Thursday, June 26, 2008

BLACK LIBERATION THEOLOGY: AN INTERPRETATION

By: FAHIM A. KNIGHT

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The KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK asked me to write more in detailed about my views on Black Liberation Theology, it seem to have aroused a lot of Americans during this 2008 presidential election. This writer had written an article on March 31, 2008 titled. “JEREMIAH WRIGHT AND THE AMERICAN DILEMMA: HE IS NOT AMERICA’S PROBLEM" The media became somewhat obsessed with Reverend Jeremiah Wright after discovering his controversial ministry, teachings and his twenty (20) year association with Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic Party presumptive presidential nominee. This over exposure of Reverend Wright just did not happen in a vacuum, but this was systematically orchestrated by some shrewd and conniving manipulators. The media is controlled by one source and they have the ability to mold and shape public opinion—disinformation and propaganda are two of their covert ploys. These mediums are designed to control the thinking of the people. The media was attempting to draw a political wedge between Senator Obama and Jeremiah Wright in order derail Senator Obama's political momentum and besmirch his character and bring into question his judgment, credibility and integrity based on association with a so-called leftwing militant clergy in Reverend Jeremiah Wright. This writer believes that even the Dean of Black preachers Dr. Gardner C. Taylor would only nod his approval of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a true Christian revolutionary.

In truth, if black folk were honest, there was nothing Reverend Wright said that is not preached in the historical black church tradition both past and present or in black seminaries across America. This writer has visited Shaw University Divinity (Raleigh, North Carolina), one the Historical Black Colleges and University (HBCU) many times and has had intellectual dialoged and interactions with divinity professors at this black seminary; moreover, the black experience in the curriculum is directly correlated to the Christian theological creed. This is an essential component to Black Liberation Theology as a school of thought. Yes, sometimes there is an intellectual infusion of black theology and politics coming together to give meaning and to make sense in a world that is full of earthly contradictions. Reverend Jeremiah Wright should have been applauded for his honesty and forthrightness in evaluating and assessing United States Foreign Policy and expressing a critical analysis of 9/11. America as a nation and President George Bush were wrong to attack Iraq and Afghanistan, two innocent nations and people just to steal OIL and OPIUM, which has cost the United States taxpayers over three (3) trillion dollars.

Reverend Jeremiah Wright has been speaking TRUTH TO POWER for over forty (40) years and those that were familiar with his social Gospel ministry knew of his good reputation as a defender of the “have nots.” Reverend Wright has always given decisive and critical analysis of the social, political, and economic systems of America, as well as, in particular how these dynamics have affected African Americans. Reverend Wright's theology was socially and spiritually relevant, it wasn't just the ordinary Christian philosophy based on the pie in the sky doctrine that you can not attain until after you die. But his theological position and work amongst black people were extraordinary, it was no different than the ministry of Jesus the Christ—the liberator of the least of these.

Some do not want to admit or to fearful to admit that for the most part black Christianity and white Christianity are two distinct and different theologies, yet they both share the Holy Bible and the “Christian religious” experience as their fundamental basis. But the historical experiences of both people black and white, in particular in the United States and the Western Hemisphere are strategically overlooked by some theologians and social scientist when evaluating Christianity in order to perpetuate the similarities and the homogeneousness in order to justify Christianity’s humanness, it has not always been that humane towards black people neither has Arab-specific Islam. The oppressor and the oppressed do not view or share the world from the same lens and they both have two opposite worldviews. Black Liberation Theology evolved out of a social and political disparity of injustice and racism. The Black Christian church has always been confronted with social contradictions that exist in the United States, which some ministers, denominations, and theologies have dealt with these dilemmas from a conservative perspective and/or have chosen to confront the contradictions in a more radical and non compromising manner. Black Liberation Theology was a response and reaction to white denial. (Reference: C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya: “The Black Church in the African American Experience”).

