James Cone is the leader in black liberation theology, with a focus on the civil rights movement. In the interview during the Trinity Institute’s 38th National Conference, Cone speaks of reasons for the connection between religion and violence. Two thought-provoking questions introduced a discussion on the connection between power, violence and religion and the cross and crucifixion as a symbol of violence.
Cone suggested that religious people are victims of violence, such as African-Americans. The civil rights movement used religion to inspire African-Americans to resist violence. He concedes that the dominant religion is always violent against people who have no power. If religion is in the hands of powerful people, it will be violent towards those that are not powerful. Cone suggests that the African-American community is the victim of that violence because Caucasians are the dominant, therefore powerful, force behind religion, economics, and politics in the United States.
Cone also suggests that the cross and crucifixion are symbols of violence. He states that he believes the crucifixion was a “first century lynching.” There has been a history of violence towards the African-American community in the form of lynching. Americans lynched more than 5,000 African-Americans and the Christian Church said little about it. Cone claims that the cross is a symbol of the violence that Jesus endured, a symbol of the lynching. Jesus, in essence, was a victim of violence. Cone also claims that the only way Christians would understand the violence Jesus went through would be to see it through the lynching of African-Americans in the United States. To identify with the crucifixion, Christians must identify with the people who were lynched. The cross is a symbol of God siding with the victim, the powerless. If one wants to become a Christian, one has to give up the power. Cone believes that one must give back what one took.
The African-American point of view is certainly different from the Caucasian point of view. No one can deny that the lynching of African-Americans in the United States was terrible, however, in today’s society, Americans have come a long way. The cross does symbolize the violence that Jesus endured and the crucifixion was an extreme act of violence, but saying that the Caucasian group as a whole condones violence because of the Christian religion is ludicrous.
A select few Caucasians lynched African-Americans. The segregation that led to the civil rights movement, for most Caucasian Americans, was just a way of life. They only Caucasians that really spoke out against the African-American community were White Supremacists. What James Cone perhaps forgot was that White Supremacy did not encompass the entire Caucasian population.
Few might believe that in order to understand the crucifixion one must understand the lynching experience in the United States. The crucifixion could be understood in a number of ways. Everyone has no doubt experienced violence toward their person in their lifetime. One can use that experience of violence to understand the crucifixion. Cone sounded as though he wanted to make it a race issue, when in fact, it does not have to be. African-Americans are not the only people to experience violence. Take, for instance, the Holocaust. That did not involve African-Americans, but the Caucasian, Jewish community. Does that diminish the pain and violence that the Jewish community felt? Of course not. African-Americans have certainly felt violence from the Caucasian community, however, Caucasians have experienced violence as well.
In addition, Cone made a connection between the violence seen by the African-American community in the past, and perhaps in the present, to the power Caucasians have regarding not only politics and economics, but also religion. Caucasians are not the only group to have power in religion. For example, some African-Americans are pastors at Christian churches. As for power in politics, yes, Caucasians have significant power, but so do African-Americans. A prime example of this is Colin Powell. Another great example is Barack Obama, who is now the President of the United States. Perhaps in light of President Obama’s inauguration, Cone would rethink his stance on the racial issues of power in politics.
In conclusion, all races and ethnicities have experienced violence, religious or otherwise. The crucifixion of Jesus was certainly a violent event, but a necessary one according to Christian belief. The world has always been, and always will be, rife with violence, not only for African-Americans, but for everyone. Not only has there been Caucasians being violent toward African-Americans, but one is now seeing more and more that there are also African-Americans being violent toward Caucasians. The goal is to look to religion to inspire everyone to stray from violence; violence is not the answer, whether religion was a personal reason for it or not. Religion is not supposed to teach people to be violent. It is supposed to teach people to love one another, to live life in a way that will harm no one.
– Cone, James. (2008). Interview on Religion ; Violence. Retrieved May 24, 2009, from Trinity Wall Street. http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/education/?institute-2008