Thoughts on Steve Chalke and Yoder: until women are free, nobody is free.

When men commit violence against women it rarely impacts their credibility, status or value in society.  Someone I know who works with men in prison commented that men imprisoned for abusing children are seen as pariahs, whereas men imprisoned for abusing women are sympathised with, “it’s only because they were unlucky enough to get caught”.

John Lennon, Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Chris Brown, Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Steven Segal, Paul Gascoigne, Christian Slater, Ike Turner, Glen Campbell, Ray Rice.  All men arrested and/or charged with choosing to hurt a woman.  All men for whom their actions and choices towards women and girls have not negatively impacted their careers.

Jean Hatchett’s tireless work to campaign against Ched Evans’ becoming re-employed after being released on license to serve the rest of his sentence for rape is likely the only reason he has not yet begun playing professional football.  Before the dawn of social media sites and online petitions, it’s almost certain Ched Evans would have returned to his old club and life would have continued for him.  As it is, he may not be working as a footballer yet, but the woman he raped is living with the horrific impact of sexual assault alongside being harassed and forced to change her identity.

Over the last week another serial offender who violated and abused what is thought to be over 100 women has been given a new platform.  Theologian John Howard Yoder features in Steve Chalke’s new book “Being Human” released last week, coinciding nicely with the Open Church Conference he was leading about how to more fully include LGBT* people within the church.

Blogger Thomas Creedy made public concerns about Chalke referencing Yoder within the book, especially where he refers to Yoder as a “theologian and ethicist, best known for his pacifism”.  I have Storified some tweets about the situation HERE.

Christian Today have done a piece giving more information about Yoder, including a response from Steve Chalke, who explained 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 of Yoder’s book “The Politics of Jesus” that he “think it’s a fantastic piece of theology,” and “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 mentioned 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 his theological assistant Charlotte, to whom he declared his love in letters)” and said that “King David was hardly sweetness and light,”  

He explained 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’ll always be a gap between who we [say we] are and what we do.””

Although Steve Chalke knew nothing of the allegations against Yoder when referencing him, his response since is of great concern and continues that age old tradition of ignoring, minimising and silencing women who have been abused in favour of the men who abused them.  Preferring the gifts the men bring over the reality of the hurt they have caused.

One of Yoder’s victims was Sharon Detweiler.  Her story can be found HERE.  She talks of the impact of Yoder’s abuse on her, of her struggles with intimacy and trust, her inability to stay in a church for more than a few years.  Of the hurt of being ignored, even with taped evidence of Yoder’s behaviour.  What a disturbing irony!  An author who has written a book about “Being Human” not being able to see or consider Yoder’s victims, talking about a pacifist who violated 100 women.

Jimmy Saville is another man whose crimes were not made public until after his death, but my guess is, his charitable work would not be something Steve Chalke would begin applauding.  In fact those who did celebrate Jimmy Saville, before knowledge of his offences were made public, were very quick to distance themselves from him after knowing about the horrendous crimes he had committed.

In a similar way to Saville, Yoder used his position of power and authority to prey on women, using excuses of gender theology to abuse them.  He never denied the allegations against him and only ever offered a politician’s apology, “I’m sorry you misunderstood my intentions.”  Saville has had royal honours removed and all of his good work is tainted by the reality of his crimes.  Yet for Steve Chalke, Yoder’s ethic and pacifism should remain intact because the sexual offending was “personal history”.

Personal history.  It’s a nice idea isn’t it?  As is the world in which serial sex offending is similar to someone having a live-in mistress.  Yet Yoder’s “personal history” isn’t history for Sharon Detweiler is it?  She continues to live with the consequences of Yoder’s choice to abuse her, as do the other women who were hurt by him.  It’s not “personal” either.  It wasn’t something that Yoder did in isolation, on his own.  It affected 100 women directly, then indirectly affected many they know; their parents, children and partners.  Not only that, it will have impacted the churches they were part of, the people they may have influenced if (like Sharon) they left church leadership after Yoder’s offences towards them.  It’s not personal when 100 women have had to live with being hurt by Yoder.