This writer started studying the likes of Reverend Albert Cleage (Jaramogi Abebe AgyEman) over twenty-five (25) years ago who authored two monumental books relative to Black Liberation Theology titled, "Black Christian Nationalism: New Directions for the Black Church” and “The Black Messiah." Cleage (1911-1980) was the founder of the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Detroit, Michigan, and also founder of Pan African Orthodox Christian Church, a Black Nationalist Christian organization that placed emphasis on black values, black principles, mores, and folkways and reinterpreted the Bible to reflect an African Worldview, as opposed to the Eurocentric interpretation given to us by our former slave masters children. Minister Malcolm X in his 1964 speech titled, "The Ballet or the Bullet" mentioned Albert Cleage as a significant Christian personality in the liberation struggle of African Americans. (Reference: Alistair Kee; “The Rise and Demise of Black of Black Theology).”

Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., in the early 1960s coined the phrase "Black Power" and defined himself as the “baddest Nigger” on Capital Hill. Many have attributed the slogan "Black Power' to Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) former chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and honorary member of the Black Panther Party who was given the honorary titled of minister of information, but Congressman Powell was the first to echo black power. Black Liberation theology began to make its greatest leap as a systematic theology during turbulent 1960s. Many black clergy were faced with the question of, how do we make Christianity relevant in the context of the social and political upheaval in the United States?

The United States was in unjust war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, racial tension was tearing the nation apart and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was preaching non-violent social change and using the tactic of Civil Disobedience to agitate the status quo. King on August 28, 1963 led the March on Washington in which over two hundred fifty thousand demonstrators were galvanized to dramatize appalling political, social and economic conditions in America. Dr. King was a preacher by profession and a well trained theologian who had earned a Ph.D in religion from Boston University. He used the Bible as his text to criticize United States Foreign Policy and the Bible gave him enough ammunition to condemn domestic oppression, injustice and paralleled black’s struggle to those suffers written of in the Bible. Dr. King was not necessarily a proponent of Black Liberation Theology, but his social theology and activism shared a deep similarity and compatibility to the philosophical tents of Black Liberation Theology, which spoke to the oppressed. (Reference: Gayraud S. Wilmore; “Black religion and Black radicalism”).

This is a layperson's analysis of the developments of Black theology. The writer will admit that this research, by no means, is an exhaustive analysis of Black theology. On the other hand, this article does articulate the perspectives determined by the Black theological process. This analysis looks at how Black theology deals with the major institutions, such as God, Jesus Christ, the Bible and the black church. The analysis, presented in this article relies largely on the scholarship of experts on the subject: theologians, religious scholars, sociologists, and philosophers. From the start, it would be necessary to provide, for the reader, a distinction of two major concepts: theology and religion.

According to the “Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion,” theology comes from the Greek word "theos" (God) and "logos" (discourse or reason). Simply stated as, man's knowledge of God and His relation to the world. Hence, Black theology as interpreted by Joseph A. Johnson, author of the book, “The Black Preacher”, he explains: “Black—because of our enslaved fore-parents appropriated the Christian Gospel articulated its relevance to our freedom struggle with incisive accents that black women and men have sounded since. Theology - because our peoples' perception of human life and history begin with God, who works in the person of Jesus Christ for liberation from every bondage.” l

Black theology has both a systematic approach and a practical approach. The two forms of methodology will be articulated in more detail. Religion, on the other hand, refers "to an institution with a recognized body of communicants who gather together regularly for worship, and accept a set of doctrines offering some means of relating the individual to what is taken to be the ultimate nature of reality."2 The sociologists, C. Eric Lincoln offers a more functional explanation of religion, he suggests, "it is an effort to do for man what must be done to save him from the consequences of his dependency, his powerlessness."3

Tradition­ally, religion has provided the prime cohesiveness for the black community. It is in religion, where our fragmented communities are most institutionalized. When the African was brought to America as chattel, during the infamous slave trade, they represented a variety of sociological backgrounds. The European's "stolen" cargo was made up of people that spoke different languages and practiced different customs. Although the African's previous lifestyles were respectfully different, each would later share the same humiliations and limitations. As a result of stripping the captives of their identities, during this awful period of America's history, the African religious experiences had been shattered. The transplanted Africans were thought not to be "civilized" for religious training. It was common thought by the colonist that Africans were "too brutish, too ignorant, too unlike the English"4 to receive any religious instructions. As the black presents continued to grow, there became a need to offer a "religious" explanation for the existence of black men and women.

