Quotes and Notes from Black Theology of Liberation by James Cone (1970 edition)

  1. There can be Christian theology which is not identified unreservedly with those who are humiliated and abused. pg17
  2. Theology ceases to be theology of the gospel when it fails to arise out of the community of the oppressed. Pg17-18
  3. Theology becomes a servant of the state, and that can only mean death for black people. Pg22
  4. Black theology is a outcry and failure of white Christian to deal appropriately with the suffering of black people. Pg23
  5. Black Theology centers around the belief that the black community is where God is at work. Pg24
  6. …in a racist society, God is never color blind.- James Cone pg25
  7. Theology by contrast cannot be separated from the community which it represents. Pg30
  8. A community that does not analyze its existence theologically is a community that does not care what it says or does. It is a community which has no identity.- 31
  9. …white theologians see no connection between whiteness and evil or blackness and God.- 31
  10. God has taken sides in the struggle…pg 36
  11. The black community must reclaim it’s history “by unraveling new meanings in old tales so that the past may emerge as an instrument of black liberation.- 39
  12. Black Theology is survival theology because it seeks to provide the theological dimensions of the struggle for black identity.-39
  13. The search for black identity is the search for God, for God’s identity is black identity,- 40
  14. Black Theology is the theological expression of a people who lack social and political power.-40
  15. Cone is very clear that the only to combat the structures of white power is to embrace pure essence of black being.- 41
  16. To be human in a condition of social oppression always involves affirming that which the oppressor regards as degrading. – 41
  17. Black Theology is a theology of survival because it seeks to interpret the theological significance of the being of a community whose existence is threatened by the power of nonbeing.- 43
  18. The eschatological promise of heaven is insufficient to account for the earthly pain of black suffering. We cannot accept a God who inflicts or tolerates black suffering for some inscrutable purpose.- 44
  19. American theology is racist; it identifies theology as a dispassionate analysis of “the tradition”, unrelated to the sufferings of the oppressed.- 46
  20. …racism is incompatible to the Gospel of Christ.- 49
  21. To be black is to be committed to destroying everything this country loves and adores.- 49
  22. Since white American theologians do not belong to the black community, they cannot relate the gospel to that community.- 53 (I may disagree with this thought in general)
  23. There can be no Black theology that does not take seriously the black experience – life of humiliation and suffering.-54
  24. What does revelation mean when one’s being is engulfed in a system of white racism cloaking itself in pious moralities?-54
  25. Black Power is the power for black folks to make decision regarding their identity.- 56
  26. The black experience is a rage that “strikes against the enemy of black humanity by throwing a Molotov cocktail into a white owned building and watching it go up in flames.”- 56
  27. Black is the experience of carving out an existence in a society that says you don’t belong.- 57
  28. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him.-59
  29. The black experience lead the black community to want to encounter with him now.- 64
  30. By taking seriously the witness of Scripture, we are prevented from making the gospel into a private moments of religious ecstasy or into the religious sanctification of the structures of society.-66
  31. It matters little to the oppressed who authored scripture; what is important is whether it can serve as a weapon against the oppressed.- 67
  32. …Literalism is being used by white scholars to encourage black people to be nonviolent, as if nonviolence is the only expression of Christian love.- Cone
  33. We cannot use Jesus behavior in the first century as a literal guide for our actions in the twentieth century.
  34. While the white church in America was rationalizing slavery through clever exegesis, the black church ministers were preaching freedom and equality.
  35. Theology cannot take some existential leap over the very issues pressing black folks in order to prop up an universalism.-76
  36. Black people have heard enough about God. What they want to know is what God is saying about the black condition.- 77
  37. It is so tempting to take the white Jesus who always speaks to black people in the terms of white interest and power.-79
  38. the Christian gospel offers men an authentic response by assuring them of God’s participation against human suffering -84
  39. The most gross sin cannot be forgive in America because it has been overlooked by America.-90
  40. Cone is very aware that God is in a personal relationship with humanity effecting the divine will of God.-90
  41. Revelation is God’s self-disclosure to humanity in a situation of liberation.-91
  42. Faith is the community’s response to God’s act of liberation.- 95
  43. We do not need to read the Bible to know that human enslavement is ungodly, and the slaves will do everything possible to break the chains.-99
  44. As the oppressed community recognized their situation in the light of God’s revelation, they know now that they should have killed him instead of “loving” him.- 101
