Congregations across the US will sing the song “In Christ Alone” this weekend, just as mine did this morning. It’s an obvious choice for Easter weekend because its verses trace the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
A line midway through the song recently became a flashpoint for the last ten centuries of debate among Christians about how best to explain the atonement. Presbyterians felt so strongly about it that they excluded the song from their hymnal.
The line, “the wrath of God was satisfied,” draws on a pre-Reformation version of the penal substitution theory. It emphasizes God’s wrath against sin and sinners and mercy in making of Jesus “a way of escape” for believers, and the Presbyterians who excluded it aren’t the only ones who’ve challenged it over the last several decades.
This weekend, I’m reading women and womanist theologians for other perspectives on this season’s stories. What happens when attempts to retrofit the old explanations no longer work, when it’s no longer enough to simply substitute a phrase like “the love of God was magnified”?
It’s a long journey that some don’t feel they can discuss openly. But if we find ourselves gripped by the stories and ethics of our faith, despite fatigue, and despite disillusionment, it may be worth taking that trip.
As Jacquelyn Grant writes in White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus, women from previous generations managed to nurture an enduring, nourishing sense of life’s connectedness and the transcendent even while being taught religion—and judged wanting—by slaveholders and abusers.
They learned to privilege direct revelation and inner wisdom because the scriptural revelation they were being taught was tainted by what Grant calls White ministers’ “oppressive interpretations.” Few of these women resolved the tension by rejecting the scriptures and their religion. Instead many of them reclaimed these texts and interpreted them in ways that supported life, freedom, and wholeness.
Womanists must, like Sojourner [Truth], ‘compare the teachings of the Bible with the witness’ in them. To do Womanist Theology, then, we must read and hear the Bible and engage it within the context of our own experience… Black women of the past did not hesitate in doing this and we must do no less.” —Jacquelyn Grant