Theologian’s reconciliation with his church

Mar 31, 2014 by

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There is an essential side of the John Howard Yoder story that begs to see the light of day. Here is that story:

From its beginning the Anabaptist movement emphasized the redemptive process of the Rule of Christ (Matt. 18:15-17). This process seems to have been skipped in the case of John How­ard Yoder. Given the circumstances, one can empathize with the petitioner’s not desiring to face the accused, or even to be named. To be sure, the charges could have been made through an intermediary. Even in a public court case, the “who” needs to be identified, in conjunction with the “what.” Fortunately, there was a conference/congregational process lasting four years that eventuated in genuine reconciliation.

John M. Bender, Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., elder, sums up the results of the process: “Dec. 6, 1996, Elder meeting minutes: ‘. . . It was noted from Conference communication that the charges against John have been satisfactorily settled and closed. Action: Moved and carried to recognize John Howard Yoder’s continued membership at Prairie Street Mennonite Church. . . .’ Elders and John and Annie again met for dinner on Feb. 1, 1997. . . . The meeting turned the tables for me in terms of apology, repentance on the part of John, restitution and restored fellowship with the congregation. I recall it as a turning point, a moment of grace that summed up all previous steps of accusation, discipline, counseling, apology, repentance and efforts to make things right. . . . John wanted to make things right as much as he could, but the multiple parties in the process had no clear lines of communication with each other” (letter to Leonard Gross, April 22, 2013).

John himself had established a fund to be used for those whom he had hurt. Those involved in the process came to the conclusion that John was aware of needed boundaries and would from now on stay within such boundaries. Indeed, John apologized publicly for the “inappropriateness of his actions and his desire for healing for the people he hurt” (Ted Grimsrud, “A Faithful Teacher in the Church,” The Mennonite, March 3, 1998).

We gave John his life back, rejoicing that an errant had repented!

Leonard Gross
Goshen, Ind.

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