In her controversial book chapter titled “For God So Loved the World” (From Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse: A Feminist Critique,1-30, NY: Pilgrim Press, 1989), Joanne C. Brown and Rebecca Parker (hereafter Brown & Parker) begin their discussion claiming that women have been convinced by society that their suffering is justified. By giving examples of how women have been discriminated in several societies and cultures worldwide, the authors want to convince their readers Christianity has place an important role in such discrimination. “Christianity has been a primary in many women’s lives the primary force in shaping our acceptance of abuse. The central image of Christ on the cross as the savior of the world communicates the message that suffering is redemptive, they write (p. 2). I understand the purpose of Brown and Parkers project, but I still have some reservations with it for two brief yet significant reasons.
First, Brown & Parker are wrong when they assert that the fact that God had sent his son to die constitutes divine child abuse because the son seems not to have a voice. The promise of resurrection, they argue, “persuades us to endure pain, humiliation, and violation of our sacred rights to self-determination, wholeness, and freedom. (p. 2) Throughout qualities that have been imposed on women such as sacrificial love, acceptance of suffering, humility, and meekness, and alike, Brown & Parker believe Christian theology victimize women. If women want to become whole again, Brown & Parker believe, they must reject the culture that idealizes and glorifies suffering (p. 3). One potential solution in theological circles is discarding traditional Christian interpretations of the Atonement that apparently promote victimization such as the Penal Substitution theory, Christus Victor, the Satisfaction, and the Moral Influence tradition. For the authors, all these approaches promote the glorification of suffering because in the cross, they claim, there seems to be a glorification of abuse.
Second, Brown & Parker seem to be oblivious to the fact that the gospels portray different yet complementary understandings of Christ’s death and suffering and this explains why the gospels present diverse meanings of Christ’s death and suffering. The authors belief that Christianity is an abusive theology that glorifies suffering is problematic. One of those issues is the authors claim people do not need to be saved from original sin but being liberated from racism, oppression, classism, sexism, etc. Although this list of oppressive systems is important, sin is more than this list and must not be limited to those.
As several theologians have recognized, one of the main problems with Brown and Bakers proposal is their claim that suffering is never redemptive. Although not all human suffering is redemptive, Christ’s suffering is. Arguing that Christ’s sacrifice constitutes divine child abuse is not only inaccurate but also a serious misreading of the New Testament. Brown & Parker does not seem to take the big picture of the Atonement into account; for example, that the cross is a work of the whole Trinity and not the work of a single Person. The thing that the authors does not believe in the divinity of Christ seems to complicate this issue. Despite these shortcomings, I appreciate Brown and Parkers intention to vindicate the women who have suffered in our society because of inadequate lenses to interpret the Scriptures.