May 18, 2013
Jesus Was Lynched
Posted on Dec 23, 2011
By Mel White
The lynching of black Americans is still taking place in the 21st century. Cone targets America’s criminal justice system “ … where nearly one-third of black men between the ages of 18 and 28 are in prisons, jails, on parole or waiting for their day in court.” Cone continues:
I am a white American. What questions should I ask myself about living in a nation still permeated by white supremacy? What questions should I ask myself about living in a mostly white neighborhood, attending a mostly white church and hanging out with mostly white friends? Cone states unequivocally that Jesus calls us to confront white supremacy. “I believe,” Cone writes, “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.”
“The Cross and the Lynching Tree” also transcends the topic of lynching and the suffering of African-Americans. Cone asks his readers to see all suffering and oppression in light of the promise of the cross. Therefore—and please forgive this personal aside—his “every kind of injustice” includes the injustice faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. What was Matthew Shepard’s death but a lynching? All the elements are present. Shepard was harassed, kidnapped, driven to a remote country area, robbed, pistol-whipped, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die. Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old trans man who was raped and murdered, is just one example of dozens of forgotten trans people who are lynched every year. And in some ways Tyler Clementi, Jamey Rodemeyer and all the other gay teens and young people who have committed suicide because of bullying and harassment are lynching victims.
My son once asked me, “How can you still be a Christian, Dad, after what the church has done to you?” Suddenly we’re back to the same mystery we encountered with black Christians during the lynching years. Cone quotes the Apostle Paul to describe this mystery: “St. Paul said that the ‘word of the cross is foolishness’ to the intellect and a ‘stumbling block’ to established religion. The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” I believed that Jesus was with me during the attacks by Bible-quoting Christians, during the disappearance of most of my old friends and clients, and during the aversive therapies, the electric shock and the exorcisms by well-meaning Christians who tried to rid me of the “demon of homosexuality.” And in my lowest moments when I genuinely longed for death, I knew that Jesus would walk with me through that valley as well.
Black Americans were victims of white Christian bigotry as gay Americans are victims of straight Christian bigotry. Please don’t think for a moment that I am comparing my suffering or the suffering of the LGBT community to the suffering of African-Americans during the lynching years. I am not. But in the struggle between faith and oppression, and sensing Jesus’ presence during my own suffering, I feel solidarity with my African-American family whose faith in the “old rugged cross” was the key to surviving the lynching tree.
Here is the danger: To say that Jesus stands with me in my suffering is far too simple. My redemption doesn’t come that easily. There’s something in the cross that says this is not just about my “salvation” but about the “salvation” of all those who suffer injustice and inequality. The cross warns and welcomes. It warns me that if I confront white supremacy, homophobia or injustice of any kind, I could end up being lynched. And the cross welcomes me to that great company of the committed who believed its promise that “death is not the end but the beginning of life.”
Cone reminds us that “ … it takes a special kind of imagination to understand the truth of the cross. … The Gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed which led to his death on the cross. … What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death and hope out of despair, as revealed in the biblical and black proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.”
The Rev. Mel White is co-founder of Soulforce and the author of “Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America” and “Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right.”
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