Author Compares Jesus’ Crucifixion to Black Lynchings During Book Signing and Discussion at Howard University

By Nick Westbrooks

Panelists from Howard University sat down with Dr. James Cone on Nov. 11 at the Andrew Rankin Chapel to discuss and critique the author’s latest book The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

The panelists included Howard University professors Dr. Greg Carr of the Afro American Studies department, Dr. Ronald Hopson from the School of Divinity and Dr. Dana Williams of the English department as well as student Krystal Leaphart, the president of Howard’s NAACP chapter.

Cone discussed the premise of the book, which compares the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to the historical lynchings of African Americans in the United States and the ironic relationship between the two. For certain Whites, religion justified the lynchings of Blacks, and in the midst of the terrorism, Black people used their faith and the symbolism of the cross to endure those distressing times, Cone asserted.

“Whites used Christianity to lynch Blacks, and Blacks used it to survive,” Cone said.

Cone, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, describes the odd relationship as “the great paradox,” and he said it is the source of his passion and inspiration for writing The Cross and the Lynching Tree. The author grew up in Arkansas, a southern state where lynchings were prevalent during the early and middle twentieth century. Although he was aware of the terrorist acts, further study peaked Cone’s curiosity.

“After examining history, I asked myself how Blacks survived and remained sane despite the terror,” Cone said. “Paradoxically, it was the cross.”

Cone further connected the crucifixion and lynchings to the present by likening Jesus to African Americans, the Roman government to the United States government and identifying the “Prison Industrial Complex” as a form of lynching. Dr. Carr identified the death penalty as the method of execution saying, “The lynching tree is today’s electric chair.”

Characterizing the cross as a symbol of judgment rather than affirmation for the oppressed, Dr. Hopson argued that Blacks should worship Christ instead of the object of His crucifixion, and he told Black Christians to “imagine a noose or electric chair at the front of the church instead of a cross.”

“My concern is that we have transformed the veneration of the victim to the veneration of the means of execution,” Hopson said. “It is really time for us to loosen our grip on the veneration of the cross.”

Leaphart spoke from a student’s perspective addressing the need to close the “intergenerational communication” gap between older African Americans and the youth. Although the Howard senior said she’s well read, she admitted a lack of knowledge concerning the Black experience as it relates to theology.

“I think the intergenerational gap was caused by us [youth] and our parents, because they didn’t tell us the stories, and we didn’t ask them to tell us, so we aren’t sure of how to move forward,” she said.

Dr. Williams praised Cone for making people aware of “the great paradox” and providing readers and scholars a space to discuss and critique his thoughts and findings. She also credited the author with positing the Black experience as a legitimate viewing of God and challenging the Black church to recognize its own Black experience.

The book signing and discussion was a part of the Black Presbyterians United and the Howard University School of Divinity’s “A Liberation Theology Weekend.” The programs included a discussion on “The Future of Black Theology” and a class on “The God of the Hip Hop Generation.”

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The Holy Spirit is the Treasure Within You

By Nick Westbrooks

Interpreted by Rev. Dr. Earl D. Trent Jr.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us, we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. –2 Corinthians 4:7-10

It was an amazing testimony of the human spirit when Manteo Mitchell broke his left fibula while running his final 200 meters of the preliminary 4×400 meter relay. Most runners would have stopped once they felt the pop and limped off of the track. But determined by his teammates’ dependence, he fought through the pain and finished his leg, allowing Team USA to make the finals. They would eventually earn a silver medal in the event.

Mitchell’s human spirit was the force that helped him finish the race. As followers of Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the force that keeps us going day after ordinary day.

Take the apostle Paul, the author of the first and second books of Corinthians. Before changing his name and undergoing a life-changing experience, Paul was a Pharisee named Saul who used to persecute the same people he advocated for when he was writing to the church of Corinth.

After his life-changing experience, Paul became a missionary, building churches and spreading the word of Jesus Christ. Throughout his transformation and ministry, Paul faced challenges that he had to overcome through only the power of God inside of him.

Paul lets the church know that it was not him that overcame his obstacles. He puts this idea into perspective by comparing the physical body to frail and easily-broken jars of clay filled with a valuable treasure—the spirit and power of God (v7).

Paul’s analogy is a reminder for us today as we endure struggles and challenges daily. It is not us that gets us through tough times, but it is God’s power within us that is the driving force. We are mere frail, vulnerable and easily-broken jars of clay. But in our brokeness, the Holy Spirit inside of us provides the power to finish our race.

