A powerful essay reflecting on John Howard Yoder’s abuse

The Christian Century published a challenging essay that reflects on Yoder’s history of abuse in light of his own theology as articulated in The Politics of Jesus:

If we are not going to abandon Yoder’s theology after all that has happened, and if we want to make use of it in light of those happenings, we suggest that the source material for doing so lies in his most famous work, The Politics of Jesus, where Yoder talks about “the powers” as 1) created for good; 2) fallen and corrupted; and 3) redemptively still used by God in God’s providential restoration of creation. By “powers,” Yoder meant those structures that God has set in place to order creaturely life. When in working condition, creation is ordered by these powers toward its own flourishing.

In Yoder’s life, such powers might be seen as the structures through which he practiced his teaching vocation, the relational structures of a large family in which he and his wife brought up five children, and the professional theological world through which Yoder could disseminate his work. “These structures were created by God,” Yoder writes. “It is the divine purpose that within human existence there should be a network of norms and regularities to stretch out the canvas upon which the tableau of life can be painted.” But, he adds, “the powers have rebelled and are fallen. They did not accept the modesty that would have permitted them to remain conformed to the creative purpose, but rather they claimed for themselves an absolute value.”

We might read Yoder’s failings as a tragic manifestation of this rebellion. He twisted his teaching vocation into a structure for predatory behaviors; he distorted mentorship and influence for untoward purposes; he used analytic stubbornness to isolate himself from community; he perverted academic achievement in order to manipulate and bully others.

Written by David Cramer, Jenny Howell, Paul Martens, and Jonathan Tran, it reveals more details and wrestles with the important question of the relationship between a theologian’s life and his/her work. I read a longer version of the essay in early July when it was mistakenly posted by The Other Journal (it will no doubt be reposted).

I’ve previously posted on Yoder here

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