Abortion, The Cross, And The Lynching Tree

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Content note: white supremacy, lynching, infantcide

In James Cone’s, The Cross And The Lynching Tree, he shares the story of Mary Turner. She was the wife of a Georgia lynching victim, Haynes Turner. “Mary, who was eight months pregnant, protested vehemently and vowed to seek justice for her husband’s lynching. The sheriff, in turn, arrested her and then gave her up to the mob. In the presence of a crowd that included women and children, Mary Turner was ‘stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.”- page 120.

No, not even black fetuses were safe from the claws of white supremacy. Cone notes that the “strange fruit” in Billie Holiday’s song is not a black adult male body. In fact, Holiday’s take on Abel Meeropol’s poem included a sexless black body. “No black person was exempt from the risk of becoming the scapegoat of white supremacy in America, not even the unborn, whose mothers, like Mary Turner, were lynched while trying to protect their families” (121).

As a pro-life progressive, I found the above quote fascinating for a couple of reasons. First, the unborn are included in Cone’s definition of person. Recently, in politics, the GOP has been pushing “personhood amendments” to work towards bans on abortion/overturn Roe v. Wade. The conservative view of personhood is faulty because they deny its sociality. The current conservative approach to the abortion debate includes an individualistic, privatized notion of sin, that makes women and doctors the lone scapegoats. And Given the fact that evangelicals are being more friendly with heresies like “conditionalism” where the immortality of the soul is dismissed, there are even more problems theologically. It is easy to consider a doctrine where souls are annihilated if you come from a culture where you’ve never been told that you are a soulless beast.

The second reason why I found Cone’s quote to be excellent is that Cone names the system of death responsible for the termination of Mary Turner’s fetus: White Supremacy. As a system of death, White Supremacy is a complex mixture of Anti-Black bigotry (the history of lynching sugarcoated, for ex.), male supremacy (a man rips outs the unborn child from Mary Turner), and social practices (mob rule & political officials not doing justice). Abortion is not an individual right to be celebrated or an individual sin to be punished for; it is a social tragedy that we should all lament over, and work for its reduction.

Pro-life progressives take a lot of slack for not being “strong enough” on abortion. But ask yourself, are the legalisms of the pro-choice and pro-life movements really benefitting the common good?

I leave you with Efrem Smith’s response to people on facebook questioning his Kingdom Approach to the abortion debate: Ephrem Smith’s abortion response

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