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The Cross and the Lynching Tree

4.50  ·  Rating details ·  3,505 ratings  ·  599 reviews
A landmark in the conversation about race and religion in America.

"They put him to death by hanging him on a tree." Acts 10:39

The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community. In this powerful new work, theologian James H. Cone explores these symbols and their interconnection in the history and so
Hardcover, 202 pages
Published 2011 by Orbis Books
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Karen No, not blind religiosity. James Cone is a scholar, and he writes about Christianity *as* a scholar, as well as someone who was brought up in the chur…moreNo, not blind religiosity. James Cone is a scholar, and he writes about Christianity *as* a scholar, as well as someone who was brought up in the church. You don't need to be a Christian believer to appreciate this book, you just need to be able to take Christian theology seriously as a subject worth thinking about in relation to human history.(less)

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Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
As one of the Associate Pastors at Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, one of my responsibilities was the bulletin boards in the hallways. I don't know that anyone gave me that job, so much as I took it on. I really enjoyed putting up various kinds of bulletin boards. I rarely was only informational. Often I put up something around a theme of the season (I did one after 9/11 with U2 songs, for instance).

My favourite bulletin board I designed, and one I hung up also at Royal
Amy Hughes
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a theologian I need to be able to explain for the sake of myself, my students, and the church why white supremacy is fundamentally anti-Christ. While there are many ways to do this, I'm grateful to Cone for helping me to do this and to understand the cross better. This book is easily one of the best theology books I've read in the last 5 years.

I'm looking forward to picking it up again this semester since I'm assigning it in my Trinity and Christology class. Maybe I'll be able to get through
Andrew Marr
"They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown."

White boys like me mostly didn't know what Bob Dylan was singing about when "Desolation Row" first came out on "Highway 61 Revisited." James Cone's book tells us it was about lynching. Lynching was a public spectacle where people took pictures and made postcards out of them.

Cone goes on to argue that the lynching tree was a series of grisly re-enactments of the crucifixion of Jesus. He also demonstrates on how very di
Ben De Bono
Nov 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
To say that James Cone an I are theologically far apart would be a fairly significant understatement. I am a conservative evangelical while he is one of the primary voices behind black liberation theology, standing well within the liberal theological tradition. Despite those differences, I was very excited to read this book and, after finishing it, am very glad that I did. The reason for that is simple - I came to this book not to critique Cone's answers (I knew going in we would largely disagre ...more
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Summary: A reflection on the parallel between the cross and the lynching tree, the perplexing reality that this has been missed within the white community, and how an understanding of this connection and the meaning of the cross has offered hope for the long struggle of the African-American community.

James H. Cone makes an observation in this book that "hit me between the eyes." He puzzles why White Christians in America have failed to see the connection between Jesus, who was "hung on a tree" a
Alex Stroshine
James H. Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” is a profound reflection on black suffering at the cruel hands of white supremacy and the astonishing parallels between the Crucified One and black victims of lynching. Cone wonders why theologians have not considered the parallels between the cross and the lynching tree before; in particular, he castigates those in the liberal and mainline traditions who were vigorous in their critiques of inequality in American culture but who remained silent o ...more
Levi Jones
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
James Cone's work is both brutal and beautiful. He exposes the rotting corpse of American life, exhibited most keenly in the lynching tree. America's sin of white supremacy was often perpetrated by those that were "Christians." Cone exposes the irony of such a practice, questioning how those who follow a crucified Lord can then turn around and crucify others. The parallels between the cross and the lynching tree are hard to miss. Yet, they were often missed or blatantly ignored by whites, includ ...more
James Calvin
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In 1964, I was a kid, a couple of years away from voting age, a son of my father, and like him, a Republican. I was no Bircher, but I remember my thrill when Barry Goldwater told the nation and the world that "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice." I was old enough to know what that single sentence meant to hard-line right-wingers whose fear of commies and leftists pushed them to the "extremes" Goldwater legitimized--or tried to--with that widely anticipated and much beloved line.

