Biography / Administrative History
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Robert McAfee Brown papers
Collection number: GTU 2007-6-01
Brown, Robert McAfee, 1920-2001
18 linear feet (19 record boxes)
Graduate Theological Union. Library.
Abstract: Robert McAfee Brown, 1920-2001, was a Christian theologian, ethicist, teacher, author, preacher, and advocate for peace and
justice in social, economic, and gender issues. The collection contains published and unpublished material by R.M. Brown and
by various other authors.
Physical location: 8/C/1-3; 8/F/1-6
Languages represented in the collection:
Selected digitized images from this collection.
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to The Graduate Theological Union. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts
must be submitted in writing to the Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Graduate Theological Union
as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must
also be obtained by the reader.
Robert McAfee Brown collection, GTU 2007-6-01. Graduate Theological Union Archives, Berkeley, CA.
Materials were donated by Sydney Thomson Brown and the Brown family in May 2008.
Biography / Administrative History
"I believe we are here to share bread with one another, so that everyone has enough, no one has too much."
Robert McAfee Brown, 1920-2001, was a Christian theologian, ethicist, teacher, author, preacher, and advocate for peace and
justice in social, economic, and gender issues. Brown was descended from and raised in a strong Presbyterian background from
both his maternal family, the McAfees, and his paternal family. His father and most of the men in his mother's family were
Throughout a life of ever expanding and inclusive ideas, philosophies, theologies, and causes, Brown remained rooted in the
Presbyterian tradition. He was born in Illinois, lived his childhood in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. He received
his B.A. at Amherst College 1943, and the B.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York, 1945 where he studied with such
eminent theologians as Paul Tillich, John Bennett, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Brown and Sydney Thomson married in 1944. They had
four children, Peter, Mark, Thomas, and Alison.
After graduation and ordination in 1945, he joined the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps. The war ended while he was still at the Naval
Training School for Chaplains in Virginia. After training, he was sent to San Francisco, then assigned to the USS Bollinger
(APA 234), a troop ship bringing troops home from the Pacific after war's end. One of the stops was Bikini Atoll, the last
ship out before the test explosion of the atom bomb.
Discharged from the Navy in 1946, Brown returned to Massachusetts serving two positions in Amherst First Congregational Church
and Amherst College. In 1948, Brown began a PhD program at Columbia-Union. Following a Fulbright Grant to study in England
during 1949, he returned to New York receiving the PhD in 1951. He was appointed Head of the Religion Department at Macalester
College in Minnesota, 1951; Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, 1953; Religion at Stanford University, 1962;
and, after a brief stint back at Union, the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, 1979 until his retirement
Reflections Over the Long Haul: A Memoir, Robert McAfee Brown elaborates on the many avenues of service and faith he followed throughout his life. A teacher and writer,
his work was framed by how he integrated situations in the world into his intellect, faith, and life.
Robert McAfee Brown early in WWII did what he did throughout his life. He thought, studied, prayed, and discussed with others
what it meant to live as a Christian during wartime, and how one was to proceed with life choices. He ultimately understood
himself as a pacifist. As a pacifist, he needed to understand how his philosophical and faithful stand should manifest itself
in his life. He decided ultimately to work it out through Navy chaplaincy. As a Chaplain assigned to a ship, he again approached
his faith stand according to how to live it in that real situation. He found that the Navy and its ships were divided into
a strict racist structure. Throughout his assignment, he worked small steps and large, quietly or overtly if not to dismantle,
at least to get people thinking and talking about how to live in a world without a racist structure. Brown continued to live
out his life and faith acting for justice.
While at Macalester College in Minnesota, he began a long involvement in political activity as he actively campaigned for
Eugene McCarthy running for Congress, writing and speaking equally as actively against the broadly intolerant philosophies
raised by Joseph McCarthy. In this, as in subsequent teaching and writings on issues, he was open and public in his views
having the courage to receive negative reactions on several levels and through varying avenues. To all of these, he responded
with calm dignity and thoughtful answers.
