Black liberation theology

Black liberation theology

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Black liberation theology, sometimes shortened to black theology
Black theology
Black theology refers to a variety of Black theologies which have as their base the liberation of the marginalized, especially the injustice done towards Blacks in American and South African contexts...

, is a relatively new theological perspective found in some Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 churches in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. It maintains that African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

s must be liberated from multiple forms of bondage — political, social, economic, and religious. This formulation views Christian theology
Christian theology
- Divisions of Christian theology :There are many methods of categorizing different approaches to Christian theology. For a historical analysis, see the main article on the History of Christian theology.- Sub-disciplines :...

 as a theology of liberation
Liberation theology
Liberation theology is a Christian movement in political theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions...

 -- "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
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

, which is Jesus Christ
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

," writes James Hal Cone
James Hal Cone
James Hal Cone is an advocate of Black liberation theology, a theology grounded in the experience of African Americans, and related to other Christian liberation theologies. In 1969, his book Black Theology and Black Power provided a new way to articulate the distinctiveness of theology in the...



Modern American origins of contemporary black liberation theology can be traced to July 31, 1966, when an ad hoc group of 51 black pastors, calling themselves the National Committee of Negro Churchmen (NCNC), bought a full page ad in the New York Times to publish their "Black Power Statement," which proposed a more aggressive approach to combating racism using the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 for inspiration.

In the minds of many African-Americans, Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 was long associated with slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

 and segregation
Racial segregation in the United States
Racial segregation in the United States, as a general term, included the racial segregation or hypersegregation of facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation along racial lines...

. The Southern Baptist Convention
Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention is a United States-based Christian denomination. It is the world's largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 16 million members...

 had supported slavery and slaveholders, and it was not until June 20, 1995 that the formal Declaration of Repentance was adopted. This resolution declared that they "unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin" and "lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest." The convention offered an apology to all African-Americans for "condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime" and repentance for "racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously. Christianity was long associated with racism. Therefore, there must then be a dialogue regarding the implications of racism in today's society and to what extent historical factors affect the plight of the black community. Cone argues that, "About thirty years ago it was acceptable to lynch a black man by hanging him from a tree; but today whites destroy him by crowding him into a ghetto and letting filth and despair put the final touches on death."

Black theology deals primarily with the African-American community, to make Christianity real for blacks. It explains Christianity as a matter of liberation here and now, rather than in an afterlife. The goal of black theology is not for special treatment. Instead, "All Black theologians are asking for is for freedom and justice. No more, and no less. In asking for this, the Black theologians, turn to scripture as the sanction for their demand. The Psalmist writes for instance, 'If God is going to see righteousness established in the land, he himself must be particularly active as 'the helper of the fatherless' to 'deliver the needy when he crieth; and the poor that hath no helper.'"

James Cone and Black Liberation Theology

James Cone
James Hal Cone
James Hal Cone is an advocate of Black liberation theology, a theology grounded in the experience of African Americans, and related to other Christian liberation theologies. In 1969, his book Black Theology and Black Power provided a new way to articulate the distinctiveness of theology in the...

 first addressed this theology after Malcolm X
Malcolm X
Malcolm X , born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz , was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its...

’s proclamation in the 1950s against Christianity being taught as "a white man’s religion". According to Black religion expert Jonathan Walton:
"James Cone believed that the New Testament revealed Jesus as one who identified with those suffering under oppression, the socially marginalized and the cultural outcasts. And since the socially constructed categories of race in America (i.e., whiteness and blackness) had come to culturally signify dominance (whiteness) and oppression (blackness), from a theological perspective, Cone argued that Jesus reveals himself as black in order to disrupt and dismantle white oppression."

Black Liberation Theology contends that dominant cultures have corrupted Christianity, and the result is a mainstream faith-based empire that serves its own interests, not God's. Black Liberation Theology asks whose side should God be on - the side of the oppressed or the side of the oppressors. If God values justice over victimization, then God desires that all oppressed people should be liberated. According to Cone, if God is not just, if God does not desire justice, then God needs to be done away with. Liberation from a false god who privileges whites, and the realization of an alternative and true God who desires the empowerment of the oppressed through self-definition, self-affirmation, and self-determination is the core of Black Liberation Theology.

