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Those Who Are Christ in Our Midst


Question & Answer

Q: By Rhoda from the Internet
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?
A: By Rev. Irene Monroe

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

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author

The Reverend Monroe is an ordained minister. She does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), a Boston member station of National Public Radio (NPR), that is now  a podcast,  and a weekly Friday commentator  on New England Channel NEWS (NECN). Monroe is the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail, a Guided Walking Tour of Beacon Hill: Boston’s Black Women Abolitionists. Monroe’s a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist. Her columns appear in cities across the country and in the U.K, Ireland, Canada.  Monroe writes a column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows, Cambridge Chronicle,  and Opinion pieces for the Boston Globe.

Monroe stated that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American, queer and religious studies. As a 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.”

Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College’s research library on the history of women in America.

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