“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.