  45. There is no revelation that does not provide man with an understanding of his own authentic self.- 103
  46. To know God is to know about ourselves…-105
  47. When oppressed people come to know who they are they will not tolerate oppression.- 105
  48. The courage to be black in the s pace of white people is what revelation means in our time- 106
  49. …the true prophet of the gospel of God must become both “anti-Christian” and “unpatriotic.”-107-108
  50. Black people are not elected to be Yahweh people of suffering.-108
  51. The black theologian must assume the dangerous responsibility of articulating the revolutionary mood of the black community.- 109
  52. The white God will point to a heavenly bliss as a means  of directing black people aay from earthly rage-110
  53. Freedom comes when we realize that it is against our interest, as a self-determining black community, to point out the god elements in an oppressive structure.-110
  54. If whites were really serious about their radicalism in regard to black revolution and it theological implications in America, they would keep silent and take instructions form black people. – 119
  55. How do we find meaning and purpose in a world in which God is absent? Are questions for an affluent society.- 120
  56. There is no place for a colorless God is a society when people suffer precisely because of their color.-120
  57. White theologians would prefer not to do theology based upon color.- 122
  58. …blackness or salvation (the two are synonymous) is the work of God not man.-125
  59. When wrath is removed from the nature of God it weakens the central biblical truth about God’s liberation of the oppressed from the oppressors.-131
  60. Black people want to know whose side God is on…-131
  61. What we need is divine love as expressed in Black Power which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors- 132
  62. If the wrath of God is his almight No against man’s Yes, then black people want to know where the No of God is today in white America.-132
  63. Love without righteousness is unacceptable to black people…-133
  64. Love means that God will accept the whites, and black will not seek reprisal.-134
  65. It takes a special kind of reasoning to conclude that God’s love means that he is no respecter of persons in a society filled with hate…-135
  66. Black Theology will accept only a love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy.- 136
  67. Black Revolution trumps reformation because reformation leaves the assumption that there is still something good left in the system, it just needs to be cleaned up.- 141
  68. The hermeneutic of now is the very expressive nature of black people it captures the essence that God is entering into the struggle of black people.-142
  69. God cannot be the God of Black people and also will their suffering.-149
  70. It is not difficult for the oppressed to understand the meaning of freedom. They are forced by the very nature of their condition to interpret their existence in the world contrary to the value-structures of the oppressive society.-162
  71. …whatever we s ay about sin and man’s inability to know God because of the Fall, it must not in any way diminish the freedom of man to be in revolt against his oppressors.- 169
  72. Black Theology then emphasizes the right of black people to be black and by doing so to participate in the image of God.- 170
  73. In a world in which mean are oppressed, the image is man in rebellion against the structures of oppression.- 170
  74. Satres’s “the age of Reason” ability to capture the essence of irresponsibility is reminiscent of white privilege in America.-172
  75. Whites tell you what you have to do to be a part of the larger society and if you resist they kill you.- 174
  76. No black man will ever be good enough in the eyes of white people to merit equality.- 177
  77. There is suffering because there is no hope that  the reconciliation will be possible, and the only authentic response is to face the reality on the absurdity in rebellion.- 179
  78. Sin is alienation from the source of humanity in the world…-190
  79. Sin is not only the condition that produces lynchings, but it also makes white theologians define the theological enterprise as a “safe” venture.-193
  80. If Christ is to have any meaning for us, he must leave the security of the suburbs by joining black people in their condition.-199
  81. If Christ is white and not black, he is an oppressor, and we must kill him.- 199
  82. In baptism Jesus embraces the condition of sinners, affirming their existence as his own,- 205
  83. As long as the oppressor can be sure that the gospel does not threaten his social, economic and political security, he can enslave men in the name of Christ.- 208
  84. This means that blacks are free to do what they have to in order to affirm their humanity.-219
  85. Only oppressors can turn in upon themselves and worship their own projected image and define it as God.- 234
  86. To be oppressed is to encounter the overwhelming presence of evil without any place for escape.- 234
  87. For black people, death is not really a future reality; it is a part of their everyday existence.- 240
  88. The proper eschatological perspective must be grounded in the historical present…-241
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Racism and Christianity