We Are One: Unity in the Body of Christ

But speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself in love, as each part does its work. –Ephesians 4: 15-16

Today I visited Florida Avenue Baptist Church in northwest D.C. for the first time. The guest preacher, the Rev. Janelle Thompson delivered her sermon from the scripture above. The title of the message was “We Are One.”

As the apostle Paul wrote at the start of the fifteenth verse, we should speak the truth in love rather than deceiving and scheming one another. Focusing on that part of the text, Thompson stressed the importance of doing everything out of love. “Without love, what good is what we say or do?” We are able to do everything with love when we feel and identify with love.

The core of the message was the notion that all of God’s people are united as one body in Christ. Here in verse fifteen going into verse sixteen, the writer Paul compares our connection with each other to the anatomy of the human body. Christ is the “Head”, and his people are the “ligaments” joined together through Him. Whether you’ve studied anatomy or not, you know that the body doesn’t function if all of its parts aren’t working together. The same holds true in terms of our progression and relationships with one another.

In the church’s role of spreading the Gospel, all of its members are individuals and have individual gifts. The ideas and perspectives of the individuals usually aren’t homogenous. Despite our differences, we all must be willing to be joined together through Christ’s love with the common goal of delivering the good news and developing our faith.

As Thompson said in her sermon, “The Lord made us different so we can come together in our differences.” Since we are all God’s people—not judged by our social or economic status—we all have value and a purpose regardless of who we are in the secular world. This means listening to and respecting others opinions.

This message of unity can be applied to other instances in the secular world. Many people are employed at jobs where they don’t like their bosses or co-workers, but united under that company, they work together to provide a service and to earn a paycheck for doing so. Too often we see single parents who dislike their baby’s mother of father, but they must be united with the common goal of rearing their child to be the best that he or she can be. Additionally, we can apply this to our human rights movements for freedom and equality. History has proven that mass movements for civil rights and political revolutions were only successful through the unity of its participants.

The soul artist Maze was most likely singing about a romantic relationship in his classic “We Are One.” “We are one, no matter what we do / we are one, love will see us through / we are one, and that’s the way it is.” This too applies to us in a broader sense. I also think of Earth, Wind and Fire’s song “Fantasy.” “And we will live together / until the twelfth of never / our voices will ring forever as one.”  The combination of our gifts, talents and perspectives are valuable individually, but they are the most effective when they’re combined as one. Maurice White and Philip Bailey could have had successful solo careers, but not to the magnitude of EWF’s.

Remember, no matter what the goal or objective is, we each have a specific purpose and gift to contribute. We must unite as one body despite our differences or else we won’t achieve our common goal. If we don’t move together, we won’t move at all.

If we don’t move together, we won’t move at all.

Faith of Our Mothers: Part One

Last year, I stayed on campus for Mother’s Day, but this year I made sure I was home to sit next to my mother and grandmother in church on Sunday. Along with sitting next to two of my favorite girls, I was highly anticipating the Mother’s Day word from my dear pastor, the Rev. Dr. Dwight C. Northington.

Referencing 2 Timothy, the preacher focused on the first chapter and the fifth verse in which Jesus remembers the “unfeigned faith” of Timothy’s mother, Eunice and grandmother, Lois. The “unfeigned faith” of the two biblical mothers is the faith that our mothers should strive to achieve. This is the same faith that is sung about in that classic congregational hymn that churches sing every year at this time, “Faith of Our Mothers.”

We were encouraged to pray for our mothers, for they “go through many things men wouldn’t go through.” The biggest task of them all, the pastor said, is carrying a child for nearly a year and giving birth: “Lord have mercy, I know brothers couldn’t deal with that nine months of kicking and moving.” I know I could not deal with it. Women are especially blessed with the God-given ability to bring forth life.

There was a word of encouragement for our mothers who face unfortunate circumstances with their children. Whether the child is not doing right or the child’s father is not doing right, the preacher man urged those mothers to not let the negative hand they have been dealt to interfere with the love of their children.

In order to survive those troubling times, mothers “must have unwavering faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that is deeply grounded in the word of God.” Also in the words of the reverend,

“Don’t hit the panic button, hit the prayer button.”

Having that steadfast faith, that faith of Eunice and Lois, means mothers should bring their children to the house of the Lord so they may learn about Jesus and learn that “God is good.” Not only should mothers bring their children to church and Sunday school, but they should come and learn WITH their children. In this manner, mothers adhere to Proverbs 22:6 which instructs parents to “train up a child in the way that he should go…”

Every day should be Mother’s Day. On this day, we should pray for their continued strength and be thankful for their faithfulness and nurturing love. Most importantly, we should honor our mothers just as the Word says. I pray that all mothers be encouraged and continue to have genuine faith.

Look out for part two.

Happy Mother’s Day!