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“That’s why they crucified him.”

“That’s why they crucified him.”

Joe McKnight, an student at Union Theological Seminaryinterviewed the Rev. James H. Cone, Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, on black liberation theology, among other subjects, for The Revealer. (The text of the interview begins about two thirds of the way down the page.)


McKnight asks Cone several questions about Cone’s most recent book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

Cone: The book emerged out of my attempt to understand what the gospel of Jesus and his cross might mean for America. Especially for America since they crucified so many marginal black people in its history through lynching, the same way Roman society crucified Jesus and so many marginal and poor people during the time of the empire.

I wanted to suggest that maybe if Americans could see the cross in the light of the lynching tree, they might be able to understand what the cross really meant in the 1st century and what the cross might mean for the people who have put other people on crosses.

JM: Why does the media interpret black liberation theology the way they do?

Cone: The media wants to sell papers, they want to attract viewers to the cable shows, the mainline shows. I don’t think the media is interested in understanding anything deeply about black liberation theology. I didn’t write it for the media – I wrote it for people who were struggling for justice. Black liberation theology is the voice of voiceless people. It’s the voice of the marginal groups, people within the black community and also within America. Black liberation theology was not written for upper class black people. I wanted to provide hope for hopeless people and I wanted to provide faith for a people who had their backs against the wall. Who were not recognized and acknowledged by America. So I wanted to speak for them – that’s what I think the gospel of Jesus Christ is about. It is not about being the most popular theology or the most popular preacher. And that’s why I did not respond to all of the requests that were made from all the cable shows for me to come on TV and explain black liberation theology. I would have done it, if I thought they were really interested in it. …

JM: Is that the voice America is still not ready to listen to, the people struggling for justice?

Cone: I think America is ready to listen to the dominant voices, the dominant people. Dominant people in terms of economics, politics, and religion. That’s who has a voice in this society, but you know, society at the time of Jesus was not interested in Jesus, that’s why they crucified him. So it does not surprise me that the American public is not interested in the gospel of Jesus or black liberation theology or any type of liberation theology because that theology speaks for the poor and America is not interested in the poor. If America were interested in the poor or if the media were interested in the poor, then there would not be nearly 50 million poor people in this society.

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