Sunday, March 23, 2008

On Black Liberation Theology

Union School of Theology Professor James Cone
Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama's former pastor, tells us that he is a leader in the Black Liberation Theology movement.

What exactly is Black Liberation Theology ?

The movement began in 1969, when James Cone wrote Black Theology and Black Power. He followed that work up in 1970 with another book, A Black Theology of Liberation. Here's an excerpt from the second book.

The black theologian must reject any conception of God which stifles black self-determination by picturing God as a God of all peoples. Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God's experience, or God is a God of racism...The blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God's own condition. This is the essence of the Biblical revelation. By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering...Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity. (A Black Theology of Liberation, pp. 63-64)

More recent academic work in the area has come from Professor Dwight Hopkins at the University of Chicago's Divinity School. His 1999 book titled, Down, Up, and Over--Slave Religion and Black Theology looks at the role of Christianity in the origins, practice, and end of American slavery, an issue that I also addressed in Letter to an Atheist.

Dwight Hopkins

Both of these academics are important to study for a couple of reasons:

1. They address the central relationship of Christian faith in the American black community.
2. They are thought leaders who influence Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama, and many other leaders of the black community.

I will reserve more detailed comments on my review of their works until I have read each of the three books mentioned. However, my initial reaction is that black liberation theology appears to be much more a political theory of black separatism than it is a theology of Christian faith.

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