C. Eric Lincoln explains the slave's indoctrination to the Christian persuasion:. . . in 1700s the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the missionary arm of the church of England, found itself with several dozen missionaries in this country without anything for them to do. . . the SPG missionaries argued that Christianity would reduce their (the slaves) proneness for lying and stealing and laziness and would in fact make them as faithful unto their masters as unto Christ himself.5

As the cry for "Black Power" became popular during the turbulent sixties, there grew an even greater since of urgency for a Black theology. It was on June 13, 1969, when the first statement on an academic Black theology was issued from Atlanta, Georgia by a group of religious scholars and theologians. Roy D. Morrison writes in the article, "Theology and Ethics,” . . . “in the seventh decade of the twentieth century, black thinkers moved into that arena known as theology." 6 Consequently, marking an academic start to erasing the myths and misconceptions in western religious instructions. The scholarship and research of the black theologian serves as the primary conductor of the systematic approach to Black theology. James H. Cone, one of the leading scholars of the subject, bluntly states, "The goal of black theology is the destruction of everything white, so that blacks can be liberated from alien gods." 7 A primary concept is that African-Americans and Africans throughout the Diaspora must refuse to let whites define what is appropriate for black religious philosophy. The notion of a colorless God does not benefit the promotion of Black theology. It is the conceptualization of a Black God that is key. Important because, “ . . the blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition Gods own condition." 8

Furthermore, Black theology symbolizes Jesus Christ as the black messiah, reminding black people in a most consistent manner that God through Christ takes upon himself the liberation of the suffering and humiliated. Olivia Pearl Stokes, author of the article, "Black Theology: A Challenge to Religious Education, “contends: Blackness is a symbol of the being, the humanity of black people in the context of the experience African and Afro - American, blackness has meant inferiority and oppression. Insofar as Jesus Christ was subjugated and humiliated without cause to save the world, he is recognized by black theology as the oppressed man of God who took upon himself the undeserved suffering of all oppressed people. . He is the black messiah who was raised from the dead to liberate the oppressed by the power of the God who delivered Israel from the hand of Pharaoh and revealed himself as a strong deliver and liberator from every oppression of human existence.9

Consequently, the black experience of oppression and exploitation serves as the background for perceiving the God of the Bible as the God of liberation. When analyzing Christianity as it is interpreted by its followers of the Diaspora, one must take a more objective look at the primary source of reference, the Bible. Black theology's hermeneutical (study of the interpretation of the Bible) position, according to Cone's Perspective is: “The Bible is the witness to God's self-disclosure in Jesus Christ. Thus the black experience requires that Scripture be a source of Black Theology. For it was scripture that enabled slaves to affirm a view of God that differed radically from that of the slave masters. The slave masters' intention was to present a ‘Jesus’ who would make the slave obedient and docile. . .Many blacks rejected that view of Jesus, not only because it contradicted their African heritage, but because it contradicted the witness of scripture.” 10

Considering the wickedness of the individuals who have tampered with Scripture, objectiveness must be applied when reading the Bible. The South African theologian, Itumeleng J. Mosala, emphasizes, "the insistence on the Bible as the 'word of God' must be seen for what it is: an ideological maneuver whereby ruling class interests in the Bible as in our society today are converted into faith that transcends social, political, racial, sexual, and economic divisions. In this way the Bible becomes an historical inter-classiest document." 11

To help serve the African of the Diaspora from becoming more persuaded by myths and exaggerations promoted by the Bible, Mosala recommends that, "a new exegetical starting point is established by black theologians ". . . anything else is a tinkering with what in fact must be destroyed." 12 The black church is undoubtedly the primary location, where the manifestation of black theology can develop. The church has been successful at a number of accomplishments, serving predominantly as the last existing fixture in our communities. Benjamin Mays, the longtime President of Morehouse College in Atlanta, tells about the stability of the black church during the period before 1933: The church was the first community or public organization that the Negro actually owned and completely controlled. And it is possibly true to this day that the Negro church is the most thoroughly owned and controlled public institution of the race .13

