black theology, Cornel West, race

Cornel West’s Hope on a Tightrope, Pt. 2

Cornel West has a new book, Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom, coming out soon. Below are some more quotes I came across that I liked quite a lot or thought important:

For me, the deepest existential source of coming to terms with white racism is music. In some ways, this is true for black America as a whole, from spirituals and blues through jazz, rhythm and blues, and even up to hi-hop.

From the very beginning, I always conceived of myself as an aspiring bluesman in a world of ideas and a jazzman in the life of the mind. What is distinctive about using blues and jazz as a source of intellectual inspiration is the ability to be flexible, fluid, improvisational, and multi-dimensional — finding one’s own voice, but using that voice in a variety of ways. (pg. 114)

American musical heritage rests, in large par, on the artistic genius of black composers and performers.

This rich tradition of black music is not only an artistic response to the psychic wounds and social scars of a despised people. More importantly, it enacts in dramatic forms the creativity, dignity, grace, and elegance of African Americans without wallowing in self-pity or wading in white put-down. (pg. 116)

Obama says Jeremiah Wright is angry because he’s part of an older generation. That’s not true. Walk the streets of Brooklyn. The young brothers and sisters are angry and full of rage right now. Katrina was just three years ago. You and I are still full of righteous indignation. We didn’t need to grow up under Jim Crow to be like Bigger Thomas in terms of the rage simmering inside.

The question is, How do you express your righteous indignation? The assumption and the dominant white perspective is that, if you have an angry Negro, that Negro’s anger is somehow unjust. That’s inaccurate. You can have rage against injustice and still recognize that not all white folk are complicit. (pg. 141-142)

Black women are going to be the crucial part of the next wave of our collective leadership. (pg. 149)

Love helps break down barriers, so even when black rage and righteous indignation have to look white supremacy in the face — in all its dimensions that still persist — the language of love still allows black brothers and sisters to recognize that it’s not all white people and it’s not genetic.

White brothers and sisters can make choices. John Brown was part of the movement. Tom Hayden is part of the movement because it’s all about choices, decisions, and commitments. No one is pushed into a pigeonhole or locked into a convenient category. That is why the ability to love and be loved in the highest sense is so crucial. (pg. 161)

American culture seems to lack two elements that are basic to racial justice: a deep sense of the tragic and a genuine grasp of the unadulterated rage directed at American society. The chronic refusal of most Americans to acknowledge the sheer absurdity that a person of African descent confronts in this country — the incessant assaults on black intelligence, beauty, character, and possibility — is not simply a matter of defending white-skin privilege. It also bespeaks a reluctance to look squarely at the brutality and tragedy of the American past and present.

Such a long and hard look would puncture the life-sustaining bubble of many Americans, namely that this nation of freedom-loving people and undeniable opportunity has committed unspeakable crimes against other human beings, especially black people.

Reverend Jeremiah Wright is my dear brother. Recently he has been anointed as the media’s latest incarnation of the “bad” Negro. Whether in slavery or in black communities under Jim Crow — bad Negroes are “out of control.” Jeremiah Wright speaks his mind. Remember, all of us are cracked vessels. Jeremiah Wright deserves criticism, but it should be justifiable criticism. For example, Reverend Wright’s claims about AIDS and HIV are wrong.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak in Reverend Wright’s church on many occasions. I’m so glad whenever his full quote is played or published because any God worthy of worship condemns injustice. When he says, God damn America — killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. That is true for any nation. We must never put the cross under the flag.

Wright is a prophetic Christian preacher, therefore to him every flag is subordinate to the cross. If you believe that America has never killed innocent people, then God never damns America. We know god damns slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, the hatred of gays and lesbians, anti-Semitism, and anti-Arab “terror” bias in America. God is a god of justice and love.

What Wright was trying to address is the degree to which there is still injustice in America. Never confuse this criticism with anti-Americanism. Any resistance to injustice, be it in America, Egypt, Cuba, or Saudi Arabia, is a God-driven activity because righteous indignation against the cruel treatment of any group of people is an echo of the voice of God for those of us who take the cross seriously. (pg. 167-169)

To deny death is to deny history, reality, and mortality. We’re most human when we bury our dead, when we stand before the corpses of our loved ones, forced to bring together the three dimensions of time: past, present, and future. (pg. 184)

I think highly of the pacifist tradition in christendom. I do not agree with it. I am not persuaded by it. But I think respect is due. I do not think Christian pacifists will ever have the kind of impact on history that many of them profess to have. Yet I respect their views. So when I hear Archbishop Tutu and many others argue for nonviolence, I respect them.

