7/3/2008 10:31 AM
I am preparing a paper for the Craigville Colloquy, July 13-17, on “the Cross and Violence.” I will use this blog to share some of my reflections as my work progresses.
In 1995 when I was living in St Andrew’s, Scotland, and working on what would later become my little book on the atonement, “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross:” Reflections on the Atonement, I wrote an essay on some of the objections to substitutionary atonement. At the end of the chapter I made note that there were some critics who felt that the cross itself was an emblem of violence, but I didn’t really address this view, because frankly, I thought it was a fringe view without much merit. I did mention Professor Dolores Williams of Union Theological Seminary, who wants to replace the cross with the mustard seed as the primary Christian symbol, because she views the cross as a symbol of violence, especially against woman and children.
That view has gained traction in the last decade or so. There have been a spate a books addressing the issue, and I am in recent years hearing ordinands and new ministers repeating the views of their seminary teachers to the effect that the cross is not good news, but bad news.
Let me share two anecdotes. The first was at an ecclesiastical council. The candidate told us that she didn't believe in substitutionary atonement. “Fair enough,” I replied, since there have been some dubious ideas under that banner. “ But what do you then make of the death of Christ? “Christ's death,” she said, “was the price he paid at the hands of the powerful for his advocacy of an inclusive community.” Admitting that it is at least that, I asked, “Then does the cross have any meaning for salvation?” “No!” was the answer.
The second was in a seminar on the atonement I gave a couple years ago to United Church of Christ (USA) ministers. During the Q and A in became clear to me that many of the ministers were uncomfortable with talk of the cross, and some found it offensive. One young man, a bright newly-minted UCC minister said, with some passion, “No good thing came from the cross.”
That violence has been done in the name of the cross cannot be denied. But the argument hinges on the distinction between whether the cross, in and of itself, is a cause of violence, or whether when violence is done in the name of the cross, it is a betrayal of the cross’s true meaning. I will argue for the latter.
Copyright ©2008 Richard Floyd