Mennonite publishers to include note on abuse in theologian's books

By agency reporter
9 Dec 2013

The board and staff of MennoMedia, the publishing agency for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, has issued a statement regarding the continued publication of prominent theologian John Howard Yoder's books in light of ongoing discussions about his long-term sexual harassment and abuse.

John Howard Yoder, who died in 1997, was an American theologian and ethicist known worldwide for his robust advocacy of Christian pacifism. His most influential book is The Politics of Jesus, which was first published in 1972. Yoder was a Mennonite and wrote from an Anabaptist perspective. He spent the latter part of his career teaching at the University of Notre Dame.

Despite the allegations of abuse, Yoder's obituary in the New York Times and in other prominent newspapers did not mention any improprieties. Sixteen years after his death, in October 2013, the NYT ran an article discussing the allegations, stating that over fifty women have claimed to have been harassed by Yoder.

The article also discussed the recent formation of a support group for victims of his abuse. It also uncovered details of a series of unpublished papers Yoder had written in which he "formulated a bizarre justification of extramarital sexual contact".

Earlier in the year when renewed controversy surfaced, MennoMedia staff and board discussed issuing a statement, but decided to wait until denominational leaders of Mennonite Church USA had a discernment group in place to guide a process toward healing.

"We discussed that the process of healing and reconciliation is incomplete for many of Yoder's victims," said Russ Eanes, director of MennoMedia. "Some have asked that we cease publication of his books entirely; others have suggested that we simply go on as before and say nothing. We are opting to continue to make his work available but are placing a statement from the publisher in the front of all John Howard Yoder books published by Herald Press."

Eanes pointed out that many of Yoder’s books are published "print on demand" so they can include the statement in books as they are printed rather than waiting for inventory to deplete and reprint with the statement.

Amy Gingerich, editorial director, said: "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 statement approved by the board of directors for inclusion in Yoder's books reads:

"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 recognise 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 behaviour.

"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."

[Ekk/3]

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