Holy Grief

We cannot divorce the gospel—Jesus’ suffering and redemption—from the history of violence against black people.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, we lost theologian James H. Cone. “Yes, he was a world historical figure in contemporary theology, no doubt about that,” said professor Cornel West at Cone’s funeral, “a towering prophetic figure engaging in his mighty critiques and indictments of contemporary Christendom from the vantage point of the least of these ... But oh,” West added. “I think he would want us to view him through the lens of the cross—the blood at the foot of that cross.”

More than any other theologian, Cone taught us that we cannot divorce the gospel—Jesus’ suffering and redemption—from the history of violence against black people in the U.S. “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,” wrote Cone in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, “and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.”

The same week Cone died, the Equal Justice Initiative opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the more than 4,400 victims of racial violence, including lynching, between 1877 and 1950.

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