BLACK THEOLOGY



BLACK THEOLOGY

Introduction

Christian theology is a theology of liberation. It is the rational study of the being of God in the world in the light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ. It is impossible to speak of the God of Israelite history, who is the God revealed in Jesus Christ, without recognizing that God is the God of and for those who labour and are over laden. Christian theology is never a rational study of the being of God. Rather it is a study of God’s liberating activity in the world, God’s activity in behalf of the oppressed. The task of the Christian theology is to analyze the meaning of hope in God in such way that the oppressed community of a given society will risk all for earthly freedom, a freedom make possible in the resurrection of Jesus. This paper is an attempt to reflect upon Black theology and its relevance in our own context.  

 

Black Theology

The consultation of the Theological Commission of the N.C.B.C ( The National Committee of the Black Churchmen) on June 13, 1969 in Atlanta, Georgia has stated black theology as “Black theology is a theology of liberation. It seeks to plumb the black conditions in the light of God’s revelation Jesus Christ, so that the black community can see the gospel is commensurate with the achievement of black humanity. Black theology is a theology of ‘blackness.’ It is the affirmation of black humanity that emancipates black people from white racism, thus providing authentic freedom for both white and black people….”[1] Black theology reinterpreted every doctrine or idea of theology so that it would say something to black people who are living under unbearable oppression. As James H Cone has noted, “Black theology is not prepared to discuss the doctrine of God, man, Christ, church, Holy Spirit- the whole spectrum of Christian theology without making each doctrine and analysis of the emancipation of black people.[2] It believes that the liberation of the black community is divine liberation

History of Black theology

Theology cannot be separated from the community which it represents. A community that doesn’t analyze its existence theologically is a community that does not care what it says or does. Black theology in the USA is a product of black revolution in 1960’s. the black community in USA are the descendents of the Negroes imported from Africa from 1618 onwards for doing slave work in American land during British colonialism. When we look through the history of their life in USA, we see a most miserable, oppressed, dehumanized and suppressed class of people. Throughout the history of America from the Puritans to the death-of-God theologians, the theological problems treated in white churches and theological schools are defined in such a manner that they are unrelated to the problem of black in a white, racist society. By defining the problems of Christianity in isolation from the black condition, white theology becomes a theology of white oppressors, serving as a divine sanction from criminal acts committed against blacks.[3]

Relevance of Black theology

Black theology is relevant in the context of oppression of black people. It is relevant because

1.     There can be no theology of the gospel which doesn’t arise from an oppressed community. This is so because, God is revealed in Jesus as a God whose righteousness is inseparable from the week and helpless in human society.

  1. Black theology is Christian theology because it centers on Jesus Christ.
The goal of black theology is to interpret the Gods activity as related to the oppressed black community.

Outstanding figures
James Hal Cone (August 5, 1938 - )
He is an advocate of Black liberation theology, a theology grounded in the experience of African Americans. His work has been both utilized and critiqued inside and outside of the African American theological community. He is currently the Charles Augustus Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Cone argues for God's own identification with "blackness": According to him “The black theologian must reject any conception of God which stifles black self-determination by picturing God as a God of all peoples. Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God's experience, or God is a God of racism.... The blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God's own condition. This is the essence of the Biblical revelation. By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering...Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity.[4]
Gayraud Stephen Wilmore
He was born on December 20, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a writer, historian, educator, and theologian. He explains black theology is the speaking out of the black ministers and theologians against the acculturated Christ of Euro-American Christendom who was symbolized the spurious religious convictions and ethical practices of a church and society which enslaved and discriminated against black people all over the world. He observed that black people found key to the biblical text as the revelation of the coherence between the historical experience of the Jews and Afro-Americans. They found also and use it as a means to understanding scripture, a coherence between Judeo-Christian traditions, which emphasize struggle, retribution, justice and freedom and those traditions of the black community in America which points in t e same direction.[5]

Main Thoughts of Black Theology

1. Concept about Jesus
           
The phrase ‘Black Christ’ refers to more than the subjective states and political expediency of Black people at a given point in history. Rather, this title is derived primarily from Jesus’ past identity, his present activity and his future coming as each is dialectically related to others.[6] Jesus Christ is the subject of black theology, because he is the content of the hopes and dreams of black people. Black theology sees black life and occasion mirrored in the incarnation and ministry of Jesus. The classic passage for black theological reflection seems to be the “Nazareth Manifesto”, where Jesus announced that he has been send to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18, 19)[7] James H Cone is of the view that where human beings struggle for freedom and refused to be defined by unauthorized earthly authorities, there Jesus Christ is present among them. His presence is the sustaining and liberating event in the lives of the oppressed that makes possible the continued struggle for freedom.[8] Black theology centered its axis solely on Christ and affirmed him as Black Messiah, Black Christ and so on. Negroes became tired of a Jesus seen through the eyes of white, pink or American. For black theologian the historical Jesus who identified with the suffering of people is the one who emulated for survival. In black theology Christ is the “liberator par excellence” who sets forth oppressed and identified with himself with the black.  