One should, on the principled ground, attempt to exercise and realize all forms of nonviolent resistance before one even remotely considers the discussion of violent resistance and armed struggle. One must examine the history of a country carefully and see what possibilities there have been nonviolent resistance and what impact nonviolent resistance has had.

If we in fact, discover that nonviolent resistance in its most noble form has been crushed mercilessly by the rulers, then it raises the possibility of forced engagement in armed struggle. Indeed, this is in no way alien to the Christian tradition. On the other hand, one should never view armed struggle as a plaything. One should not romanticize or idealize it at all. On the contrary, one should carefully and thoroughly think through whether it can have the impact and effectiveness that one desires. (pg. 187)

There is always a fundamental tension between a commitment to truth and a quest for power. The two are never compatible. It could be Socrates, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Fannie Lou Hammer. You always need a prophetic critique of those in power. Power intoxicates. Power seduces. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is always a need for somebody to tell the truth to the powerful. (pg. 208)

When you talk about hope, you have to be a long distance runner. This is again so very difficult in our culture, because the quick fix, the overnight solution militate against being a long distance runner in the moral sense — the sense of fighting because it is right, because it is moral, because it is just. Hope linked to combative spirituality is what I have in mind. (pg. 209)

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black theology, Cornel West, race

Cornel West’s Hope on a Tightrope, Pt. 1

Cornel West has a new book, Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom, coming out soon. Below are just some quotes I came across that I liked quite a lot or thought important:

I’m a Christian, so I have Jesus in the temple. I have a martyr against the marketeers. (pg. 18)

You’re made in the image of God. You’re a featherless, two-legged, linguistically conscious creature born between urine and feces. Thats us. One day your body will be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. You know that. Be honest. Put on your three-piece suit if you want to, but thats not armor against death. The question is: Who are you going to be in the meantime, in this time and space? You don’t get out of time and space alive. (pg. 28)

The culture of advanced capitalist American society, the culture of consumption revolves around the market–around buying and selling this process turns everything into a commodity and undermines value and meaning in the name of ever-increasing profit.

This is dangerous because in a marketplace culture, commodification–the ability to put a price tag on everything–dominates more and more spheres of human life. This creates an addiction to stimulation, which is necessary to keep the consumer-culture economy going. (‘Terrorist attack? We’ll show ’em. We’ll protect the american way of life. We’ll go shopping!’)

The marketplace culture of consumption undermines community, undermines links to history and tradition, and undermines relationships. The very notion of commitment becomes more and more contested. Addictive bodily stimulation becomes the model for human relationships. We see it in the dehumanizing exploitation of women’s bodies in the advertising industry. We see it in TV sitcoms and reality TV shows that are fueled by orgiastic intensity. (pg. 30-31)

The vocation of the intellectual is to turn easy answers into critical questions and to put those critical questions to people with power.

The quest for truth, the quest for the good, the quest for the beautiful, all require us to let suffering speak, let victims be visible, and demand that social misery be put on the agenda of those with power. So to me, pursuing the life of the mind is inextricably linked witht he struggle of those on the margins of society who have been dehumanized. (pg. 37)

Humanistic intellectuals are being marginalized in our society by the technical intellectuals, such as physicists, computer scientists, and so on, because they receive funding from huge private enterprises, from the state, and from the military-industrial complex. Why? Because the products they provide are quite useful for a market-driven society. (pg. 38-39)

I am no way optimistic, but I remain a prisoner of hope. (pg. 41)

The very discovery that black people are human beings is a new one. This question of what it means to be human affects each and every one of us. Thats why all of us have so much at stake in black history. (pg. 43)

If you view America from the Jamestown Colony, America is a corporation before it’s a country. If it’s a corporation before it is a country, then white supremacy is married to capitalism. Therefore, white supremacy is something that is so deeply grounded in white greed, hatred, and fear that it constitutes the very foundation for what became a precious experiment in democracy called the U.S.A. … Brother Barak Obama refers to “…this nation’s original sin of slavery.” No, the original sin was the dispossession, subjugation, and near extermination of the indigenous people prior to the founding of the United States. We must never allow black suffering to blind us to other people’s suffering — in this case, our American Indian brothers and sisters, and especially their precious babies.

