Works of John Howard Yoder now available online

Archives_GivingIconGOSHEN, Ind. (Goshen College/Mennonite Church USA)—An online digital library containing nearly 250 unpublished, informally published and popular works by theologian John Howard Yoder is now available for scholars and students around the world.

Visit the John Howard Yoder online library.

A collaborative project undertaken by Goshen College’s Mennonite Historical Library, the Mennonite Church USA Archives and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), the digital library is freely accessible through the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI) and Indiana Memory websites, and can be viewed at http://tiny.cc/JohnHYoder. The library also includes the full text of the “Concern” pamphlet series, articles written by young American Mennonite intellectuals between 1954 and 1971.

Jamie Pitts, assistant professor of Anabaptist studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., said that the digital library “gives unparalleled access to Yoder’s unpublished and hard-to-find writings, from early essays in the Gospel Herald to later grapplings with philosophical issues.”

John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) was a prominent Mennonite theologian who introduced Anabaptist ideas into mainstream Christian theology. He served on the faculty of Goshen Biblical Seminary (1958-1959), Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (1960-1984, 1997), and Notre Dame University (1967-1997). His 1972 book, “The Politics of Jesus,” was named one of the top five theology books of the 20th century by Christianity Today.

“Scholars in fields such as Christian ethics, political theology and Mennonite history will benefit from having easy access to this material, as it demonstrates how Yoder’s thought unfolded over time in a variety of institutional and dialogical contexts,” Pitts said. “By giving us a more comprehensive portrait of Yoder as a thinker, the digital library will facilitate the necessary, if difficult, evaluation of the full complexity of his legacy.”

Yoder’s ministry credentials were suspended in 1992 and revoked in 1996 after sexual abuse of dozens of women came to light. In 2013, Mennonite Church USA and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary formed a six-member discernment group to address Yoder’s abuse of women and the church’s response to the women affected by his actions.

The John Howard Yoder Digital Library was funded by a grant of $12,023 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Indiana State Library. Recently the Shalom Foundation, a foundation created to distribute the royalties of John Howard Yoder’s publications, awarded an additional $2,000 grant to continue to build this digital library.

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10 thoughts on “Works of John Howard Yoder now available online

  1. This announcement by MCUSA just weeks after the revelations of the extent of Yoder’s sexual assaults and sexual abuse of women in the church is a slap in the face for all Mennonite women and for those of us who devote our lives to the work of peacebuilding.

    For many years, male Mennonite leaders have created a cult – an idolatry of Yoder. They have put him on a pedestal, arguing Yoder’s writings are the only way for Mennonite pacifism to gain traction. This cult-worship of Yoder is neither pacifist, nor Christian, nor Anabaptist.

    This idolatry has to stop. Yoder has a place on our bookshelves. But he cannot be our most celebrated pacifist. Idolatry such as this website will cost the integrity of the entire pacifist cause.

    1) First, idolatry of Yoder is an added offense to the hundreds of victims that were assaulted by Yoder, the marriages that fell apart under the pain of the abuse, and the women whose leadership was crumbled by the impact of the dehumanizing abuse of their bodies. The Yoderian cult is dangerous to Anabaptism – for it places Yoder as the authoritative voice on pacifism. It is anti-community – for it ignores the voices of women and victims, it places one man on a pedestal. And it makes the Mennonite church “Yoder-centric” rather than “Christ-centric”.

    2) Second, idolatry of Yoder is an offense to Mennonite pacifism. Mennonites have many scholars. Why not create a website and archive on Mennonite pacifist theology, including the works of all Anabaptists? This website could include Yoder’s work. No one is arguing that Yoder should not be read. Yoder simply is NOT the only or the best example of pacifist theology. There are many roads to pacifism and websites like this do a disservice to the Anabaptist cause of pacifist theology by denigrating all the other Mennonite scholars whose lives and work witness with more integrity.

    3) Third, if this idolatrous website is allowed to exist, then it should absolutely include a list of articles by Mennonite women and men who have offered their critique of Yoder’s sexual assaults and his theology. I ask that this new website have a section on “Responses to Yoder’s theology and abuse.”

