Getting to grips with Black Liberation Theology

by Richard on March 25, 2008

Following Joel’s post Pastor Jeremiah Wright: God Damn America? the other day, Inhabitatio Dei offers some very useful links on Black liberation theology.

Take your time over those links. There’s stuff worth thinking about in there.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }


DH 03.25.08 at 7:45 pm

To suggest Lanny Davis’s questions were in the same category as Ferraro’s statement seems a little disengenuous. I believe that there IS a problem with Obama being a member of this church for over 20 years. Supposedly Wright was saying these type of sermons for years. How can someone be a “spiritual adviser” who believes in such proposterous ideas with regard to 9/11, America, etc.? I still believe Black Liberation Theology is extremist, non-Christian and goes against what Christ truly who didn’t adhere to “class warfare”. I believe the press DID get it right with regard to Obama and Wright. There are many unanswered questions with Obama that need answered and his speech failed to address the specifics of Wright point by point. THere seems to be a double standard. The right is always forced to address issues point by point but people like Obama don’t have to or is defended with an attitude “no point by point denouncement is needed”. A “Humble suggestion” would be to have Obama renounce point by point all where he disagrees with Wright rather tha be ambiguos in the speech and give “double talk” and credence to both sides when it appears Wrights words are more violent than any I have heard in a long time.


Richard 03.25.08 at 7:54 pm

“I still believe Black Liberation Theology is extremist, non-Christian and goes against what Christ truly who didn’t adhere to “class warfare”.”

Then, not to put too fine a point on it, you’re wrong.


DH 03.25.08 at 9:11 pm

Explain to me how Black Liberation Theology is not extremist when Black Panthers are the ones who adhere to it? It makes no sense how you can think I’m wrong when the history of Black Liberation Theology is on of hostility and extremism.


d. w. horstkoetter 03.25.08 at 10:16 pm

If you think Black Panthers are “the ones” who adhere to Black Liberation theology, then you are seriously misinformed. I suggest an introduction to Liberation theology in general, as well as an introduction to Black Liberation theology would be highly beneficial, if read honestly.

As for Davis and Ferraro, they both equally, in a very short statement, marginalized and dismissed Wright as a racist, crazy person. The theological understanding they both displayed was about as deep as a teaspoon.

Also one ought not fail to understand that as much as this is about Obama and race, this whole affair is also about theology. Misunderstand the theology and everything else will come out bad, as it has done in the media.


PamBG 03.25.08 at 10:45 pm

Black Panthers? I remember the Black Panthers. They were weren’t a Christian organisation and they don’t exist any more. I also remember the very real discrimination that African-Americans lived under during the 1960s and the 1970s.

Black theology sees God from a black perspective. That’s ‘extreme’ only if we decide that exploitative white capitalism is what God blesses - which most of American conservative Christianity does, of course.


PamBG 03.25.08 at 11:08 pm

I appreciate the post ‘Cone explained’ which I largely agree with. However, I do think that one arrives ‘at the end of Cone’ - if that makes sense - with the idea that the only way for a white person to be a follower of Christ is to be an ‘honorary black’. I know it’s Politically Incorrect to equate gender with race, but as a middle-aged white woman who literally had to be an ‘honorary man’ in the church of my youth in order to be a true follower of Christ, I struggle with this. I know that Cone has latterly backed off some of his more extreme statements, but I think that niggle remains. I worshipped in an ‘all-black’ church (well, me and 2 other white people) and most of the congregants would not have gone that far. One of the key messages of that congregation was ‘No matter who you are, no matter what nationality, race or gender, you are loved by God.’ And, as far as my sisters and brothers were concerned, they meant it for me too.


d. w. horstkoetter 03.25.08 at 11:18 pm

So you know Pam, Cone makes the argument that Liberation theology - Black, Feminist, Womanist, etc. all follow the same logic. In fact, Cone has admitted his sexism in his early work and done a 360 on gender. He would call the men in your church to be feminists. Now whether one can do that is where most of the critical arguments of Cone begin.


Kim 03.26.08 at 4:37 am

D.W. is right on the money. (DH is theologically bankrupt on this one.)