White supremacy — now that’s the real original sin that grounds American Indian and African oppression. That’s the precondition for a nation that could then be founded on the exploitation, subjugation, and hatred of African people. (pg. 45-46)

Any time you make the cross subordinate to the flag, you have idolatry. Americanized christianity is shot through with forms of idolatry, making it difficult for people to keep track of the blood at the cross, the need to love, sacrifice, and bear witness to something bigger than nation, race, or tribe. (pg. 80)

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black theology, Dorothy Sölle, Gary Dorrien, Gustavo Guitérrez, James Cone, Jürgen Moltmann, Jeremiah Wright

Wright, Cone, Dorrien and the New York Times

There was a decent summary piece on Black Liberation Theology in the New York Times yesterday. It attempts to locate Dr. Wright within the historical movement of Black Liberation Theology, and in order to do so, James Cone and Gary Dorrien, both professors at Union, are interviewed. Its worth a quick read and it is certainly better than much of what the media has put out so far.

Interestingly, the article covers two specific subjects that I want to make sure are addressed — one normally ignored, and the other, a focal point for controversy. The first is the acknowledgement of Catholic Liberation theology in the discussion of Black Liberation theology:

Even as Dr. Cone and others such as the Rev. William A. Jones at Bethany Baptist in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, crafted a theology of black liberation, Catholic theologians in Central and South America crafted their own liberation theology, arguing that God placed the impoverished peasants closest to his heart.

There is little evidence that one liberationist talked to another; rather, these were cornstalks rising in a fertile and revolutionary field. “These were remarkable similar arguments, that oppressed people have their own way of hearing the Gospel,” said Dr. Dorrien of the Union Theological Seminary.

On this note, I’ve got a copied picture of Dorothy Sölle, Jürgen Moltmann, Gustavo Guitérrez, James Cone, and Christopher Morse from years ago taken here at Union Cone, Sölle, Guitérrez, Morse, Moltmann– Cone still had his fro and some were wearing plaid. And after seeing this picture last year, I asked Dorrien, since Guitérrez spent a year at Union in the early 70s (hence the picture), if there was much talk then between Guitérrez and Cone, and Dorrien said the same thing then as he was quoted in the article, “there seemed to have been little talk, if at all.” I suppose this shows how far Liberation theology has come today, where there seems to be a lot of conversation. However, I am also wary that the article does not spend enough time on the Marxist aside. It seems that still today Marxism is a loaded term and to have such a small mention might have been irresponsible.

The second issue addressed in the article are Wright’s comments concerning AIDS as understood by Cone:

Dr. Cone, the black liberation theology theorist, has known Mr. Wright for decades and says he much admires his provocations. But when Mr. Wright opined recently that the United States government may have used AIDS as a form of biological warfare against black people (Mr. Wright notes, correctly, that the United States has tried biological warfare on foreign nations), Dr. Cone winced.

“I don’t believe that,” Dr. Cone says. “But I will say that when blacks look at what government has done to black people, the eugenics and the syphilis, it’s easy to get angry.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: I hope our government didn’t introduce AIDS, but its not like the United States has a track record that says the contrary. I don’t want to believe it happened, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the other abuses that the United State pulled, which was so similar to the Nazi doctors in concentration camps. With all this in mind, no wonder liberation theology operates through a hermeneutic of suspicion.

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black theology, Jeremiah Wright, race

Reflecting on Wright: Towards a Negative Theology of Wright

A negative theology is to say what something is not. Generally understood, negative theology applies towards stating what God is not. Below is a negative theology of Dr. Wright. He isn’t a crazy person, a man with “issues”, or a reverse racist.

Last night Bill Moyers reflected on Dr. Wright, conservative preachers, and the whole continuing media debacle on race. Well done sir.

It is quite telling that every time there is a public discussion on Wright – or even a private discussion on race – we must begin with a reflection on the history of slavery. Indeed we ought to begin with an honest history, however, the reason we must today is because the grand story of America refuses to listen to horrors that America has committed. In such a refusal, the ideas that Wright is a crazy person, a black man with issues, or a reverse racist find their genesis.

