Golgotha by Mihály Munkácsy Source: Wikimedia Commons

April 2, 2015

United Methodist Agency Honors Anti-Atonement Theologian

The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) recently honored Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock at the recent Pacific, Asian and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry Conference hosted by Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. She was acclaimed for her service as a mentor for the Woman of Color Scholarship program which is administered by the GBHEM. The Woman of Color Scholarship was created “to address the absence of women of color faculty in theological education in the United States by providing scholarships and mentoring to women pursuing higher theological education.” 

Brock, a longtime feminist theologian, is a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and serves at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. 

GBHEM General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, stated that Brock’s work in theology “added to the diversity of disciplinary support the WOC program could provide.” She added that Brock had “given invaluable contributions through [her] time, knowledge, and commitment to the scholars. We are grateful for [her] assistance to United Methodist Women of Color Scholars, and look forward to our continued relationships with [her].”

One of Brock’s early contributions was to the Chalice Introduction to Disciples Theology, an introduction to theology from a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) perspective. In her chapter, entitled “Who Do We Say He Is?,” Brock attempts to answer the questions “Who is Jesus Christ for us and our world?” She quickly dispenses with the need to look back at historic Christian teaching. “The greatest danger we face is not that our reflection is obscured or limited but that we are tempted to pretend our answers are timeless or universal, as if we did not live in space and time.” She then begins to attack beliefs orthodox Christians hold dear including salvation, eternal life, and forgiveness. Here are a selection of quotes from that chapter:

  “Christianity is not other-worldly. It is a life-affirming faith concerned about human life in the present, not about personal salvation in the afterlife.”

“Focusing on the crucified Christ does not enable us to resist the vast forces of colonialism and economic exploitation that harm so many in our world.”

“One of the greatest confusions about the death of Jesus is the meaning of forgiveness, which has been turned into self-sacrifice as love that bonds perpetrators and victims. Forgiveness is valorized as the absorbing of violence through love. This distorts the meaning of love.”

Another of Brock’s contributions is her denial that Christians are saved through the death of Jesus Christ and that such theology leads to violence. In an interview with The Witness regarding her book (co-written with Rebecca Ann Parker), Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us, she stated,

“I think the thing that most people don’t know historically about that whole idea that Jesus died in our place and took on the debt of sin is that it emerged most fully in the Crusades. It paralleled what the pope promised the crusaders if they would go out and commit acts of violence. So whether it’s explicitly used that way or not, violence is the subtext of its historical development.”

“What we call Christianity was a series of social movements that had a lot of different ways of interpreting what his death meant. The tradition has attempted to harmonize into one voice and one theology a series of different books by different authors. It’s important to pay attention to the different voices and the different interpretations of what Jesus’ death means. In John, he’s a sacrifice to Caesar. In Mark, he’s a political martyr. Paul’s not real consistent about what he thinks the death means except that it’s a puzzle to him. So, I think we must be more honest about the ambiguity of even the earliest recorded voices in the tradition and hear them as a multiplicity of theological voices in dialogue with one another.”

“What saves life isn’t death, but resistance to violence through the work of love and justice.”

Brock’s contributions include attacks on the central Christian doctrine of the atonement. In an interview with UU World, produced by the Periodicals Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, she opined,

“The New Testament and the early church tradition have been misread through the eyes of Anselm, Luther, and Calvin—misread through the lens of atonement.”

“There is an implicit subtext in Christianity that you save through violence. There’s a fairly common idea in this culture that justice is served when bad is punished, that violence is necessary to save the world, if it’s done for the right reasons.”

In the aforementioned chapter in the Chalice Introduction to Disciples Theology, she added,

“Atonement theology is useful to imperial power. It is built on innocent powerless victims who perpetually haunt the present and are required for the repentance of sinners. It leans toward an imaginary future of salvation….It also perpetuates structures of benevolent paternalism.”

“Atonement theology lacks ways to understand human agency as moral because it places morality in being powerless, and it does not understand love as the wise use of power.”

As we remember our Lord’s passion this Holy Week, one wonders what her opinion is on the wording of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah:

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.”

She continues her attack on the salvific nature of the cross in her books Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power and Proverbs of Ashes:

“The power that gives and sustains life does not flow from a dead and resurrected savior to his followers. Rather, the community sustains life-giving power by its memory of its own brokenheartedness and of those who have suffered and gone before and by its members being courageously and redemptively present to all. In doing so, the community remains Christa/Community and participates in the life-giving flow of erotic power. No one person or group exclusively reveals it or incarnates it. In thinking that a single person, a savior, or even one group can save us, we mistake the crest of a wave for the vast sea churning beneath it.”

“We were convinced Christianity could not promise healing for victims of intimate violence as long as its central image was a divine parent who required the death of his child. We wanted theology to redefine salvation.”

“Neither Jesus’ death on the cross nor our own acts of self-sacrifice had saved us. But something had.”

“At the center of western Christianity is the story of the cross, which claims God the Father required the death of his Son to save the world. We believe the theological claim sanctions violence.”

Yet another contribution is her denial of Christ’s virgin birth and equating of the Blessed Virgin Mary and temple prostitutes,

“Actually, it is quite possible as a Christian to believe Jesus had a biological father and believe the story of the virgin conception says something important. It all depends on what you think “virgin” means. I think the most significant meaning of Mary’s virginity is Christian resistance to the oppression of the Roman Empire.”

“The ancient type of virgins she most resembles are the women who possessed themselves in service to a deity and who, therefore, might have sex with men who came to the temple to pay homage to the deity. The men, however, had no controlling power of the women who had sex with them.”

Brock’s work is being funded by the United Methodist GBHEM despite the United Methodist Articles of Religion that state belief in,

“one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.”

