The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America

A powerful critique of America as Empire and the challenge it poses for all who believe in the way of Jesus.” James H. Cone, Union Theological Seminary, New York

Mark Taylor’s absorbing examination of our shameful execution obsession is without a doubt the finest and most discerning theological analysis of the death penalty now available. There is no doubt that the question is once again back in the public eye, and his graphic and penetrating book will surely help focus the discussion we all need.”  Harvey Cox, Harvard Divinity School


Taylor’s The Executed God stands out as one of the only – surely to date the fullest – treatment by a theologian of U.S. mass incarceration in the context of American social life and U.S. imperial policies. Winner of the Best General Interest Book Award, from the American Theological Association, The Executed God reinterprets Jesus, his journey to execution in a tumultuous period of Roman empire, as a “way of the cross,” a creative, artful mode of challenging political antagonisms.

The antagonisms amid which Taylor writes, here, are those created by a U.S. mass incarceration apparatus that is “the largest and most frenetic correctional buildup of any country in the history of the world,” according to the National Criminal Justice Commission. During this book’s writing, the U.S. was executing nearly 100 people a year from its death rows. Taylor views the prisons and the death penalty in relation to the rise of police violence in urban neighborhoods of color. In one of the most creative moves of the book, Taylor argues that policing, executions and runaway incarceration at home (a racialist and racist formation, “the New Jim Crow”) have to be theorized as part of the far-reaching geopolitical strategies of U.S. imperial power exercised abroad in its wars – covert and overt.

The arts, as developed in this book on Christian reconstructive work, Taylor presents as sparked by the creativity at work in the non-violent love of Jesus that was intensified by the adversarial pressures of Roman powers and religious elites. The arts, then, are intrinsic to prophetic protest emanating from Hebrew prophetic social justice traditions. Taylor foregrounds those arts practiced today in movements that dare to take on the U.S. apparatus of incarceration, war and economic exploitation. These include the multiple arts of repressed groups worldwide: painting, poetry and music of the imprisoned everywhere, arpilleras sewn by women for their children suffering the effects of military warfare, the miming and puppetry of demonstrations worldwide – from the Zapatista “festivals of resistance” in Chiapas, Mexico, to the street theater in Seattle and other U.S. and European cities contesting neoliberal globalization.

Social movements, then, are catalyzed by artisitic imagination and focus and carry a creative adversarial resistance. Taylor suggests new ways that today’s followers of Jesus might enter social movements for effectively contesting the present apparatus of U.S. power. The future becomes one in which Christian communities not only contribute to, but learn from, contemporary “raptivism” movements, from organizations of women waging defense on behalf of their children lost to imprisonment or police shootings, from campaigns to end the death penalty, from liberation movements inspired by the prison-house activism and writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and from the neighborhood campaigns of resistance to police “Stop and Frisk” actions.