June 2, 2020
Rev. William Bills
Crucifixion was death by asphyxiation. The wrists and heels of the condemned were nailed to a cross. The nails through the heels allowed the crucified to push themselves up in order to breathe. As the crucified grew tired lifting oneself up became harder. As the body sagged more and more the crucified was asphyxiated. Crucifixion was slow, painful torture. It was humiliating. It was intended to be a deterrent; the imperial means of enforcing law and order.
In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011), the late James Cone draws a straight line from the crucifixion of Jesus to the lynching of African Americans in the United States. In the same way that crucifixion was meant to intimidate and threaten two millennia ago, lynching in the United States has been used to threaten and intimidate African Americans. According to Cone, white American Christians have failed to see the connection between the cross and the lynching tree. In the same way that an innocent Jesus was tortured and hung from a tree thousands of innocent African Americans have been tortured and hung from trees. White theologians, white clergy and white congregations remained silent in the face of lynching.
George Floyd was lynched. Not hung from a tree, but lynched nonetheless. Even as the Romans did in their time, George Floyd’s death was a public spectacle. His suffering, humiliation and death was intended to be a deterrent, a threat, a warning to others. Step out of line and this might happen to you. Those who lynched George Floyd did so publicly because they expect to get away with it. Historically, they always have. Because too many good people remain silent.
Last night President Trump used the church and the Bible in a symbolic way to justify the lynching of George Floyd, and all those who have gone before him. The president declared war on anyone who will stand up for truth and justice. He threatened to use all the force of the American military to dominate the streets so we can get back to normal. Lynching African Americans is not normal. That much would seem self-evident. For people of faith a return to that normal is sin.
Some say Jesus died for sins. He certainly died because of sin. He confronted sin. He confronted injustice. He stood with the poor and the oppressed. He spoke truth to power on behalf of the powerless and power lynched him. Just like that. Power hung him on a tree. He died from asphyxiation. George Floyd was lynched. Not hung from a tree. We just don’t do it that way anymore. He was crushed by the weight of law and order. Asphyxiated. He died because of sin. He exposed, called to our attention, sin. Our sin. America’s original sin. The white Christian church’s sin. Racism. The church must not be complicit in the George Floyd’s death. The church and its scripture cannot be used to justify lynching. By anyone. People of faith, especially white people, must confront and heal the sin of racism at every level of our society.
At University United Methodist Church, we affirm that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are an open and inclusive congregation and welcome all persons into full participation regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic situation, age, ability, education, background and whether single or partnered.