The Challenge of Biography: Reading Theologians in Light of Their Breached Sexual Ethics

Sarah Seung Mok Shin* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Though their biographies vastly differ, Karl Barth's long-term extra-marital relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum and John H. Yoder's sexual crimes have been the focus of a range of reactions and proposed approaches on how to read the theology of the two theologians given their biographies. This article will examine those critical responses using an analytical framework appropriated from Sameer Yadav's work on cognate conversations about locating and remedying the causes of white supremacy in the church: are the problems due to problematic theology, problematic institutional practice, or both? A correct diagnosis helps the theologian to then propose the right remedy. This adapted framework will be applied to the cases of Barth and Yoder to critically examine how Steven Plant and Rachel Muers respond to Barth's biography and how Stanley Hauerwas and Hilary Scarsella respond to Yoder's biography. After demonstrating how the different respondents address the issue as one primarily of problematic theology or problematic institutional practices, I will argue that it is both theology and practice that must be addressed in order to satisfactorily deal with the reality and scale of infection when it comes to influential theologians. Sample treatments will be offered for responding to Barth's and Yoder's biographies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number584-606
Number of pages23
JournalStudies in Christian Ethics
Issue number3
Early online date26 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

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  • Sexual ethics
  • Barth
  • Yoder
  • Muers
  • Misconduct
  • von Kirschbaum


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