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Black Cultural Theology

May 25, 2013


Presbyterian minister

Suggested black theology goes back before Cone

Dig beneath academic theology

Go back to slave churches on plantations and their unlearned ministers

Not just bible and church tradition but black’s folk religion

Elements in slave religion include animal tales, folk remedies, remembered handicrafts, rituals round births, marriages and deaths, singing – a new Afrlcan- American culture

No dichotomy between sacred and secular

Everyday religion related to food, shelter, child rearing and recreation

Family and solidarity as opposed to individualism

Worship in fullness of body as well as mind – free body and soul

Freedom is each individual in community reaching fullest potential divine freedom results in full human creativity

Political freedom therefore not enough; must be free to be self and for culture to flourish


Right to say ‘God has spoken in diverse ways’ but doesn’t spell out distinctive Christian role.

How does Jesus relate to street corner crap game?

Blacks communal so not much into politics – so only a few get involved – politics politics should not be isolated while culture elevated.


Religion born out of culture as structure in which humans respond to the holy and come to terms with one’s place in the world

Language used in white theology creates a power structure so should examine words and their effects

Danger of black theology using church language and cutting off ideals of non- church blacks – their ‘ultimate concern’ is ‘God’ too

Christianity grew to dominate Europe, hand in hand with imperialism, so its language not necessarily appropriate for blacks

Authentic articulation of slaves’ ultimate concern to be found in Negro spirituals and stories

Families split up, African languages forbidden – whites trying to kill off these hopes – similar to Israel’s sojourn in wilderness and later exile in Babylon   Are they on way to promised land?  Are they a remnant able to reconnect with their lost siblings on African continent?  Will they flower into a multi-cultural, enriched ‘speaking in tongues’ or remain a cacophony of Babel?

Linguistic conquest more subtle and longer-lasting than economic and military conquest

Liberation means going back to authentic roots and then flowering to a new culture that transcends blackness and whiteness as presently defined.

So danger of black theology lies in black aspirations, which are bigger than Christianity, being narrowed down to fit Christian concepts.

Western Christianity uses reason to analyse concepts but Africans use feelings rather than logic and should not be imprisoned within white, Western views.


Among the first to see importance of African and Latin American theologies as allies

Right to introduce African-ness into the arena but underestimates extent to white theology dominated by whites can be changed – humans limited so theology done by blacks will also have limitations.

Black church is oldest vehicle for black hopes yet he dismisses it too quickly in search for wider arena for black religion

Isolating language from political struggle fails to realise that politics and language go hand in hand – one affects other.



Instead, too much reaction to agenda and concepts set by white theologians


Includes Christianity but not just official line but sort of stuff said by black preachers, teachers of Sunday School teachers and laity.

Wider still, whole black perception of the divine, including black Islam and primal religions of Africa.

Conversion not to slavers white religion but to God of their lost African heritage.

Black power is a false starting point because it is in rebellion to whites so whites still setting the agenda

Africans see God as part of all reality, all life is sacred unlike Graeco-Roman way of chopping up into categories

Inner conversion comes first – from slave mentality to fullness of life – then bust into political arena to express yet more fully

Black church important because it is authentic articulation of black hopes and beliefs


If black theology is aspiration of blacks, what about middle-class blacks?  How do they fit in?  Uncritical.

Seems to see God as neutral, transcending white and black – yet where was God during white oppression?  A conversion away from a false white God to a black God seems OK but what was he doing all those years during oppression?  Does he not judge it?



Downplays academic theology, plays up spirituality

Academic systematising OK if grows out of lay spirituality but not if taken first and imposed on people

Singing is a primary source

Not just racism and capitalism but the ‘ailment of the spirit’

Ideology of blackness grows out of deep ambivalence to American Christ:  ‘For we first met the American Christ on the slave ships. We heard his name sung in hymns of praise while we died in our thousands, chained in stinking holds beneath the decks, locked in with terror and disease and sad memories of our families and homes.  When we leaped from the decks to be seized by sharks we saw his name carved on the ship’s solid sides. When our women were raped in the cabins they must have noticed the great and holy books on the shelves. Our introduction to this Christ was not propitious. And the horrors continued on American soil.  So all through this nation’s history many black men have rejected this Christ.’

God not just he who kept us alive but he who is just.

Perhaps all Christians called to choose between American Christ and Suffering Servant of God.

White and pink, blond and blue-eyed pseudo-Nazarene burned into black children’s memory in Sunday School books, windows and paintings – a message of shame by his pigmentation which condemned us for our flat noses, kinky hair, expressing emotion by our singing and dancing – he was sedate, genteel and we tried to be like him.

‘No white Christ shall shame us again.  We are glad to be black.  We rejoice in the darkness of our skin, we celebrate the natural texture of our hair, we extol the rhythm and vigour of our songs and shouts and dances.’

‘We know your Christ and his attitude towards Africa. We remember how his white missionaries warned against Africa’s darkness and heathenism, against its savagery and naked jungle heart.  We are tired of all that. This Africa you love and hate, but mostly fear – this is our homeland.  We saw you exchange your bibles for our land. We watched you pass out tracts and take in gold.  We heard you teach hymns to get our diamonds, and you control them still.  If this is what your Christ taught you, he is a sharp, baby, he is shrewd; but he’s no saviour of ours.  We affirm our homeland and its great black past, a past that was filled with wonder before your white scourge came. You can keep your Christ.’

‘Give us no pink, two-faced Jesus who counsels love for you and flaming death for the children of Vietnam. Give us no bloodsucking saviour who condemns brick- throwing rioters and praises dive-bombing killers.  That Christ stinks.  We want no black men to follow in his steps.’

Jesus shared all he had with the poor; Americans heap up profits.

White Christians ask ‘Why should we pay our taxes to support these lazy deadbeats, those winos, those A.D.C. whores?  Our money doesn’t belong to them.’

‘The American Christ leads the Hiroshima-bound bomber, blesses the marines on their way to another in the long series of Latin American invasions, and blasphemously calls it peace when America destroys an entire Asian peninsula…this nation, led by an elder of the church, is determined to have its way in the world at any cost.’

‘Arrogant white pastors loudly count in dollars and members, and committees smugly announcing the cost of their new churches – hollow tombs for Christ.’  Meanwhile, they tell us to follow Christ in being meek and mild, adding under their breaths, ‘If you don’t, niggers, we’ll crush you.’

Those whites who offer integration to blacks say ‘violence never solved anything; love your enemies’ and thereby condemn riots but offer instead: ‘Just the same, black boys, if the enemies have been properly certified by our Christian leaders, and if they’re poor and brown and 10,000 miles away, you must hate them. You must scream and rampage and kill them, black boys. Pick up firebombs and char them good. We have no civilian jobs for you, of course, but we have guns and medals, and you must kill those gooks – even if some of them do resemble the image reflected in the night-black pool of your tears.’


Right to identify a sickness in American life and spirit but spirituality not an essence in itself but linked in with political struggle

Songs of slaves grew out of their oppression, a reaction, not a pure aspiration of real blackness so much as a response to a particular set of circumstances – so should pay attention to political structures too.

A healed society would result in a healed spirituality – can’t get a healed spirituality out of a vacuum and then heal political life.  Spirituality and politics go hand in hand.

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