The Salt Collective writers have been profoundly shaped by the theology and life of Dr. James Cone. So we wanted to honor his life and mourn his passing by writing how much he meant to us.
For most of my time in the Evangelical world, my passion for justice was, at best, politely tolerated by the majority of the Christians around me. I was told innumerable times at church, school and at my college campus ministry that social justice was good, but it was not the Gospel. I found this confusing considering how much of Jesus’ time and energy was put toward disrupting the systems of power around him and moving toward the marginalized, but since my read on Jesus was so different from what everyone around me was saying, I believed that I must be wrong.
That was until I encountered this simple, radical quote from James H. Cone. “Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology.” At the heart of the Christian gospel is the acknowledgement of oppression and of our responsibility as Christians to name it and struggle against it, be it our own or the oppression of others.
Hearing that social justice wasn’t some Christian sideshow, some secondary calling if you’re not good enough to be a pastor, was deeply liberating and validating. It was the invitation I needed to continue my work for justice within the Christian context and community. For this, and so much else, I am grateful to James Cone. – Cami Jones
The Cross and the Lynching Tree should be required reading for anyone in any theological discipline –– and, really, for anyone who professes to be Christian.
Dr. Cone is one of a very small group of people whom I never met and who still managed to change my life. He was a prophet in the truest sense: his words weren’t easy to swallow, and he made me uncomfortable.
Encountering his groundbreaking black liberation theology irrevocably changed a major aspect of my own God-talk. I would never be the same again –– as a white person, as an anti-racist believer in the good news, as a committed follower of Jesus. – Jason Chesnut
I am processing the news of Dr. James Cone’s death and my heart is heavy.
I am a practical theologian by training and I would not understand who I am as a black person and how God has a heart for the oppressed without Dr. Cone. I would not have the language or the lens to understand the crucifixion of Christ as a lynching. I would not have the depth of commitment to the Gospel as the ultimate Good News for the oppressed. I would not have a lens that leads me to interrogate the Bible and religion in ways that ask the question of who is benefitting and who is oppressed? I wouldn’t be bold in proclaiming the gifts and graces of my community and unapologetically state that #blacklivesmatter is a profoundly theological statement.
Dr. Cone led me to realize the importance of one’s lived experience, the profundity of the Gospel, and the ways in which context matters. We are better because of him. Christian theology is richer because of him. Freedom and liberation have been experienced because of him.
My prayer is that we continue to build on his work, his legacy and his love. May we be the people he hoped us to be. May we love and liberate with abandon. Well done, you good and faithful servant. Rest in power and in peace. – Rozella H. White
Over my life I’ve had hundreds of teachers (some actual teachers, some colleagues, family and friends, some authors and speakers) who have taught me about sin of racism in America. They each showed me the stars in the night sky of racism. It was James Cone’s book, The Spirituals and The Blues, that helped me to see a horrific constellation I had missed. Slavery, lynching, the 3/5ths clause, racial profiling, and segregation, all required and contributed to the dehumanization of Black people.
Cone shares how through both the religious spirituals and the secular blues, African Americans asserted their full humanity. A humanity that longed for freedom either in the North, or in Heaven. These songs celebrate the full spectrum of human experience, sex, heart break, depression, joy, hope, sorrow, and assert the full humanity of the singer and the sung about.
Our creativity, and participation in music and the arts is an important means to survive the dehumanizing impact of oppression. But the arts are not just an opiate for the masses, they are a means of building resistance. Well done good and faithful Dr. Cone. Thank you. – Katie Matson-Daley
James Cone was the first person to explain to me that Jesus’ life was more like black Americans than white Republicans. Growing up at a church where Jesus was white, and good Christians were Republicans, this was an faith-shattering idea.
But James Cone disassembled and re-assembled my conception of Jesus with language that I could understand and needed to hear hear as a privileged white theology student at an Evangelical college. And his words continue to shape my theology and inform my life as a progressive pastor. I am forever grateful. – Nathan Roberts