I was very please to read this article, Mennonite seminary apologizes to victims of famed theologian John Howard Yoder.
This is a real apology.
When Sharon Detweiler shared her experience of abuse from Yoder in her guest post on Our Stories Untold, John Howard Yoder: My Untold Story after 36 years of Silence, I think it created the ripples that turned into the tsunami which is this apology. I drew a cartoon, an Infographic on the cycle of abuse against women and how to break it. This also received a lot of attention. In fact, I was pleased that Our Stories Untold used my infographic in a post graffiti art illustrates how to break the cycle.
Since then, it’s come to light that Yoder sexually violated more than 100 women, ranging from sexual harassment in public places to sexual intercourse. What made matters worse was that those in power neglected to listen to the abused and their stories. Instead they were isolated and silenced.
Evelyn Shellenberger’s apology is important because it gets to the root of the problem that is plaguing the church. These are her words:
”Along with so many others, we fell prey to our desire for a hero. Enamored by the brilliance that put our treasured peace theology on the world stage, we failed to truly listen to those whose bodies, minds and spirits were being crushed. There is no excuse.”
I wish more leaders possessed this kind of humility and wisdom.
It’s become more and more clear to me that this is the central problem with the church and Christianity. We still want strong, charismatic leaders. We still want a king. We still want a hero.
I know this first hand.
1. I confess my tendency to be impressed by powerful people and my desire to follow them.
2. I myself have been asked to lead, been pressured to raise myself up and be a ruler.
I experienced this in the church as a pastor. Now, I’ve come to know it is not just in the church, but in Christian culture which can arguably be called the church universal. In fact, alas, it permeates all of culture.
The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek claims that if we want to break out of the ideological constraints, we need to follow the example of what he feels should be our “new heroes”… Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden (Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism).
Truth-telling. Exposing lies. Transparency. Honesty. Humility. Wisdom. This is the new heroism.
Now, for example, humility. This isn’t to say that Assange is humble in the traditional sense. The kind of humility this suggests is that we ought to know and admit our weaknesses sooner than later, and repair the damage we may have caused because of them now.
Shellenberger’s insight and admission ought to be incredibly damaging and threatening to the rush to power, to its privileges and abuses, that we see so prevalently today.
It’s a serious problem.
I see a parallel to the economy, to politics, to society. It is said that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is vanishing. That is, the distance between those with wealth and those without increases. Therefore, poverty is on the rise. It is the same with power. I suggest that the distance between those with power and influence and those without it is increasing. Therefore, abuse is on the rise. People are being abused on an ever-increasing level in the church simply because those in power can get away with it. It comes with the territory.
Until they stop we speak up.
There are people willing to desire heroes.
There are people who want to be heroes.
There are people who are enamored by their brilliance.
There are people who want their circle of influence magnified.
There are people who will hurt others to see this happen.
There are people who will abuse their power to enjoy harmful privileges.
There are people who will neglect, marginalize, and silence those who interfere.
Are these people us?
This is what we must ask ourselves now.