So, here we are. Good Friday. Honestly, this is a day I’m no fan of Christianity.
First, I find that little is more annoying about this season than bougie white boy preachers in thousand-dollar sneakers talking about Jesus and “revolutionary love.” Church is full of folks who are no friends of the revolution. “Revolutionary?” They ain’t even interested in abolishing prisons or reducing militarized police budgets, much less “revolution.” Their message isn’t revolutionary. It’s marketing.
Second, Rome shows you what it does to revolutionaries: it crucifies them. “Crucifixion wasn’t just a form of execution; it was advertising,” says Amy-Jill Levine. A cross was a billboard. Crucifixions were staged near roads, so passersby could see clearly who was in charge and what happens to “revolutionaries.” As Max Weber put it: the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Crucifixion displays the state’s monopoly of violence literally: by splaying human limbs.
According to Josephus, after the Jewish revolt in Jerusalem in 70 CE, soldiers crucified so many people that they ran out of wood. They cut down every tree for miles to line the road with crosses, like flags. Today if you visit the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed to “let this cup pass from me,” when the guide says, “Some of these trees are so old that Jesus could have prayed under one of them,” you know it’s just stuff they tell tourists. The orchard where Jesus prayed was razed so Rome could have wood on which to nail revolutionaries.
Third, white Protestant support for torture, measured in 2008, was upwards of sixty percent. Six in ten are just fine with torturing folks. Waterboarding. Whipping. Stripping people naked and humiliating them. All the stuff that happened to Jesus? They’d give the green light for it to happen to any Middle Eastern guy with long hair and a beard.
While I’m talking statistics and cutting trees, only 40% of white Protestants believe in human-made climate change. I’m not just picking on Evangelicals, among whom that statistic is only 28%. I’m talking about mainstream “liberal” Protestants. When Roman soldiers cut down all the trees to make crosses, most church folks would be cheering them on in the name of law, order, and domination of the natural world.
So today, when Christians cry crocodile tears while singing how they would “cling to the old rugged cross,” it leaves me feeling a bit cynical. They may be having a genuine spiritual experience when they close their eyes, raise their hands, and sway gently to a Christian rock anthem, but it bears no relevance to Golgotha or the places Jesus is being crucified right now. It rubs me the wrong way when religious people pretend to care about the most famous victim of state violence ever, but don’t give give two figs for Patrick Lyoya or Sandra Bland. When they would cling to crosses, but disparage tree-huggers.
On days like today, I resonate much more with those who have rejected religion altogether, especially if it’s because they could not reconcile the prepackaged answers with today’s most salient questions: Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow the state to have this monopoly on violence? How did the spiritual power of Jesus of Nazareth get hijacked so thoroughly by Christendom? Where is the “Good News” in the destruction of this world and the oppressed people who love it?
“Good” Friday. The adjective leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The revolutionary I love and follow is still being executed by the state, which has yet to repent of its role in manufacturing suffering. The state, in collusion with the church, will resurrect in his place an agent of white settler colonialism, one who blesses Rome and the priesthood, who tells battered spouses to stay with their abusers in the name of long-suffering love, who persecutes queer kids and tells gay Christians to remain celibate, that it’s “their cross to bear,” an agent who sanctions bullying, who clear cuts forests and pumps oil from the ground to build sprawling highways so that Christians can park their cars at suburban churches on Easter morning and sing praises to an authoritarian king.
Honestly, the only thing that keeps me Christian is that my faith says, “it is God on that cross.” The only thing that keeps me Christian is that I keep seeing Jesus as an actual revolutionary who cares about the suffering of people at the hands of state power, a Jesus turning over the money tables on Wall Street. Jesus keeps showing up on the steps of churches telling preachers that they are whitewashed tombs whose words are full of death and decay. Jesus keeps standing up for queer kids and defending people whose wombs are treated like the property of the state or their husbands. Jesus keeps calling for actual prisoners in real prisons to be set free, and for the people with clubs and swords to put them away because they only lead to self-destruction. Jesus keeps telling people to observe that the birds and flowers—and humans—don’t have to earn a place in God’s economy, that their existence and life is enough to bring glory to God. The powers that be keep trying to silence God’s anointed and he, she, they keep showing up with all their pronouns and ethnicities and genders and refusing to be quiet or disappear from public view.
When I ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” she—God in human flesh—looks me squarely in the eye, shows me the wounds in her hands and side and answers, as she always does, with a question: “Are you asking me?” Then she gestures at the world as if to invite me to take up a cross and follow.
Where else can I go? She has the words of life.