Stephanie Krehbiel on Violence…


Stephanie Krehbiel on Violence, Community, and Struggle for LGBTQ Justice in the Mennonite Church: Parallels to Catholic Conversations — Or, Why LGBT Folks Remain the Problem Even As Straight Men Engage in Sexual Predation

I’ve mentioned the work of Mennonite American Studies scholar Stephanie Krehbiel here in the past — for instance, in this February 2014 posting highlighting an article she published at Religion Dispatches on the parallels between “the Woody Allen problem” and the story of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. As she notes, in the stories of both of these men, we encounter troubling questions about the ability of not merely conservative social and ecclesial structures, but also liberal ones, to shelter and offer excuses for the predatory sexual behavior of powerful men.

One of the questions driving Krehbiel’s work is the question of how and why various institutions — notably, her church of origin, the Mennonite Church USA — can for so long shield such men while resisting accountability and transparency, especially as the victims of their sexual abuse come forward with their stories. As I noted in the February 2014 posting linked above, part of the answer to this puzzle, Stephanie suggests, is that “theology is a male-dominated field with a long history of covering, enabling, and trivializing sexualized violence.”

But in Yoder’s case, there’s the added fillip, the grand irony, of his world-renowned witness to the Mennonite value of non-violence — a witness he was offering at the same time that he was sexually coercing female students and women under his pastoral guidance. In her article about Allen and Yoder, Krehbiel writes,

As a powerful male leader operating in a patriarchal religious academia, Yoder was anything but atypical as a sexual predator. His pacifism makes for some interesting irony, but there’s always been something oddly masculinist about the way Mennonites teach nonviolence. Mennonite pacifist discourse evolved as a response to the dominant ideal of warrior masculinity, a way for men to justify not going to war; it has never been as fully formed or as celebrated for its challenge to interpersonal violence.

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