Mennonites confront their church's history of sexual abuse, offer apologies to victims

John Howard Yoder was known as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century.(Mennonite Church USA)

The Mennonite Church USA has bravely confronted its history of sexual abuse and offered apologies to victims whose wounds it failed to heal.

During its biennial convention, which culminated on Sunday, Mennonites offered a service of lament and a statement of confession regarding sexual abuse, according to Christian Headlines. And although his name was never mentioned, majority of them knew that they were addressing the sexual violations allegedly committed by one their most prominent members—the late theologian John Howard Yoder.

Yoder was known as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. Many of his books including "The Politics of Jesus," which was first published back in 1972, are still being circulated today. However, the church leader allegedly used his status to prey on women—most of which were his students.

The sexual abuse raps started during the mid 70s, when Yoder suggested that Mennonites develop a new sexual ethic—one that allows intimate physical contact as an expression of non-erotic love among Christians. He sought the help of female students to demonstrate this ethic. There were some who declined his advances, but others allowed it.

The church tried its best to hide the scandal, but it is done hiding now. Mennonites want to protect their congregation and make sure that history will not repeat itself.

"The impetus for these initiatives was 'We don't want this to happen again,'" said Hannah Heinzekehr, director of communications for the denomination.

Sara Wenger Shenk, the seminary president since 2010, also apologised to the victims, admitting, "We failed you."

"Whether through misnaming, or negligence, or avoidance, or fear of scandal, we failed," she said.