Vanier & Bikram
A Strange but Illuminating Comparison
It was not long ago that the disclosure of Jean Vanier's sexual abuses lurched disturbingly across the news, accompanied by various attestations of disbelieving grief. Vanier, an author and speaker, had been widely esteemed as a paragon of virtue, a model for the Christian life, and an important voice in recovering a lost sense of community in the West. Most importantly, perhaps, he was the founder of l'Arche, a network of homes for people with intellectual disabilities. What has now been revealed is that, in the background, Vanier was manipulating staff and volunteers to engage in sex acts rationalized by a strange and creepy spiritualization. To describe the situation as distasteful is an understatement.
It is bad enough when a patron saint of community was, in the background, victimizing women; it is worse when an advocate for vulnerability and honesty perjures himself on these counts. In this, Vanier's pattern of sexual activity has a discomfiting pedigree. In Becoming Human (1998), his most famous book, Vanier credits Father Thomas Philippe as a key model and influence on his life. Philippe was similarly condemned for engaging in acts of sexual manipulation under the guise of facilitating "mystical experiences." At the time, Vanier denied all knowledge of Philippe's activities. This, it now appears, is patently untrue. He was a fellow practitioner.
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Jeremy M. Rios is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of St. Andrew's and an ordained minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. He has written or co-authored five books,including, with Jerry and Claudia Root, Naked and unashamed: A Guide to the Necessary Work of Christian Marriage (Paraclete Press, 2018). His academic work focuses on theological anthropology in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Charles Williams. Jeremy and his wife have four children.
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