A Mennonite Church U.S.A. discernment group addressing sexual abuse by the late theologian John Howard Yoder has reported finding additional evidence of abuse.
After a June 3, 2014, meeting in Elkhart, the group said it had found more documentation of Yoder’s abuse of women, including fondling and sexual intercourse. The many women Yoder wronged included students, missionaries and church workers.
The group accessed previously unexamined institutional and personal files, including memos by Yoder.
In some instances, the group reported, women who engaged in sexual encounters were persuaded, at least initially, by Yoder that such behaviour was permissible between Christian “brothers” and “sisters.” Many others resisted his unwanted ad-vances, and were perplexed and distressed by his pursuit.
“We are also learning how long it took church leaders to intervene effectively,” the group reported.
An issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review planned for early 2015 will focus on sexual abuse in Mennonite contexts. It will include an article by historian Rachel Waltner Goossen on the topic the group appointed her to research: “Mennonite church institutional responses to Yoder’s sexual abuse in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.”
While a four-year accountability process for Yoder began in 1992, doubt lingers about its outcome, since little about it was communicated to the public. When the process concluded in 1996, recommendations were made for “the continuing use of an accountability plan” and that “the church use [Yoder’s] gifts of writing and teaching.” Yoder died in 1997.
Very little has been communicated about the prolonged and devastating impact Yoder’s sexual abuse has had on many women. MC U.S.A. is now committed to transparency in this matter. In 2015, all written materials made available for this historical documentation process will be deposited at MC U.S.A.’s Historical Archives.
The group is planning seminars and a service of lament during the 2015 MC U.S.A. convention in Kansas City, Mo., during which time a report and discussion of the group’s findings are planned. In addition, the group has begun conversations about what the service of lament might include and who will plan and lead it.
The group is exploring ways to enable healing for those who have suffered sexual abuse. “We are particularly interested in healing for those who have suffered abuse by church leaders, such as Yoder, who were not brought to account in a timely manner by the church,” it reported.
On behalf of MC U.S.A.’s Executive Board, the discernment group has begun drafting a general statement on the nature and prevention of sexual abuse. The statement will be presented to the Constituency Leaders Council for approval as a study document and then for approval by the 2015 delegate assembly.
--Posted August 13, 2014