Dr. Wright is angry. Yes. Or rather, can be angry, but there is nothing wrong with that. I suspect God has been as angry as Wright, and so were the prophets and Jesus. White people might find anger threatening, but Dr. Wright hasn’t lost his ability to speak in his anger. His story is still voiced and that is more threatening. However, those who refuse to hear his words at all, call him a crazy person. They make an appeal that he is out of his mind, that he is merely emotional. This simply isn’t true, rather the opposite is correct. One must simply listen to what Wright says to see this. He is too coherent to be crazy.

Others seem to think Wright has “issues.” Anne Lamott does. Thankfully she admits she isn’t a theologian (and it shows). To put it mildly, yes, Wright has issues, but not in the way we say it. In fact there is still the large issue of race that we refuse to adequately engage (hell, we haven’t even got to other forms of racism directed toward immigrants, etc.). This weighs hard of the black community, while the white community refuses to acknowledge systemic problems (to speak in broad terms – really its the black and white stories that are at odds, one more honest than the other). Of course Wright would have a few problems to shout about, because by and large America is still racist.

Dr. Wright is also not a reverse racist. This is not to say that a black person cannot be racist, however, what Newt Gingrich purports assumes that racism does not continue to exist in any large way. Yet, if what Wright does say is true, understood within a racist culture at large, than it merely rings true. However, Wright is not engaged by others at the level of his and his community’s experience. Instead, Wright’s words are taken from his mouth – from his black body and black context – and put into a white person’s body and context. In some senses, it seems that even Wright speaking cannot be understood as a black person speaking; rather, culture at large must think of him as a white person. How is that not itself racist, stripping him of his own humanity? Sure, maybe if we took Wright’s words and gave them to an oppressive people, the content of the words might sound racist, because they would be coming from the oppressive people’s lips. The body and context from whom the words come from are infinitely important. To call Wright a reverse racist merely on the basis of what he said in his speeches, based on forgetting the black community’s story and acting like he is a white man, is bullshit. This is just another way to marginalize a black man speaking prophetic truth.

With all this in mind, no wonder liberation theology operates through hermeneutic of suspicion.

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black theology, interview, James Cone, Jeremiah Wright

Dr. Wright on Moyers

With this whole hoopla around Dr. Jeremiah Wright, perhaps the most frustrating part, besides the airing of an out-of-context, five-second clip over and over, was that virtually no one talked to Wright himself. Well, thats going to change tonight. I’d heard some rumors this past week, but now even CNN is reporting that Wright will be on Moyers tonight, so I figured I would mention it as well. Moyers, 9 PM on the east coast on PBS.

I’ll post links later when the interview is up on the Moyers website. In the mean time, for those who still feel they need a first time introduction to black liberation theology, or a re-fresher course, watch Cone interview on Bill Moyer’s Journal here.

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black theology, Dwight Hopkins, interview, James Cone

Cone on NPR

Prof. James Cone gave an interview that was aired on NPR’s Fresh Air. You can listen to it npronline here (about 13 minutes). The podcast is available here. Dwight Hopkins is in a follow up interview here (about 28 minutes).

If one wants to see more of Cone, check out his interview on Bill Moyer’s Journal (about 40 minutes).

Now, perhaps a fair, popular discussion can happen, or is that asking too much?

Edit: Apparently Prof. Cone gave NPR an hour and a half interview. From that time, NPR aired 13 minutes. I guess everyone fails sometime? I just wish it wasn’t on this.

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black theology, James Cone

More Media and a Cone Interview to Come

It seems that people are still latching onto about Black Liberation theology. Although most seem to be Republicans now, churning up material in case Obama gets the Democratic ticket.

Politics aside, it still concerns me how much slander is involved when bringing up Black Liberation theology. See this if you feel you need yet another example. (I’m going to stop posting one-sided journalistic failures on this blog unless I’ll be examining it in the same post.)

However, I think some of you will be glad to know what was told to the Union community a few days back:

On Monday, March 31 at 3:00pm, WNYC–93.9 FM–will broadcast an extensive interview with Professor Cone on Black Liberation Theology.

It will be repeated on the AM station at 7:00pm the same day. The show originates with “Fresh Air” on WHYY-FM in Philadelphia, with Terry Gross, and will reach 500 NPR stations that day.

I have massive respect for NPR. I expect they won’t “let Cone off the hook” and will ask insightful questions, but I also expect a fair interview and one that lets Cone speak up on the radio for popular-ish consumption. I do not care where one falls on the spectrum of opinions about Cone, this I am quite sure, will be worth hearing.

