“Suffering naturally gives rise to doubt. How can one believe in God in the face of such horrendous suffering as slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree?” Since a young age James Cone went through life changing experiences that have molded his future. In his community of black churches on the rise also was the reality of racism in Arkansas. What Cone witnessed at a young age in his community, and the churches would be his main focus as a career. At the young age of sixteen Cone was called to his ministry, and in the next year at the age of seventeen he was a pastor. The year was 1954 and whites in the town Fordyce, Arkansas seen blacks as people made by God to be servants of white people.
During Cone’s years in high school he was a pastor at several churches and also a reporter. Cone followed Dr. Martin Luther King closely and the Montgomery bus boycott he led, but his career in theology was mainly influenced, and questioned by Malcolm X when he said “Christianity is a white man’s religion.” Cone not only questioned his faithfulness to christianity but he also thought Christianity did not have the same focus as it did when he was younger. At this time Dr. Cone was giving up on his Christian faith. If Cone were to stay a Christian he said he would have to rethink his views on faith because of the demanding times.
During this era of riots and racist driven violence Cone realized the way Christians responded was insensitive to the blacks suffering. But also most of this insensitivity was coming from white theologians. Many Christians ignored and rejected James Cone but he continued to reimagine, and attempt to change theology and Christianity as a whole. James Cone seen flaws in white theologians/christian views towards the black community. His movement, focus, and projects were not only driven by his experience as a young black male, but they were directed toward theology and white racism combined which caused tension and racial issues.
Dr. Cone touches the subject of Christians seeking the Kingdom of God but looking past the issues of race. While trying to make race and faith a topic to be discussed Dr. Cone said “unless the cross and the lynching tree are seen together, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in the U.S. and no healing of the racial divide in churches, seminaries, or broader society as a whole.” Dr. Cone spoke about the lynching era, and even if this subject is uncomfortable it is still necessary to talk about.
Within Cone’s text “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” he asked the question “Who wants to think about lynched black bodies in a church worship?” “The Church” as an entirety is suppressing the nations truth under the layer of religion drenched southerners and Gods supposed love to all lies the lynchings, and harsh truth of race and religion, with all of this as news, is giving up on christian faith such a bad thing after all? Black Christians put aside the views they had on lynchings in America and had faith in God’s work that engaging in the difficult dialogue about lynchings would serve as a purpose.
The faithfulness it took to be involved in such difficult situations about the past, serves as a Testament to God. The lynching era would rather not be talked about by most because along with slavery, this era is one of America’s sin and shame. This reality along with its horrors isn’t talked about in classrooms, especially not churches. Many churchgoers who attended these lynchings would not considers themselves racist because they were not the actual ones conducting the lynchings. Dr. Cone recently got a national spotlight during the Wright-Obama controversy about black liberation theology in 2008. Now that more problems from the past are starting to arise the question comes up again from time to time, “Should we have listened to James Cone?”
A recent Christian piece on Cone spoke about his gospels and how they are for “hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness”, the problem that people seem to have with Cone is that he critiqued white Christians and their views on racism before other people realized it. In a recent speech at Duke University Cone recalled how he often argued that white theologians attitude toward black people’s lives, thought, and theology was seen as unimportant. Dr. Cones liberation theology is more than just liberation for all people, but it proves that the “oppressors” will never say they are wrong, but in religion white theologist claimed God had no strict rule on how to treat black people.
The problems Dr.Cone dealt with in the early 60’s are problems that are now a focus in the 21st century. Since then Dr.Cone along with his values and voice has been heard more than ever. Police brutality, racism, and discrimination against theologians of color has prompted more attention from conservative christians to take a stand against racism and social justice.