The failure to bind and loose: Responses to Yoder’s sexual abuse

The Mennonite

1.2. 2015 Written By: Rachel Waltner Goossen

Editor’s note: This is excerpted from a longer article, “’Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 89 (January), based on newly available documents and interviews with 29 individuals. Readers interested in Goossen’s work in its entirety, including documentation for women’s accounts of their experiences as well as Mennonite institutional responses, may order a hard copy of the issue from The Mennonite Quarterly Review. The MQR issue is also available as an e-book through, Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble.

During the mid-1970s, the renowned Christian ethicist and theologian John Howard Yoder embarked on an experiment in sexuality, devising his own guidelines and selecting his own subjects, whom he called “sisters.”

Following a three-year term as president of Goshen (Ind.) Biblical Seminary, he developed “the notion of a distinction between two dimensions of sexuality, the familiar and the genital.”

Yoder speculated that people plagued either by inhibitions about sexual intercourse or by promiscuity would have difficulty attaining what he termed “the freedom of the gospel,” which he linked to Jesus’ encounters with women.

In a series of essays that he circulated on the seminary campus and beyond, Yoder speculated about Jesus’ sexuality as a model for his disciples, for the men who followed in his path.

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