On God and Jesus Christ

Cone based much of his liberationist theology on God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the Book of Exodus. He compared the United States to Egypt, predicting that oppressed people will soon be led to a promised land
Promised land
The Promised Land is a term used to describe the land promised or given by God, according to the Hebrew Bible, to the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob. The promise is firstly made to Abraham and then renewed to his son Isaac, and to Isaac's son Jacob , Abraham's grandson...

. For Cone, the theme of Yahweh’s concern was for “the lack of social, economic, and political justice for those who are poor and unwanted in society.” Cone also says that the same God is working for the oppressed blacks of the 20th century, and that “God is helping oppressed blacks and has identified with them, God Himself is spoken of as ‘Black’.”

Cone saw Christ from the aspect of oppression and liberation. Cone uses the Gospel of Luke to illustrate this point: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” “‘In Christ,’ Cone argues, ‘God enters human affairs and takes sides with the oppressed. Their suffering becomes his; their despair, divine despair.’” Cone also argues that, "We cannot solve ethical questions of the twentieth century by looking at what Jesus did in the first. Our choices are not the same as his. Being Christians does not mean following 'in his steps.'" [Black Theology and Black Power, Page 139] [3]

Cone’s view is that Jesus was black, which he felt was a very important view of black people to see. "It's very important because you've got a lot of white images of Christ. In reality, Christ was not white, not European. That's important to the psychic and to the spiritual consciousness of black people who live in a ghetto and in a white society in which their lord and savior looks just like people who victimize them. God is whatever color God needs to be in order to let people know they're not nobodies, they're somebodies."

Stylistic differences in the Black religious community

Because of the differences in thought between the black and white community, most black religious leaders attempt to make their services more accessible to other African-Americans, who must identify with the faith in order to accept it. Another notable difference is Cone's suggestion as to what must occur if there is not reconciliation among the white community. He states, "Whether the American system is beyond redemption we will have to wait and see. But we can be certain that black patience has run out, and unless white America responds positively to the theory and activity of Black Power, then a bloody, protracted civil war is inevitable." [Black Theology and Black Power, Page 143] [10]


Anthony Bradley of the Christian Post interprets that the language of "economic parity" and references to "mal-distribution" as nothing more than channeling the views of Karl Marx. He believes James Cone and Cornel West
Cornel West
Cornel Ronald West is an American philosopher, author, critic, actor, civil rights activist and prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America....

 have worked to incorporate Marxist thought into the black church, forming an ethical framework predicated on a system of oppressor class versus a victim much like Marxism.

Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago is the church most frequently cited by press accounts, and by Cone as the best example of a church formally founded on the vision of Black liberation theology. The 2008 Jeremiah Wright controversy
Jeremiah Wright controversy
The Jeremiah Wright controversy is an American political issue that gained national attention in March 2008 when ABC News, after reviewing dozens of U.S. 2008 Presidential Election candidate Barack Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright's sermons, excerpted parts which were subject to intense media scrutiny...

, over differing interpretations of some of his sermons and statements, caused then-Senator Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 to distance himself from his former pastor.

Stanley Kurtz
Stanley Kurtz
Stanley Kurtz is an American social commentator who identifies with the conservative movement.-Career and works:He is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former Adjunct fellow with Hudson Institute, with a special interest in America's "culture wars." Kurtz writings on the...

 of the National Review
National Review
National Review is a biweekly magazine founded by the late author William F. Buckley, Jr., in 1955 and based in New York City. It describes itself as "America's most widely read and influential magazine and web site for conservative news, commentary, and opinion."Although the print version of the...

 wrote about the perceived differences with 'conventional American Christianity'. He quoted black-liberation theologian Dr. Obery M. Hendricks Jr.: "According to Hendricks, 'many good church-going folk have been deluded into behaving like modern-day Pharisees and Sadducees when they think they’re really being good Christians.' Unwittingly, Hendricks says, these apparent Christians have actually become 'like the false prophets of Ba’al.'" Kurtz also quotes the Rev. Jeremiah Wright: "How do I tell my children about the African Jesus who is not the guy they see in the picture of the blond-haired, blue-eyed guy in their Bible or the figment of white supremacists [sic] imagination that they see in Mel Gibson’s movies?"