The black church is the domain of the pastoral minister. It is here, where the practical approach of Black theology is exercised. The practical approach is more compelling, more concrete, than the systematic approach. This methodology relies largely on the charismatic orator. It is the reverend's cadence and style of delivery that is oftentimes more lasting than the content of the sermon. Gayraud S. Wilmore, Dean and Professor of Afro-American Religious Studies at the New York Theological Seminary, challenges the black preacher, suggesting, "they need to be constantly reminded that the 'old religion' among our people had a powerful, though sometimes covert, social action and cultural renewal component that was utilized by our predecessors in lyceums, literary societies, benevolent clubs and abolitionist groups with the congregation..” 14

Black theology does have its skeptics and varying degrees of skepticism. Its principles are mostly challenged by fellow theologians and religious scholars. William Jones, a Unitarian minister, argues from the prospective of theodicy and black humanism. He questions, "if there is a God, why do people suffer (undeservedly)?"15 He continues his scrutiny, "since black theologians base their claims that God is the liberator of all the oppressed in the Exodus story, what proof, what historical example is there in the black experience to warrant these claims? For such claims to be justified, blacks should be able to point to events in black history which reflect the liberation acts of all the oppressed in the Exodus story, what proof, what historical example is there in the black experience to warrant these claims? For such claims to be justified, blacks should be able to point of events in black history which reflect the liberation acts of God. . Black people have no right to make claims on other people's histories' and base their hopes on them as if they were their own history, Since there is no historical event, to which, they can point to that shows that the biblical God is on their side as their liberator."16

In addition, to Jones' doubts, are more constructive analyzes, offered by fellow black theologians Cecil W. Cone and Albert Cleage. Cecil W. Cone, author of “The Identity Crisis in Black Theology” (1975), strongly contends that Black theology should build more solidly on the black religious experience and tradition, emphasis placed in this area would decrease the identity crisis in theology. Albert Cleage, author of “The Black Messiah” (1968), supports the installing of an even more dominate effort at promoting black nationalistic interpretation of biblical religion and the black church. However, a more easily detected shortcoming, is the ineffectiveness black theologians’ encounter when attempting to convey their scholarly analysis to the masses of Africans of the Diaspora. The unfortunate reality is that, theologians only seem to talk to theologians. Perhaps, because of its abstract nature, the lofty rhetoric, or the short time that it has been a practiced science, may attribute to its minimum attractiveness at this time.

The validity of black theology is not the most important element. Rather, the reality and relevance of its purpose is its most important feature. Mari Evans, writing as a young poet, captures the essence of a liberated religious posture in the poem, “Speak the Truth to the People”, she writes: the world; 5) to develop panoramic images of our experiences in the black churches. The black church is also faced with changing roles. In order to remain a viable factor, each black church must create its own community outreach agenda. without a sense of mission, the black church will become useless temples of hope, if it does not evolve within the context of an ever changing political, social and economic world—change is not stagnant it is constant. The black church must adopt new platforms which to continue to address the needs of their challenging congregation.

In an article written by Hollie I. West, "Down from the Clouds,” recent innovative ideas were discovered. "In Detroit the Joy of Jesus ministry has no congregation, cleans yards, restores houses, tutors youngsters, sends kids to camp and combat crimes The six-denomination Congress of National Black Churches, based in Washington, is working to establish economic development and anti-drug programs for individual churches in the District of Columbia, San Diego, New York City, Memphis, Atlanta, and Chicago.” 18 Innovative programs will strengthen the black church, thus creating a more stabled forum for Black theology to evolve.

