On October 3, 2011 at the Historic Abyssinia Baptist Church of New York , NY hosted a lecture by Professor James Cone on his most recent book called “The Cross and The Lynching Tree”. This event was held in the vestry level of the church to a standing room only crowd. As the crows sat intensely waiting to hear from this prestigious professor .anticipation was mounting to know exactly what the thesis of such an unusual title was. Dr. Cone who is considered to be the father of black liberation theology has written several books on the issue of race and Christianity beginning with his most popular “Black Theology and Black Power” As Dr. Cone took the podium he readily admitted that of all the books that he has written this was the most biographical of them all, detailing his personal experiences growing up in the Jim Crow south. And how dehumanizing lynching was to blacks living in the south. He described the fear and the faith of his parents trying to protect their children from lynching. Through out Dr. Cone’s lecture you could hear the intensity of the personal experience and the effect it had on his person
One of the main priorities Cone emphasized was that we must see the “racial barrier in America as its original sin and we will not overcome that dividing wall unless we see how tall that wall is”. In the Cross and Lynching tree he seeks to bring comparison of how both the cross and the lynching tree symbolize life, death, and also hope. That just as the cross was the most dehumanizing symbol 2000 years ago such is the lynching tree. The paradox is that the Cross is the message of hope and salvation, were as the lynching tree negates the message of white supremacy. Dr. Cone challenged us to deal with the reality of both symbols one celebrated and the other almost erased from the memory of American history. Dr. Cone readily admitted that his book did not have all the answers but sought to start a conversation as to how to reconcile the gospel message of liberation with the reality of black oppression. His desire is for there to be healthy dialogue to deal with the issue of white supremacy and Christianity. As he said in his own words “you cannot be a Christian and a racist at the same time”.
Although Dr. Cone’s argument can be seen as quite radical, it is also one that must be considered and heard. The issue of race is still at the forefront of the American society. The challenge he presents to us is to deal with the most segregated day of the week and that is Sunday. The dialogue must begin even if an agreement cannot be reached. Dr. Cone left the audience to consider viewing their Christianity through their race and understanding how it affects our ideologies concerning God and even other Christians. I would highly recommend reading his new book to hear this very interesting perspective of Black Christianity.
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