When the past and contemporary history of white theology is evaluated, it is not difficult to see that much of the present negative reaction of white theologians to the Black Christ is due almost exclusively to their whiteness, a cultural fact that determines their theological inquiry, thereby making it almost impossible for them to relate positively to anything black. White theologians’ attitude toward black people in particular and the oppressed generally is hardly different from that of oppressors in any society. It is particularly similar to the religious leaders’ attitude toward Jesus in first-century Palestine when he freely associated with the poor and outcasts and declared that the Kingdom of God is for those called “sinners” and not for priests and theologians or any of the self-designated righteous people. The difficulty of white theologians in recognizing their racial interest in this issue can be understood only in the light of the social context of theological discourse. They cannot see the christological validity of Christ’s blackness because their axiological grid blinds them to the truth of the biblical story. For example, the same white theolgians who laughingly dismiss Albert Cleage’s “Black Messiah” say almost nothing about the European (white) images of Christ plastered all over American homes and churches. I perhaps would respect the integrity of their objections to the Black Christ on scholarly grounds, if they applied the same vigorous logic to Christ’s whiteness, especially in contexts where his blackness is not advocated.
For me, the substance of the Black Christ issue can be dealt with only on theological grounds, as defined by Christology’s source (Scripture, tradition, and social existence) and content (Jesus’ past, present, and future). I begin by asserting once more that Jesus was a Jew. It is on the basis of the soteriological meaning and particularity of his Jewishness that theology must affirm the christological significace of Jesus’ present blackness. He is black because he was a Jew. The affirmation of the Black Christ can be understood only when the significance of his past Jewishness is related dialectically to the significance of his present blackness.
James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1997, 1975), p. 123.