I rememb
Ryan Linkous
Mar 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. What a profound and haunting book. While I disagree with Cone theologically in some places, I think his central thesis is sound. His evidence – accounts of lynching, white theologians, gospel hymns, black artists, womanist theologians – is formidable and damning.

As a white Christian who is a Reformed leaning Baptist, I have been puzzled and dismayed by the total and angry rejection of Cone by those who loudly and proudly wear the Reformed Baptist banner (although I have since learned from t
Alison Eddins
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A noose was hung outside the US Capitol as I finished this book. The terrorists who did so were called loved and very special by the man in the highest position. Our president has gone on a legalized lynching spree in 2020, ending a 17-year federal government hiatus from the death penalty. “One can lynch a person without a rope or tree.” The Church was the root of this evil and we better be the ones most fervently trying to reckon with our heavy hand in it.
Eve Tushnet
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully-structured book using the theology developed in US black communities and black liberation movements to illuminate the Cross for all Christians. This theology emerges from the life and prayer of a community, from its worship, its perseverance, its temptation to despair. And even from its internal conflicts: The section wrestling with black feminist/womanist critiques of Cross-centered theology is excellent, and the exploration of the juke joints as liberatory and limited is simply thr ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
A woman sitting next to me at the conference on Black and Womanist Theology at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2005 told me that James H. Cone is really more of the scholar than the preacher. But he suited me just fine that night when he preached a sermon called "The Cross and the Lynching Tree." My notebook was practically vorticist in its responsive energy. And the book that came out of it, too, is pretty scintillating.

James Cone, of course, is famous for his books Black Theology an
Nick Jordan
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It’s strange to give five stars to a book that actually has lots of flaws. Cone never really gets to the point of talking about what suffering does or what the Cross does or if or how it is necessary to God’s purposes. He doesn’t spend much time clarifying his own views on atonement. He says he’s not a pacifist, but he doesn’t clarify where he stands. He also is very evidently trying to make up for lost time in decades spent not deeply engaging with feminist and womanist theologians. There are s ...more
Joel Larson
Dec 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I cannot recommend this book strongly enough - one of the most important and meaningful reflections on America, the cross, theology, and justice I've come across ...more
Jan 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
In this book, Black Liberation Theologian James Cone explores the symbolic and historic connections between the crucifixion of Jesus and the lynching of Blacks in 19th and 20th century America. He asserts that understanding this connection is vital to the meaning of the cross and confronting it is vital to the health of Christian America.

For Cone, it is a personal struggle. How can he make sense of the awfulness of lynching - of Black suffering in America, of living under white supremacy - of b
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Cone begins his book with a damning theological observation which he seeks to correct and address in this book: How could any theologian explain the meaning of Christian identity in America and fail to engage white supremacy,its primary negation." (p. xvii) From that point he then describes the history of lynching of African Americans (1880-1940)and links that to his reflection on the cross of Christ. He critiques the most prominent white theologian at the time, Reinhold Niebuhr, as one who saw ...more
Porter Sprigg
This book was powerful and disconcerting. It is incredible to me how easily we forget the atrocities done in our country less than 100 years ago. It is heart-wrenching to read about the heinous acts of terror committed in the name of white supremacy, the unjust killings of black men and women. Hope is found however, in the ways that black Americans saw lynching deaths in light of Jesus' death on the cross. The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ spoke to those suffering under white supremacy. I es ...more
Kyle Johnson
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-books-read
"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."

"Christ crucified manifested God's loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life--that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God's eschatological future, they would not be defeated, no matter how
Todd Hiestand
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished-reading
Man, what a book. Highly recommend. A stunning look into the history/theology of white christianity, white supremacy and the struggle of the black community in America.
Claire Aufhammer
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I knew this book would be powerful, but it's more potent and meaningful than I can even begin to express. I have not picked up a book in almost six months, and this book had me glued from cover to cover. In short, this book is profoundly and theologically relevant to the present moment in the United States. Please read it.

Here are some further thoughts.

