Thomas Creedy wrote “An Open Letter to My Church Friends” in regards to a recent book published by Steve Chalke called Being Human: How to Become the Person You Were Meant to Be. Since anthropology and spiritual formation are such vitally valuable topics for the Church to engage upon, and the intersection of ethics and theology so important, I think Creedy is onto something when he ponders why in the world Chalke would reference Howard Yoder.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Yoder, here’s a quick recap: Yoder past away in 1997 and was a theologian and ethicist from the Mennonite tradition. One of his most popular books was The Politics of Jesus. While Yoder was/is a well known and popular theologian/ethicist, he’s become increasingly more known for the “sexual violence” he committed against up to 100 women (cf. this National Catholic Report and Ted Grimsrud’s chapter, “Reflections from a Chagrined “Yoderian” in Face of His Sexual Violence” in John Howard Yoder: Radical Theologian). Read that again: Yoder’s sexual violence is well known. Just do a google on “Howard Yoder” and you find multiple articles addressing this!!!
So when Creedy requested that Chalke, and his publisher @HodderFaith, “to retract the publication of the book, and edit it to reflect the dehumanising nature of some of the ideas,” he was simply asking what anyone would do.
Yet Chalke sees differently. In a response posted by ChristianToday.com, Chalke response can be found in the following:
Chalke told Christian Today that he didn’t know about Yoder’s personal history before referencing him in the book, but wasn’t inclined to make any changes to the book in light of the information.
He said The Politics of Jesus had been a “massively influential” book in his life. “I think it’s a fantastic piece of theology,” he added – an opinion which would no doubt be shared by many.
He acknowledged that there was a “clear gap” between “who Yoder is revealed to be and what he espoused” but added “There’s always a huge gap between our aspirations and behaviour.”
He said there were numerous cases from history of leading theological figures who had morally questionable personal lives, pointing to the widespread influence of Karl Barth, despite his unconventional domestic arrangements (he lived with both his wife and secretary, who became his mistress).
“King David was hardly sweetness and light,” he added.
He said that although he appreciated Yoder’s theology, it was not a defence of the allegations against him. “Just as I consider Karl Barth an extraordinary theologian… But it’s his theology I’m reading, and I understand there’s always be a gap between who we [say we] are and what we do.”
Uh, Houston… we have a problem. Actually, make that problems.
First, comparing Yoder’s sexual violence to Karl Barth’s alleged marital infidelity is absolute ignorance. Furthermore, concerning Barth, his alleged affair has not been proven and historians differ on what to make of Barth’s relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum (check out Charlotte von Kirschbaum and Karl Barth: A Study in Biography and the History of Theology for some ideas why it’s complex). It’s simply amazing anyone would suggest that sexually violating 100 women is on par with possibly having a consensual sexual relationship with someone (not that I’m suggesting marital infidelity does not matter!).
Second, the fact that authors are so quick to dismiss the relationship between theology and praxis deeply troubles me. “Well, who cares about the fact that Yoder sexually violated women.. he has good theology in regards to ethics.” Uh… WHAT?! Isn’t ethics related to this subject?
Third, and this is what I find absolutely undefendable, Chalke actually seems to imply that sexually violating women leads to a “morally questionable” life! WHAT?!?!?! Morally questionable? How about absolutely evil and dehumanizing. This has got to be an example of further Chalke rhetoric that has not been properly articulated… I hope. Unfortunately, this is a response indicating that Chalke is not interested in considering the ramifications of his publication… which is why @HodderFaith should step in and do the right thing.
Fourth, and this is related to @HodderFaith‘s involvement, the publisher should take the example of MennoMedia and add a clarification or remove all references to Yoder.
Fifth, and this is aimed directly at you Mr. Chalke, you should issue an apology and use this as an opportunity to move away from continuing a cycle of dehumanization and overlooking the tremendous affects of sexual abuse and talk about the importance of integrating our theology and our practice.
Come on… do the right thing.
OK, so the outrage against horrendous and damaging behavior makes sense here, but I am trying to understand the principles behind your argument. Are you saying that a theological or ethical position cannot be evaluated without reference to the character or the person who put it forward? Certainly it is wrong to downplay horrible acts. The thing is, I don’t think you would want to flip this argument around and claim that we should accept as strong a logically incoherent theological or ethical position just because it was propounded by an outstandingly moral individual. Can you spell out the relationship you see between a theologian’s character and ideas?
How bizarre to see conservative evangelicals using the tactics of the “social justice warrior” mob to bully Chalke and his publisher over this. For someone so insistent about the need to integrate theology and praxis, your bullying of Chalke using VAW as a weapon and Creedy’s demands for censorship (pulling and re editing the book which would incur an enormous expense for Hodder) are incongruous.
Interesting set of assumptions. Is this similar to how many progressive/liberals are unwilling to actually engage with the concerns that are being addressed concerning humanity, especially women?
Or is that a separate and unrelated issue? Hmmmm
I don’t think we are unable to evaluate theology and praxis separately. I’m simply suggesting that they are more connected than is being recognized in Chalke’s response.
His response is essentially dismissive of real and valid concerns. And I’m not sure “morally questionable” is even a remotely near helpful way of describing this issue with Yoder’s life.
Pierre, this might be one of those cases where one person’s “social justice warrior’ bullying tactics are another person’s calling for two or three witnesses (or the whole church) to pressure someone to see the error of their ways. Its also likely this is one of those cases where one person’s “demands for censorship” are another person’s call for metanoia. I had to look up “incongrous” but this situation doesn’t seem to fit the bill for your use of that word, IMHO.