February 19, 2020
Rev. William Bills
James Cone was one of the preeminent American theologians in the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. He was the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Some of his most influential works include, Black Theology and Black Power; A Black Theology of Liberation; and Malcom and Martin and America: A Dream or a Nightmare. His 2011 book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree has been reprinted eleven times. The Cross and the Lynching Tree won the 2018 Grawemeyerin Religion. Among other awards, the book was named one of the top eleven religious books of the year by the Huffington Post.
I had read Cone while studying liberation theology in seminary years ago. When R. Scot Miller came to UUMC as our First Tuesday Lecturer in October he repeatedly referenced The Cross and the Lynching Tree as he discussed Martin Luther King, Malcom X and Reinhold Niebuhr. Miller’s comments kept coming back to Niebuhr a preeminent theologian from Detroit who in the civil rights era refused to ever discuss racism in America seriously. In The Cross and the Lynching TreeJames Cone makes it crystal clear that white preachers and theologians, almost universally, refused to address lynching in America in any meaningful way. Even when lynching was undertaken by American Christian leaders and communities openly and publicly.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree is not an easy book to read. At times it made me angry to read about white Christians turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to white terrorism perpetrated against African Americans in this country. The book is a testimony to the African American spirit, African American Christianity and the role that African American culture and leaders played in resisting the white terrorism of lynching in America. The book humbled me and caused me to feel remorse and a need to repent for white American Christianity and its’ silence.
We have purchased a number of copies of The Cross and the Lynching Tree. I hope you will take one next time you are at church and use it for your Lenten discipline, reading it a little each week from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. Books will also be available at the Shrove Tuesday youth group pancake supper on February 25th (6-8pm) and at the Ash Wednesday service on the 26th (7pm). One cannot read this book and not be moved by it. Hopefully it might inspire more of us to speak out and confront evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they may present themselves in our nation.
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.