Should We Continue To Use Their Work? The Church and #MeToo

Should We Continue To Use Their Work? The Church and #MeToo

Later this month, All the Money in the World will be released into cinemas. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film is a long anticipated telling of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III.

All the Money in the World is noteworthy for another reason. As the most recent work to feature Kevin Spacey, there was something of a cloud hanging over the film. Ridley Scott acknowledged this when he ordered reshoots to remove Spacey from the film. Scott told the Washington Post, “We cannot let one person’s action affect the good work of all these other people. It’s that simple.”

Replacing Spacey with Christopher Plummer cost millions of dollars, and the studio no doubt expects a return on this investment. Indeed, replacing Spacey may have saved All the Money in the World as a viable film. It has also spared audiences from needing to deal with the ethical question over whether or not they would see it, knowing what they do now about the allegations against Spacey.

The question of how we deal with this work has become a powerful one following the recent spate of celebrities being outed for their misconduct and the subsequent visibility of the #MeToo campaign.

As Clyde Haberman writes in The New York Times, “It’s an age-old question, and it re-emerges with the revelations about sexual predations that men with power inflicted on women and, in some instances, other men: Can we appreciate art even if it was created by someone who behaved deplorably?” Put somewhat differently: can we separate the art from the artist?

It is also a pertinent question for Christians in terms of how we deal with the work of great theological minds who have themselves been abusive. Can we continue to learn from, and even draw inspiration, from their work?

One key example is Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder, a great theologian who has become infamous for his sexual misconduct. Yoder wrote a number of well-regarded theological works regarding Christian ethics, particularly regarding politics and war. His book The Politics of Jesus is particularly regarded as contributing to Christian consciousness regarding the church’s role within the body politic. It has been cited by a number of Christian writers (such as Jim Wallis) as motivating them to consider the political implications of Christ’s ministry, with Christianity Today listing it as number five in their Books of the Century list.

In a 2016 piece, Morling College’s Michael Frost outlines Yoder’s influence on his ministry, “The first time I’d ever heard the term Constantinianism to describe the unholy alliance of church and state, was in The Politics of Jesus,” he writes. “Yoder opened my eyes to the inherent dangers of Christendom and in many ways started me on the quest to rethink how church should navigate its role in a secular society”

Yoder’s congregation, The Prairie Street Mennonite Church, confronted him in 1992 with 13 charges of sexual misconduct. These charges surrounded how Yoder treated a number of women who were his students. The Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary acknowledged this misconduct in a 2014 statement.

For his part, Frost suggests that, as great as Yoder’s work is, its usefulness is limited by the man’s conduct: “Do we reject what Yoder wrote because the guy was screwed up and because he screwed up other people?” Frost writes.

“No, I personally can’t reject his work out of hand. It’s too good. But neither can I bring myself to quote him as an influence or recommend his books as sources.”


4 thoughts on “Should We Continue To Use Their Work? The Church and #MeToo”

  1. Thanks for this helpful raising of important questions. This issue of whether or not to continue enjoying the creative work of those who have subsequently been named as perpetrators of any major social or personal wrong doing is a fraught one. For years I’ve had people saying they can’t stomach watching films starring certain actors who are infamous for various reasons, or, in some cases, have a political or religious stance that is at odds with the person expressing that opinion. I recall being very disappointed to realise that Charleton Heston was a strong advocate for the gun lobbyists, that Ralph Fiennes was accused of some indecent act, and so on. And yes, there are theologians and heroes of social justice causes, not to mention some of my favourite writers like Dickens and Tolstoy whose lives have often been excavated and found to be lacking in some fairly significant areas of their personal lives.

    I continue to enjoy and appreciate what they have offered, actors, theologians and novelists alike. I guess the times I would struggle with this most is where the person makes a claim or takes a stance in the public arena, only to be exposed for acting totally contrary to what they claim.

    This is of course quite different to others ascribing a certain moral purity or virtual halo of perfection that the person has never assumed for him or herself! I think this is a fine balance of allowing our leaders/role models/guides to be human, and also expecting them to aspire to live up to what they are writing or speaking about that renders them our designated leaders/role models/guides.

  2. well said, Kim.
    none of us are perfect, and that goes for theologians, missionaries, ministers, and other leaders as well. if we demand perfection from someone before we take note of anything they say or do, then we would take note of nobody, and watch and read nothing. Yes, we should be made aware of any leader’s shortcomings, and yes, it will influence our reaction to what they have said, written or done. however we must not ignore or discount all the good they have done for us because of some shortcomings of perfection.

  3. To my mind, Kim Langford’s response offers better reasoning than Michael Frost’s.

    Frost says Yoder’s work is ‘too good’ to be rejected out of hand, but then can’t bring himself to quote him as an influence. He (or, specifically, his work) is clearly an influence on Frost, and it is academically dishonest to claim less. If his books are good for what they contain, there is good reason to recommend them.

    Hypocrisy ultimately reflects on the person, not the good work.

  4. I agree with Kim, Bruce and David, but I’m still not going to have Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris on my Christmas playlist!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top