Is there room for a minority view?
When I was a child I asked, “Why did Jesus need to die for us?” And “Why couldn’t God just forgive us?” I saw Jesus portrayed as beaten, ridiculed, betrayed and crucified on a cross. I also saw him as innocent, kind, lovely, tender, and compassionate. The cruelty and injustice didn’t make sense to my 12-year-old self.
A few decades later, as an adult convert, I read Alma chapter 42 and finally ‘got it’. God demanded justice and Jesus was the only one who could satisfy justice and in so doing extend mercy to the rest of us. I gladly accepted this explanation and regularly thanked Jesus for doing this on my behalf.
Fast forward three more decades and I don’t know anymore. The concept of a God that demands blood and death in order to accept its own creation troubles me. I’ve been reading about Atonement Theories and found an evolution of thought bringing us to our doctrine.
The Ransom Theory posited that a debt was paid to Satan or paid to God who paid it to Satan. Later came the Satisfaction theory, which led to the Penal Substitution theory. This is commonly known to us via BKP’s Mediator talk from April 1977.
To my surprise I discovered a Nonviolent Atonement theory originating with St. Francis of Assisi (13th Century). In this theory Jesus’ purpose is not to change God’s mind about humankind (via a ransom or substitute), but to change humankind’s mind about God. Jesus death is not to satisfy any debt. His life had a transformational purpose rather than a transactional purpose.
Jesus was the original plan, not the “if you sin, I will send a Savior plan.”
In the 13th Century religious leaders met to discuss/debate theology and doctrine. A dominant Atonement Theory was adopted yet a minority view was allowed. The Nonviolent Atonement was the minority view held by the Franciscans. They were not excommunicated for holding a different view. They continued to teach this in their seminaries and religious practice, within the larger institution of Catholicism. The Franciscans had many unique ideas including the understanding that the Incarnation began with the Big Bang and continues through our day. Jesus of Nazareth is part of the Incarnation, but not the entire part. We are all part of it, along with Brother Sun and Sister Moon. St. Francis saw God in all things and excluded no one and nothing from this view. It is fascinating to me. D&C 88 comes to mind.
There is an expression, “We create God in our own image.” Is this what happened as these theories developed and gained doctrinal legitimacy? Does the evolution of the theories reflect an evolution of our humanity?
Until recently, I had totally accepted the BKP version of the atonement without question. But now I find myself back at the same question my 12-year-old self asked. Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us? I don’t know which theory is correct, but I no longer feel the need to know absolutely. I’m okay pondering it all.
I wonder if there is room for an Alternative or Minority View opinion within our church without being considered a heretic? I am reminded of Paul and Peter disagreeing about doctrinal issues in the first century? Where would we be if Paul was excommunicated for heresy because he disagreed with the Apostles?
In reality, many of us hold minority views about any number of topics/issues within our faith community and world in general. Not being able to honestly discuss doctrine has led to the development of other avenues outside the eyes and ears of the thought police.
My purpose in writing this post is not to debate the atonement theories. By stating the obvious — that we have different ideas, thoughts, and experiences — my hope is that we can develop a healthy spiritual venue to discuss doctrine, even if we disagree with the dominant theory. Can we have a diversity of thought within our community? Maybe we are too young as an institution. We haven’t weathered our growing pains to come out more open and accepting on the other side of maturation.