And speaking of money, Sarah Churchwell (an American Studies scholar at the University of East Anglia), in yesterday’s Independent, was right to point out that “slavery [in the US] was not racially motivated - it was economically motivated, and justified by means of race… Racism is an effect of slavery, not the other way around. Once slavery was abolished, not only did racism not disappear, neither did the economic system it upheld… race in America is overwhelmingly defined by economic conditions.”

Ironically, Obama understands this. I say “ironically” because it was that other Clinton who famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Capitalism is the beast, racism a minion.


PamBG 03.26.08 at 11:47 am

In fact, Cone has admitted his sexism in his early work and done a 360 on gender. He would call the men in your church to be feminists. Now whether one can do that is where most of the critical arguments of Cone begin.

Thanks. I’d heard this but I’m more familiar with his earlier works.

Capitalism is the beast, racism a minion.

Interesting comment and I think capitalism has a lot of minions, actually.


DH 03.26.08 at 2:22 pm

Wow, I still don’t see how I’m “theologically bankrupt” on this one. I just believe Captialism is not white alone. I really don’t see how one can blame Capitalism for the problems all around. I do believe greed which is the extreme outgrowth is a problem but just because something is done in the extreme wrongly doesn’t make the item wrong. We all use fire and gasoline for good but it can also kill people but that doesn’t make gasoline or fire wrong. I just don’t by the logic connecting Black Liberation Theology to an attack on Capitalism.

I agree God is not a respector of persons with regard to race. However, Black Liberation Theology is reverse discrimination. Remembr I too have worshipped in an all black church. I believe that God looks at us equally but he doesn’t do a “Robin Hood” to make things equal. He looks at the heart and changes peoples hearts to get change to occur.

I agree Capitalism can be exploitive but not all Capitalism is exploitive. To overgeneralize and attack Capitalism as a whole when whole societies have been able to come from poverty is really a disservice and really promotes more poverty.

Pam, I’m sorry there are Black Panthers still around and many of them do adhere to Black Liberation Theology. I saw one on TV a couple of days ago. I do believe they were started as a Christian group but many of them happen to be “so-called” Christian.


DH 03.26.08 at 2:36 pm

I’m sorry, Black Liberation Theolpgy was started by the founder of the Nation of Islam. How can this be looked at positively and as being Christian? Also, I totally don’t agree that MLK adhered to this theology. His idea for freedom was that not one race was over an other but that all were looked at equally which I totally agree with. I’m really “taken back” by the attack I’m receiving on this when in fact Wright and others need to be rebuked rather than “explained away”. Wow, “theological bankrupt” when the theology was started by a non-Christian and in fact Nation of Islam.


DH 03.26.08 at 2:40 pm

“Black Panther 40th Reunion 2006The National Alliance of Black Panthers was formed on July 31, 2004. It was inspired by the grassroots activism of the original organization but not otherwise related. Its chairwoman is Shazza Nzingha. In October 2006, the Black Panther Party held a 40-year reunion in Oakland, California. [42]

In January 2007, a joint California state and Federal task force charged eight men with the 1971 murder of a California police officer.[43] The defendants have been identified as former members of the Black Liberation Army. Two have been linked to the Black Panthers.[44] In 1975 a similar case was dismissed when a judge ruled that police gathered evidence through the use of torture.[45]

[edit] New Black Panther Party
See also: New Black Panther Party
In 1989, a group calling themselves the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) was formed in Dallas, TX. Ten years later, the NBPP became home to many former Nation of Islam members when the chairmanship was taken by Khalid Abdul Muhammad. Members of the original Black Panther Party have insisted that this party is illegitimate and have vociferously objected that there “is no new Black Panther Party”.[46]

As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the [Dr. Huey P. Newton] Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group’s exploitation of the Party’s name and history. Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the Party’s name upon itself, which we condemn… [T]hey denigrate the Party’s name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the Party was founded… The Black Panthers were never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the “white establishment.” The Party operated on love for black people, not hatred of white people. [46]

– Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation , There Is No New Black Panther Party”

Pam, as you can see Black Panther’s are alive today and from what I heard from one who is the leader Malik Zulu Shabazz many Black Panther’s adhere to Black Liberation Theology. I’m sorry the connect between Black Liberation Theology and Black Panther’s seems pretty clear especially since Khalid Abdul Muhammad is part of it as well who was part of the NOI.


