EDITOR’S NOTE: On Oct. 18, American theologian Stanley Hauerwas published an article about the sexual abuse perpetuated by the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. Hauerwas’s article has called attention to another article published two years ago by Rachel Waltner Goossen in the Mennonite Quarterly Review, detailing Yoder’s abuse and the complicity of academic institutions, churches and colleagues in keeping the matter quiet and rehabilitating Yoder’s reputation. These articles — and the wide-ranging conversation they have evoked — have converged with the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s abuse and the #MeToo social media posts. Amy Chilton, an American Baptist minister who teaches theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and Azusa Pacific University, offers here an important contribution to the continuing conversation.
I am my daughter’s mother.
Tonight her jovial chatter demands a hearing when my mind is elsewhere, tangled up with wondering how long Stanley Hauerwas will sit in the corner and whimper like a child caught in a lie. His Oct. 18th response to his connections with John Howard Yoder’s decades of pervasive sexual predation is waging war within me. In his conclusion he states that he did not want to write this response and is “not happy that I have done it.”
Is he displeased with his writing, or with Yoder’s violent actions that were systemically masked by multiple networks of theological educators, ministers, faith communities and friends?
Lurking in the corners of my mind is doubt that Hauerwas’s self-reflection will last long enough for me gather my wits about me and open my mouth (or, in this case, my laptop). Perhaps Hauerwas is sad that this had to be written.
I am a theologian by training and practice, situated in the Baptist tradition. My studies in systematic theology were crucial in finding my place in that celestial choir that was all too willing to sing theology’s great refrains without me — or, indeed, without many with whom I lived church.
Who must the church hear in order to be the church? Does the octave of one’s preaching voice determine one’s belonging?
While my master of divinity studies had brought to me many Roman Catholic theologians (and the Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann, always Moltmann) who fanned the flames of my passionate love for the discipline, it was voices from my own tradition that helped me sort out some of the tight theological knots that had rendered me mute and unheard in my baptist communities.In James Wm. McClendon Jr. I found tools for the local community to navigate self-involving and contextualized theology that could account for embodied reality. In Nancey Murphy I found my way past ideologies that rendered my experience insufficient for naming God and regarded my body as unnecessary, an impediment, or even a temptation to be avoided at all costs. In the friendship of Glen Stassen I took my first faltering steps into the world of academic publishing. My path is paved by persons who had been shaped, indeed even converted, by Yoder’s academic work.
My disgust and dismay upon reading Rachel Goossen’s article documenting Yoder’s abuse, “Defanging the Beast,” referenced by Hauerwas, is profound. Disgust at Yoder’s actions and the many cover-ups, and dismay at Stassen, Hauerwas and Mark Nation calling for a conclusion to the disciplinary process of the Indiana Michigan Conference so that Yoder might return to his work in the church. Hauerwas even states that still he needs “John’s clarity of thought.” Perhaps herein lies the center of my nagging thought: was the acquisition of “John’s” ideas allowed at the price of these women worth it? Yet, those ideas, passed down to and through my own mentors, had helped give me the courage to speak.
I may stand on the shoulders of theological giants, but Yoder’s egregious actions have forced my gaze downward only to see that I also stand on the hunched backs of Yoder’s victims. If I make it in this increasingly uncertain world of the theological academy, my rise will be due in part because of their fall. That is a burden passed on to me that I do not wish to bear. The price paid to extract Yoder’s thoughts is simply too high.
Meanwhile, my daughter chatters on, happy for this time with me. I would divide the Red Sea and silence the masses so that her voice can be heard. My thoughts straighten some, and all the while she demands a hearing from me. As of yet, she trusts that her voice belongs.
She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.