I am excited to hear that at my undergrad, Multnomah Bible College, Dr. John Perkins is giving lectures. Coming to Union last semester was dramatically different to say the least (though it was something I was looking for) and in that difference I found myself reading and listening to critiques, some solid and others flimsy. Here following is part one of three responsorial writings to three books I read for Social Ethics as Social Criticism dealing with race, as I presume some of Multnomah is going through too.
Part 1 – Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998, by James H. Cone (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999).
James Cone’s book Risks of Faith, I have to admit, was convicting. I come from the evangelical tradition and a fundamentalist home. While I left the literalist roots, the evangelical doctrine continues to hold some sway. During my time in undergrad, under the influence of authors and friends, I came to hold a quasi-Mennonite stance. Also Kingdom theology, championed by Moltmann, Pannenberg and others, has largely shaped me, and fits well (in my mind) within the Anabaptist tradition. Kingdom theology leads to Kingdom ethics; thus when I think ethics, I think to care for the poor and the widow.
I was so focused on the poor and the widow, I neglected other aspects of theology; I was too simplistic. It felt like Cone specifically talked to me when he addressed hope theology: “white American theologians have been virtually silent on black liberation, preferring instead to do theology in the light of a modern liberalism that assumes that black people want to integrate into the white way of life” (27). I was and am fully aware that the poor are stuck at the bottom in a system of power structures; nevertheless, for all intents and purposes, I saw it as merely economic injustice – not also racial. Kingdom theology can cohere with Liberation theology, and to some degree it had for me, but I lacked the color dimension.
However, the book was far from done with me. As pitiful an excuse as it may sound, I felt that I was not allowed previously into the discussion. Whether it is culture, my up bringing, or whatever, I felt that since I was not black, I had no right to speak. I’ve been silent. Cone, however, has called me out. I felt invited into the discussion of racism, particularly in the chapter “White Theology Revisited.” My theology should reflect the richness of all the Christian traditions. I can and should include black theology right along side Yoder, Grenz, and Hauerwas. If I aim to teach theology at a college somewhere and one of the first classes I want to do will incorporate the non-white, non-male, and non-heterosexual theologies – essentially, liberationists. I especially see the need to do this at the Bible College I went to, not to be the token class that covers recent movements (for they already have one that briefly glosses over black theology and feminism), but to interact with the traditions that the evangelical world has marginalized. I want to balance out the white theology and incorporate the other voices.
I do have a concern though: violence. I first want to preface that I have come to hold some sort of loose pacifism, or better described as, peace ethic. My value of peace and non-violence stems from Kingdom ethics – the Kingdom is here but not here, however, as Christians we should endeavor to spread the Kingdom through Kingdom acts (i.e. non-violence). Also, the Kingdom liberates people and contradicts earthly power structures. Cone allows for violence, but I do not…I think. I understand that the oppressed should not work within the oppressor’s paradigm, yet at the same time, I believe the Kingdom not only liberates, but addresses the world and its evil in entirely different ways than the world acts. For now I disagree with Cone on the tactics of liberation, not because I am white and worried about the status quo, rather because I think the Kingdom ethics include non-violence and liberation together.