At Union Theological Seminary in New York, 1953-62, Brown taught the expected courses such as Christian Ethics, Bible, Narrative
Theology, and the Theologies of Niebuhr, Barth, and Bonhoeffer. But he never taught in the usual way. His courses were always
expansive, always popular, and he led his students to think, to push all boundaries, to follow their faith. As his life moved
on with the world, Brown moved into such courses and workshops as World Religions and Systems, Social Concerns and Justice,
Liberation Theology, Women's Studies, and the Ethics of Work. As he had always been, he continued to be well prepared. He
presented content and led discussions with accessibility and liveliness.
In the turbulent issues and events of the 1960s, Brown was at the forefront, then the heart of them all. Always an advocate
for and participant in the World Council of Churches and ecumenism, he early understood the need for a broadening dialog with
Roman Catholicism. Understanding the need, he took the action. Brown began to work closely with Gustave Weigel, S.J. continuing
to study, discuss with an expanding circle of colleagues, write, and speak. A series of articles such as "Rules for Dialogue"
were published simultaneously 1960 in the Catholic journal Commonweal and Protestant journal Christian Century. He ultimately
attended Vatican II as an Observer for the World Alliance of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches. Again, he wrote extensively
1963-65 of the experience and the issues involved for the churches and a broader ecumenicism.
Brown was a strong participant in the Civil Rights movement through his teaching, writing, and preaching. Since action always
followed Brown's convictions, he participated in a Freedom Ride 1961 with several New York pastors and rabbis, Black and Caucasian.
They traveled by bus to Tallahassee, Florida, eating together in diners and bus stations received with varying levels of hostility.
In Tallahassee, they were arrested and jailed. Again, Brown published his beliefs and experiences in several articles including
the seminal "I Was a Freedom Rider",
Presbyterian Life, 1961.
The Vietnam War and the peace and anti-draft issues to which it gave rise developed after Brown had moved to Stanford University.
He published "In Conscience I Must Break the Law" in
Look magazine, 1967. Along with his continued prolific writing, teaching, and preaching, Brown participated in many protests and
actions against the draft and for the peace movement. In 1969, he traveled with a study team to Vietnam, and in 1972, traveled
with a peace delegation to Europe seeking to meet with high level political leaders and the Pope to urge peace.
A broadening ecumenicism led Brown into Jewish-Christian dialog and study. He invited Elie Wiesel to speak at Stanford in
1974. From their first meeting, the two became deep friends lasting to Brown's death in 2001. Wiesel became a strong influence
on Brown who expanded into Holocaust studies. He was appointed 1979 to President Carter's United States Commission on the
Holocaust. After the Commission's travel, study, and report, it became the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Brown,
action following conviction, resigned from the Council 1985 after President Reagan's visit to the German Bitburg Cemetery
containing graves of German soldiers including SS troops.
The emergence of Liberation Theology in Latin American in the 1970s caught Brown's attention and he began a deep study. Through
this study, he met Gustavo Gutierrez, again becoming friends and working together in varying ways, academic, political, and
practical. For the next two decades, Brown engaged in liberation study, teaching, and action concerning women's liberation
and feminism, justice issues in Central America and the Sanctuary Movement, economic justice, and Gay and Lesbian (or LBGTQ)
liberation and justice. This continued long after his formal retirement from the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California,
In Brown's last and difficult illness, he worked with family and colleagues remembering and sorting through his life, his
faith, his work, and his actions. This became
Reflections Over the Long Haul: A Memoir, published posthumously in 2005 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press). He is buried in Heath, Massachusetts,
near the family summer home. Sydney Thomson Brown writes of Robert McAfee Brown in the Prologue: "Grounded in the traditional,
the traditional never contained him. He wanted the earth to be fair and good for all. . . . He was committed to relate his
faith to the world around, to push the boundaries. . . . He wanted his faith to be effective, to make the world a better place.