See also

  • James Hal Cone
    James Hal Cone
    James Hal Cone is an advocate of Black liberation theology, a theology grounded in the experience of African Americans, and related to other Christian liberation theologies. In 1969, his book Black Theology and Black Power provided a new way to articulate the distinctiveness of theology in the...

  • Jeremiah Wright
    Jeremiah Wright
    Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr. is Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ , a megachurch in Chicago exceeding 6,000 members...

  • Africana philosophy
    Africana philosophy
    Africana philosophy is an emerging term in the field of philosophy representing the works of professional philosophers who are of African descent as well as others whose works deal with the subject matter of the African diaspora.-What is Africana philosophy?:...

  • Christian democracy
    Christian Democracy
    Christian democracy is a political ideology that seeks to apply Christian principles to public policy. It emerged in nineteenth-century Europe under the influence of conservatism and Catholic social teaching...

  • Christian socialism
    Christian socialism
    Christian socialism generally refers to those on the Christian left whose politics are both Christian and socialist and who see these two philosophies as being interrelated. This category can include Liberation theology and the doctrine of the social gospel...

  • Liberation theology
    Liberation theology
    Liberation theology is a Christian movement in political theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions...

  • Political theology
    Political theology
    Political theology or public theology is a branch of both political philosophy and practical theology that investigates the ways in which theological concepts or ways of thinking underlie political, social, economic and cultural discourses....

  • Race struggle
  • Slavery in the United States

Additional reading

  • Aldred, Joe Preaching With Power London: Continuum, 1998 ISBN 978-0304704392
  • Aldred, Joe Sisters with Power London: Continuum, 2000 ISBN 978-0826449856
  • Aldred, Joe Praying with Power London: Continuum, 2000 ISBN 978-0826449849
  • Andersson, Efraim Churches at the Grassroots London: Lutterworth Press, 1968
  • Andrews, Dale P. Practical Theology for Black Churches Luisville: John Knox Press, 2002
  • Bailey, Randall C. and Grant, Jacquelyn (Eds.) The Recovery of Black Presence: An Interdisciplinary Exploration Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1995
  • Black Theology: An International Journal Equinox Publishing Ltd., published three times per year. Dr Anthony Reddie, Ed, email:
  • Cone, James H. ‘Black Theology And The Black Church: Where Do We Go From Here?’
  • Wilmore, Gayraud and Cone, James H. (Eds.) Black Theology: A Documentary History, 1966-1979 Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979. pp. 350–359
  • Cone, James H. Black Theology and Black Power (20th Anniversary Edition) New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1989
  • Cone, James H. For My People: Black Theology and the Black Church New York: Orbis Books, 1984
  • Cone, James H. God of the Oppressed New York: Seabury Press, 1975
  • Cone, James H. My Soul Looks Back New York: Orbis Books, 1986
  • Cone, James H. The Spirituals and the Blues New York: Seabury Press, 1972
  • Cone, James H. and Wilmore, Gayraud S. Black Theology A Documentary History: Vol1. 1966-1979 New York: Orbis Books, 1992
  • Cone, James H. and Wilmore, Gayraud S. Black Theology A Documentary History: Vol2. 1980- 1992 New York: Orbis Books, 1993
  • Douglas, Kelly Brown The Black Christ New York: Orbis Books, 1994
  • Dube, Musa W. And Staley, Jeffrey L. John and Postcolonialism London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002
  • DuBois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk New York: Dover Publications 1994
  • Duffield, Ian K. (ed) Urban Christ: Responses to John Vincent Sheffield: UTU, 1997
  • Ela, Jean-Marc African Cry Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1986
  • Evans, Jr., James H. We Have Been Believers An African American Systematic Theology Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992
  • Felder, Cain Hope The African Heritage Study Bible Nashville, Tenn. The James C. Winston Publishing Company, 1993
  • Felder, Cain Hope Stony The Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991
  • Frazier, E. Franklin The Black Church in America New York: Shocken Books, 1964
  • Gerloff, Roswith I. H. A Plea for British Black Theologies Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1992
  • Grant, Paul and Patel, Raj (Eds.) A Time to Speak. Birmingham: A joint publication of ‘Racial Justice’ and the ‘Black Theology Working Group’ 1990
  • Grant, Paul and Patel, Raj (Eds.) A Time To Act: Kairos 1992 Birmingham: A joint publication of ‘Racial Justice’ and the ‘Black Theology Working Group’ 1992
  • Hood, Robert E. Must God Remain Greek?: Afro-Cultures and God-Talk Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990
  • Hood, Robert E. Begrimmed and Black: Christian Traditions on Blacks and Blackness Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994
  • Hope, Marjorie and Young, James The South African Churches in a Revolutionary Situation Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1979
  • Hopkins, Dwight N. (Introducing) Black Theology of Liberation New York: Orbis book, 1999
  • Hopkins, Dwight N. Down, Up and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000
  • Hopkins, Dwight N. and Cummings, George Cut Loose Your Stammering Tongue: Black Theology and the Slave Narratives New York: Orbis Books, 1991
  • Hopkins, Dwight N. (Ed.) Black Faith and Public Talk: Critical Essays on James H. Cone’s Black Theology and Black Power New York: Orbis Books, 1999
  • Jagessar, Michael N. and Anthony G. Reddie (eds.) Postcolonial Black British Theology Peterborough, Epworth: 2007
  • Jagessar, Michael N. and Anthony G. Reddie (eds.) Black Theology in Britain: Reader London, Equinox: 2007
  • Jennings, Theodore W. Good News to the Poor Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990
  • Jones, William R. Is God A White Racist? Boston: Beacon Press, 1998
  • Kalilombe, Patrick A.
    Patrick Kalilombe
    Patrick Augustine Kalilombe M. Afr is a Roman Catholic theologian who was the Bishop of Lilongwe from 1972 to 1979....

