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Christian Publisher: All of Top Theologian's Books Will Now Have Abuse Disclaimer

Denomination debates how to handle legacy of famed pacifist who sexually harassed and abused women.

A church publisher will front all future books by one of its denomination's most-famous theologians with an unusual acknowledgment: the pacifist author's "long-term sexual harassment and abuse of women."

In the wake of renewed public discussion of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder's tainted past, MennoMedia announced last week that instead of ceasing to publish his books altogether, all future Yoder books published by Herald Press will include the following statement:

John Howard Yoder (1927–1997) was perhaps the most well-known Mennonite theologian in the twentieth century. While his work on Christian ethics helped define Anabaptism to an audience far outside the Mennonite Church, he is also remembered for his long-term sexual harassment and abuse of women.

At Herald Press we recognize the complex tensions involved in presenting work by someone who called Christians to reconciliation and yet used his position of power to abuse others. We believe that Yoder and those who write about his work deserve to be heard; we also believe readers should know that Yoder engaged in abusive behavior.

This book is published with the hope that those studying Yoder's writings will not dismiss the complexity of these issues and will instead wrestle with, evaluate, and learn from Yoder's work in the full context of his personal, scholarly, and churchly legacy.

Amy Gingerich, MennoMedia editorial director, said in a press release:

John Howard Yoder's legacy remains painful and complex. Many have found Anabaptism because of his writings. At the same time, we cannot gloss over his continued abuse of power. By including this statement in our books we are signaling that Herald Press wants to be about reconciliation and healing, not masking abuses of power.

The Mennonite Church USA formed a "discernment group" in August that executive director Ervin Stutzman hoped would lead to "church-wide resolve to enter into lament, repentance, and restoration for victims of sexual abuse by other perpetrators as well."

The New York Times (NYT) recently noted the debate over Yoder, stating:

Mr. Yoder's memory … presents a theological quandary. Mennonites tend to consider behavior more important than belief. For them, to study a man's writings while ignoring his life is especially un-Mennonite.

In 1992, a reporter named Tom Price wrote a five-part investigative series on Yoder's alleged sex offenses for an Indiana newspaper, The Elkhart Truth.

CT has covered how Yoder's theology influenced prevailing Mennonite thought as well as Anabaptism in general. CT's sister publication Books and Culture notes Yoder's "advocacy of nonviolence both as Jesus' demand upon the heirs of the biblical legacy and as a policy to be judiciously recommended to others."

Posted:December 18, 2013 at 11:49AM
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