The constant rehearsing of the trauma of racism has placed an indelible chasm in the soul of black folks. As we wrestle to understand, and, ultimately, try to reconcile: how other (so called) Christians can stand around as such heinous crimes were/are being done to black and brown folks. How can Christians care so little about the poor and alienated while condoning the evil rhetoric of a Donald Trump? Yes, I applaud Donald Trump for at least being honest about his politics but he is an evil man. How do Christians even justify that black and brown lives are not vehemently abused by society? If you call yourself a believer in Jesus and live out the tenants of the Christian faith, how do you reconcile with such evil?

Racism kills the very essence of love and confines perspectives; there is no growth or progression. You can’t say you’re not racist but sit idly by and not combat racism. You can’t say you’re not racist and think that it is ok, to allow poor education, and poor healthcare to ravage through black and brown communities.

Racism sucks the life out of organization. It demeans in order to tear down. There is no redeemable quality within racism. Racisms presents a subtle approach, but it comes with obvious and intentional outcomes –keep black and brown people in poverty. There is nothing accidental about racism. It is an intentional weapon used when the majority finds its status sleeping away.

The mere thought of racial reconciliation is laughable at best. What exactly would this reconciliation mean? Here the words of James Cone,

Reconciliation does not transcend color, thus making us all white. The problem of values is not that white people need to instill values in the ghetto; but white society itself needs values so that it will no longer need a ghetto. Black values did not create a ghetto; white values did. Therefore God’s Word of reconciliation makes us all black. Through this radical change, we become identified totally with the suffering of the black masses. It is this fact that makes all white churches anti-Christian churches in their essence. To be Christian is to be one of those whom God has chosen. God has chosen black people.

Now these words can be easily misconstrued if read through the eyes of racism. But Cone is very simply stating that God is on the side of the” least of these.” Black is not a color but a place where “your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are.” To be Christian is to know what the underside looks like and to feel the pain of the margins. Reconciliation is not just a pathological response of forgiveness but it is a deep intrinsic reframing of one’s authentic God-self.

 I love the words that introduce Dr. Yolanda Pierce’s website,

“I am not interested in most conversations about equality. To whom would you like to be equal, given a broken and morally bankrupt system? Do you want to be equal to the persons, forces, and systems which generate the very terms of your oppression?  I am, however, interested in the weightier matters of law: justice and freedom.  How can we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly?”

These words echo the sentiments of a generation that’s been disproportionately jailed, harassed, overlooked and abused because of the color of their skin. Honestly, the system is not broken, it is working exactly how it was programed to work. When corrupt people build a system, you can rest assured that the system is corrupt. America was established through corruption, theft and racism and those sins continue to wreak havoc on all people locked “in these yet to be united states.” Maybe KRS-One was right when he rapped,

“There can never be justice on stolen land.”

There is no simple strategy or words that can make things better overnight. But a collective sorry that is entrenched in justice is a good place to start.

“How can we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly?- Pierce

A Theology of the Other in an Ecumenical Reality Part 3

The Danger of the Incarnation

There is an ever-present danger when living an incarnational life. The vulnerability of this space posses the ability to instill humility through the rigors of life. The closeness that is fashioned in such intimate containers unmasked all pretentiousness and facilitates true authenticity. The pressure of incarnation produces fresh ministry that addresses problems, but will definitely redirect those locked in the process to reshape their preconceived narratives.

The realness of incarnation centers on the fact that you are “actively” present in life.[1] This becomes an ecumenical reality for many as they journey through the process of incarnation. Incarnation invites others to either join or destroy. The easy work of incarnation is mythical at best, but painfully articulated within the body like the ink of tattoos –simply works of art without any purpose for change. It takes a tremendous level of humility to navigate through streams of unfamiliarity sometimes just to encounter a dislike.