In his introduction, James Cone reveals his own struggle as a Black Christian in America to reconcile Christian identity in America with the his
Adam Shields
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Short Review: This is a book worth reading even (maybe especially) if you are tempted to dismiss Black Liberation Theology. Cone is not attempting to say that Lynching does the exact same thing as Jesus did at the cross, but he is saying that how we understand both lynching and the cross should be influenced by the other.

Overly simply, he is saying that if our understanding of the Cross does not have any relevance to racism, lynching and other areas of injustice, then we do not actually underst
Kate Ramsey
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I grew up in an evangelical household and I've heard a thousand sermons about the cross of Christ. Never once have I heard one that points out the obvious and many parallels between that ancient lynching that is the hope of salvation and the American lynching tree. In fact (and I say this to my shame) I had no concept whatsoever of how horrific and common the practice of lynching was (is) in America, nor how it was openly supported, defended, and participated in by the church. James Cone discuss ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I appreciate the concept James H. Cone brings to the forefront. This is important for all Christians to hear, especially white Christians uncomfortable (and often ignorant) with our country's racist and murderous past. Lynching is an atrocity that needs to be remembered. Comparing the suffering of lynching victims, with Christ is completely warranted. And even essential to connecting with our fellow Americans.

This is an academic theological text, and is best read if understanding the background
May 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
So, here are my thoughts on the Cross and the Lynching Tree. First, I am shocked that this analogy has never been pointed out to me before. The book began with an eye opening insight into the public humiliation and shame of crucifixion. I found myself readily accepting the connection and deepening my awareness of Christ’s sacrifice as I read. However, as he moved forward, I felt a strong rejection of his scathing critique and wholesale rejection of white American Christianity. At first it offend ...more
Dec 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is not the easiest book for me, but it has been a beautiful thing to read. It was recommended by a friend as a way to learn more about black liberation theology, and as my spring has been all wrapped up in planning events for the 50th anniversary of desegregation at the University of Miami, now was the right time to read it.

But I am not a Christian, I dont even know the bible very well, and I'm not black. I do know liberation theology, mostly from its history in latin america. My parents we
David Withun
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
Jake Doberenz
Jul 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
That was amazing and thought-provoking! Whether Black or White, it's a good read. ...more
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I came across this book as an introduction to James Cone and his teachings around liberation theology. As a powerful indictment of the white American church, it was such a necessary read in my effort to gain a broader understanding of Christianity beyond white evangelicalism.

Cone begins by reminding readers of the horrific brutality of lynching and the implications for all black Americans. He spends the book drawing parallels between the crucified figure of Christ and the bodies of black lynchi
It took me some time to finish this book because the subject material is very heavy, and each chapter leaves me deep in thought and reflection. I find this book deeply relevant and universal, as Cone grapples with the grim and horrifying reality of lynching in the U.S. and how that informs, or challenges, Black Christian belief. The Cross and the Lynching Tree explores the failure of mainstream white theologians to acknowledge the deep evils of lynching in America at its height (not wanting to ' ...more
My highlight of 2020 so far. I began reading this book with my small group in response to the killing of George Floyd, Ahmad Aurbory and Breonna Taylor which sparked a wave of protests and calls for change in my country, the United States. We were grappling with what a theological response, or more simply put, what does Jesus have to say about the kind of oppression that our black brothers and sisters are facing and have continued to face throughout US history?

Enter James Cone. I confess I am r
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James Hal Cone was an advocate of Black liberation theology, a theology grounded in the experience of African Americans, and related to other Christian liberation theologies. In 1969, his book Black Theology and Black Power provided a new way to articulate the distinctiveness of theology in the black Church. James Cone’s work was influential and political from the time of his first publication, an ...more

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17 likes · 2 comments
“In the “lynching era,” between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly five thousand black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these “Christians” did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.” 19 likes
“The cross can heal and hurt; it can be empowering and liberating but also enslaving and oppressive. There is no one way in which the cross can be interpreted. I offer my reflections because I believe that the cross placed alongside the lynching tree can help us to see Jesus in America in a new light, and thereby empower people who claim to follow him to take a stand against white supremacy and every kind of injustice.” 18 likes
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