    Doing Theology at the Grassroots Gweru, Zimbabwe: Mambo Press, 1999
  • Lincoln, C. Eric The Black Church in the African American Experience Durham, N.Y.: Duke University Press, 1990
  • Paris, Peter J. The Spirituality of African Peoples Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995
  • Pinn, Anne and Anthony B. Black Church History Fortress Press, 2002
  • Pinn, Anthony B. Why Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology New York: Continuum, 1995
  • Pinn, Anthony B. Terror and Triumph: The Nature of Black Religion Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003
  • Reddie, Anthony Faith, Stories and the Experience of Black Elders London: Jessica Kingsley, 2001
  • Reddie, Anthony Nobodies to Somebodies: Practical Theology for Education and Liberation Peterborough: Epworth Press, 2003
  • Reddie, Anthony Acting in Solidarity Peterborough: DLT, 2005
  • Reddie, Anthony Dramatizing Theologies London: Equinox, 2006
  • Reddie, Anthony Black Theology in Transatlantic Dialogue Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006
  • Reddie, Richard S., Abolition! The Struggle to Abolish Slavery in the British Colonies. (Lion Hudson PLC: Oxford, 2007). ISBN 978-0-7459-5229-1
  • Rabateau, Albert Slave Religion Oxford University Press, 1978
  • Society for Biblical Literature Reading The Bible in The Global Village: Cape Town No.3 Atlanta: Society for Biblical Literature, 2002
  • Simpson, Drumondo L.,The New Blood of Black Liberation Theology, 2010
  • Singleton III, Harry H. Black Theology and Ideology Collgeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2002
  • Stewart III, Carlyle Fielding Black Spirituality and Black Consciousness Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1999
  • Terrell, JoAnne Marie Power in the Blood?: The Cross in the African American Experience New York: Orbis books, 1998
  • Wilkinson, John Church in Black and White St. Andrews Press, 1994
  • Wilmore, Gayraud Black Religion and Black Radicalism New York: Orbis Books, 1973

External links