Is there a vaccine against the sickness of soul that racism brings to society? Where are the theological anti-bodies that should kick in against church collusion with violence over the centuries and in our times? Was violence central to the atonement rather than being an horrific dimension and if so, what does that say to the way power is entrenched in social systems to which the church has been largely blind?
When Cain left the red stain on the appalled earth, there was only him, the restless wanderer of the world. The Red Stain of Cain lies in the anguished questions of God – ‘where is your brother?’ ‘What have you done?’ We have failed one of the first and most basic demands of scripture – to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Understanding the separateness requires us to grasp how we come to see another as ‘other’, someone with whom they have severed mutuality and responsibility. For centuries, people have depersonalised or depreciated the Other because of race, class, gender, disability, sexuality and age. These set up a power imbalance that leads to pernicious domination.
How on earth has all the violence and power imbalance happened amongst the very people who especially espouse a high view of the cross? Does Christianity have anything to say to the violence of our times?
Would it have worked if Jesus had merely sipped poison and perished? Did it have to be so brutal? This book is not a historical study so much as calling for theological antibodies. The cross does not legitimate violence. Quite the opposite. How could it, when the cross was an act of the most violent State savagery and Jesus was a victim? If those who cheer on (or wave away) mob rule, lynch parties or tribal bloodbaths, excuse violence against women and girls or give succour to child abusers’ hold to a high view of communion and the atonement – they do so in violent contradiction with what they believe about the cross of Christ.
Based on the idea of valuable personhood, when something happens that demands recompense, redress or payment of some form, violence sets up a sort of transaction (a symbolic exchange) in which value is the currency as in the exchanges of everyday life. Can this throw light on Jesus paying the price for our sins and expose social sins that condone violence and actually encourage it? Can we find some theological antibodies?
Dr Chris Steed is a writer, Church minister and academic with a varied career in church and charity leadership. Currently, Chris leads in the Counselling and Theology programme at London School of Theology. His doctorate in Social Sciences through Exeter University proposed a new theory of violence. Chris is a member of the British Sociological Association, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and is the author of a dozen books and numerous articles, see www.christophersteed.co.uk.
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