Although we may be quick to answer yes, our actions don’t always match. And though we may not participate in outright lies, we find no problem with hiding the truth. It began in the garden, after the great fall, when Adam hid from the Lord. And the open, honest, naked and unashamed relationship that Adam and Eve shared was replaced with shame and covering up.
We’re still hiding, still covering up. We do it as individuals, and as church communities. We pretend that things are fine, when they are not fine. We hide our sins and don’t want to acknowledge or deal with the hurt that has resulted. Our churches are filled with people who are hurting, hiding in silence.
We, in the CRC, may be able to learn from our Mennonite brothers and sisters, who had to make a very difficult choice about hiding in silence, or telling the truth. John Howard Yoder, one of their pre-eminent theologians, whose theology of peace has a very large influence, is now also known as someone who sexually abused many women. He tried to justify his behavior, referring to his inappropriate touching and extended hugs as of acts of “familial” love (there was no sexual intercourse). During 1992-1996 Yoder submitted to the discipline of the Mennonite Church for his sexual misconduct.
Many questions cried out for answers; among them: In a denomination that values behavior as much as belief, what do you do with an influential theologian who behaves badly? Should his writings now be discredited? Or, should they continue to circulate and gain influence? Should the misconduct be acknowledged publically? Should the women be compensated in some way for the harm that was done?
How the Mennonite community has responded is a model that the CRC, and other church communities can learn from. A small group of victim advocates, as well as colleagues of Yoder was convened to guide a process, with the hope that it would contribute to healing for those who have been victimized. This “discernment group” acknowledged the deep hurt experienced by the women, as well as the difficult questions raised.
The church publisher, believing that Yoder’s work deserved to be heard, and readers should know Yoder engaged in abusive behavior, decided to continue to publish his books with an up-front acknowledgement of the author’s "long-term sexual harassment and abuse of women." The “complex tensions involved in presenting work by someone who called Christians to reconciliation and yet used his position of power to abuse others” is recognized and named.
They’re not hiding in silence; that’s not the path toward healing. The work of peace and reconciliation is slow, painful and hard. It takes courage to enter in. Where have you seen that kind of courage expressed in the CRC? How can we foster openness and honesty in our church communities?
For more information see the article A Theologian’s Influence, and Stained Past, Live On.