John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse: Asking the Wrong Question

Even though this week a Goshen College student was slapped by Jennifer Lopez, John Howard Yoder is still the biggest Mennonite celebrity we have. While at Pastors Week, I heard stories about how he would takes notes on a lecture in a foreign language, just for practice. Or how he could listen to a lecture and engage in conversation while writing a sermon. Or from students who said, “I didn’t grow up Mennonite, but I’m studying at AMBS because I read John Howard Yoder.”

As the Mennonite Church dives into its first real attempt to name him as a serial abuser with a distorted sexual politic, one question surfaces over and over: “Can we still honor and use his work even though we now know he harassed and assaulted as many as 100 women?”

I heard this question for the bajillionth time this week, talking to a Mennonite student at AMBS. He was one of those who came to the church by way of John Howard Yoder, finding a belief system he could truly resonate with. He mused, “I wonder how we respond to his work.” After some more thought, he said, “Yoder was brilliant. He’s such an articulate thinker and he lays such an important foundation for Mennonites. I think we can still redeem his work and use it to represent our church.” Continue reading