This is a really interesting and insightful Bill Moyers interview with Christian theologian and philosopher, James Cone. During the Black Power era, Cone articulated what he called a "black liberation theology" and has since continued to put forth a radical and prophetic vision of Christ. "Any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor in a society is not Christ's message," Cone argues. "Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology."
The interview posted here is based on a lecture Cone gives, titled, "Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree." Here is what Cone has to say by way of introducing the topic:
I know that the cross and the lynching tree are not comfortable subjects to talk about together. Who wants to think about lynched black bodies in church worship? Or when doing a theological reflection on Bonhoeffer's question "Who is Jesus Christ for us today?" This is exactly what I contend the Gospel requires Christians to do-especially preachers and theologians. I claim that no American Christian- white, black, or any other color-can understand correctly the full theological meaning of the American Christ, without identifying his image with a recrucified black body hanging from a lynching tree.
Black poets and other artists like Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. Du Bois realized the religious meaning and symbolic connection of the cross and the lynching tree. But this connection failed to ring a theological bell in the imagination of white theologians and their churches. Not many black theologians and preachers have made an explicit connection between the cross and the lynching tree either. So I want to start a conversation about the cross and the lynching tree, and thereby break our silence on race and Christianity in American history. I began this reflection in the only place I feel confident to speak as a theologian: the black religious experience. I was born into this reality, and have wrestled with these paradoxes and incongruities since childhood. If I have anything to say to the Christian community in America and around the world, it will happen as I stand as a theologian on the reality that sustains and empowers black people to resist the forces designed to destroy every ounce of dignity in their souls and bodies.
Cone is deep, a man of fierce intelligence. The Moyers interview (below) is worth some serious consideration... and is perhaps not a bad meditation for the new year:
Here is a well-known quote by Cone: "Anger and humour are like the left and right arm. They complement each other. Anger empowers the poor to declare their uncompromising opposition to opression, and humor prevents them from being consumed by their fury."
If you'd like to watch a video of Cone delivering the full "cross & lynching tree" lecture/sermon at Harvard, click here:
James Cone, "Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree," Harvard University, October 2006