“The offering of Christ, once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone.”

“Sanctification is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanseth from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless.”

It is very disappointing, particularly at this time of Lent and Holy Week where Christians of many denominations remember the suffering and death of our Lord, that an agency of the church would subsidize and honor a theologian whose work actively denies essential teachings of the United Methodist Church and of Christianity at large.

12 Responses to United Methodist Agency Honors Anti-Atonement Theologian

  1. ken says:

    Christianity without a cross is some other religion. The people who don’t like “The Old Rugged Cross” can find many other options out there in the religious marketplace.

  2. Dusty H says:

    Absolute blasphemy! According to the University of Puget Sound website she is: “a leading scholar in the field of women’s studies and feminist theology”. Feminist theology is not Christian theology. This is a prime example of how radical feminism poison’s everything. This arrogant daughter of Satan has the gall to scorn God’s greatest gift of love as “violence”, but she was a proud signatory on the “Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision”. Her twisted Secular Humanist nature sees the crucified Christ as repugnant and God the Father as cruel and brutal, but the murder of millions of the unborn is moral and empowering.

    How much longer must the faithful saints of the UMC endure the perversions promulgated by these heretical General Boards; that are funded by our apportionments?! The time is well past due to separate amicably or not. My personal deadline is 2020: if formal separation hasn’t been formally initiated, then in good Christian conscience I will have to remove myself from all association with the UMC.

  3. Namyriah says:

    Mercy, this theologian is an ignoramus of the first order. She honestly believes that the doctrine that Jesus died in our place originated in the Crusades??? OK, she proved she has never cracked open the New Testament.

    Hey, all you United Methodists: Check your numbers. Aside from all the pandering to sexual minorities, having theologians who don’t have a clue what’s in the Bible is going to be the death of you.

    • John S. says:

      I very much doubt she is ignorant or stupid. I would almost be certain she has read the bible in the orginal languares and is very familiar with its contents. She may have a different interpertation. She may be wrong but to blindly and falsely attach such labels to those with whom one disagrees is foolish and wrong. Personally I’ve found that many of the “ignoramus” have a better grasp of the content of the bible that most UMC elders and pew warmers.

      She did not say the doctrine originated in the Crusades nor does the article say that.

      • Kyle says:

        You’re totally wrong there. A layman is much more likely to read the Bible as is, whereas this ersatz “theologian” can’t read it as is, she imposes on the text all the gobbledygook she picked up in seminary. The seminaries are proving to be the death of the left-wing churches, because they are teaching the future pastors that the Bible is no more “inspired” than an episode of Glee, and the purpose of scholars is to deconstruct the Bible, not live by it. If people no longer believe in the Bible, let them leave the church and call themselves agnostics or atheists, in the name of sheer honesty.

        • John S. says:

          Sorry, most pew sitters are just that. How many people in a UMC do you see with a bible at the service? How many open them during the service. How many of them know the most basic tenets of orthodoxy? Of those few who do read, how many understand? Most can do a little proof texting but are quickly lost in any type of thoughtful discussion.

  4. Matt says:

    Atonement theology has its beginnings a while before the crusades.
    Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    Acts 20:28 “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

    There is a lot to be said about Brock’s post-modern, deconstructionist swill. The only thing I’ll mention here is its inherent hypocrisy. This Rousseauean model of theological anthropology wants to point to power structures and Western colonialism as the fountainhead of all evil in the world and, at the same time, affirm the goodness of humanity. It say ‘fix the system and the world will be great.’ But, these structures didn’t pop into existence ex nihilo! How can evil structures be birthed from good people? You cannot claim that humans are inherently good but human structures of power are bad when said structures are humanity’s creations. The only way to make sense of the evil in the world (not to mention the plethora of scriptures pointing to original sin) is to say that the systems are broken because we are broken. Moreover, if the real problem is the sinfulness of human nature, then the efficacy of the cross would have to be bound to the amelioration of the sin problem. But, Brock’s theology refuses to admit the sinfulness of humanity (more of a disciple of Rousseau than Christ) and thus continues on with an approach to social justice that is intellectually bankrupt from the start.

  5. Evan Hurst says:

    Interesting that there are scholarship for “women of color”? Imagine the brouhaha if there were scholarships just for men, or just for whites. A scholarship based on a person’s pigmentation is racist. I thought the left opposed racism.

  6. gobmom says:

    I find the quotes from this woman difficult to even read. Why or how can these people even claim to be Christians? And some wonder why the Methodist Church is dying?

    • John S. says:

      Remember that Dr. Brock is not UMC. The same is often said of the Boards and Socities-the only thing methodist being the money they receive from the offering plates.

      The bigger question is: Define Christian. Are those who do not meet your definition non-christian and condemned to eternal punishment? Ignore the Buddists, Muslim, Athiest, Pagan, etc groups. Is the RC christian? The Orthodox? Baptists? Mennonites? ELCA? UCC?

      Define UMC. “Obviously” it would have to include the definition of Christian. So what do you add? Are those additions essential to Christianity? If essential why isn’t in the Christian definition? If not essential … If your definition of UMC includes that, which those whom you have called Christian, declare error, heresy or blasphemy, can they legitimately consider the UMC non-christian?

      It is easy for someone to claim to be a christian and believe it and not meet your standard.

    • Kyle says:

      I totally agree, her quotes are gibberish, but that is the sort of stuff that gets seminaries all excited these days. If laymen can’t understand it, that just proves how stupid we are. No, she’s not a Christian, she represents a post-Christian and anti-Christian movement existing within the churches and helping to kill the churches.

  7. Yank In Slough says:

    Sounds very Nietzchean.

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