Fundamentally speaking, Black theology seems simple to promote to the "lost" African of the Diaspora, but a more in depth analysis indicates otherwise. There has to be a restructuring of ideology implemented by each of the "lost" peoples of Africa. Not until individuals seek to expand their own knowledge of their existence will Black theology become a more dominant persuasion. It will be incumbent upon the black church and members to utilize its greatest potential. Black theology must take seriously the suffering and cruel treatment that its people are victims of.

However, Black Liberation Theology will always remain viable, as long as racism and injustice exist and the black church will continue to have the job, duty and responsibility to answer with a critical and decisive voice, unless it renders its-self useless and obsolete. Black Liberation Theology is not a racist doctrine or teachings of hate, but it affirms how black people see God and the prophets and interpret religion from their own theological definitions. This writer enjoys the Ministry of Dr. Pastor Frank Reid III of Bethel AME Church in Baltimore because Dr. Reid’s sermons are practical and relative to his black congregation worldview, it represents messages of a collective conscience and a collective experience rooted in the black tradition. This writer loves good ole southern black preaching; although I am far from being religious, but my spirituality helps me embrace all truth regardless of the paths and labels we apply to the Creators existence. This writer must admit he detest mega preachers and ministers such as T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Fred Price, etc., and many more like them; these religious gangsters, pimps and crooks are robbing their congregations blind and many of them are to ignorant to know what is going on. These prosperity base ministries are only designed to financially empower these ego driven ministers to the detriment of a suffering black masses. They live bourgeoisie and lavish lifestyles selling the greatest con game ever invented—religion.

Fahim A. Knight Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of good will of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolisms and reinterpret the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlighten world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight can be reached at fahimknight@yahoo.com.

Stay Awake Until We Meet Again,
Fahim A. Knight

NOTES

1 0livia Pearl Stokes, "Black Theology: A Challenge to Religious Education," in Religious Education and Theology (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1982), 72.

2 William Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought (Sussex, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1980), 488.

3 C. Eric Lincoln, "Contemporary Black Religion," Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center, Spring (1978), 91­104.

4 Ibid., 91

5 Ibid., 91.

6 Roy D. Morrison, "Theology and Ethics," in Philosophy of Religion and Theology (Sussex, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1975), 124.

7James H. Cone, "God in Black Theology," in A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1986), 62.

8 Ibid, 63.

9 Olivia Pearl Stokes, "Black Theology," in Religious Education and Theology, 63.

10 Itumeleng J. Mosala, "The use of the bible in Black Theology," in The Unquestionable Right to be Free (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1986), 177.

11 Ibid., 179.

12 Ibid., 185.

13 Benjamin E. Mays and Joseph W. Nicholson, "The Genius of the Negro Church," in Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary witness, edited by Milton C. Sernett (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1985), 338.

14 Gayraud. S. Wilmore, "Pastoral Ministry in the Origin and Development of Black Theology," The Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center, Spring (1986), 213-224.

15 Mokgthi Motlhabi, "The Historical Origins of Black Theology," in The Unquestionable Right to be Free, 43.

16 Ibid., 44.

Selected Bibliography

The Original African Heritage Bible- Dr. Caine Hope Felder
What Color was Jesus- William Mosely
Yeshua the Hebrew Messiah or Jesus the Christian Christ-Rabbi Ben Ammi
The Messiah and the End of this World- Rabbi BenAmmi
The Black Messiah- Rev. Albert Cleage
The Black Christ- Kelly Brown Douglas
God, the Bible and the Black man`s Destiny- Dr.Ishakamusa Barashango
Afrikan People and European Holidays-Dr. Ishakamusa Barashango
Adam, Where are you- Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu
The African Origins of Judaism- Jose Malcioln
The TRUTH about Black Biblical Hebrew-Israelites- Ella Hughley
Our Black Seminarians and Black Clergy without a Black Theology- Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan
The Black Presence in the Bible- Rev. Walter McCray
What if Blacks did not Exist- Felix Ehui
The Valley of the Dry Bones- Rudolphf Windsor
From Babylon to Timbuktu- Rudolphf Windsor
Black Biblical Heritage- Dr. John L. Johnson

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