DH 03.26.08 at 2:42 pm


Beth 03.26.08 at 4:19 pm

“Black Liberation Theolpgy was started by the founder of the Nation of Islam”.

And Christianity was started by Jews.


Richard 03.26.08 at 4:26 pm

“Black Liberation Theolpgy was started by the founder of the Nation of Islam”.

What’s your source for this bold claim, DH? I’m very unconvinced. But even if it is so, the question is not who started it but what’s the truth of it. The various liberation theologies surely have something to teach us.


DH 03.26.08 at 4:49 pm

Well, I don’t see how you can say this when liberal people who like wikipedia (that is why I quoted it so you can’t claim bias) when this is stated in it:

“Black theology or Black liberation theology is the theology of Elijah Mohammed, founder of the Nation of Islam theology of liberation.”

Seems pretty clear to me. To me who started it IS the issue. I could say there is truth in Mein Kampf I won’t because there is no truth of it based on who started Nazism. So for me the theology becomes ruined by the individual who started it.

Actually Beth, Christianity was started by God not by the Jews. We know Jesus is the Alpha and Omega so one can’t claim that Jewishness is the begininng of Christianity. It was Faith of Noah, Enoch, etc. was the Faith in the one true God.

For me I can’t learn from these extreme views of people. The only liberation theology I adhere to is the liberation from sin by Faith in Christ alone. That is what true “liberation” is about. Jesus said “I’m not of this world.” and “Tho I give all I have to the poor and have not love I’m a clanging gong.” True love is one where one accepts Christ as their personal Lord and Savior and Believes that God has risen from the dead. This Salvation is beyond this physical world. Also, God doesn’t favor rich people or poor people He wants all people who choose to accept Christ to come to Him whether rich or poor as long as ones heart is right before the Lord to either one.


d. w. horstkoetter 03.26.08 at 5:48 pm

Black Liberation theology was started by James Cone, he was a Barthian PhD student at Garrett Theological Seminary at the time, 1969. Whatever was started by Elijah Mohammed is not what we have been referring to. Please find a legitimate source to inform yourself. Wikipedia should not be trusted at a time like this when there is so much slander so easily being dealt out.

I think it is also clear that you do not think that God desires you to be liberated from say, slavery or perhaps, rape. However, the Bible is quite clear that God cares about social issues, read the law, prophets and read how the church functioned. The story of Ruth was only possible because God cares about the poor (i.e. letting the poor glean from the fields). Ignoring care for the actual person in their immediate state is arguably part of the problem when it comes to American theological conservatism and relevance. To ignore such is to ignore the complexity of the kingdom of God, much of what the Bible does talk about, and people themselves.


PamBG 03.26.08 at 5:51 pm

Seems pretty clear to me. To me who started it IS the issue. I could say there is truth in Mein Kampf

First of all, DH, you are talking to people who are familiar with black theology; I don’t understand how you can look up something on Wikipedia and tell people who know what they are talking about that they are wrong. (We’ll set aside the fact that Wikipedia is notoriously unreliable and where did you ever get the idea that it was some kind of ‘liberal’ thing?)

Secondly, the comparison with Mein Kampf is a terrible comparison. In very simple terms, black people suffer discrimination in our culture and ‘all’ black theology is is a PROCESS of looking at Christian theology from the point of view of the discriminated.

You claim that you have allowed Christ to transform your sinful nature yet you see people (’liberals’) who want to help the disadvantaged as being inherently untrustworthy and unGodly. It beggers belief, it really does.


d. w. horstkoetter 03.26.08 at 6:11 pm

As for capitalism and the neoliberal economic theory it is built on, greed is not an extreme: “In the neoliberal model, moral agency is equated with an individualism that is focused on providing for self-interest. In fact, self-interested human nature is what ultimately drives big business.” In other words, greed is good and is integral to the way the economy works. Greed puts a price tag on everything - even people and meta-physical ideas. Greed is pervasive and yet condemned in the Bible. Capitalism isn’t a tool that cuts both ways, it is a way of tearing humanity from people because capitalism demands we see people as dollar signs.