He acted for this through his teaching, preaching, and writing - and with others, turning his ideas into action. . . . [H]e
was not by nature an activist. He became an activist because his faith called him to act . . . . He was a man of courage."
Scope and Content of Collection
Published and unpublished material by R.M. Brown; collected published and unpublished material by various other authors; original
and collected material relating to teaching courses in higher education, to speaking presentations, and for writing articles,
chapters, and books; papers are handwritten, typed, photocopied, or printed; correspondence; photographs; and moving images
(VHS videotapes and DVD's).
The Collection contains six Series: Series 1, Courses; Series 2, Writings, with two Sub-Series, Sub-Series A, Articles, Chapters
in Books, and Books; and Sub-Series 2-B, Manuscripts; Series 3, Lectures, Addresses, Sermons, and Presentations; and Series
4, Subject Files with four Sub-Series, Sub-Series 4-A, General Subjects; Sub-Series 4-B, Personal Files; Sub-Series 4-C, Narrative
Theology; and Sub-Series 4-D, Elie Wiesel; Series 5, Personal Books; and Series 6, Audio and Visual Casettes.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
Christian ethics--Study and teaching
Liberation theology--Study and teaching
Liberation theology--Latin America
Narrative theology--Study and teaching
Religious thought--Study and teaching
Presbyterian Church--Clergy--United States--Biography
Race relations--Religious aspects--Christianity.
Theology, Doctrinal--Developing countries.
United States. Navy--Chaplains
Justice (Jewish theology)
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--History
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--Religious Aspects
African Americans--Civil rights
Vatican Council (2nd: 1962 - 1965)
Government, Resistance to--Religious aspects--Christianity.
World politics--20th century.
Protestant churches--Relations--Catholic Church
Catholic Church--Relations--Protestant church
Vietnam War, 1961-1972--Religious aspects
Vietnam War, 1961-1972--Protest movements--United States
Central America--Politics and government, 1979-
Sermons, American--20th century
Brown, Sydney Thomson, 1922-
Wiesel, Elie, 1928-
Gutierrez, Gustavo, 1928-
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, 1906-1945
Niebuhr, Reinhold, 1892-1971
Tillich, Paul, 1886-1965
Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.)
Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, Calif.)
Books from Robert McAfee Brown's personal library were sorted in 2010 by Clay-Edward Dixon, Collection Development Librarian;
Lucinda Glenn, Archivist; and David Stiver, Special Collections Assistant. The books were 1. Put into the Graduate Theological
Union Library Annual Book Sale; 2. Cataloged into the circulating collection of the GTU Library; or 3. Cataloged into the
GTU Library Rare Books Collection.
Listed here are books cataloged into the GTU Library Rare Books Collection. These have been 1. Inscribed by the individual
authors to Robert or to Robert McAfee Brown and Sydney Thomson Brown (The author's inscriptions are often personal and/or
fulsome in their language.); 2. Inscribed by the person giving the book to the Browns; 3. Heavily marked by Brown; or 4.
Notes are added in Brown's handwriting.
Arranged alphabetically by author.
Austin, Richard Cartwright,
Beauty of the Lord: Awakening the Senses (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1988).
Austin, Richard Cartwright,
Hope for the Land: Nature in the Bible (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1988).
Austin, Richard Cartwright,
Reclaiming America: Restoring Nature to Culture (Abingdon, VA: Creekside Press, 1990).
The Eucharist and Human Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979).
Batstone, David, ed.,
New Visions for the Americas: Religious Engagement and Social Transformation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993).
The Vision of the Void: Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1979).
Bryan, G. McLeod,
Naude: Prophet to South Africa (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1978).
Carbray, Richard J.,
Prophets of Human Solidarity (Seattle, WA: Barbara Krohn and Associates, 1992).
Carmody, John, Carmody, Denise Lardner, and Robbins, Gregory A., eds.,
Exploring the New Testament (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1986).
Christ, Carol P.,
Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on Spiritual Quest (Boston: Beacon Press, 1980).
