Does our need for heroes hurt us?

"Another Hero" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Another Hero” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

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.

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14 Responses

  1. Sabio Lantz says:

    Though I have been religion-free for decades, in my 20’s I was heavily involved with the Mennonite community and myself a fan of Yoder’s writings and even been to the Indiana seminaries. I even applied to the Mennonite Central Committee for overseas work but rejected because my theology was too liberal.

    But I had never heard of Yoder’s abuse until today (have left before the 90s) — fascinating. Thanks for keeping me up on abuse news.

    Just 5 minutes ago I was reading about Guru abuse over the decades amongs Americans running to Hinduism and Buddhism. I later was in those circles too. Like you said, David, it happens everywhere.

    Yesterday a reader recommended the TED talk on Monica Lewinsky’s media abuse etc. I watched. I was ashamed of myself. My only images of Monica were negative — I discovered bought the media trash. I was complicit in the abuse.

    As I read your stuff, David, I think of the log-in-your-own-eye principle. And in this post, I am so happy to see you confess your log so as to keep our focus broad. It is all our problems. Every religion, secular groups and more. Worse, it is in each of us.

    I think even having Jesus as a hero is part of the problem.
    All of us want a banner to rally under.
    Craving identity and heros are both problematic.

  2. Ducatihero says:

    I recall the lead singer of the rock group Phil Lynott saying that he looked up to people like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, that in doing so there was a chance of ending up like them, which he did.

    I’m not quire sure what you are trying to say David, I see your point about “heroes” but then you also seem to be advocating “new heroes”.

    I don’t have any problem with having Jesus as a hero or honouring others that attempt great endeavours as great personal sacrifice. with the recent film coming out Selma, Marting Luther King comes to my mind of such.

    My heroes growing up were Rock stars, Douglas Bader and the Austrian downhill skier Franz Klammer, reflecting my love of music, flying and skiing. I don’t think there is anything wrong with such passions and admiring the talents and achievements of others.

    What I think you are getting at is an addiction to such when it ends up going down a path of abuse, in the example you gave of with enabling sexual harassment and abuse of women whether it being supporting one who is like that or becoming like that.

    I would look at this in the wider picture of what we do with our desires. Are we to use the freedom we have to fulfill our desires whether satisfying our desires come at the cost of others being disadvantaged or abused. Or are we to live lives holding onto our desires lightly and being as interested in the flourishing of others as our own flourishing? Are we willing to use what freedom we have to that aim or ware we to live selfishly?

  3. Thank you. Thank you for having the courage to speak out, to defend those whose voices have long been silenced. May healing commence here with the speaking of truth.

  4. Caryn LeMur says:

    As someone who read a detailed report on Yoder, I was delighted to read the Seminary’s apology.

    David, thank you for posting about that event.

    Sadly, I think that a need for heroes to fill the void left by the evangelical movement, has allowed the Mark Driscolls and Tony Jones of the Christian world quite an opportunity.

    An opportunity …. Yet, Mark has fallen; Tony is becoming more and more disgraced by the evidences.

    Peter Rollins has joined Tony’s ship, and may sink with him.

    RHE hid the comments of abused women and declared that she is Episcopalian – thus distancing herself from Tony.

    Nadia BW has determined to not read nor respond to comments on her FB page and her blog. Thus, she is becoming a non-entity.

    The carnage left by those that abuse power, and the carnage left by those that will not speak against the abuse…. an amazing picture of someone other than Jesus… tis sad.

  5. Teague Frawley says:

    Jesus understood this tendency which is why he very specifically spoke against hierarchy, giving people title, and turning religion into a means for financial profit! This issue is getting worse in all major institutions not just religious, but also political. bureaucratic and capitalistic. In my opinion the reason is that the information age makes it nearly impossible to get away with these things for long without being eventually made known. As a result, those who lust for riches and power are becoming more aggressive to get all they can before they get caught. In my opinion, the only thing that will stop this behavior is to do what Jesus did in the real church that he is building and remove his motivators. However, I believe the only way this will happen is if there is genuine revolt against all those systems by the generally populace.

  6. purvez says:

    David, whilst I believe that the apology from the seminary was ‘real’, the question that still lingers in my mind is would this have happened if Yoder were still alive?

    Whilst Yoder was still alive they held investigations for the alleged offences which he didn’t deny and yet nothing happened then. Perhaps it was a different era.

    I don’t know enough about the cultural state of mind at the time vs now to make a judgement.

  7. Good question. Although now I believe they have to go through all his books that will be republished and add to the forward the charges against him, etc. It certainly is a black smudge over their history.

  8. Sabio Lantz says:

    Obvious question:
    Some traditions say Jesus had children.
    They also said he had many women followers.
    Just saying ….
    [or is it taboo to question others’ heroes]

  9. I hoped my cartoon would suggest that Jesus would have said “we don’t need another hero”, that, in other words, he is the anti-hero that we’ve made into a hero.

  10. Sabio Lantz says:

    But the irony is weird — an anti-hero who is actually a hero. People obliged to still call themselves his followers. Following what? Something unique? Something not shared by all traditions.

    Yes, Christianity is all about making Jesus a hero — both conservative and liberal Christianity. Don’t you think? Worshipping Jesus is a hero thing, no?

  11. It definitely is. But what that the intent? I would think the original man wouldn’t have ever dreamed of it.

  12. xuemei says:

    Until they stop we speak up. amen amen. I am a hero in my own God-created way, I do not need another hero either.

  13. Ducatihero says:

    Ahhhh I see what you indended now David with what you say about Jesus being the anti-hero. Nice one, I like it.

    Thanks, that helps clear things up for me that I wasn’t sure about with your intention earlier.