In the novel “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” James Cone argues that the cross and the lynching tree interpret each other since both were public spectacles and shameful events. There are similarities and differences between the cross and the lynching tree such as public suffering and physical instruments of suffering. Cone’s analysis of the suffering of African Americans reminds me of Christians in Syria who also suffered from discrimination but hoped that their suffering will end someday. The similarities and differences between the cross, the lynching tree, and Christians in Syria will be discussed in the following.
Cone argues that lynching African Americans on the tree remind us of the cross since both Jesus’ death on the cross and African American’s death on the lynching tree were public and shameful events. Cone says, “The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for most despised people in society” (Cone, 161). Furthermore, the lynching tree and the cross have reciprocal acts of interpretation. The cross today reminds a lot of people of the resurrection more than the suffering of Jesus on the cross: “today, we look more towards Easter Day than Good Friday” (Class Notes, 2.9.18). The lynching tree plays an important role in reminding us of how awful it was to put Jesus on the cross and have him suffer for us. Even though Jesus is fully divine, he is also fully human and he experienced suffering on the cross. Cone argues, “…the lynching tree reveals the religious meaning of the cross for American Christians today. The cross needs the lynching tree to remind Americans of the reality of suffering… to keep the cross of abstract, sentimental piety” (Cone, 161). On the other hand, the cross was important to African Americans since it gave them hope and empowered their movement. Cone says, “the more black people struggled against white supremacy, the more they found in the cross the spiritual power to resist the violence they so often suffered” (Cone, 22). In other words, there is a reciprocal interpretation between the cross and the lynching tree since the cross gave hope to African Americans and the lynching tree reminded people of Jesus suffering on the cross.
The cross and the lynching tree share similarities and differences. Many African Americans and black artists saw the suffering of Jesus on the cross as similar to the suffering of African Americans. Cone says, “When visual artists painted an image of Christ on the cross and painted him black, they were also referencing Christ as a lynched victim. Simply turning him from white to black switched the visual signifiers, making him one with the body of lynched black people in America” (Cone, 101). For example, both Jesus and African Americans were suffering in public. For both situations, some people approved of this act and believed that Jesus deserved to suffer. For African Americans, many white Americans accepted lynching African Americans as a punishment. Images were taken of white Americans laughing while African Americans were being burnt. A second similarity is that neither Jesus nor African Americans chose to suffer. Cone explains, “black people are Christ Figures, not because they wanted to suffer but because they had no choice. Just as Jesus had no choice in his journey to Calvary, so black people had no choice about being lynched” (Cone, 166). On the other hand, one of the differences is the physical instruments of suffering. While Jesus died on the cross, African Americans had several kinds of suffering, such as burning, being raped and being lynched. A second difference is that people were saved by Jesus Christ. However, people were not saved by lynching African Americans. Clearly, the lynching tree and the cross were both public events, however, Jesus saved all Christians but the lynching tree did not save Christians.
Cone’s analysis is convincing and he persuasively describes how African Americans suffered from discrimination and slavery. Reading this novel made me think of how the cross also gave hope to many Christians in the city of Aleppo when ISIS seized the city in 2012. Lots of Christians could not go to church, were not allowed to work, and a few were put on a cross as punishment. Some Christians died on the cross from this suffering. Fear was spread in the city and some people were convinced that this was the correct punishment for some Christians. In other words, there was also a reciprocal interpretation between Jesus dying on the cross and Christians dying in Aleppo. The cross gave hope to many Christians in the city that someday this nightmare will end and the suffering of many Christians on the cross reminded people of Jesus’ suffering. I see some similarities between how African Americans and Christian Syrians coped with the discrimination. Cone talked about the blues and how African Americans used to sing and dance as a way to relieve their pain. Fear of terrorism did not stop Syrians from singing and praying at home. Cone would say that we should take the people from the cross and take action. Even though ISIS left the city, families and friends are still experiencing painful memories because they lost their children and family members. Many Syrians started rebuilding their homes and churches. I agree with Cone that the cross has empowered the African Americans’ movement by giving them hope, but I also believe that the cross is still giving hope to many Christians in the Middle East who are living in a war.
Cone argues that there is a reciprocal interpretation between the cross and the lynching tree since the cross gave hope to African Americans and lynching reminds Christians of the suffering of Jesus. Even though the cross and lynching were both public, Jesus saved us but lynching tree did not save us. Cone’s analysis shows similarities to Christians in Aleppo who also suffered but the cross gave them hope to fight ISIS.
Cone, James H. The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Orbis Books, 2016.