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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Will Lutherans Come Clean and Apologize for Covering Up Abuse?
It Took the Mennonites Two Decades To Apolotize for Yoder's 100 Victims

President Hesburgh was there to give me the PhD diploma.
John Howard Yoder, as my advisor, carried the stole and placed it.





Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary apologizes to victims of sexual abuse by former leader John Howard Yoder

Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary leaders publicly accepted responsibility and apologized for John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuse of more than 100 women in a worship service Sunday, March 22.

YODER%2520LAMENT%2520SERVICE_3
David Brubacher, left, and Ron Guengerich, right, members of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary board of directors speak during a service Sunday, March 23, 2015 at the Chapel of the Sermon on the Mount in Elkhart. The service addressed the sexual misconduct of John Howard Yoder and the pain of his victims. (Sarah Welliver/The Elkhart Truth) (Buy this photo)


Posted on March 22, 2015 at 7:59 p.m.
The Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary community gathered in an emotional service Sunday afternoon, March 22, to acknowledge the pain and trauma inflicted on more than 100 women who were sexually violated by renowned theologian John Howard Yoder.

It was the first time AMBS publicly took responsibility for the abuse and neglect, which happened in the ’70s and ’80s and was first publicized by The Elkhart Truth in 1992.

It was also the first time leaders in the seminary publicly apologized to the women who were victimized.

“What was done to you, whether sinful acts of commission or omission, was grievously wrong,” current AMBS President Sara Wenger Shenk said during a lengthy apology. “It should never have been allowed to happen. We failed you. We failed the church. We failed the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Yoder, who died in 1997, was a professor of theology at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary from 1960 to 1984 and also briefly served as dean and president of the Goshen Biblical Seminary. Those two seminaries combined in 1994 and changed the name to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in 2012.

Yoder also taught theology at the University of Notre Dame for 30 years.

  • READ MORE: The full text of The Elkhart Truth’s investigative series can be found at the bottom of this article.

Nearly two decades after he left AMBC, a denominational task force launched an investigation and confronted Yoder with 13 charges of sexual abuse. The Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference suspended Yoder’s ministerial credential in response and referred him to counseling.

Although Yoder maintained he never intended any harm to the women, he never disputed the charges and he cooperated in the disciplinary process.

The women, who experienced sexual violations ranging from sexual harassment in public places to sexual intercourse, were largely left without closure — until recently. 

Mary Klassen, communications director at the seminary, said there has always been an undercurrent of stories and innuendo that surfaces and wanes every so often.

About five years ago, when Shenk came to AMBC as president, it surfaced again.
Women approached her to inform her there was unfinished business regarding Yoder’s actions, and she listened. Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, was hearing the same calls to action.

“The two of them decided it was time to move,” Klassen said. “It was the sense that there was unfinished business that made them open it up, because that’s the only way to move toward some type of healing.”

Shenk and Stutzman convened a discernment group to continue reconciliation work and answer ongoing questions about how the church responded to the allegations. Part of that effort included commissioning historian Rachel Waltner Goossen to tell the full story.

Goossen was provided access to previously closed files related to Yoder, and she interviewed 29 individuals including Yoder’s victims, his colleagues and former seminary administrators.

Sunday’s services were another step on behalf of the seminary to admit to wrongdoing and help the women harmed by Yoder heal and find closure.

About 50 gathered at an intimate morning session where women harmed by Yoder’s actions and the seminary’s inadequate response shared their stories. Current and former faculty, administration and board were also in attendance only to listen.

That portion was not open to the media, but Klassen said several of the women told her they had never been invited to share their pain openly and it was helpful. The session was also helpful to Klassen, who had read the articles and research but had never put a face with the names of the abused.

“It made it so real in ways that nothing else had, and that made the afternoon service that much more powerful,” she said.

Evelyn Shellenberger, who served on the Goshen Biblical Seminary board from 1976 to 1987 and was chair from 1983 to 1987, also met with the women and heard their stories for the first time Sunday morning.

She apologized for her part in allowing the abuse to continue, and said she did not know how to use her power as a board member to stop Yoder’s abusive behavior. She said she met with Yoder regularly for three years in attempts to change his way of thinking, but she now realizes that was not enough.

“As I listened to your personal stories, your painful stories, I couldn’t imagine why I was so silent about what was happening,” she said. “I realize now by speaking about you as a letter or a number, this was very depersonalizing. It made the pain you were dealing with seem less real.”

Shenk then read a public apology on behalf of the entire church community. She said she struggled at first with the thought of confessing to something that happened on somebody else’s watch. But eventually, she realized she must denounce the acts of evil that happened under the watch of the seminary.

“Along with so many others, we fell prey to our desire for a hero,” she said. “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.”
Shenk apologized on behalf of AMBS for neglecting to listen and for isolating those who were abused.

AMBS faculty and board members stood together during the afternoon service and read statements of commitment, pledging to do all in their power to prevent future abuse and promising to listen to men and women who have experienced sexual abuse.

They resolved to be diligent in educating themselves about sexual misconduct and to follow the procedures set out in the seminary’s sexual misconduct policy. They pledged to create a safe campus environment for all students, employees and guests.

“We are not left without hope,” Shenk said. “We long for your restored trust, even on some distant day, for your forgiveness.”

***
WELS, LCMS, ELS management style.
Many stories are not even on this blog.


GJ - I took the Radical Reformation from Yoder, which was a great church history course, and he served as my main dissertation advisor. However, I never knew anything about this until something came out in the papers, about 10 years after I graduated.

Likewise, Stan Hauerwas was my ethics professor and one advisor on the dissertation. I did not know about his wife's emotional turmoil until I read his autobiography, Hannah's Child. My sister-in-law babysat for his son, and probably knew about his wife's bi-polar disorder, but we did not.

The Mennonites dealt more openly with this than any denomination I know about. It is good that they revealed their lack of action, or muted action at the time.

WELS would not fess up in public when DP Ed Werner went to prison, when Tabor helped in murdering his own wife, when Al Just knifed his wife to death, and when the vicar went to Michgan State Prison for having an affair with a minor girl in his vicarage parish.

The Lutherans practice Sharia Law:
it's the woman's fault...always.