One who embodies the methodology of incarnation intuitively or mystically unearths evil aspects of racism (really prejudice) as they work through ecumenical issues. This unveiling of this Christological schism, as Eboni Marshall Turman denotes in her work Toward a Womanist Ethic of Incarnation, becomes counter-intuitive to “the negative and positive poles of a dichotomous racial hierarchy.”[2] Alternatively, the more one is authentically locked in the imago dei (image of God) to a particular culture or denomination, the greater the potential for others to become uncomfortable around that person/individual –especially those who make it their reality to dislike that person/individual based upon cultural or denominational aesthetics. Their adjustment is to use identification as the power play –so no longer is the imago dei the primary identifier but racial and denominational hierarchy now guides the perspective.[3]

Ecumenism places those in the minority at a disadvantage and must be clearly addressed if an ecumenical reality is possible. It is Cornel West, who presses the issues that Europe’s need to be the prototype in its “retrieval of classical aesthetics and culture” set forth a “normative gaze” that produced the “myth of white supremacy.”[4] The invisible construct with visible wounds shackles the very metaphorical hands and feet of those in the margins –black and brown people. The call for ecumenism places them at a crossroads that asks, “How is the question of unity a viable alternative?” The importance of the incarnation becomes and is more about what then where…The importance of a Christ that is willing to come and dwell is important but when identified as the “Other,” actual presence is of most significant. James Cone denotes the need for an actual presence as it affirms the struggle of grappling with a maintenance of humanity to a future realization of humanity.[5]  Cone also shares the response of John Knox who states, “The phrase ‘Jesus is our Lord’ designates, not primarily an historical individual but a present reality actually experienced within a common life.”[6] The need for an eschatological reality is a cultural perspective that ecumenism has to take seriously.[7] The fact that Jesus is a very “present” help in the time of trouble is paramount. Whether he is a physical presence in the Eucharist or symbolic is irrelevant, as long as he can provide bread for the impoverished family. The volume of the everyday experience of those trapped on the underside of poverty becomes an intermingled perspective within the narratives of the gospels. Incarnation becomes an existential struggle to prove humanity rather than the salvific experience of deliverance.

The danger of an incarnation that is not properly articulated leads to further issues and problems –a complex issue of “identity [that] emerges from the paradox of enfleshment.”[8]Simply stated the need to understand that some people will have to endure more than others when it comes to ecumenism –“assertion of enfleshment as a paradoxical phenomenon where the reality of multiple ways of being within the flesh that sometimes complement but more often contradict each other.”[9] This problem is addressed by Zora Neale Hurston in her novel Every Tongue Got to Confess.[10] She tells the story of an African-American who wanted to join a white church because it was the only church in town but was rejected. Her relative further more tells her that they would not have allowed Jesus to join that church either.[11]The role of race enters into this equation and asserts itself as the prime decisional component overshadowing everything else. This paradox of enfleshment again renders the “Other” powerless as an ecumenical reality is introduced.

The WCC is trying to reintroduce, rethink and reinterpret the very essence of what has been called community. They are trying to soften the traditional perspective that will inevitably make living incarnationally more of a viable outlet.[12]  They understood that they had not heard the voices of those who represented the “Other.” [13] The need to approach everyone and every culture with the mindset of a global habitat transformed their platform. The places where incarnation could be dangerous they made attempts to address. James Cone states that the Third World theologians began to insist that a definition of ecumenism move beyond interconfessional issues and address issues of poverty, struggle and social justice –in other words deal with issues that those in poverty deal with in everyday incarnational life.[14]  The goal being to readjust the concept to where all are considered the “Other” rendering all the opportunity to be treated fair.[15]

[1] To be actively present means that there is a tangible presence and not something identified symbolically or spiritually encamped –the realness of the incarnation.

[2] Eboni Marshall Turman, Toward a Womanist Ethic of Incarnation: Black Bodies, The Black Church and the Council of Chalcedon, New York: Palgrave Mcmillan,59.

[3] James Cone, Speaking the Truth: Ecumenism, Liberation, and Black Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids,1986.,143 highlights the world of H. Richard Niebuhr in the Social Sources of Denominationalism (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1929): “The causes of the racial schism are not difficult to determine. Neither theology nor polity furnished the occasion for it. The sole source of this denominationalism is social.”

[4] Ibid.,Turman,60.

[5] James Cone, God of the Oppressed, HarperCollins:San Francisco:1975, 126.

[6] Ibid., 126.

[7] In James H. Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, New York: Seabury Press, 1969, 121. Cone rejects the entire thought of eschatology. He states, “If eschatology means that one believes that God is totally uninvolved in the suffering of man because he is preparing them for another world, then black theology is not eschatological. Black theology has hope for this life.”

[8] Ibid.,Turman.,1.

[9] Ibid.,1.

[10] Zora Neale Hurston, Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folks Talk From the Gulf, New York: Harper Collins, 2001

[11] Ibid., George and Smith.,56

[12] Ibid., The Church.,23.