Simply put, Capitalism has a warped anthropology that attempts makes Christianity less Christian. And when combined with racism, theologies of liberation respond as critical critiques of the status quo that says Jesus wasn’t the powerful, Jesus was the one who suffered and died. In the end, through a work in symbolism, James Cone first theologically voiced the concern of whom Jesus in America was most like - the lynched.

Lastly, to simply marginalize a group simply because they’re “extremist” is not an acceptable way to treat a group of people. At the very least you ignore their concerns. If you disagree with their methods, fine, but in the end you’re denying them a voice, which is why they feel pushed to such an “extreme” position in the first place. Arguably, also, Jesus was an extremist - he died a revolter’s death and put forth an alternative way of being, one outside and contrary to the Emperor.

Quote from Rebecca Todd Peters, In Search of the Good Life: The Ethics of Globalization, (New York: Continuum, 2004), 59.


DH 03.26.08 at 6:25 pm

I don’t ignore the “social Gosepl” I just include it with what is equally important which is having as many people to receive Salvation by Faith in Christ alone. I agree God desires people to be liberated from slavery and rape but we currently don’t have slavery in the US. I also believe that Americans are not doing as much as they can to help the poor. I just don’t believe care for the poor should be forced but should come from peoples hearts. I also don’t believe forced taking of funds from the rich to give to the poor is beneficial to society as a whole.

To be honest I truly want to see poor people cared for to the fullest extent but not in such a way they there are unintended consequences that are unfair. I also don’t believe it is fair to attack Captialism when it is the minority exteme within Capitalism that should be address as opposed to all of Capitalism especially in light of the parable of the talents which confirms the concept of investing.

To me repaying “evil for evil” like Black Liberation Theology does is not right. To me it is discriminatory.

I really believe people are truly misunderstanding Black Liberation Theology, how hostile Wright’s comments were, how unbiblical it is to attack in a blanket way Capitalism and attacking me for thinkg we shouldn’t care for the poor when in fact I never said such a thing.I

I think at this time it appears we are talking over each other as opposed to really listening to people.,

For me care for the disadvantaged must include leading people to accept Christ as ones Savior. One must addres BOTH the persons soul AND their own physical ailments whatever they may be.

Also, Cone is very much even more hostile than Rev Wright. This isn’t slander but one must really look into what the person says. He clearly goes WAY overboard than Barth on his views and very much discriminatory in his speech.

It seems to me this is the most inflammatory and even more hostile than even Rev. Wright:

“”Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community … Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.”

Even though he clarified his statements, it still begs the question of whether this type of comment does any service for what Chrits called us to do. We must care for the poor and everything that everyone mentions but we should look at a Christ who desires as many as receive Him to come to Him for Salvation whether they be rich/poor, black/white, etc. God is not a respector of person and at the same time desires all to experience His fullness on earth as well as in heaven. So for a person to say I only focus on the Spiritual and not the physical needs of people is really misunderstanding totally my views.


d. w. horstkoetter 03.26.08 at 7:18 pm

I did not mean to misinterpret you DH, but the amount of content you did put out in your quotes was rather one sided. (A side note, caring about working conditions is not specific to the historical movement called the Social Gospel in America.)

However, I think you misunderstand the way people are made poor - yes made poor (its something like 70% of the poor are working poor) - is the unjust part. Holding down two or three jobs is not the hard American work ethic, it is the refusal of people to pay living wages. Capitalism is structured in such a way to produce poor. Many of the corporations whom we are wary of taking money from for being unfair, achieved such wealth unjustly.

We could also talk about Sabbath understandings of debt forgiveness, etc. but that would take a lot more time. Lets just say there is precedence for some sort of leveling.

Also, while slavery itself is no longer legal in the United States, conditions as they are are directly linked to slavery. We still have yet to truly get over slavery. Virtual forced ghettoization is still very much a reality, among so many other existing consequences.

