Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting: on the legacies Woody Allen and John Howard Yoder

A recent post I wrote got me thinking about violent offenders in the NFL and how we might respond to them. In a capitalist society, it seems like our forgiveness is often dependent on whether or not the product that the offender was offering was worthy of consumption or not. One of the reasons that violent offenders get exonerated (and considering the hell Michael Vick went through in Philadelphia, I’m not sure if that’s the right word) in the NFL is because they end up being great players, great contributors. Most of the time they do something that helps them redeem themselves, but if they didn’t produce, often it’s not worth the team’s effort to keep them around.

It seems to me like we only forgive when it is convenient for us or suits our taste. At the same time, forgiveness can happen without reconciliation occurring and the result isn’t always a return to consumption. Sometimes we want actions to change and so we choose to boycott a company. Some of my friends refuse to subscribe to the Philadelphia Inquirer because of negative stories it’s written about their place of work. Or they don’t use Comcast internet because it doesn’t support public teachers (and is monopolizing the industry). Sometimes it makes sense to stop supporting public figures because of their actions, too. Sometimes we can just take or leave what they make anyway, so we don’t really work out the details of consumption and support as much.

An article my friend posted recently got me thinking about three specific cases lately. All of which deal with sexual abuse, of women and minors. I suppose I’ll ask more questions than I try to answer here because the topic is so difficult to traverse. Forgiveness and sexual abuse are not often uttered in the same sentence. No crime and no sin like sexual abuse is demonized and so often seen as unforgivable in our society. We certainly don’t forget. Nor do I think we should forget. The scars that sexual abuse cause are often lifelong and so devastating that it so hard to not resort to the harshest punishments and exclusions our society has to help remedy the situation. Violence and punishment don’t erase scars though. Two quite different examples.

Woody Allen. I wrote about his Blue Jasmine last month and I didn’t even mention his sexual abuse. In some ways, I’m surprised I even watched it. I do like his movies, but his marriage to his partner’s daughter and the accusations against him that he’s molested his adult-daughter when we was seven are horrifying. Vanity Fair’s list of undeniably facts don’t help matters. For fans of Woody Allen, The Onion, as usual, puts it better than anyone has. How can we ever watch Manhattan again without thinking of Woody Allen’s purported immorality? And his endless defense of it? That’s even worse when it’s clear that something horrible happened.

The path that Woody Allen takes of evasion and Hollywood and the Golden Globes’ seemingly blind eye to the situation by honoring him last month is a disgrace. Of all the issues not to take up, sexual abuse of a minor, is ignored. Denial is one way to deal with sin.

Forgiveness is a better way. It’s a tall order to say it starts with the abused. The abuser needs to repent and needs to change. Criminal punishment, rehabilitation, a diagnosis, and a removal from situations where people can get further hurt could also be part of the process.

The abused need to be protected and healed through a process. Forgiveness may occur, but a renewal of a relationship with an abuser may never possible, and for a Christian, that’s OK. Lord knows how hard it is for someone to come out to talk about past sexual abuse.

Allen as a monster is one thing, mainly because I could take or leave his flicks. Aside from “these pretzels are making me thirsty” on Seinfeld, Woody Allen is kind of “whatever” for me. But the question remains, “can a sexual abuser be a good film maker?”

Should I watch his movies? And what happens when it hits closer to home. With Christians, and with Christians that I admire?

John Howard Yoder, author of the influential text The Politics of Jesus, a much-loved book by forward-thinking Christians is a different case. Before his death, Yoder admitted to inappropriate relationships with women. The New York Times recently asked, “can a bad person be a good theologian?”

That’s a hard question for people who admire Yoder. And it’s an especially hard question for a denomination that values action almost as much as belief. Yoder paints Jesus as an advocate for the poor and the least of these is radical. And his argument is undeniably stained because of his personal conduct. We cannot remove our personal action from our faith, as James tells us. And in an era where Yoder’s words are needed more than ever, it seems like a shame that one Christian published will release his books with a disclaimer. That might make people throw away what is otherwise good theology. Just like they would with Woody Allen films if his films came with a similar disclaimer. But Yoder’s not the only one preaching good theology about Jesus, and I am thankful that the truth about Jesus will come out no matter what. Even if the rocks proclaim it.

I think that’s OK. I think that’s the price that we pay for our actions in a world where forgiveness isn’t normal. I think that’s what makes Jesus’ story to us so powerful. He will forgive us and accept us no matter what. But that isn’t the obligation of everyone else, in fact. Nor is it ours to forget it. We will do things and act in certain ways that have earthly consequences, even if they don’t have eternal ones.

For those at Bob Jones, a school that is something of a center conservative Christianity, it seems like they are more interested in preserving the earthly. And for them, that might have cosmic consequences. Halting a sex abuse investigation weeks before its findings were to be released is dishonest and certainly contradicts the University’s motto: “We seek, we trust.” I suppose they only trust themselves. Of course, our accusers aren’t always right in their accusation and everyone deserves a fair trial, but that’s not the point.

Forgiveness is the path of redemption Jesus laid out for us. Christians need to own up to their sins and lead the path toward healing and redemption. Repentance is our cornerstone. Covering up, denying, or wishing away sexual abuse won’t stop it from happened. And the people hurt most by it are the abused, but the abuser’s souls and their subsequent corrosion aren’t left scarless either.

2 Replies to “Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting: on the legacies Woody Allen and John Howard Yoder

  1. You’re making me rethink the question. Rather than asking: Are their products worth consuming anymore after the scandal is brought to light? I now ask this: Are their lives and works to be emulated after the scandal is brought to light? I can answer the 2nd question better- in some ways, perhaps yes, with great caution, and in other ways, definitely not. But ultimately I emulate Christ, so I am safe.

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