    1. Lisa, I can’t help but think that your passion for the victims of Yoder’s sexual indiscretion is clouding your judgment.

      Whether Mennonites like it or nor they are the custodians of Yoder’s legacy. This is very apparent from the outside looking in. I think it only appropriate that the denomination make available Yoder’s works in this way.

      Furthermore, the denomination is clearly naming Yoder’s painful legacy as well. I don’t think making his works available is meant to white wash the past and ongoing trauma in any way.

      Though we may not like it, the only way forward is to forgive the man. Yes we must acknowledge the sin, the hurt done. But after that is expressed we’re all called to forgive.

  2. Thank you for this helpful post; it helps me to understand the issues.

    I keep learning about Yoder’s hypocrisy as I read about his life. IT IS TIME for the church to stop and to listen to his victims who speak their truth. IT IS TIME to remain true to the Anabaptist cause of not only espousing pacifist theology, but to practice it as well.

  3. Thank you, Lisa, for providing this complex and accurate analysis regarding this issue. I hope the church’s Yoder discernment group includes this analysis as part of its work. When the hierarchical church does right hand/left hand thinking and actions, these contradictory actions do serve the larger church it claims to represent. Such contradictory actions actually show that the church is serving two masters.

    I do not object to the work of the church archives in this situation. The task of an archival process is to represent history. I do hope, however, that once the private documents now under review in the discernment group process will also be made publicly available in a similar manner. But for faithfulness to the historical processes underway, documents need to be collected.

    My personal suggestion is that anyone who has documents which are relevant to this process should forward them to the Discernment Group: These can be personal and offensive letters received; these can be official church minutes; these should include conference actions and discussions about Yoder’s status; it should include mission board documents about its own disciplinary processes in (c) 1983/1984.

  4. Thank you Lisa for your response. For someone who continues to hear stories (just yesterday another on my desktop) about yet another victim of John Howard Yoder’s and of the destruction he brought to yet another woman’s life and soul, the timing of this announcement, following so quickly on the heels of the new archival information, feels a bit like the proverbial sucker punch. I doubt it was intentional but it’s timing spoke volumes: “Just so you know, Sisters, what really matters here. We are so brimming with pride, we just couldn’t wait another day to publish abroad the good news of our patron saint’s very own digital archive. Sorry if you haven’t had time to process the most recent blow of realizing (even more than you imagined) how he failed to practice what he preached. Good luck with your processing of that. Just try your best to forgive. In the meantime, we’ll need to keep pushing him back up on all manner of pedestals we’ve created.”

    I hope Lisa’s practical and reasonable suggestions are taken into serious consideration. In the meantime I encourage us to take John Roth at his word when he infers at the conclusion of the Elkhart Truth article http://www.elkharttruth.com/news/2013/08/14/J-H-Yoder.html that this collection will include biographical materials to allow for assessment of the disconnect between Yoder’s life and actions. To that end, our efforts may best be spent as Ruth Krall suggests, gathering and donating to these digital archives all of the materials that we have about Yoder’s harmful actions to ensure that Lisa’s concern to include a section on “Responses to Yoder’s theology and abuse” is indeed included.

    This might sound vindictive to some. But honestly, this has nothing to do with being unforgiving. If Mennonites continue to give “right hand/left hand” (Krall’s apt term) messages about how these difficult cases of clergy and religious leader and academic faculty episodes of sexual violation are managed by church officials, some where down the road it is going to get much uglier. How is this case any different than the Catholic bishops who heard reports, set policies, and continued to hide known predators in their midst? Yoder is the harbinger of a problem long-denied among us. How our church manages Yoder in retrospect is going to create the prototype for future cases as they emerge. And they will emerge. How many of us are holding secrets, protecting the powerful, hoping against hope they haven’t done to someone else what they did to us all those years ago? When we know better, we must do better.

