The Faith of Abused and Scandalized People

Lynching TreeOn Good Friday, we get back to the basics: an excerpt from James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2013).

The real scandal of the gospel is this: humanity’s salvation is revealed in the cross of the condemned criminal Jesus, and humanity’s salvation is available only through our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst. Faith that emerged out of the scandal of the cross is not a faith of intellectuals or elites of any sort. This is the faith of abused and scandalized people—the losers and the down and out. It was this faith that gave blacks the strength and courage to hope, “to keep on keeping on,” struggling against the odds with what Paul Tillich called “the courage to be.”

The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in society. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree.

Fortitude: That is What We are Looking For

James ConeMay the eulogies for James Cone continue to rise among us.  This is an excerpt from Cornel West’s tribute at Dr. Cone’s funeral on May 7, 2018.  The entire transcript can be accessed here.  

James Cone was not just an academic theologian. He lived life-or-death. His theology was grounded in the cry of black blood, the wailing of black suffering, the moans and groans of black hurt and black pain, and it was trying to convince us not just to have courage, but fortitude. A Nazi soldier can be courageous and still be a thug; fortitude is courage connected to magnanimity and greatness of character. That is what we are looking for. James Cone served, he sacrificed for the least of these, he tried to hold up the bloodstained banner with a level of spiritual nobility and moral royalty already enacted by Lucy, already enacted by Charlie, already enacted by the best of his church by the time he began to interact with vanilla brothers and sisters. He was misunderstood, he was misconstrued. But just because he was mad and enraged, because he was focusing on the sin, that didn’t make him a hater. He had charitable Christian hatred: he hated the sin, but still tried to love the sinner. And the problem is so easy. Others look at black folk and ask, How come they’re so mad? How come they’re so angry? Well, if your children were treated that way, if your children were going to jail, your children were receiving a decrepit education, you’d be upset. But you don’t expect us to be upset?

James Cone: The Scalpel & The Compress

James ConeThe reflections on Dr. James Cone’s life and teaching keep on pouring in from his former students.  This one is from Ken Sehested the curator of Prayer & Politiks.

I was traveling when the news of Dr. James Cone’s death was reported on Saturday. The first thought that came to mind was what seems to be a providential concurrence: His passing came two days after the opening of the National Peace and Justice Memorial, solemnizing the lynching in the US of some 4,400 black people, in 800 counties, between 1877 and 1950. Cone’s last book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, was recipient of this year’s Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Continue reading

He Once Told Me

James ConeBy Marc Mullinax

James H. Cone, my professor at Union Seminary (NYC), died Saturday. He once told me something I think about every day. In September of 1987 he said: “Marc, you are too white and privileged ever to be a follower of Jesus. You’ll never ‘get‘ Jesus. You’ll use your privilege always to live apart from and out-of-earshot from the voices of the poor and underside of history. You’ll never be a Christian.” Of course, I immediately got reactive, and so missed his spot-on point.

He’s right, of course. And this one conversation and my internal dialogues ever since (”Is Cone right? Is Cone wrong?”) have done more for me than anything, in helping me to live into the kind of Christianity that might actually be worth something: less white, less privileged, less other-worldly.

Rest in peace, my life-long quarrel partner.

Marc Mullinax is Professor of Religion and Chair of the Faculty at Mars Hill University in western North Carolina. He is a member ofwww.circleofmercy.org. He is now at work on a project now called “The Tao of Justice: A New Interpretation of the Dao de Ching.”

James Cone: ¡Presente!

James ConeLiberation theologian James Cone of Union Theological Seminary crossed over yesterday.  He was 81.  This is from his ground-breaking A Black Theology of Liberation (1970):

The Christological significance of Jesus is not an abstract question to be solved by intellectual debates among seminary professors. The meaning of Jesus is an existential question. We know who he is when our own lives are placed in a situation of oppression, and we thus have to make a decision for or against our condition.

His Faith Demanded It

ConeFrom James Cone’s The Cross and The Lynching Tree (2013):

Just as Jesus knew he could be executed when he went to Jerusalem, Martin Luther King, Jr., knew that threats against his life could be realized in Memphis.  Like Jesus’ disciples who rejected the idea that his mission entailed his suffering and death (Mk 8:31-32), nearly everyone in King’s organization vigorously opposed his journey to Memphis, not only because of the dangers but because of the need to focus on the coming Poor People’s Campaign in Washington.  But King, like Jesus, felt he had no choice: he had to go to Memphis and aid the garbage workers in their struggle for dignity, better wages, and a safer work place.  He had to go because his faith demanded it.

A Harmless, Non-Offensive Ornament

ConeFrom James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2013):

Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, this symbol of salvation has been detached from any reference to the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings—those whom Ignacio Ellacuría, the Salvadoran martyr, called “the crucified peoples of history.” The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the “cost of discipleship,” it has become a form of “cheap grace,” an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission. Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a “recrucified” black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.