also discuss his misconduct and how it might be evident in his theologies.

Rather than discussing the influence his abuse of power has on his theology, though, I felt as though the discussion leaders kept the focus on absolving Yoder. First was a speech (given by a feminist man who is aware of the ways that men with power have hurt his formation) about how we can’t expect anyone to be perfect. Can we make space for failure?

Yes, I assert. People who never visibly fail are often proponents of prosperity gospels, and that is not good news at all. Fail! Fail again! Fail better! But admit, apologize, repent, repair. Yoder has not only refused to publicly apologize, but as only “vaguely acknowledged misconduct.”

The professor (a woman and feminist) began speaking of shame, and how painful it can be to have shame exposed—with emphasis on Yoder’s shame, how hard it would be for him to have his shame exposed.

Forget, for a moment, that part of the church’s job is to expose and heal shame. We’ll come back to that on another day. Let’s talk about a society in which a woman is raped and socially humiliated, and all the national news media want to highlight is her drunkenness and that the boys were promising students with promising football careers.

This is the same story.

Image from Bitch Media

Image from Bitch Media

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4 thoughts on “rape and the church

  1. I am not a huge Yoder fan and I do think you are right about the way we should discuss his theology but he did submit to church discipline (what Mennonites call it) and was reinstated to his church after that process of repentance. What did that process actually look like? I don’t know but the student who suggested he didn’t do anything might not know that there was a process.

  2. Right, he went through a process — and was largely let off the hook (from what I understand). It’s not just him who failed, it was the entire system. And as someone who has called the system to be better at reconciliation (throughout “Body Politics”), he shouldn’t have settled because it was easy for him to not have to do more just because it wasn’t demanded of him.

    • Ok so the process was discussed but it was just not through enough. The limited research i have done has focused more the nature of accusations than on the actual process. If someone has information on what the process actually looked like I’d be interested in seeing it. It would not be a surprise to me that he was left off the hook.

  3. Barbra Graber says:

    Thank you for this essay. It is the reason I decided to write what I did. And I hope you’ll continue to let AMBS know how you feel about the way the full truth was never owned.

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