Our Stories Untold
Rachel Waltner Goosen | August 8, 2016
The phenomenon of religious leaders violating individuals over whom they have spiritual authority has become part of public discourse, and Mennonite organizations, long insensitive to the harms associated with sexual abuse, now promote policies aimed at prevention. Increasingly, sexualized violence is subject to legal penalty, reflecting broad cultural and legislative shifts occurring over the past several decades. Sexualized violence is now widely regarded to be a public health issue. This evolution began in the 1970s, when according to the historian Estelle Freedman, “[feminist] organizers reframed sexual violence not merely as a private trauma but also as a nexus of power relations and a public policy concern.”
This historical context provides a framework for examining the legacies of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s decades long patterns of sexual abuse. Cloaked in theological language and often targeted at women whose church and family upbringing had encoura ged them to be reverential, his abuse was met with resistance from many Mennonite women, as well as out-migration of some of them from Mennonite churches and theological circles.