As for this “minority extreme,” I assume you’re talking about people you see. I assume you have not read any post-colonial critiques. The whole third world suffers because of America’s new colonialism. The black voices you hear speaking up are just the tip of the iceberg. The only reason black voices are now somewhat visible is because they can’t be put back into slavery and lynching has become sporadic (or at least less visible than the mass spectacle lynchings).

As far as James Cone, I have been in class with him. Heard him talk about his work. My MA is right up this alley at Union - Theology and Ethics. I have also addressed the quote you put forward here: The white God is fundamentally a raced God - one that lynches people. Jesus was not a white God. This is very important to understand when you read Cone. This calls us directly to be Christ to people who are suffering; this leads us to become like Oscar Romero who was a voice the poor in his home country and died because he was doing Christ’s work.

Just so you know, right after Cone got his PhD, he left Barth behind and started reading R. Niebuhr. However, he still has a Barthian understanding of the Word of God interestingly.

Lastly, while God comes to everyone, it does not mean that God is happy with everyone. I assure you, God is not pleased with people who treat other people wrongly - who desire money and wealth over defenseless people. That is what liberation theology is about. God is about fixing the unbalanced and abusive relationships and structures. As much as the oppressor needs salvation from their actions, for it harms themselves as much as it harms the oppressed, the oppressed are in need of vocal, direct intervention, or they suffer and die. This is justice work. Of course there is mercy, of course there is grace, but there is also justice.


DH 03.26.08 at 9:05 pm

I guess for me the only justice that seems to be the most important is Salvation of soul. However, I do agree we need to care for the poor and needy. So for me it seems those who adhere to a “soical Gospel” forget the strong importance of Faith in Christ alone for Salvation. They seem to focus on the here and now (I understand the here and now can be difficult) and not on what will give them eternal life. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and looses his own soul.” This critique from Christ goes for all people not just the rich. With regard to the third world. In my opinion it is the Western World that has helped them to become more successful in the economic scene especially in Africa. The US is doing so much in the area of support for the poor and needy as well as economic help to strengthen their economies. However, it seems to me that the ciriticisms are “over the top” in light of the clear solid assistance that nations “who are well off” are doing to help the poor third world nations.

For me Socialism is structured in such a way to promote poor as well. Your critique of Capitalism is so one sided and an overgenerlaization in light of what truly benefits the most people economically. I believe Capitalism, not in the extreme, is a better answer to these issue as opposed to Socialism like you are implying.

For me when I read Jesus, Jesus was a nonraced and multiraced God. God is not a respector of persons. He does have a clear compassion of the poor but the poor can be reflected in so many more ways than just the physical. When I read the Gospels and see poor, rich, needy I believe it is a much more broader term than the physcial like it is prescribed here by some. In fact the passage says “Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT”.

God was neither white not black but both. God came to this earth for “…as many as recieve to them He gave them power to be Sons of God.” The fact remains without Christ coming then it would be just for God to eliminated from the earth. So for me justice must be looked at from God’s eyes not our own, physical, outward appearance, etc.

I also do not see ANY lynchings by America in any way. To suggest that there are I really take offense to. I also don’t believe all or the majority of Capitalism is to blame. If one looks at entire nations where Capitalism has helped one look no further than to these nations who are successful than before they adopted Capitalism than these nations: Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Israel, Taiwan, Kenya (until the last political problem which occured outside of capitalism), South Africa, India (still has a lot of poor people due to the growing population but as an economy becoming successful), etc. To me I don’t see anyone trying to put people back into slavery or lynching. To me these statements are very hostile to me. I also don’t believe that the majority of corporations are making money unjustly. Some are but not in the majority like you have said. I also don’t believe people are forced into ghettos. I believe people in America have many many opportunities that people are not taking advantage of: scholarships, business set-asides, etc. I believe sometimes it is a balance of helping the victims and helping victims to not have a victim mentality. That is in a physical sense. However, the greater way to help people is helping their sould have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.


d. w. horstkoetter 03.27.08 at 1:05 am

It is thought by the American public that 20% of the United States budget goes to helping aid. In reality, it is less than 1%.