[13] Ibid., Speaking, 142.

[14] Ibid., 142.

[15] In most of his work James Cone has made extreme efforts to redirect the conversation to show how black and brown people are being marginalized profoundly by the church. His deliberate naming of the “Other” as black  was more of a construct than color designator. He intentionally sees God on the side of the oppressed and thus God is intentional about coming to see about their well being.  See James Cone, God of the Oppressed, San Francisco:1975

 

Just some thoughts on racism…

Racism is not a faith issue; It is a love issue. The opportunity to push forward in the face of differences becomes imperative as we seek to reveal the goodness of God. Racism robs us of community and sidelines us to minimal interactions. Yes, we will always see color but color does not have to be the determining factor for us to release and accept love from others. My young cousin says vehemently, “Racism is learned.” How man y times have we heard such language? The problem is that if it is learned then is it possible to unlearn it.

Honestly, racism and love mix about as well as oil and water. They can be in the same container but they will never blend. So for a person to say they operate in love but hates a group of people is problematic and at best untrue. Racism automatically places a blinder in front of your eyes…regardless. For many whites, racism is a non-essential but for the majority of blacks it is an everyday reality. Yes, racism is not a faith issue but my faith is surely impacted by racism.

How I see God is deeply impacted by episodes of racism? I may not understand it or may not be able to articulate it but racism is a major participate in our understanding of who God is. James Cone articulates this well in God of the Oppressed, as he shows, that for white people, the impact of racism is not a functional necessity as it is in the life of black people. Because it is such an everyday occurrence, we (black people) must rehearse our responses much the same as one prepares for a play. That may strike some as odd but in my world it is a reality. My father told me what to do when the police stopped me. I told my son what to do if the police stopped him. I told my son what to say when the police stopped him. We rehearsed what to say when those sworn to protect us become the threat or the perceived threat.

It is sad that as Christians we have failed to break through the structure of racism and allotted for our own treehouses in our own backyards –the church. We have exegeted our racism and made it doctrinally permissive. We have made a mockery of the faith and called it denominations.

Thank God that the younger generations have a different perspective of the chaos that we have made of humanity.

Disconnected Theology to the Exhausted

Every day, I wake up wondering what the day will hold for me. I awake with the question, How long God? How long will they continue to kill us? How long will injustice prevail in the face of the black men and women locked in the racist system called america?…How long?

I then make my way to a seminary campus, which is 95% white that’s located in the midst of an 88% black community. Within the classrooms of this seminary, I hear about Luther, Wesley and Calvin but quite honestly the talk about the theology of race is usually an uncomfortable subject with tremendous scares attached. The notion or better yet audacity, that an evangelical God is concerned about the social welfare of black folks and the poor in general is shelved (by some) for what can be denoted as the need to preach the Gospel faithfully –“whatever that really means.” A Gospel that is disconnected from the “least of these” is not salvific, not the Gospel and simply useless.

I spend most of my days peddling through seminary courses with utter disbelief of how disconnected the church has become to the plight of the real world. We peruse through our seminary world in a microcosm of theological vanity, searching for new vocabulary to tell people how to share and love while injustice becomes the norm of the day. As James Cone asks, “Is it not time for theologians to get upset?” Where is the anger? Where is the prophetic preaching for change? Why is the liturgy not representative of the chaotic state of emergency that we live within? Why are there not prayers for systemic change being rendered for the community that embodies those who are being murdered disproportionately by cops? God cannot be pleased with the senseless murders of young black people by those sworn to protect –Black Lives Matter!

We live in a world that has managed to reduce the lives of black folks to replaceable inconveniences –we get rid of one, another replaces them and becomes another inconvenience. The value of black life in a theological sense is couched for the love of all. Blame is lobbed at the feet of those whom the system has targeted. We expect those caught in the trap to get themselves out. Think about that…they are caught in a trap and we want them to get themselves out. The whole intent of the trap is to ensnare not to free so we as the church must take the initiative to radically bring about freedom.

“It is expensive to be poor” laments James Baldwin but “exhausting to be black in america” replied one of my white brethren.

It is a call from God that ushers in a revolutionary experience of Shalom even while sitting in this midst of the powder keg called america. It may be hard to see the image of God in a riot but it is problematic and sinful to sit silently, while injustice reigns.