    Any personal or professional documentation sent to the Yoder Discernment Group (letters, tapes, photos, journal entries, notes taken from encounters, meeting minutes, memos, etc.) will ultimately help us stop for future generations this scourge in our faith communities that is much, much wider than Yoder.

  5. I appreciate the posting of these documents. As a minister wrestling in congregational, conference, and interreligious settings with Mennonite ecclesiology and ecumenism (and the lack of attention to each), Yoder’s questions and suggestions about ecumenical relations and church identity have been helpful, and several of these documents will extend that for me. Pacifism isn’t even in the top three matters for which I consult his work these days.

    This is not idolatry of Yoder on a pedestal, but appreciation for his contributions (which did help lead me to pacifist discipleship decades ago from outside the Mennonite Church, along with writings of Catholic Workers and Clarence Jordan, none of which occupy pedestals either, though I do have an icon of William Stringfellow). As someone who has worked with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in a crisis shelter organization, and promotes sexual assault prevention education to churches, I’m glad that MCUSA is addressing more deeply and openly the abuses Yoder committed, and I would hope that this site WOULD incorporate articles on his abuse and the church’s response to support healing and build a better equipped church for preventing and addressing abuse in the future.

    I don’t think a reactive attack on everything he wrote and thought, or those of us who have benefited from some of his work, is particularly useful however. And characterizing the new availability of these resources for use as idolatrous is simply untrue. It has the same tone of anathematization as the false witness practiced by pro-Israelis who summarily characterize as “anti-Semitic” the indictments of the Israeli military for killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians last week — just because a fraction of the critics might make anti-Semitic statements doesn’t validate the smear against human rights advocates, or put the burden of proof on such advocates to prove they’re not anti-Semitic. Nor does this site denigrate other Mennonite scholars and writers, any more than I denigrate Donatists by citing in a sermon an argument that Augustine makes well, or denigrate Muntzer by quoting Luther on the office of the keys of the church (even while I favor both Donatists and Muntzer on several counts). The objection posted above has the same tone as anti-ecumenical Mennonites who might object to my finding wisdom in encyclicals of John Paul II or commentaries of John Calvin, on account of abuses and injustices they countenanced or abetted. Archiving, conversing with, and learning from only those who satisfy a standard of consistent integrity would mean that I should presume I have nothing to learn from writings of pastoral ministry instructors who failed to keep their wedding vows, or from Lenin about the violence of capitalism, yet I have learned from each of these. Despite the asides of formal protestation to the contrary, a false categorization of posting and studying Yoder’s thought as idolatry assumes a posture preparing to destroy not critique the object (cf. Gideon’s reaction to his father’s idols), and doesn’t particularly help toward a reframed, critical perspective on Yoder’s thought qualified and attenuated by understanding the harms of his abusive behaviors.
    So I hope, as one who also has devoted my life to the work of peacebuilding, that this site remains up, and that it will include reference links to reports by the Yoder Discernment Group and writings about Yoder’s abuses, such as those I’ve read elsewhere in Mennonite media.

  6. We are again reminded that God can use anyone to speak his truth. Even sinners such as us.

    — I think also of the self-interested Caiaphas, conspiring to put our Lord to death and daring to judge Him at trial. Yet, he was able to utter a great Christian truth: for the sake of the whole nation, this Jesus must die…

    –I am not Mennonite, but I have been illumined by Mr. Yoder’s writings. He is no greater or worse(r) sinner-saint than the rest of us. Yes, hIs behavior is appalling –but sin is sin is sin.

  7. Just wanted you to know that we took these responses seriously, and the Mennonite Church USA archives director, Colleen McFarland, wrote a really thoughtful response about the genesis of this project, as well as the ways the archives are working at preserving other materials that encapsulate a broader picture of Yoder’s life as well. You can read her piece here: http://www.mennoniteusa.org/why-a-john-howard-yoder-digital-library/

    Thanks for your willingness to engage and offer both affirmation and critique.

