Feast of Robert McAfee Brown (May 28)   3 comments

Above:  Stanford University

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-21158

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ROBERT MCAFEE BROWN (MAY 28, 1928-SEPTEMBER 4, 2001)

U.S. Presbyterian Minister, Theologian, Activist, and Ecumenist

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In conscience, I must break the law.

–Robert McAfee Brown, October 31, 1967

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Robert McAfee Brown comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via my library.

Above:  Two Books by Robert McAfee Brown

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Brown stood in the finest tradition of the Hebrew prophets and centuries of Christian tradition.  He, born in Carthage, Illinois, on May 28, 1928, was a son of Ruth McAfee (Brown) and Presbyterian minister George William McAfee.  Our saint was also a grandson of Cleland Boyd McAfee, a professor at McCormick Theological Seminary.  Brown, a 1944 graduate of Amherst College, married Sydney Elise Thomson on June 21, 1944.  The couple had three sons and a daughter.  Our saint, a student at Union Theological Seminary from 1943 to 1945, studied under Paul Tillich (1886-1965) and Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971).  After graduating, Brown served as a chaplain in the United States Navy in 1945 and 1946.

Brown spent most of his life as an academic.  He was an assistant chaplain and an instructor in religion at Amherst College in 1946-1948.  Then he studied at Mansfield College, Oxford, in 1949 and 1950.  Our saint, an instructor at Union Theological Seminary in 1950 and 1951, earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1951.  He led the Department of Religion, Malacaster College, St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1951-1953.  Our saint served on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in 1953-1962.  Then, in 1962-1976, our saint was a Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University.  Brown returned to Union Theological Seminary in 1976 as Professor of Ecumenics and World Christianity.  Our saint was Professor of Theology and Ethics at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California, in 1979-1984.  Then he retired.

Brown was an ecumenist.  In the early 1950s, when unapologetic anti-Roman Catholicism was prominent in U.S. Protestantism, our saint campaigned for Minnesota Congressman Eugene McCarthy, whose Roman Catholicism was a political difficulty.  Brown and Gustave Weigel (1906-1964) collaborated on An American Dialogue:  A Protestant Looks at Catholicism and a Catholic Looks at Protestantism (1960).  Time magazine called Brown

Catholics’ favorite Protestant

in 1962.  Our saint was even an observer (on behalf of global Calvinism) at the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) in 1963 and 1965.  Brown also attended the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches as a delegate in 1968.  Seven years later, he delivered the keynote address (“Who is This Jesus Who Frees and Unites?”) at the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

Social justice was essential to Brown’s faith.  He, a pacifist, had no moral difficulty serving as a military chaplain after World War II.  Our saint’s pacifism led him to oppose the Vietnam War, of course.  His conscience led him to protest the military draft, to speak and write against the war, to commit civil disobedience, and to go to jail for doing so in 1971.  That conscience also let Brown to join a delegation that met with Pope Paul VI (1897-1978) in  January 1973 about ending the Vietnam War.

Brown was also a longtime civil rights activist at home and abroad.  He, a Freedom Rider in 1961, went to jail in Tallahassee, Florida.  Our saint addressed the immorality of Apartheid when he spoke at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa in September 1972.  Brown also advocated for women’s liberation and the civil rights of homosexuals.  Furthermore, he was active in the Sanctuary Movement, for he cared deeply about justice in Central America.  This led our saint to collaborate with Liberation Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez (b. 1928).

Brown also helped to raise consciousness about the Holocaust.  He, a friend of Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) since the middle 1970s, served on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council from 1979 to 1985.  Our saint resigned after President Ronald Reagan visited Bitburg Cemetery, containing graves of Waffen SS troups.

Brown became a novelist late in life.  He published Dark the Night, Wild the Sea in 1998.

Brown, aged 81 years, died in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on September 4, 2001.

One of Brown’s volumes invaluable for Bible study is Unexpected News:  Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (1984).  Passages covered came from Luke, Exodus, 2 Samuel, Jeremiah, Matthew, and Daniel.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

WEDNESDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLGA OF KIEV, REGENT OF KIEVAN RUSSIA; SAINT ADALBERT OF MAGDEBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT ADALBERT OF PRAGUE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MARTYR, 997; AND SAINTS BENEDICT AND GAUDENTIUS OF POMERANIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 997

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DAMIEN AND MARIANNE OF MOLOKAI, WORKERS AMONG LEPERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT FLAVIA DOMITILLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NOBLEWOMAN; AND SAINTS MARO, EUTYCHES, AND VICTORINUS OF ROME, PRIESTS AND MARTYS, CIRCA 99

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUNNA OF ALSACE, THE “HOLY WASHERWOMAN”

THE FEAST OF LUCY CRAFT LANEY, AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN EDUCATOR AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant Robert McAfee Brown,

to work for justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

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3 responses to “Feast of Robert McAfee Brown (May 28)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of Gustave Weisel (January 16) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. What a man…unknown by many!

    • Indeed! His writing indicates an uncompromising sense of divine justice, mixed with human graciousness toward those who feel threatened by the contents of that writing.

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