It’s also not personal when it was not just Yoder’s choices.  Leaders across the Mennonite Church supported him, colluded with him, did not challenge him.  They knew what he had done.  And they failed the many women Yoder hurt.  It’s not “personal history” when individuals and communities protected Yoder and did not speak out.

Steve Chalke is the founder of Stop the Traffik which has at it’s core a commitment to challenging abuse of people, the vast majority of whom will be women and girls.  For him to make this statement about Yoder in light of his involvement in this cause is at the very least, deeply problematic.

Yet Steve Chalke is in esteemed company, theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas dedicates all of 29 words in a 3300 word article about Yoder to his sexual offences.  He describes them as “sexual misconduct” and suggests Yoder’s integrity remained intact because he “submitted to his church’s discipline”.  That Hauerwas, a man with such insight could not see that the power structures of the church means that Yoder could submit to that authority, without ever being held to account, is staggeringly ignorant.

I’m sure I’m not the only person saddened and frustrated by these men who are so committed to Jesus and who have such valuable thoughts, yet see women’s violation and abuse as so irrelevant and small.

It would be shocking if it wasn’t the dominant reality across the world.  Even Paulo Freire, liberationary leader extraordinaire recounts a story in his seminal book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” about a peasant who beats his wife.  Within the story, the peasant is seen by Freire as one of the oppressed, not as an oppressor of his wife.  The man assault on his wife is blamed (by Freire) on the oppression experienced by the man, not on the man’s choices.

A socialist friend of mine who recently turned 60 has shared with me on numerous occasions the ways in which women were simply expected to accept their oppression sacrificially for the “cause”.  The sexual assaults on women in Occupy camps over the last few years show this is not a historical issue.

A while ago I chatted to someone whose husband had studied the leaders of the great revivals throughout history; Wesley, Wigglesworth and others.  He was hoping to find examples of how to be a good leader and a good spouse.  She explained that he couldn’t find one revival leader who had respected or honoured their wife.  Not one.

Over and over again women’s freedom, liberty and rights are discarded in favour of “the greater good”, whether that be Yoder’s theological insights, socialist utopia or Christian revival.  And at that I really weep.

My sisters are thrown in the gutter; raped, violated, dishonoured.  Their lives and stories are trampled on by those who hold the power, their silence requested, nay required, in furthering the liberation of people groups.  Yet while those who birth all the peoples of the nations are trampled on, nobody is really liberated.

It will only be as the power holders choose the voice of the powerless over the Big Thoughts of powerful men that change will happen.  As they address their blindness and the privilege of not knowing what it means to suffer as women suffer.  When as individuals and as a community we hold to account those who erase the suffering of women, no longer will power holders be able to sell books about Being Human while ignoring victims of abuse.  It’s as each of us speaks out and stands up, that change will happen.  Because until women are free, nobody is free.

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7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Steve Chalke and Yoder: until women are free, nobody is free.

  1. It’s particularly disappointing to read that socialist movements have tolerated violence against women. One of the things about privilege is that if you’re privileged, you have a strong psychological defence against admitting that privilege. For class privilege, those at the top almost always have an inner denial against admitting that they’ve been lucky in the family they were born into. They almost always convince themselves – and say publicly – that they are more intelligent and hard-working than others.

    It’s similar for men. It’s hard for a man to realize that he hasn’t had to battle through the same fear of sexual violence, the same objectification, or the same messages denigrating his gender that a woman has. Empathizing with that, understanding it, and imagining what your life would have been like if you did have those sufferings is not something that’s pleasant to do. So there is this incredible lack of sympathy for women who’ve been abused – a denial of the world’s unfairness which is nonetheless shocking in people who are meant to believe in sin and transforming grace.

    One hopeful message though, is in Luke 8:43-48. Jesus heals a woman and then asks who touched him. She had suffered for 12 years, is healed, and then is told to go in peace. That healing power is still available for all who have suffered.

    Like

  2. Tom says:

    This is extremely enlightening. It makes sense of something I have experienced (and I am a man!) And what I have gone through sheds light on what you have written about. Is there a way I can contact you privately?

    Like

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