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.”