Jesus was certainly raced. Jesus was a Jew. Jesus died because Rome and the other authorities didn’t like him and what he said. Sure there are theological implications as well, like following the father’s will of proclaiming the kingdom of God and dying for it, but that still is tied with an alternative rule. A rule that obviously was hard for the rich (something about the eye of a needle…) because it was not riches anymore that promoted salvation or justice. It was not the riches descended from a patriarchal empire that saved people. It is the kingdom of God. Jesus wasn’t an oppressor, so in a Cone understanding, not white at all. Jesus died at the hands of the oppressors.

Theologically there is precedent for justice on one’s “outward appearance” or conditions. The prophets are all about it. The law concerns it self with the physical needs and safety of those who have no means. The church spent money in Acts on people in need. It is everywhere.

If you don’t see lynchings in America, you’re not looking hard enough. They still happen, even today. I’m sorry you take offense but they’re there.

As for India, well, perhaps you should look up the farmer’s movement, and indeed similar movements through out the Americas, Africa and Asia. American corporations seek to own every thing, even down to water rights and control of farm seed, genetically manipulating seed so that when planted, seed is no longer produced and each year farmers must go back to American corporations for more seed. Blaming the victim for structural problems is an age old excuse by colonialism. The system is fundamentally flawed and the “most” people you think of is your immediate neighbors who live like you and profit from capitalism is not the world at large. There is a wealth of scholarship on it, whether you choose to believe it or not. I reject the idea that I have to be a socialist. Christianity is sufficient.


Kim 03.27.08 at 9:50 am

DH, you say that “the only Justice that seems to be the most important is salvation of the Soul.” This confirms that you really are reading a different Bible - a gnostic one - for the church’s Bible is crystal that salvation is always corporal and corporate. Biblical anthropology understands human beings as embodied souls, or ensouled bodies, but never - as you do - as souls with ears. For you the gospel is fire insurance, not “good news to the poor”. If your gospel was all we had, Marx would be right.


Beth 03.27.08 at 12:36 pm

I saw figures once that the US spends as much on pornography per annum as it does on foreign aid. Probably holds true for the UK, too.

(I think I read it in “50 facts that should change the world” by J. Williams. Really, really interesting book.)


DH 03.27.08 at 3:25 pm

Well, Kim my God isn’t a gnostic one because I believe we are physical and our responsibilities to be obedient to God on this earth are both physical and Spiritual. With regard to Salvation. For me it is both corporate AND individual, corporate group of individuals of Faith. “Except A MAN be Born Again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” What unified people in the Bible together was that they were a group of people who individually had Faith in Christ for Salvation and the Good News was for people to enter into that as well. There was also an outgrowth of that to help the poor, needy as well as obedience to Christ from ones heart not forced onto people outside of their heart. Also God helps all aspects of various types of poor people. There are people physically poor, there are people who are poor in spirit, etc. For me I don’t focus on just one aspect of the poor nor does Scripture.

Kim, your concept of Salvation is one where just going to church makes a person “saved”. The fact remains “Without Faith it is impossible to please God.” whether it be corporate, individual or whatever. It isn’t one or the other like you say or interpret what I say it is 100% both. This truly isn’t gnostic.

R.W. I don’t disagree with you that one needs to do more for helping the poor and needy. Also you have a misunderstanding of the OT. Riches never promoted salvation in the OT. Also, what changed was the fact that Salvation was made available to all people but the focus was that God was on earth. The theological was the most important. You continue to state that a MAJORITY of corporations are messed up, that a majority of Capitalism is messed up. This is in fact not the case. I don’t live in this “little world” the fact remains that there IS an overal gain for entire society as a whole with Capitalism. I know you reject the idea that you have to be a socialist but what you are saying is clearly socialist. The fact remains is that corporaations employee jobs and if what you want happned more business would go under and even MORe poor people would be around than otherwise.

Beth, I totally agree with you on your analysis between pornography vs. aid to the poor. That is why I focus equally on sexual sins as well as all sins that are mentioned in Scripture and the personal and corporate responsibility to be obedient to Christ in ALL areas of our lives.

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