Crews, Frederick C.,
The Pooh Perplex: A Freshman Casebook (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1963).
Curry, Jane Louise,
Over the Sea's Edge (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1971).
Fox, Richard Wightman,
Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985).
A Heart of Wisdom: Religion and Human Wholeness (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992).
The Vatican Council and the Jews (Cleveland, OH: The World Publishing Company, 1968).
Gomez, Medardo Ernesto,
Fuego Contra Fuego: Una Pastoral Evangelica (Anaheim, CA: Segunda Conferencia Luterana Mundial de Ministerios Hispanos, 1989).
Theologians at Work (New York: MacMillan Co., 1967).
En Busca de los Pobres de Jesu Christo: El Pensamiento de Bartolome de Las Casas (Lima, Peru: Instituto Bartolome de Las Casas, 1992).
El Dios de la Vida ([Lima]: Departamento de Teologia, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, ).
Hablar de Dios: Desde el Sufrimiento del Inocente, Una Reflexion Sobre el Libro de Job (Lima: Instituto Bartolome de Las Casas, 1985).
Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1993).
On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, O'Connell, Matthew J., trans. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1987). Includes a letter from Elie Wiesel to Robert McAfee
Brown thanking Robert for sending the book.
A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1988).
Heshel, Abraham Joshua,
The Wisdom of Heschel, Selected by Ruth Marcus Goodhill (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975).
How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Johnson, Kermit D.,
Ethics and Counterrevolution: American Involvement in Internal Wars (Lanham, NY: University Press of America, 1997).
Capitalism and Christians: Tough Gospel Challenges in a Troubled World Economy (New York: Paulist Press, 1992).
Kavanaugh, John F.,
Photographs by Puleo, Mev, Faces of Poverty, Faces of Christ (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1991).
An Exaltation of Larks or, The Venereal Game (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1968).
Longfield, Bradley J.,
The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1979).
Renewal as a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1985).
McLinn, William L. and White, Stuart W., eds.,
Mark Twain: Social Critic for the 80s (San Francisco, CA: AT Press, 1980).
Families Valued: Parenting and Politics for the Good of All Children (New York: Friendship Press, 1996).
Christian Realism and Political Problems (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953).
Faith and Politics: A Commentary on Religious, Social and Political Thought in a Technological Age, edited by Ronald H. Stone (New York: George Braziller, 1968).
The Irony of American History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952).
The Self and the Dramas of History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955).
The Struggle is One: Voices and Visions of Liberation (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994). Foreword by Robert McAfee Brown.
Reist, Benjamin A.,
Theology in Red, White, and Black (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975).
The God Who Fell From Heaven (Niles, IL: Argus Communications, 1979).
Smith, J. Alfred, Sr.,
Making Sense of Suffering: A Message to Job's Children, A Guide to Teaching and Preaching the Book of Job ([Cincinnati, OH]: Progressive National Baptist Convention Board of Education and Publication, 1988).
To Be One of Us: Cultural Conflict, Creative Democracy, and Education (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993). Foreword by Robert McAfee Brown.
And the Sea is Never Full: Memoirs, 1969 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).
Ani Maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again (New York: Random House, 1973).
All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999).
Le Crepuscule, au Loin (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1987).
The Fifth Son (New York: Summit Books, 1985).
Five Biblical Portraits (Press Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1981).
A Jew Today (New York: Random House, 1978).
The Oath (New York: Random House, 1973).
Sages and Dreamers: Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Portraits and Legends (New York: Summit Books, 1991).
Wiesel, Elie, text, and Diamond, David, music,
A Song for Hope: Cantata for Eight Solo Voices and Small Orchestra. Concert Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Performing Arts at The 92nd Street Y, [New York], June 10, 1987.
The Testament (New York: Summit Books, 1981).
The Town Beyond the Wall (New York: Bergen Belsen Memorial Press, 1967).
The Trial of God (As it was Held on February 25, 1649, in Shamgorod), A Play in Three Acts (New York: Random House, 1979).