Day 27: HELL
Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—
I skipped a couple of writing days while I was in Roanoke celebrating with my family this week, and now it is the evening of Christmas Day, the end of all that Advent waiting, the celebration of God’s reign on earth in the form of a tiny little baby boy, and I have to write about hell and hangings.
I don’t know a lot about hell, and I don’t know a lot about hangings.
The first is because hell is a slippery, pseudo-biblical concept that no one living has actually experienced.
The second is because the history I was taught over the course of many (many) years of formal schooling conveniently left out most of the hangings that white Christians orchestrated, attended, adulated and encouraged in American history.
From 1880 to 1940, white American Christians lynched nearly 5,000 black Americans.
And they didn’t do it under cover of night, either. They were not ashamed of what they were doing and, like James Cone says in his book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” they apparently made zero connection between lynching their neighbors and the lynching of their Lord and Savior, Jesus.
Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, this symbol of salvation has been detached from any reference to the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings—those whom Ignacio Ellacuría, the Salvadoran martyr, called “the crucified peoples of history.” The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the “cost of discipleship,” it has become a form of “cheap grace,” an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission. Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a “recrucified” black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.
I am astounded at the ways we lie to ourselves about the righteousness of our own behavior. Parties! People held lynching parties! And this history – the one I am learning, finally, now, the one that I resisted for so many years, the honest and painful one – makes me wonder how many ways white America is lying to ourselves still, today. How many ways am I lying to myself about the righteousness of my own behavior, right now?
God of truth and repentance, open my eyes to the ways I deceive myself, the lies I ignore, the false history I buy into in order to avoid confession. Wash me, so that I might be clean. Purify me, so that I might have the courage to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission.