The lynching tree–so strikingly similar to the cross on Golgotha–should have a prominent place in American images of Jesus’ death. But it does not. In fact, the lynching tree has no place in American theological reflections about Jesus’ cross or in the proclamation of Christian churches about his Passion. The conspicuous absence of the lynching tree in American theological discourse and preaching is profoundly revealing, especially since the crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching. In the “lynching era,” between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly 5,000 black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these “Christians” did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.
As Jesus was an innocent victim of mob hysteria and Roman imperial violence, many African-Americans were innocent victims of white mobs, thirsting for blood in the name of God and in defense of segregation, white supremacy, and the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race. Both the cross and the lynching tree were symbols of terror, instruments of torture and execution, reserved primarily for slaves, criminals, and insurrectionists—the lowest of the low in society. Both Jesus and blacks were publicly humiliated, subjected to the utmost indignity and cruelty. They were stripped, in order to be deprived of dignity, then paraded, mocked and whipped, pierced, derided and spat upon, and tortured for hours in the presence of jeering crowds for popular entertainment. In both cases, the purpose was to strike terror in the subject community. It was to let people know that the same thing would happen to them if they did not stay in their place.
The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans and the lynching of blacks by whites in the United States are so amazingly similar that one wonders what blocks the American Christian imagination from seeing the connection.”
James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 30-31
Don Carson on racial reconciliation from his book Love in Hard Places. The entire section (pp. 87-108) is a classic Carsonian treatment of the subject–historically informed, logically thought through, with deference to multiple perspectives, and willingness to say true things–all reasons why Carson is so great to read on so many subjects. Anyway:
Although the ways in which we will live out the gospel mandate of becoming one new humanity may take somewhat different shapes in different subcultures, we must be doing something to realize that gospel goal; certainly we must not be perceived to be knee-jerk reactionaries who are dragged into racial reconciliation kicking an screaming, bringing up the end of the pack, the last to be persuaded. For we constitute a new humanity under the Lord who insisted, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”