Liberation Theology as understood by the experience of African-Americans in America.
Black American Theologies of Liberation
For many, the black experience in America began in slavery and bondage and comes to present day suffering from mass incarceration, police overreach and brutality, and discrimination. Black Liberation Theology, therefore, identifies with the black experience in America and places God’s presence squarely alongside African-Americans in a racist predominantly white society.
Primary voice Dr. James Cone bases much of his liberation theology on God’s deliverance of Israel from oppression under the Egyptians. The same God in Exodus is actively working for the deliverance of oppressed blacks in modern day America. Because God is helping oppressed blacks and has identified with them, God is spoken of as “black” by Cone, to designate solidarity not necessarily skin color.
BILL MOYERS: Do you believe God is love?
JAMES CONE: Yes, I believe God is love.
BILL MOYERS: I would have a hard time believing God is love if I were a black man. I mean, those bodies swinging on the tree. What was God? Where was God during the 400 years of slavery?
JAMES CONE: See, you are looking at it from the perspective of those who win. You have to see it from the – perspective of those who have no power. In fact, God is love because it’s that power in your life that lets you know you can resist the definitions that other people are being– placing on you. And you sort of say, sure, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows my sorrow. Sure, there is slavery. Sure, there is lynching, segregation.
But, glory, hallelujah. Now, that glory hallelujah is the fact that there is a humanity and a spirit that nobody can kill. And as long as you know that, you will resist. That was the power of the civil rights movement. That was the power of those who kept marching even though the odds are against you. How do you keep going when you don’t have the battle tanks, when you don’t have the guns? When you don’t have the military power? When you have nothing? How do you keep going? How do you know that you are a human being? You know because there’s a power that transcends all of that.
BILL MOYERS: So, how does love fit into that? What do you mean when you say God is love?
JAMES CONE: God is that power. That power that enables you to resist. You love that! You love the power that empowers you even in a situation in which you have no political power. The– you have to love God. Now, what is trouble is loving white people. Now, that’s tough. It’s not God we having trouble loving. Now, loving white people. Now, that’s– that’s difficult. But, King — you know, King helped us on that. But, that is a– that is an agonizing response.
Each week we feature a free online resource to read. Some will be blog posts, some short articles, and some more academic papers. We will try to offer more than one when available, but know the best expressions of these theologies are often behind paywalls or in books alone.
Today’s reading is an interview with James Cone, a primary voice for black liberation:
Further liberation theology people to consider reading from the Black experience in America include: Delores Williams, Emily Townes, Malcolm X, MLK, Howard Thurman, Katie Cannon, Jacquelyn Grant, Renita Weems. Who else would you add to this list?
Questions to consider
- Does the idea translate across ethnicities? Is God Hispanic in Arizona? Does it translate to other minorities: ie. is God LGBTQ in the Mormon Temples?
- How can white theologians–who, according to Cone, suffer from bias through white racism–offer authentic critiques to black liberation theology? Or should they?
- What is the goal of black liberation theology for society? Is it racial reconciliation? Is it poverty and power? What’s your perception of the goals?
Sound off on those in the comments. Try to include the number so we know which you are responding to!
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