  8. A few points of clarification in response to the misinterpretations and misportrayals of what I have said:

    1) I did not ask for any type of censorship – nor have I ever. I have read and continue to cite John Howard Yoder. In no way did I suggest everything he wrote. These are blatant mischaracterizations and reactive responses to what I wrote. I am an academic myself and advocate for academic freedom. I’m not clear how anyone read my comment as limiting academic freedom or limiting access to Yoder’s work- as my comment here and my other writing does not advocate for this.

    2) I did ask that we focus on the collection of pacifist writings – that would include many other authors. The continued singling out of Yoder above and apart from other writers is a disservice to theologians who write with more integrity on a variety of different theological topics. I said that I would recommend a collection of writings from many different authors and yes, this would include a place for Yoder’s writings. My point is that the Mennonite theologians who most influenced my life and who should be read more widely also need to have their writings distributed. A clearing house on Mennonite theology would have been far more helpful.

    3) I am disappointed in the church, not Yoder, for this decision to single out Yoder’s writing for a special website. The church knew long before the discernment group began its research that the church itself has not dealt fairly with the damage left in Yoder’s relationship. I do not feel any hatred of Yoder, and therefore have nothing on my heart that needs forgiveness. As I have said, I continue to use Yoder’s work. My issue is with the church that protected Yoder – and continues to single Yoder out as a representation of Mennonite pacifism. I received many private emails thanking me for identifying that the Yoderians… the followers of Yoder who have devoted their lives to his work – are idolatrous in the way they speak and act.

    4) The suggestion has been made here and on other blogs that I am “blinded” by my passion for victims – and that perhaps I myself am a victim and therefore cannot “see” the brilliance of Yoder. This is both false and offensive. For centuries, women have been silenced because they were deemed “hysterical” and “emotional” and not “rational.” I have worked to support the voices of women and efforts to stop the pervasive violence against women around the world for 2 decades. I spent a Fulbright Fellowship in east and west Africa working on these very issues in 2002-2003. I am an academic who teaches courses on violence against women. I have an entire library on these issues. I have observed male colleagues in Mennonite institutions criticize Mennonite women pacifists, ignore their scholarship, and dismiss their voices and concerns about domestic and sexual violence for 3 decades. I have every right to attempt to hold my own church to account for its actions. And I will continue to urge Mennonite institutions to examine and analyze whose voices are held up in the academy, and whose voices are silenced. For it is my experience that today’s Mennonite pacifists are often not at all up-to-date on the global movement against violence against women as a peacebuilding issue. They have not read books on sexual violence. They intentionally exclude the voices of Mennonite women. And in class, they criticize and undermine Mennonite female pacifists. This is an issue that goes way beyond Yoder. It is an issue of patriarchy, white male privilege, and of active discrimination and silencing of female points of view and experiences related to theology.

    4) I have a right as a Mennonite to say that my church is hypocritical when it comes to Yoder and pacifism. For many of us, Yoder’s extramarital affairs were not the issue that made his theology incompatible with pacifism. Yoder’s hypocrisy is unlike Woody Allen, Lenin, or other theologians who had extra-marital affairs. The issue is the use of coercion, manipulation and physical assaults on women – and not just a dozen women, but somewhere around 100 documented cases. My raising of this issue is in no way comparable to those who say holding Israel accountable to human rights is anti-Semitic. I too speak out on that hypocrisy.

    This is an issue of a pacifist church continuing to hold up, to highlight and to advocate the symbolic leadership of Yoder as the best pacifist theologian that we have to offer the world. From my point of view, this is what this website does… it advocates for the symbolic singling out of Yoder as a spokesperson for the Mennonite church.

    The effort to silence me and the other women who have spoken out on this idolatry of a sexually aggressive pacifist is what is comparable to the claims of anti-Semitism. The comments here accuse me of saying things that I did not say. They wrongly portray my opinions – and then dismiss my point of view based on this false assertions about my beliefs.

    Yoder’s work should be read. But it should not be singled out by the church as the best we have to offer. Yoder has a place on our bookshelves, but not on a pedestal like this website.

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