Historian to study abuse by theologian, church’s response

Feb 18, 2014 by

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A Mennonite Church USA discernment group has appointed a historian to document the scope of the late theologian John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuse of women and the church’s response to it.

Rachel Waltner Goossen, professor of history at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., will work with previously unreleased written sources as well as conduct interviews with people who were involved in institutional accountability and discipline processes and others who experienced or were knowledgeable about Yoder’s abuse of women.

Goossen intends to make her work available through churchwide and scholarly publications, including The MennoniteMennonite World Review and the Mennonite Quarterly Review. She anticipates completing her work by the summer of 2015.

Goossen has 25 years of experience writing about Mennonite history, peace history and women’s history. She is a graduate of Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., with advanced degrees in history from the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She is a member of Southern Hills Mennonite Church in Topeka, Kan.

Discernment group members hope a careful synthesis of historical evidence will help them more fully understand church-related accountability processes — both what they achieved in healing and reconciliation and ways in which they failed.

Discernment group members “anticipate that we may learn from our own recent history so that we are prepared to intervene more effectively to prevent sexual abuse and to care for victims and perpetrators of abuse. We hope that greater knowledge about what transpired will be freeing for everyone — sobering, but freeing, in the same spirit with which Jesus assured his followers: ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ ”

The discernment group was formed last August.

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