Excerpt No. 7 of The Executed God:

This 2015 revised and expanded  book is dedicated to Mumia Abu-Jamal. Moreover, my newly written main Preface to the book begins with Abu-Jamal’s words about Golgotha. This excerpt from the Preface, which follows Abu-Jamal’s quote, sets forth my book’s quiding argument in The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America.

Isn’t it odd that Christendom—that huge body of humankind that claims spiritual descent from the Jewish carpenter of Nazareth—claims to pray to and adore a being who was prisoner of Roman power, an inmate of the empire’s death row? That the one it considers the personification of the Creator of the Universe was tortured, humiliated, beaten and crucified on a barren scrap of land on the imperial periphery, at Golgotha, the place of the skull? That the majority of its adherents strenuously support the state’s execution of thousands of imprisoned citizens? That the overwhelming majority of its judges, prosecutors, and lawyers – those who condemn, prosecute, and sell out the condemned – claim to be followers of the fettered, spat-upon, naked God?   Mumia Abu-Jamal in Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience.[1]

This query about Christianity’s contradiction—“Isn’t it Odd?”—can be read as acerbic rhetoric, a deftly-crafted sarcasm. It exposes a key dynamic operating among Christians’ views of Jesus’ death. Taking the query as acerbic or sarcastic prompts a response: “Well, no, it isn’t odd at all.” It is not odd for Christians to have downplayed the political meanings of his death, to have strayed from revering a figure who, in fact, is best understood from the point of view of having suffered a politically motivated death in the Roman Empire, one that was more than a religious event.

This is not odd, we might continue, if we recall that Christians often have regularly abstracted their preaching and teaching into a divine-plan rhetoric of forgiveness and salvation that strips the cross of the politics of terror that were essential to crucifixion’s historical meaning. The oddity that Abu-Jamal observes does not arise simply because Christians today often fail to be politically resistant in ways the narratives of Jesus show him to have been in his own imperial setting. That is a failing by Christians today, indeed a hypocrisy. It is rightly exposed here by Abu-Jamal.

But the deeper problem is that many, if not most, Christians work out of core beliefs about the meaning of Jesus’ death that are abstracted from history. By “abstracted,” I mean Christians often pull the meanings of Jesus’ crucifixion up and away from crucifixion’s historical embeddedness in the state politics of terror in Jesus’ time.

This book, therefore, will weave together throughout its presentation both a constructive and a critical task. As the constructive task there emerges a reinterpretation of Jesus’ life as one that moved toward torture and death on the cross, being what I term his “way of the cross.” With this task I seek a positive and also feasible political theology for life in struggle and hope amid today’s Lockdown America. Then there is the critical task that runs concurrent to the first one, throughout the book.

This second task challenges Christians’ frequent abstraction of their faith and practice into concerns with divine-plan scenarios that occur above, or outside, history’s politics of state terror. The abstraction of Jesus’ death from its historico-political context, from its being what John Dominic Crossan termed an “imperial execution,”[2] goes hand in glove with similar abstractions by Christians today, failing to make the connections between their Christian faith and a political challenge to current imperial state terror.

The overall argument of the book will be that remembering the torture/death—the imperial execution—of Jesus, and enacting contemporary interpretations of Jesus’ way of the cross, catalyzes Christian action as a key contributor to society-wide mobilizing of resistance and hope amid Lockdown America today. This enables Christians to join others in resisting Lockdown America and in resisting those forms of Christendom that are complicit with it. I am using “Christendom” to refer to those institutionalized and all-too-prevalent Christian beliefs and assumptions that rationalize and reinforce the logics of statecraft at work in Lockdown America. In these ways, Christianity often functions as ideology, making an exploitative and deadly Lockdown America appear normal, necessary, and incapable of being challenged.

The book has a (perhaps) startling culmination. By its end, I call on Christians to work with all faiths and people of conscience to demilitarize the police function as we know it, to terminate U.S. mass incarceration, and to end the practice of capital punishment, which means ending various modes of the U.S. killing state. Many of the organizations I point to also prefigure a new socialist future as alternative to the capitalist-carceral state today. This is a mode of socialism I too embrace, and I explore it as “abolition democracy,” a notion that Angela Y. Davis and Mumia Abu-Jamal develop with the aid of W. E. B. Du Bois, George Lipsitz, and others.[3]

I am not proposing that Christianity, or discourse about Jesus, has a premium on the thinking and practice necessary for transformation amid Lockdown America. Quite to the contrary, Christians will need to work interdependently with communities of conscience that are interfaith and secular. If this book gives nearly exclusive attention to reinterpreting Jesus, his way of the cross, and many Christian resources, this is because I am seeking to move my own tradition into a closer and more effective solidarity with multiple interfaith and secular organizing already underway. Muslims, Jews, engaged Buddhists, the Yoruba, traditions of Caribbean cultures, secular activists, and well as many others abroad and in the U.S.—all must be engaged to take on Lockdown America.

In sum, racist police violence, mass incarceration and the death penalty—the structural triad of the U.S. penal state I term “Lockdown America”—are not just challenges for Christians today, they demand re-thinking and re-creating what Christianity is. The challenges demand not simply sensitizing and mobilizing Christians, but more importantly re-envisioning and redefining just what constitutes “Jesus followers today.”

[1] Abu-Jamal was an award-winning journalist and revolutionary writer, before being wrongfully arrested and convicted in 1982 for the shooting death of Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner. He served over 29 years on death row. His death sentence was ruled unconstitutional in 2011, and finally vacated in 2012. He now serves a life sentence without possibility of parole in a Pennsylvania prison. Today, after more than thirty years in prison, his renown has only grown. He has authored thousands of audio and print essays, and eight books. He has become “the voice of the voiceless” for many repressed others across the nation and world. His humanity, courage, power of pen and mind, as well as the flagrant injustice of his own treatment during trial and appeals, have drawn human rights activists’ attention. Amnesty International declared that his 1982 trial “clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal procedures.” See Amnesty International, The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Life in the Balance (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2000), 55. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu demands he “be released immediately.” Democracy Now!, interview with Amy Goodman, December 8, 2011,, accessed June 30, 2015. For an introduction to the writings and case of Abu-Jamal, see Johanna Fernández, ed., Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal (San Francisco: City Lights, 2015), xxi-xxxvi, 314-22.

[2] John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), 14.

[3] Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005), 77-104.

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