2. Concept about Freedom

Their radical understanding of the relationship of the Gospel to black power is found in the concept of freedom. The concept of freedom is presently expressed among black power advocates by phrases such as “self-determination” and “self-identity” Jesus lifted the burdens of black people and eased their pain, bestowing upon them a vision of freedom that transcended historical limitation.[9] They have spirituals that thereby that deals freedom as a structure of and also beyond the historical context that is eschatological. There are spirituals with the death and resurrection of Jesus as particular focal point. They have seen death of Jesus as a symbol of their suffering.

3. Concept about Power

Black power means black people carrying out their own destiny. Black power is the power to say No. It is the power of blacks to refuse to co-operate  in their own dehumanization. If black can trust the message of Christ, if they can take him at his word, this power to say No to white power and domination is derived from him.  A man is free when he sees clearly the fulfillment of his being and is thus capable of making the envisioned self a reality. This is black power.[10]  Galatians 5:1 says “for freedom, Christ has set us free” As long as a man is a slave to another power, he is not free to serve God with mature responsibility; he is not free to become what he is- human.  The call for black power, which was issued for the first time in 1966 was a virulent reaction to the encapsulation of the white establishment. According to its spiritual father, Malcolmx “Black power was a religious movement and the central ideas of this black revolution self-determination, dependence, cultural revelation, national unity and self government.”

  1. concept about Salvation
Salvation is freedom from the oppression and pertains to blacks in this life. Proponents of black theology are concerned specifically with the political and theological aspects of salvation more than the spiritual. In other words, salvation is physically liberation from white oppression, or "The white enemy" (James H. Cone) rather than freedom from the sinful nature and acts of each individual person. Presenting heaven as a reward for following Christ is seen as an attempt to dissuade blacks from the goal of real liberation of their whole persons.

Criticism.

Black theology was born as a response to important events in the Afro-American community. Wilmore and James H Cone moved blackness to universal perspective on oppression in North America. Black theology was declined into level of black awareness or black consciousness that finally resulted in the glorification of black and negation of white. In course of time black theology  formulated black Christ to build up combat with exploitative attitude of white theology. Both black theology and consciousness advocated a euphemism for their willingness to use violence if necessary to obtain their ends.[11]

Conclusion

To conclude, Christian theologies have its base in the liberation of the marginalized, especially the injustice done towards blacks in American and South African contexts. Black theology mixes liberation theology and civil rights and black power movements. Contextual and indigenous theologies formed out of the quest of the oppressed people to understand the work of God and thereby to liberate themselves from oppression and dehumanized condition in obedience of the word of God.  Black theology should show the courage to break the traditional epistemology and unveil the traditional Western influence.

Bibliography

Cone, James H and Gayraud Wilmore (eds).  Black Theology: a Documentary History  1966- 1979. New York: Orbis Books, 1979.

Cone, James H. A Black Theology and Black Power. New York: Seabury, 1969.

----------------- . A Black Theology of Liberation.  New York: Orbis Books, 1986.
Kee, Alistair. Domination or Liberation.  London: SCM, 1986.

Williams, Preston N.  American Black Theology and the Development of Indigenous Theology in India”, Indian Journel of Theology Vol. 30. April-June, 1981.

[1] James H. Cone and Gayraud Wilmore (eds), Black Theology: a Documentary History1966- 1979 (New York: Orbis Books, 1979), p.101.
[2] James H. Cone, A Black Theology and Black Power (New York: Seabury, 1969), p.121.
[3] James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis Books, 1986) , p.5.

[4] Ibid., p. 63-64.
[5] Gayraud S Wilmore and James H cone, op.cit ., p.99.
[6] James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, op.cit., p.107.
[7] Alistair Kee, Domination or Liberation (London: SCM, 1986), p.49.
[8] James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed op.cit , p.35.
[9] Ibid., p.30
[10] James H. Cone, A Black Theology and Black Power, op.cit., p.39.
[11] Preston N Williams, “American Black Theology and the Development of Indigenous Theology in India”, Indian Journel of Theology Vol. 30 (April-June, 1981), p.64. 

Binu Peniel

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