Ba(’a)ll in our Court.

Essay by Rev. Roger Wolsey on 8 March 2018 5 Comments

I offer this sharing in the wake of the tragic mass shooting at a high school in Florida – a shooting that took place on Ash Wednesday. Knowing that the vast majority of my fellow Americans are not progressive Christians, nor have the majority even heard of progressive Christianity. So, I sometimes write with that larger audience in mind – seeking to appeal to their basic Christian understandings – even if that means employing or coming across as assuming a certain amount of conventional Christian rhetoric or perspectives -and then working from that place to help people shift to a more progressive understanding. It’s important to meet people where they are. With this caveat in mind, let those who have ears to hear, hear.

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Please help me understand . . . What do you mean when you say you are a "Believing Christian." If God is not a being who is this "Christ" that you believe in?


Dear Rhoda,

I understand the very essence of Christ through the suffering of people. For example, twenty years ago this June, the remote east Texas town of Jasper consumed the nation's attention because of a heinous crime against a forty-nine-year-old vacuum cleaner salesman named James Byrd, Jr. Walking home after a party one night, Byrd was offered a ride by some passersby. Little did he know that he would soon be chained by his ankles to the back of a pick-up truck and dragged to his death - because he was black.

Later that same year in October, after an explosion of ads in major newspapers that summer from right-wing Christian “ex-gay” ministries, we heard the deadly news from another remote place: Laramie, Wyoming. This time, the victim was a twenty-one-year-old first-year college student named Matthew Shepard. Under the guise of friendship, two men lured Shepard from a tavern, then bludgeoned him with their rifles and tethered him to a rough-hewn wooden fence, like a hunting trophy - because he was gay.

These modern-day crucifixions - one because of race, the other due to sexual orientation - raise serious questions about the classic Christian understanding of the cross as the locus of God's atonement for human sin. For marginalized persons who want to avoid hanging on their own crosses, questions of how we understand Jesus’ crucifixion are not mere theological conundrums, but rather matters of life and death.

Within Christian tradition, the cross has too often been used to justify suffering and abuse, especially in the lives of the oppressed. The image of Jesus as the "suffering servant" has served to ritualize suffering as redemptive. While suffering points to the need for redemption, suffering in and of itself is not redemptive. Furthermore, the belief that undeserved suffering is to be endured through faith can encourage the powerful to be insensitive to the suffering of others and forces the less powerful to be complacent to their suffering - maintaining the status quo.

It is sometimes said in the church that "Jesus died for our sins." Such language, in my opinion, masks the reality that Jesus died because of our sins - our intolerance, our hatred, our violence.

Jesus' suffering on the cross because of these sins should not be seen as redemptive any more than the suffering of African American men dangling from trees in the South during Jim Crow America. The lynchings of African American men in this country were not restitution for the sins of the Ku Klux Klan, but a result of those sins.

As many liberation theologians have pointed out (whether they be feminist, womanist, African American, or LGBTQ), the cross can be a valuable lens to examine the connections between Jesus' suffering and the suffering of marginalized people today. The same abusive institutions and systems of domination at work in Jesus' day now shape our current reality.

Suffering is an ongoing cycle of abuse that remains unexamined and unaccounted for. If we unmask the powers that create suffering, the powers that led Christ to the cross, we begin to see they are manifest in our everyday lives in systems of racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism, to name a few. Because the cross reveals how suffering victimizes the innocent and marginalized, it can extend to us all a promise of liberation.

When the Christian community looks to the cross, we must see not only Jesus, but the many other faces of God that are crucified as God’s people today. In so doing, we see the image of God in ourselves, the image of God as ourselves, and the image of God in each other. We then deepen the church’s solidarity with all who suffer; those who are Christ in our midst

~ Rev. Irene Monroe




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