Christ’s Atoning Death was NOT “Divine Child Abuse”
Many feminist and womanist (and other) theologians claim that traditional atonement theories, including any and all that consider Jesus’s death on the cross part of a divine plan, constitute “divine child abuse” and wrongly justify human abuse of children and women.
This is simply absurd. Why?
Because, Jesus was God voluntarily becoming human to, among other things, die as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
When I hear or read a theologian claiming that traditional sacrifice atonement belief constitutes belief in “divine child abuse” and wrongly (of course) justifies abuses of children and women, I don’t know whether to cry or laugh.
Both of those responses come from my awareness that those theologians OUGHT to admit to their readers and listeners that they DO NOT believe Jesus was God. What they believe is that he was a special man, an innocent man, who God punished (if traditional sacrificial atonement belief is true). And he was not a child; he was the Son of God but not a child.
The problem with these opponents of traditional sacrificial atonement theory (which, by the way, I find in the New Testament and in the ancient church fathers alongside other images of atonement) is that they are liberal theologically and do not believe in the incarnation. If more of their readers and followers knew THAT they might not be so confused.
Having read and studied feminist-womanist theologians like Delores Williams, Carter Heyward, and Jacquelyn Grant, I can say with some confidence, although I’d like to hear them on the subject, that they did not, do not, believe in the incarnation. Williams, I know, was pretty clear about that.
In traditional sacrifice atonement belief, God did not punish Jesus as a victim; Jesus voluntarily took our punishment in order to resolve a conflict within God (not just the Father but the whole Trinity) between God’s love and God’s justice and love won.
I would go so far as to say that, in my opinion, for whatever it’s worth, any theologian who calls traditional atonement belief “divine child abuse” has left the “realm” of Christianity. Often one finds in them an elevation of “Sophia” to replacement of God the Father. Yes, I know they say they use “Sophia” for the Holy Spirit, but a close reading of their articles, books and sermons makes clear to me, anyway, that they regard “Sophia” as their God in place of the Trinity. Going back to the “Revisioning Conference” in Minneapolis in the 1990s, radical feminist and womanist theology has been veering closer topaganism. (See for example, Rosemary Ruether’s “God and Gaia” book.)
I still value feminism and womanist theology because they give voice to women, including black woman, who have been silenced in many churches for centuries. However, predictably, as tends to happen with all movements, SOME have gone off the rails and they tend to be the ones who get the most attention. For anyone interested in an evangelical feminist perspective I recommend “What’s Right with Feminism” by British evangelical theologian Elaine Starkey.
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