Korri's Reviews > The Cross and the Lynching Tree

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
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May 11, 12

bookshelves: whiteout-conditions, theology, religion, race, violence, american-culture-and-history, christianity, africana
Read from May 09 to 10, 2012

‘Perhaps nothing about the history of mob violence in the United States is more surprising than how quickly an understanding of the full horror of lynching has receded from the nation’s collective historical memory.’ –W. Fitzhugh Brundage
(one of the book’s many poignant epigraphs)

In this text James H. Cone makes explicit the connection between the cross and the lynching tree, both linked to Jesus’ meaning for Christians in America. Jesus and many a person of color were made into public spectacles, suffering humiliation, torture, and death at the hands of persons unknown. As a nation, we have yet to acknowledge or deeply examine that in our history suffering crucifixion is not a mere symbol.

Cone examines the blind spots in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian realism, how Martin Luther King Jr. bore the cross of fighting for civil rights knowing it might end in his death because of his faith, poets’ and writers’ vision of crucified Christ in Black bodies swinging the in southern breeze, and womanist critiques of suffering as salvation. This is a slim volume—each chapter covers topics that could be turned into book-length studies—full of thought-provoking (if sometimes repetitive or too briefly touched upon) ideas. Cone’s concluding chapter is perhaps the most challenging; even though I am not a Christian it has given me much upon which to meditate.

‘To understand what the cross means in America, we need to take a look at the lynching tree in this nation’s history—that “strange and bitter crop” that Billie Holiday would not let us forget. The lynched black victim experienced the same fate as the crucified Christ and thus became the most potent symbol for understanding the true meaning of the salvation achieved through “God on the Cross.” Nietzsche was right: Christianity is a religion of slaves. God became a slave in Jesus and thereby liberated slaves from being determined by their social condition.

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.’ (p. 160)
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