What would Jesus say today about the #MeToo movement? And what does the Gospel have to say for those who have been affected by the trauma of sexual assault or abuse?
A pair of co-editors from Lancaster Theological Seminary, Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Darryl W. Stephens, attempt to address some of those difficult topics with their new book, “Liberating the Politics of Jesus: Renewing Peace Theology through the Wisdom of Women.”
Soto Albrecht, 61, is a native of Puerto Rico, a Lancaster city resident and an adjunct instructor and former advisor for global theological education at Lancaster Theological Seminary.
Stephens, 52, is a Georgia native, East Hempfield Township resident and the director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ministry and director of United Methodist Studies at Lancaster Theological Seminary.
Soto Albrecht and Stephens met in 2014 when they co-taught a workshop at Lancaster Theological Seminary about sexual ethics for clergy.
It was at that point Soto Albrecht broached an idea for a book to Stephens. The pair worked together for another two years to hash out the details, and it took another two years to receive the grant funding needed to make the book a reality. A part of that grant funding was then used to pay for the travel, lodging and stipends for about a dozen women who gathered with Soto Albrecht and Stephens over three days in March 2019 at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.
It’s there each woman presented a separate topic that would be tackled as an individual chapter in the book.
Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is also where Soto Albrecht earned her master’s degree in theology in 1985.
And it’s where professor John Howard Yoder, considered one of America’s most influential pacifist theologians, committed many of his sexual abuses of women. Before his death in 1997, Yoder admitted he groped many women or pressured them to have physical contact, including sexual intercourse, and he did not deny the wrongness of his acts. Those acts were eventually recognized by Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in 2014, when it acknowledged the women were sexually abused by Yoder.
Yoder was well-known for his 1972 book “The Politics of Jesus,” which argued that a radical, nonviolent, faith-based approach is best for a disciple of Christ. It was named a Top 10 religious book of the century by Christianity Today in 2000.
It’s not a coincidence that Soto Albrecht and Stephens’ book has a similar title. Nor is it a coincidence that the book is made up of 12 female writers, including Soto Albrecht, who oversaw a churchwide statement on sexual abuse when she was the first Hispanic moderator of Mennonite Church USA from 2013 to 2015.
While Soto Albrecht and Stephens have separately authored previous books in recent years, this is their first collaboration. They spoke with LNP | LancasterOnline about, “Liberating the Politics of Jesus,” which went on sale Sept. 3. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What purpose do you hope this book will serve the church?
Stephens: "In a nutshell, how I would describe this to the church, is if the Gospel is good news, which we believe it is, then it should be good news for everybody, including women, including people who have been marginalized for other reasons, including people who have been abused by other people. And what this book does is it names ways in which the Gospel has been twisted to be a tool of abuse, and names that and exposes that so that we can reclaim the good news of Gospel."
Can you tell us about the women who penned the chapters of the book?
Soto Albrecht: "They’re women from all different walks of life. It was important for me as a Latina and woman of color in this country that we had African-American voices, we had Latina voices. We have two Canadians writing, one who lives in the United States and one in Canada. Some have experience in the mission field. ... We brought together our theological portions of things we’ve all been working at in our own little corners to come back and say, “This is what the politics of Jesus mean for us.”
Could you expand on what you mean by the politics of Jesus?
Soto Albrecht: "Even if we don’t want to accept it, we live in a very politicized world. And we have a lot of language in our own Christian lives that are probably political. And we need to look back to see what Jesus had to say towards our way of living. And how did Jesus challenge the wrongdoing toward others? That’s why it’s important to read this book, because some of the themes are sexual abuse towards women and children. And what did Jesus have to say about that?"
Stephens: "In this day and age of #MeToo movement, of Black Lives Matter, of reading in the headlines of multiple cases of political leaders, celebrities, people with power abusing that power. ... If we want to know how does our faith relate to any of what we read in the newspaper? ... That’s what we’re trying to address in this book."
Book: “Liberating the Politics of Jesus: Renewing Peace Theology through the Wisdom of Women”
Publisher: T&T Clark
Cost: $30.95 paperback, $22.28 PDF Ebook, $15.32 Kindle
Soto-Albrecht and Stephens have a pair of virtual events coming up to promote the book:
- Sept. 28, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., Grandview United Methodist Church. To register for this event, contact Associate Pastor Liz Fulmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Oct. 4, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., Women in Leadership webinar through Mennonite Church USA. To register, click here.