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Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Black Liberation Theology

Stanley Kurtz done a lot of reading about Reverend Wright and black liberation theology, and has two articles on the subject. .The first in the Weekly Standard is on the Trumpet (Rev. Wright's Church magazine that became a national publication):

To the question of the moment--What did Barack Obama know and when did he know it?--I answer, Obama knew everything, and he's known it for ages. Far from succumbing to surprise and shock after Jeremiah Wright's disastrous performance at the National Press Club, Barack Obama must have long been aware of his pastor's political radicalism. A careful reading of nearly a year's worth of Trumpet Newsmagazine, Wright's glossy national "lifestyle magazine for the socially conscious," makes it next to impossible to conclude otherwise...

I obtained the 2006 run of Trumpet, from the first nationally distributed issue in March to the November/December double issue. To read it is to come away impressed by Wright's thoroughgoing political radicalism. There are plenty of arresting sound bites, of course, but the larger context is more illuminating--and more disturbing--than any single shock-quotation. Trumpet provides a rounded picture of Wright's views, and what it shows unmistakably is that the now-infamous YouTube snippets from Wright's sermons are authentic reflections of his core political and theological beliefs. It leaves no doubt that his religion is political, his attitude toward America is bitterly hostile, and he has fundamental problems with capitalism, white people, and "assimilationist" blacks. Even some of Wright's famed "good works," and his moving "Audacity to Hope" sermon, are placed in a disturbing new light by a reading of Trumpet...

Wright is the foremost acolyte of James Cone's "black liberation theology," which puts politics at the center of religion. Wright himself is explicit:

[T]here was no separation Biblically and historically and there is no separation contemporaneously between 'religion and politics.' .  .  . The Word of God has everything to do with racism, sexism, militarism, social justice and the world in which we live daily.

In fact, for all his rousing rhetoric, Wright is a bit of a policy wonk, moving fluidly and frequently from excoriations of American foreign policy in various African countries, to denunciations of Senate votes on the minimum wage, to fulminations against FCC licensing policies and Clear Channel, and so much more. Wright is up to speed on local, national, and international politics, and it's tough to imagine him missing an opportunity to confer with Obama on his wide array of legislative crusades.

In National Review Kurtz focuses on James H. Cone and the broader context of BLT:

James H. Cone, founder and leading light of black-liberation theology, is the Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York. Wright acknowledges Cone’s work as the basis of Trinity’s perspective, and Cone points to Trinity as the church that best exemplifies his message. Cone’s 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power is the founding text of black-liberation theology, predating even much of the influential, Marxist-inspired liberation theology that swept Latin America in the 1970s. Cone’s work is repeatedly echoed in Wright’s sermons and statements. While Wright and Cone differ on some minor issues, Cone’s theology is the first and best place to look for the intellectual context within which Wright’s views took shape.

Cone credits Malcolm X — particularly his famous dismissal of Christianity as the white man’s religion — with shaking him out of his theological complacency. In Malcolm’s words:

The white man has brainwashed us black people to fasten our gaze upon a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus! We’re worshiping a Jesus that doesn’t even look like us! Oh, yes! . . . The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that’s his God, the white man’s God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter . . . while this white man has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars here on this earth!??

In the late 1960s, Malcolm X’s criticisms (Wright calls them “devastating”) were adopted by the founders of the black-power movement, such as Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panthers, and Ron Karenga. Shaken by Malcolm’s rejection of Christianity and taken with the movement for black power, Cone, a young theologian and initially a devout follower of Martin Luther King Jr., set out to reconcile black power with Christianity. He did not reject Malcolm’s disdain for a “blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus” — rather, he came to believe that Jesus was black, and that an authentic Christianity, grounded in Jesus’s blackness, would focus with full force on black liberation. Authentic Christianity would bring radical social and political transformation and, if necessary, violent revolution in the here and now.

Cone understood his task as both “radical” and “prophetic.” It was radical in demanding deep transformation in the structure of society and prophetic in its determinedly angry and denunciatory tone. Black Theology and Black Power, says Cone in the book’s introduction, is “written with a definite attitude, the attitude of an angry black man.” Cone demands and commends anger, criticizes contemporary theologians for the “coolness” of their writings, and notes that “there is some evidence that Jesus got angry.” In the book, Cone sometimes addresses or refers to whites as simply “the oppressor” or “Whitey.”

The black intellectual’s goal, says Cone, is to “aid in the destruction of America as he knows it.” Such destruction requires both black anger and white guilt. The black-power theologian’s goal is to tell the story of American oppression so powerfully and precisely that white men will “tremble, curse, and go mad, because they will be drenched with the filth of their evil.” In the preface to his 1970 book, A Black Theology of Liberation, Wright wrote: “There will be no peace in America until whites begin to hate their whiteness, asking from the depths of their being: ‘How can we become black?’”

So what exactly is “black power”? Echoing Malcolm X, Cone defines it as “complete emancipation of black people from white oppression by whatever means black people deem necessary.” Open, violent rebellion is very much included in “whatever means”; like the radical anti-colonial theorist Frantz Fanon, on whom he sometimes draws, Cone sees violent rebellion as a transformative expression of the humanity of the oppressed. Drawing on existential theology, Cone defends those who looted during the urban riots of the late 1960s as affirming their “being,” rather than simply grasping and destroying. Modifying Descartes, Cone explains the rioters’ implicit message as “I rebel, therefore we exist.”

While Cone asserts that blacks hate whites, he denies that this hatred is racism. Black racism, says Cone, is “a myth created by whites to ease their guilt feelings.” Black hatred of whites is simply a legitimate reaction to “oppression, insult, and terror.” Cone derides accusations of black racism as a mere “device of white liberals.”

Indeed, one of the most striking features of Black Theology and Black Power is its strident attack on white liberals. According to Cone, “when white do-gooders are confronted with the style of Black Power, realizing that black people really place them in the same category with the George Wallaces, they react defensively, saying, ‘It’s not my fault’ or ‘I am not responsible.’” But Cone insists that white, liberal do-gooders are every bit as responsible as the most dyed-in-the-wool segregationists. Well before it became a cliché, Cone boldly set forth the argument for institutional racism — the notion that “racism is so embedded in the heart of American society that few, if any, whites can free themselves from it.”

The liberal’s favorite question, says Cone, is “What can I do?” He replies that, short of turning radical and putting their lives on the line behind a potentially violent revolution, liberals can do nothing. The real liberal question to blacks, says Cone, is “What can I do and still receive the same privileges as other whites and — this is the key — be liked by Negroes?” Again, he answers, “Nothing.” To prove it, he pointedly dismisses the original bogus white liberal, Abraham Lincoln, who after all was more concerned with holding the Union together than with ending slavery.

For Cone, the deeply racist structure of American society leaves blacks with no alternative but radical transformation or social withdrawal. So-called Christianity, as commonly practiced in the United States, is actually the racist Antichrist. “Theologically,” Cone affirms, “Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man ‘the devil.’” The false Christianity of the white-devil oppressor must be replaced by an authentic Christianity fully identified with the poor and oppressed:

The religious ideas of the oppressor are detrimental to the black people’s drive for freedom. They tend to make black people non-violent and accept only the prescribed patterns of protest defined by the oppressor himself. It is the oppressor who attempts to tell black people what is and is not Christian — though he is least qualified to make such a judgment.
Posted on 05/14/2008 7:58 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Comments
14 May 2008
del
Could anyone recommend a reliable history of the African slave trade, (which should include) the European trade with the Americas and the Arab trade  with the wonderful world of islam, along with a discussion of African participation in the enslavement of other Africans, from (just after) time immemorial to the 20th century?


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