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How Many? How Long?

Jul 08, 2015 — Categories: , ,

This might sound like the start of a bad joke: What do a theologian (John Howard Yoder) and a comedian (Bill Cosby) have in common? More than you might imagine—and I’m not laughing. Both were major figures in their fields. Both were widely regarded and respected, even adored by many. Both were powerful men with a sense of entitlement. With impunity, both sexually abused scores of young women who trusted them for years. Both were shielded by their peers and colleagues from any meaningful accountability.

This might sound like the start of a bad joke: What do a theologian (John Howard Yoder) and a comedian (Bill Cosby) have in common?  More than you might imagine—and I’m not laughing.

Both were major figures in their fields. Both were widely regarded and respected, even adored by many.  Both were powerful men with a sense of entitlement. With impunity, both sexually abused scores of young women who trusted them for years. Both were shielded by their peers and colleagues from any meaningful accountability.

John Howard Yoder was a prominent Mennonite twentieth century theologian. I studied him in seminary. His work on Christian pacifism and social justice is still taught in many seminaries today.

JohnHowardYoder

Finally this past week, at the Mennonite USA’s biennial convention, the church engaged in confession of its failure in responding to the complaints of victims and survivors over the years. It sounds like the denomination is finally coming to terms with what Yoder did and with its failure to respond.

I grew up listening to Bill Cosby’s stand-up routines; I watched his TV show change the nature of sitcoms and the dominant culture’s perception of African Americans. In the 1980s, he was known as “America’s Dad.”

Bill Cosby

We now know that Bill Cosby, comedian, actor, author, activist and philanthropist, testified in 2005 that he obtained drugs to give to young women in order to “have sex” with them, and actually did so on at least one occasion. (I hope it’s not necessary to point out that this is a description of rape, not sex). This case was settled out of court. Cosby’s attorneys tried to keep the court documents from being made public now arguing that they posed “real, specific threat of serious embarrassment.” No kidding. With the release of these court documents in the last week, suddenly the dozens of public disclosures by women who allege that Cosby drugged and raped them have become credible.

Yoder used the excuse of experimenting with a “new sexual ethic” in order to seduce women students and colleagues. Cosby used his celebrity status and then drugged the women he abused. They both used the power of their positions and charisma to take advantage of vulnerable women. Even after many women came forward, in each case there were people who defended them—refusing to believe the words of the victims. I wrote about Yoder a year ago when one of the first reports was finally published acknowledging his abuse and the institutional coverup which accompanied it. It took over 30 years for a public acknowledgement of his crimes. The same is true for Cosby. Apparently, based on the disclosures of victims, he has been drugging and raping women for decades.

Perhaps we should cease to be surprised at these disclosures of sexual abuse by prominent, charismatic men. Because as tired as it is to say, this is still all about power and control. We are not talking about men who “make a mistake” or use “poor judgment”; we all do that. We are talking about powerful men in leadership who intentionally use their power to exploit other people and are protected by those who surround them and know what they are doing.

I am reminded of a clergy abuse case that I worked on years ago. Five women had complained to the judicatory which dismissed the complaints, saying, “There are not enough women.” My response to them was: “How many do you need?  What is the magic number –seven? ten? – to convince you that you have a problem here?”

So how many victim/survivors have to come forward? And how long do we wait before we believe them?

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.FaithTrustInstitute.org
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How Many? How Long?

Posted by Donna Thompson at Jul 08, 2015 06:39 PM
Thanks Dr. Marie Fortune for caring, and having the courage to keep asking!

abuse

Posted by genny at Jul 09, 2015 12:27 PM
true, it is about power, public pressure is needed, and support to victims who need it most.

 

Accountability

Posted by Dr. Christy Sim at Jul 09, 2015 12:28 PM
My favorite part of this article is the line that speaks to abusers being "shielded by their peers and colleagues from any meaningful accountability." How long, Oh Lord, will this happen, before we hold abusers of power accountable for their offenses?

And, most importantly, what would that look like? What does meaningful offender accountability look like in the faith-based setting? Much to brainstorm here.

(https://www.facebook.com/DrChristySim)

Mennonite responses to Yoder's abuse

Posted by Rachel Waltner Goossen at Jul 13, 2015 12:59 PM
Thanks for keeping your readers up-to-date on developments within the Mennonite denomination responding to Yoder's abuse. Anyone wishing to read a fuller account of Yoder's legacy of abuse while he was on the faculty of Goshen Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN, and on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, is welcome to read my scholarship, "'Defanging the Beast': Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder's Sexual Abuse" in the January 2015 issue of the _Mennonite Quarterly Review_, pp. 7-80.

With best wishes and thanks for your ongoing work,
Rachel Waltner Goossen, Professor of History, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas

abuse of authority

Posted by John Swatsell at Mar 22, 2016 12:40 PM
Luke 12:48 comes to mind as I think of this abuse of authority. Only God can judge. I do not in any way mean to infer that I am judging either of the cases of Mr. Yoder nor Mr. Cosby. Anyone can be forgiven, by God. We all know the sin for which there is no forgiveness. However, to whom much is given much is / will be required.(paraphrasing)
We must be our brother's keeper. We must be our sister's keeper. The Holy Spirit, ( suffer Him not ) as we travel through this life, we will continue to see horrible things and abuse of power. Christ teaches us that in this world we will have trouble. We will see troubling things. Most people can cover up their deeds. It is really not hard to deceive others. I, however do not agree with the hiding behind, "made a mistake" - "used bad judgement" Willful abuse of power and willful sin with knowledge is not different than premeditated murder. We all have heard " what a tangled web we weave when once to practice to deceive"
Just my 2cents worth.
My humble opinion.
John