Marxist roots of Black Liberation Theology

politics | Apr 6, 2008 | By Anthony B. Bradley

What is Black Liberation Theology anyway? Barack Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright catapulted black liberation theology onto a national stage, when America discovered Trinity United Church of Christ.

Understanding the background of the movement might give better clarity into Wright's recent vitriolic preaching. A clear definition of black theology was first given formulation in 1969 by the National Committee of Black Church Men in the midst of the civil-rights movement:

Black theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in the light of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, so that the black community can see that the gospel is commensurate with the achievements of black humanity. Black theology is a theology of 'blackness.'

It is the affirmation of black humanity that emancipates black people from White racism, thus providing authentic freedom for both white and black people. It affirms the humanity of white people in that it says 'No' to the encroachment of white oppression.

In the 1960s, black churches began to focus their attention beyond helping blacks cope with national racial discrimination particularly in urban areas.

The notion of "blackness" is not merely a reference to skin color, but rather is a symbol of oppression that can be applied to all persons of color who have a history of oppression (except whites, of course).

So in this sense, as Wright notes, "Jesus was a poor black man" because he lived in oppression at the hands of "rich white people." The overall emphasis of Black Liberation Theology is the black struggle for liberation from various forms of "white racism" and oppression.

James Cone, the chief architect of Black Liberation Theology in his book A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), develops black theology as a system. In this new formulation, Christian theology is a theology of liberation -- "a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ," writes Cone.

Black consciousness and the black experience of oppression orient black liberation theology -- i.e., one of victimization from white oppression.

One of the tasks of black theology, says Cone, is to analyze the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ in light of the experience of oppressed blacks. For Cone, no theology is Christian theology unless it arises from oppressed communities and interprets Jesus' work as that of liberation.

Christian theology is understood in terms of systemic and structural relationships between two main groups: victims (the oppressed) and victimizers (oppressors). In Cone's context, writing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the great event of Christ's liberation was freeing African Americans from the centuries-old tyranny of white racism and white oppression.

American white theology, which Cone never clearly defines, is charged with having failed to help blacks in the struggle for liberation. Black theology exists because "white religionists" failed to relate the gospel of Jesus to the pain of being black in a white racist society.

For black theologians, white Americans do not have the ability to recognize the humanity in persons of color, blacks need their own theology to affirm their identity in terms of a reality that is anti-black -- “blackness” stands for all victims of white oppression.

"White theology," when formed in isolation from the black experience, becomes a theology of white oppressors, serving as divine sanction from criminal acts committed against blacks. Cone argues that even those white theologians who try to connect theology to black suffering rarely utter a word that is relevant to the b



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