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Black Theology’s Criticism of White Church

May 25, 2013


Several ministers wrote books justifying slavery,

TCDOSe.g. George Armstrong’s The Christian Doctrine of Slavery’ argued that it was God’s solution to problems of labour and capital

Fred Ross’s ‘Slavery Ordained by God’ argued it was for the good of slave and master and whole American family.

Today, people urge obedience to law of land without asking whether that law is just.

Do not question violence of the law enforcers in the ghettos

Quick to condemn Black Power yet haven’t condemned 350 years of violence towards blacks.

SOBGHave spiritualised the concept of freedom: ‘Christianity, and the embracing of the Gospel, does not make the least alteration in civil property, or in any of the duties which belong to civil relations, but in all these respects it continues persons just in the same state as it found them.  The freedom which Christianity gives is a freedom from the bondage of sin and Satan and from the dominion of men’s lust and passions and inordinate desires but as to their outward condition, whatever that was before, whether bond or free, their being baptised and becoming Christians makes no manner of change in it.’  (a former Bishop of London)

Even argued that Christianity made them better slaves.

A Methodist missionary wrote ‘it was missionary influence that moderated their passions, kept them in the steady course of duty and prevented them from sinning against God by offending against the laws of man.  Whatever outbreaks or insurrections which at any time occurred, no Methodist slave was ever proved guilty of incendiarism or rebellion for more than seventy years, namely from 1760 to 1833.’

In 1844 200 Methodist preachers owned 1,600 slaves.

JB ‘It was difficult to become a Christian if you were a black man on a slave ship, and the ship was called “The Good Ship Jesus”.  These crimes, for one must call them crimes, against the human being have brought the Church and the entire Western world into the dangerous place we find ourselves today….It’s got to be admitted that if you are born under the circumstances in which most black people in the West are born…one can see that the destruction of the Christian Church as it is presently constituted may not only be desirable but may be necessary.’   (James Baldwin)

Some have argued that because blacks were allowed to worship in white churches this shows white churches were not racist.

Not so – it was thought better than blacks having their own churches, within which they would preach subversion and stir up rebellion.

Fear of separate black churches lies behind 1831 Nat Turner revolt when law passed forbidding more than five blacks to gather without white supervision.

During the most fervent period of lynching, Church said hardly a word about it.

Methodist and Baptist preachers were behind the revival of the KKK after World War One.

‘If the real church is the people of God, whose primary task is that of being Christ to the world by proclaiming the message of the gospel (kerygma), by rendering services of liberation (diakonia), and by being itself a manifestation of the nature of the new society (koinonia), then the empirical institutionalised white church had failed on all counts.’ James Cone

Fails to urge radical obedience to Christ

More concerned with drinking, new buildings and Sunday closing than about children who die of rat bites.

Greatest sin, according to Jesus, is sin against Holy Spirit

i.e. to call evil that which is work of Spirit

Yet white protestants have decried racial struggle.

‘antichrist’ seems to fit white church as against Christ’s spirit and work

Primary mark of church is fellowship

Yet racism cuts off people from that fellowship.

Where white Christians did speak about racism, only in bland resolutions – words not actions

e.g. ‘We do condemn the deplorable conditions that produce urban riots.  We do condemn racism and all the evils arising out of it.’ – abstract, lack of personal involvement

It is a chaplain to sick middle-class egos.

It loves life too much to die to sin.

Only way for it is to repent.

Be sorry and admit wrong – but more, to do something about it

Leads us to assume Christ working outside denominational white church.


Martin Luther King demonstrated that Christianity can be effective weapon in struggle but his integrationist policy of love and non-violence did not attract youth.


Cry for black power frightened almost as many black people as white.

Strength of Black Muslim preaching against Christianity as white religion used to emasculate black man attracted black youth away from churches.  Islam said to be black man’s natural religion.


William Stringfellow argued: The churches and the synagogues, in a sense, volunteer as the initial targets for reparations because they claim a surrogate vocation in society as custodian of the conscience of the nation. An issue raised with the churches is thus raised symbolically for all institutions and persons in society and, presumably, it is raised in the place of the most mature moral sensitivity, experience and alertness.’


White church people underestimated radicalness of black Christians – assumed them to be ‘house niggers’ who mixed with ‘field niggers’ after work but were really middle class – even if they’d attended seminaries they had not heard of.

White churches’ leadership did not heed call for resources to ghetto churches because it feared black militancy


The Black Manifesto


Some Negroes want to share in running capitalism – they are pimps who will perpetuate the structures which oppress us.

We are the most advanced group of blacks in world but are also an African people and Africa is in disarray, duped by Western imperialism.

Most US blacks in Africa work for CIA so distrusted.

We could return to Africa one day but presently we are in a strategic position in the USA, the most barbaric country in the world, to bring this government down.

As we have suffered, we understand the Vietnamese, Latin Americans &c.

Tried to make us slaves, now capitalists.


Southern Land bank – people have been pushed off the land

Printing companies and TV networks

Centres for training in community organisation and communication

More welfare workers

strike fund

Black university

All this would cost 500 million dollars – i.e., 15 dollars reparation for each black person from the white churches

Confront white power structure in churches

Disrupt church agencies until demands met

Sit ins in churches. Demand this manifesto be read instead of sermon

Gayraud Wilmore argued that white churches invest in South Africa and reap 129% interest.

After WW2, reparation paid by Japan and Germany – established pattern.

‘The Christian Church has taught that restitution  is an essential part of  penitence.  You don’t simply say, ‘I’m sorry’ to a man you’ve robbed.  You return what you stole or your apology takes on a hollow ring…’

Repentance is thus turned into a moral dynamic – like Zacchaeus, Luke 19;8

White churches always expressing their guilt over slavery – here’s their chance to demonstrate it.

JAMES CONE 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.

Bonhoeffer: ‘Man is challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world.  He must plunge himself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transfigure it…To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a  particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism…but to be a man. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the 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.  Although evil is defeated, it is fighting a last rearguard action.

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)

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