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Jesus in Black Theology

May 25, 2013


 “The love of Jesus was…preached by white slaveholders whom brought us into slavery in ships bearing names like ‘The Good Ship Jesus’, a black man from North America tells us.” (Philip Potter WCC)

John Newton, author of the hymn “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds” was a slave trader.


Jesus central to Christian theology.

White’s Jesus is gentle, loving, merciful.

C19 searches for historical Jesus.

Schweitzer demonstrated that liberal search was failure and were creations of human mind.

Bultmann and form critics suggested gospels not historical at all but created by early church to meet its needs

Black theologians take history seriously – 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.


‘To say that Christ is black means that black people are God’s poor people whom Christ has come to liberate…..To say that Christ is black means that God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, not only takes colour seriously, he takes it upon himself and discloses his will to make us whole – new creatures born in the divine blackness and redeemed through the blood of the Black Christ…..The “blackness of Christ,” therefore, 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 – wonder of wonders – blue eyes.  For whites to find him with big lips and kinky hair is as offensive as it was for the pharisees to see him partying with the tax collectors,  But, whether whites want to hear it or not, Christ is black, baby, with all the features which are so detestable to white society.  To suggest that Christ had taken on a black skin is not theological emotionalism…Thinking of Christ as non-black in the twentieth century is as theologically impossible as thinking of him as non-Jewish in the first century.”

‘The Spirituals and the Blues’ by Cone: “the spirituals are the story of the black strivings for earthly freedom rather than the otherwordly projections of hopeless Africans who forgot about their ‘homeland’…Jesus is understood as the King, the deliverer of humanity from unjust suffering.  he is the comforter in time of trouble, the ‘lily of the valley’ and ‘the bright morning star.  Jesus was not the subject of theological questioning. he was perceived in the reality of the black experience……Language about the Father and the Son became two ways of talking about the reality of the divine presence in the slave community..His death was a symbol of their suffering…he is their friend and companion in slavery.”

“Jesus is God breaking into man’s historical present and transforming it according to divine expectations…We can truly know Jesus’ past in its soteriological significance only if his past is seen in dialectical relation to his present presence and his future coming.,   In our analysis of the past history of Jesus we cannot ignore his present presence and his future coming.

“He is black because he was a Jew. The assertion ‘Jesus is black’ can be understood when the significance of his past Jewishness is related dialectically to the meaning of his present blackness…The Jewishness of Jesus located him in the context of the Exodus, thereby connecting his appearance in Palestine with God’s liberation of oppressed Israelites from Egypt (Isaiah 42;6,7)  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”

“The blackness of Jesus 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 their struggle.  He was with them in Pharaoh’s Egypt, is with them in America, Africa and Latin America, and will come at the end of time to consummate fully their human freedom…There is no truth in Jesus Christ independent of the oppressed of the land – their history and their culture.  Christ is an event of liberation, a happening in the lives of oppressed people struggling for political freedom.”

Tempted to oppressive or self-glorying power but rejects these modes


 Some point out that Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man (Matthew 27;57) and that Zacchaeus only told to give half his goods

Yet whites using lot of energy to justify holding on to their wealth despite so many statements against it.

To be a disciple is to repent and become black like him.

May mean costly denial – Matthew 8;8-9 – if hand offend you..

 ‘Those who sit at the table of the rich lord are the poor, the cripples, the blind and lame, not those who are already half-cured. The tax collectors and sinners with whom Jesus sits at meat are not asked first about the state of their moral improvement.’  Bornkamm

 Black identity precious – pearl of great price  Matthew 13 44-46

 Like mustard seed or yeast of parables, revolution slow at first.,


 White slaveholders would not allow slaves to be baptised as knew that entitled them.

So invisible churches grew up eg. African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816

For them salvation meant more than heaven in next life.  It meant placing them in a dimension of earthly freedom which made oppression intolerable.

  Baptist Nat Turner had visions of himself as Moses leading people from house of bondage.

Post civil war black church spiritualised this.

 1 Sam 14;45  salvation from root meaning ‘wide’ or ‘spacious’

To be saved meant enemies conquered – I Sam 4;3, 7;8, 9;16

 In NT, salvation is freedom – Galatians 5;1, II Corinthians 3;17  I John 4;18

 The oppressed serve warning ‘that they ain’t gonna take no more of this bullshit, but a new day is coming and it ain’t gonna be like today’ (Cone)

 Luke 4;18f Christ anointed who proclaims good news to poor

Matthew 25;45 – as you did to least, you did to me: ‘This his blackness is not a projection. Christ is black, therefore, not because of some cultural or psychological need of black people, but because and only because Christ really enters into our world where the poor, the despised and the black are, disclosing that he is with them, enduring their humiliation and pain, and transforming oppressed slaves into liberating servants.’


 In reply to theologians who say he is taking away the universality of the gospel: ‘Indeed our insistence upon the universal note of the gospel arises out of their own particular political and social interests.  As long as they can be sure that the gospel is for everybody, ignoring that God liberated a particular people from Egypt, came into a particular man called Jesus, and for the particular purpose of liberating the oppressed, then they can continue to talk in theological abstractions, failing to recognise that such talk is not the gospel unless it is related to the concrete freedom of the little ones.’ (God of the oppressed)



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.


“The Aryanization of Christ according to the logic of colour symbolism commenced when white Europeans began to come into close contact with darker races.”

Black theology statement of NCBC

‘Black theology symbolises Jesus Christ as the Black Messiah to remind black people, in the most forceful manner, that God, through Christ, takes upon Himself the badge of their suffering, humiliation and struggle, transforming it by the triumph of his resurrection.’


Jesus was literally black, born of a black woman within the black nation of Israel.


In OT God takes sides.

Jesus is Messiah who takes sides.

His background lies in the ‘poor of the land’ am ha’aretz

The ‘common people heard him gladly’

Romans only valued them when they were useful yet Jesus told them they were more value than flowers, birds and King Solomon not like one of them.

He recognises womanhood of woman caught in adultery and condemned by patriarchy (John 8;1-11)

Defended those whom Baldwin described as having ‘no name in the street’

Law is servant to humanity not master – ‘Sabbath made for man, not man for the Sabbath’

Called Roman Herod ‘that fox’

Called pharisees ‘white washed tombs, serpents, brood of vipers’ because they eat up the houses of defenceless widows’ while saying long prayers


‘In one sense Christ must be said to be universal and therefore colourless. Only in the symbolic or mythical sense, then, must we understand the black Messiah in the context of black religious experience…..In other words the universal Christ is particularised for the black Christian in the black experience of the black Messiah, but the black messiah is at the same time universalised in the Christ of the gospels who meets all men in their situation. The black messiah liberates the black man. The universal Christ reconciles the black man with the rest of mankind.’

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