Easter is About Seeing Those at the Margins

For many Christians, Easter is a high holy holiday—it’s the religious bedrock that not only anchors them in their faith, but it also shapes and governs their view of the world.

I’m one of them.

My passion for Easter is like that of author and Christian C.S. Lewis. In his 1945 essay “Is Theology Poetry?”, Lewis expressed his passion for the whole of Christianity thusly: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

That “everything else”, for me, is learning to see those at the margins of society.

It is at those margins where you see injustice being done. At the margins one can honestly critique the oppressive structures in society that keeps us wounded as a people, and also help heal—both for the oppressed and the oppressor.

Easter gives me the opportunity to consider Jesus. Jesus’ death forces me to consider his life on the margins of society and the events that led to his crucifixion. Each year I glean new insights.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was, unquestionably, a threat to the social and political status quo. Viewed as a religious threat because of his iconoclastic views and practice of Jewish law, and as a political threat to the Roman government because of his popularity among the poor and oppressed, Jesus was nailed to a cross, an attempt by those in power to eliminate him.

It would be an egregious omission to gloss over the unrelenting violence that took place during Jesus’ time, especially in light of the ongoing violence in today’s society toward people of color, women, Jews, Muslims, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, to name a few.

It is sometimes said in many traditional Christian churches that “Jesus died for our sins.” Such language masks the reality that Jesus died “because of our sins”—our intolerance, our hatred, our violence.

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—thereby maintaining the status quo.

For example, as an instrument for execution by Roman officials Jesus’ suffering on the cross should never 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 were never as restitution for the sins of the Ku Klux Klan, but were, instead, because of their sins that went, for decades, unaccounted for until the 1951 Federal Anti-Lynching Act was passed.

In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross and the lynching of African-American are synonymous experiences.

As a deeply controversial icon in Christian liberation theologies for many feminists, womanists, African Americans, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender religious scholars the cross is the locus of redemption insofar as it serves as a lens to critically examine and make the connections between the abuses of power and institutions of domination that brought about the suffering Jesus endured during his time to the abuses of power and institutions of domination that brings about the suffering which women, people of color and sexual minorities are enduring in our present day.

When suffering is understood as an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for, we can then begin to see its manifestation in systems of racism, sexism, classism heterosexism, and religion-based bigotry not only in our everyday lives but also in the world.

With a new understanding about suffering and how it victimizes the innocent and its aborts the Christian mission of inclusiveness, Jesus’ death at Calvary invites a different hermeneutic than its classically held one.

So, when the Christian community looks at the cross this Easter Sunday, we must see not only Jesus there, but the many other faces and bodies that are crucified along with his around the world, too. And, in so doing, we deepen our solidarity with all who suffer at the margins of society; thereby, seeing those who are in our midst.

 

SOURCES:

Easter – Its Origins and Meanings
http://www.religioustolerance.org/easter.htm

Quote by C.S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the…”
http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/660-i-believe-in-christianity-as-i-believe-that-the-sun

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_Theory:_From_Margin_to_Center

Was Jesus political?
http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/creech/060314

Was Jesus political?
http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/creech/060314

Bible Question:What does it mean that “Jesus died for our sins”?
http://www.neverthirsty.org/pp/corner/read1/r00454.html

Jesus, The Suffering Servant sermon, Jesus, The Suffering Servant sermon
http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/jesus-the-suffering-servant-k-edward-skidmore-sermon-on-lordship-of-christ-90384.asp

Instrument of Jesus’ crucifixion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrument_of_Jesus’_crucifixion

White Only: Jim Crow in America – Separate Is Not Equal
http://americanhistory.si.edu/brown/history/1-segregated/white-only-1.html

Ku Klux Klan – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.com
http://www.history.com/topics/ku-klux-klan

Lynching in the United States – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States

The resurrection of Jesus Christ: Fact or fable?
http://www.religioustolerance.org/resurrec.htm

Facts About the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
http://christianity.about.com/od/goodfriday/p/crucifixionhub.htm

 

About the Author
Rev. Irene Monroe is described in O, the Oprah Magazine, as “a phenomenal woman who has succeeded against all odds.” An African-American lesbian feminist public theologian, she is a sought-after speaker and preacher.

Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist. Her columns appear in 43 cities across the country and in the U.K, and Canada. And she writes a weekly column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows.

Monroe stated that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

In inviting Monroe to speak at The United Nations International School at the UN they wrote “Rev. Monroe, your active role in the fight against homophobia and your written activism for human rights has truly made an impact on this world, as well as your theories on religion and homosexuality in the U.S.”

As an activist Monroe has received numerous awards: the 2015 Top 25 LGBT Power Players of New England Award by Boston Spirit Magazine; 2013 Bayard Rustin Service Award recipient, and GLAD 2012 Spirit of Justice awardee. She appears in the film For the Bible Tells Me So and was profiled in the Gay Pride episode of In the Life, an Emmy-nominated segment. She received the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching several times while serving as head teaching fellow for the Rev. Peter Gomes. Monroe does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), Boston. Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College’s research library on the history of women in America. You can find out more about Monroe at www.irenemonroe.com

Twitter handle: revimonroe

Review & Commentary