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James Cone

May 22, 2013


Unaware of Latin American liberation theology

Blacks dying from rats, filth, dope, shot, imprisoned, living in ghettos

Wrote after King assassinated, 130 cities in flames and military in ghettos and non-violence turning to black power

While teaching in Detroit, 300 riots between 1965 and 1968, 8,000 casualties and 50,000 arrests of blacks.

Nixon had stood on platform to reverse civil rights, halt bussing for school desegregation and reduce funds for improving ghettos



BTABP1st.  1970 Black Theology and Black Power

relationship of the black liberation struggle to Christian theology

then almost entirely carried on by non=Xns hostile to black churches,.

inability of white theology to deal with the black experience and its silent participation in racial oppression.

2nd. A Black Theology of LiberationABTOL

Black theology as God’s contemporary message of deliverance to the oppressed,

paradigmed and actualised in blacks as the most oppressed group in America

TSATB3rd. The Spirituals and the Blues

substratum of materials which are fruitful source of black theology.

4th. God of the Oppressed

deals with his accumulation of critics, black and GOTOwhite.

5th My Soul Looks Back (1982)

MSLB shows fruitful encounters with feminist theologians; sees wider context of oppression


Christianity is essentially a religion of liberation.

study God in the light of the existential situation of an oppressed community,

relating the forces of liberation to Jesus Christ.’

Theology that is not connected with struggle is an intellectual hobby.

‘White theologians built logical systems; black folks told tales.

Whites debated the validity of infant baptism or the issue of predestination and free will;

blacks told biblical stories about God leading the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and Joshua and the battle of Jericho and the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace.

While theologians argued Darwin

blacks were more concerned about their status in American society and its relation to the biblical claim that Jesus came to set the captives free.

White thought on the Christian view of salvation was largely ‘spiritual’

Black thought was largely eschatological and never abstract but usually related to their struggle against earthly oppression.’

God was for the Israelites in Egypt so for the poor now.

Jewish prophecy afterwards was concerned with treatment of poor, reminding them that God was god of justice

In a racist society, God is not colour-blind

Whites have a view that God loves all people so blacks should go second mile, turn other cheek.

black people have no time for a neutral God.  The brutalities are too great

Blackness stands for all oppressed, minority groups, eg. Jews, white poor

God has chosen blacks to shame whites – paraphrase of I Corinthians 1;26ff

Jesus reaffirmed theme of liberation – condemned rich, ministered among poor see Luke 4;18-19.

Liberation must be from demonic structural forces of US

If the system is evil, then revolutionary violence is both justified and necessary.

Impossible to talk about reconciliation before full emancipation is achieved.

Reconciliation means death, and only those who are prepared to die in the struggle for freedom will experience new life with God.

If message not related to liberation of poor, not Christ’s message.

There will be no peace in America until whites begin to hate their whiteness and ask, ‘How can we become black?’

To be converted, for a white person, is to become black, to ‘die to whiteness and (to be) born anew.there

Tension between life and death – whites have enslaved blacks; now kill and cage leaders to breathe in white society depends on saying yes to whiteness.

white appeals to talk it over while black kids dying

Identity – to be black is more than colour; it is knowing roots, stories of past, community

Whites decreed that blacks were outside realm of humanity, were animals whose enslavement was best.


God chooses poor as his own people, cf. Israelites at Exodus

So he has chosen the blacks

Whites claim that God is for all humankind

Some argue God calls people to suffer.

Blacks not chosen to be a suffering people as later Jews saw themselves.

Better view is that it was a false god which led to the holocaust because the churches did not obey the real God who sides with the oppressed.


Atheists have argued that God and Christianity have encouraged black oppression and that true freedom includes emancipation from Christianity.

Black theologians want emancipation from that type of God but that does not mean there isn’t a real God.

True and false God

Question is not whether blacks believe in God but which God they believe in.

Pre-civil war black preachers were also civil rights leaders

‘The white God is an idol created by racists and we blacks must perform the iconoclastic task of smashing false images.’

Black theologians trained in white seminaries and need to make radical break with white folk religion – can’t put new wine in old skins – Mark 2;22

God is not the one US whites prayed to for victory in Vietnam


God the father identified with oppressed Israel

Genesis 1 by priestly writers in Babylonian exile – not philosophical statement but in time of oppression – God’s relationship with the land and its people.

To say I am created by God is to say my being finds its source in God.  ‘I am black because God is black’;

God the son is God who became an oppressed person

God not remote and uninvolved  God revealed in concrete worldly things. He died on the cross but also rose again.

So blacks take heart when they seem to be losing.

Jesus says his kingdom was not ‘of this world’ – so not just based on white guns because blacks have power behind them from the other world.

the Holy Spirit continues the struggle against oppression.


 argued that man created to share God’s creative (revolutionary) activity in world (Genesis 1;27-28)

Through sin he rejects his proper destiny

Instead he desires to become God, to be superhuman.

He thereby becomes estranged from God and his neighbour, transferring human relationships into violence.

Revolutionary activity begins with call of Abraham then the rescue from Egypt of the Israelites.

The history of Israel is a history of God’s election of a special, oppressed people to share his creative involvement in the world.

In Christ, the kingdom of God hoped for in the Old Testament is realised.  Man is no longer a slave to the principalities and powers

Unlike Israel, the church transcends ethnic boundaries and includes all who are willing to share God’s activity in the world

Jesus explains that following him will involve suffering – Matthew 5;11.


Jesus central to Christian theology.

‘The Spirituals and the Blues’ by Cone:

–         Jesus is understood as the King,

–         the deliverer of humanity from unjust suffering.

–         he is the comforter in time of trouble,

White’s Jesus is gentle, loving, merciful.

if no connection between historical and the preached Christ, no point.

Born in stable = ghetto

Visited by shepherds.

Fled from Herod’s genocide

Even if myth, making a point.

Parents poor – offered turtledoves instead of lamb  Leviticus 12;6-8; Luke 2;21-24

Ate with tax collectors and sinners

Not white in any sense of the word.

“He is black because he was a Jew.


‘is not simply a statement about skin colour, but rather the transcendent affirmation that God has not ever, no not ever, left the oppressed alone in the struggle.

“The ‘raceless’ American Christ has a light skin, wavy brown hair, and sometimes

The cross of Jesus is God’s reversal of the human situation. The elected one takes the place of Israel as the Suffering Servant and so manifests the divine willingness to suffer in order that humanity might be fully liberated…

The cross represents the particularity of divine suffering in Israel’s place….

The resurrection means that God’s identification with the poor in Jesus is not limited to the particularity of his Jewishness but applicable to all who fight on behalf of the liberation of humanity in this world”


‘Where Christ is, there is the church.’

Christ found in the oppressed.

So Christ’s church is the ghetto, not in the suburban churches.

3 functions of the church are:

PREACHING (kerygma)

–         what God has done in the world, victory over alien forces so freedom is a reality; it is not about being ‘nice to niggers’.

–         The gospel invites the hearer to take one of two sides. ‘He who is not for me is against me.’

–         So no place for nice, white liberals who do not want to get involved.

SERVICE (diakonia)

FELLOWSHIP (koinonia) mere words not enough.  Church has to live out this message.

Must be no racism in it because Christ has broken down the dividing walls of hostility.’ (Ephesians 2;14)

Oppression is contrary to the gospel.

Any oppression of women in the churches is therefore the result of human sin

We cannot support the subordination of women in the ministry while saying we favour liberation for the oppressed.

Women need role models in ministry

An exclusively male ministry is derived from the oppression within the white church

We learned the gospel at our mothers’ knees so they are natural ministers


 ‘Gospel’ means good news.

Church proclaims freedom and shares liberation struggle.

Societal values no longer important.


Retreats are naval-gazing worship of projected image

Prayer is not kneeling, it is the spirit in blacks when rise to fight oppression.

People received according to their ministering to human need – Matthew 25;31f sheep and goats parable

Cannot find answers to life and death questions by reading books.

Songs of pearly gates and golden streets are escapist – need to build Jerusalem here.

White missionaries have encouraged blacks to forget present injustices and promised future rewards.



 Chronos = ordinary time

kairos = a special moment in time, the time of fulfilment

Now the day dawns for America to fulfil its promises of democracy

Abolition of slavery and end of American civil war raised hopes; could have been a kairos but unfulfilled.

1960s riots could have been but still unfulfilled

Period of entering into solidarity with other movements, eg. women, peace, ecology, other ethnic minorities


 First theologian, white or black, to link God with oppressed – the forerunner of liberation theology:

Most glaring limitation of Cone’s book was failure to perceive sexism in black communities.

Also absence of third world issues.

Also lacked clearly focused economic, class analysis of oppression.

Cone spoke of ‘reflection in the light of the black situation’ – puts it on a par with scripture: many would say that it is scripture which is the primary source of revelation.

Cone young and hitherto unknown.

 Black Theology and Black Power had character of an angry pamphlet, fierce polemic

Made white theologians close ranks; saw it as emotional outburst not worth taking seriously

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