Video h/t to I am a son of God.

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black theology, body of Christ, Lee Griffith, modern nation-state, political theology, Richard Hughes, terror, thesis, violence

The Destruction of the Church by America

Fundamentally, the myths of innocence, nature, God, chosen, and millennial are stories that alter our identity in favor of a white washed America. It is true we are exceptional – we are exceptionally bad. We have a tragic past, as I have displayed, and a tragic future, as we maintain an innocence of our past. “The American national mythos is messianic; it seeks to tell a story of freedom spread through self-sacrifice, not victories won through the spread of terror. To sustain the myth, Americans need to rewrite history just as surely as did Stalin to sustain his own version of communist orthodoxy.”1 It is incredibly telling that to confront the myths of America, Robert Hughes spoke of the prophetic, Black experience. The implication is, that the American myths are categorically racist; the American hagiographic myths hide the evil past, present injustice and the future of malevolent violence. There is very little in the myths that pushes America forward in a moral way.2 Instead the myths make it possible for America to turn a blind eye to violence, to injustice, to torture and insomuch that Christians take in these myths, they take in the blindness as well. The simulacra of American messianism subverts the real Jesus, and therefore, it unsettles and divides the body of Christ.

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1. Lee Griffith, The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 38.
2. Richard T. Hughes, Myths America Lives By, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 63.

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black theology, J. Kameron Carter, James Cone

Cone and Carter

As much as I appreciate J. Kameron Carter’s work already and look forward to his forth coming book, Race: A Theological Account, I worry that many people will simply pick up his book and begin to engage race from a contemporary starting point.

Carter is making a critique of Cone, but Carter is also indebted to Cone in a number of fundamental ways. Black theology would not exist today the way it is, if it were not for the space that Cone created (not to mention the entire tradition stretching back centuries even). I suggest that, and I myself will be doing this this summer to refresh and learn things I do not know, we must go back to reading W.E.B. DuBois and others that have carried the tradition forward. Carter, as far as I understand, is still very much in his tradition and we must seek it out. We must not be lazy. Honest theological discussion is hard work.

Also, in some respects, Carter is seeking a fulfillment to what Cone has been yelling about for years, mostly to deaf ears. Cone insists that race is a theological problem. Yet still theology by and large has avoided such a topic. Interestingly, Carter’s book, by virtue of its title alone, is addressing Cone’s direction at the same time it deconstructs and reconstructs. To understand Carter, we will need to understand Cone.

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black theology, Cornel West, J. Kameron Carter, James Cone, Jeremiah Wright, modern nation-state, obama, political theology

The Recent Posts on the Media Fiasco and Race and Theology

I figured it would be good for readers to be able to see all the posts I’ve done recently on this whole fiasco surrounding Wright and Obama. Heres the list so far in chronological order:

1. Obama, Race, and Theology: A theological analysis of Obama’s speech.

2. Cone on CNN?: A rumor that hasn’t seemed to have panned out unfortunately.

3. A Humble Suggestion: Suggesting a book along the title of Religion Still Matters for Cornel West.

4. Wright’s Sermon: A longer video of Dr. Wright’s sermon where he utters the infamous phrase “God damn America.”

5. Understanding Wright by Understanding Cone: Black Liberation Theology from Cone: A very short introduction to reading Cone.

6. Carter on Obama: Citing J. Kameron Carter’s response to Obama’s speech.

7. Cone Explained: How the Media, Politicos, and Others Like Them are Stupid as a Brick and Got it All Wrong: Explaining the significance of Tillichian symbolism in Cone’s work, how one should rightly understand what Cone does say, and a link to Carter’s critique.

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black theology, James Cone

Understanding Wright by Understanding Cone (2): Cone Explained — How the Media, Politicos, and Others Like Them are Stupid as a Brick and Got it All Wrong

Yes, dear readers, I’m still pissed over this media hyped bullshit surrounding Wright and Liberation theology. There really is no other word for it. Oh, and maybe “stupid as a brick” works also. The thing is, as much as Sean Hannity, the rest of Fox News and other conservatives are to blame, so are the other media outlets. There seems to be an entire breakdown in journalistic ethics, among other things. When a loud voice is lazy, no one can afford it.

I feel some what compelled to explain Cone, so that out of context quotes like such are put back into their context:

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community … Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.

Remember everyone, nothing is intelligible without context. There must be a frame work to interpret through, literary or historical, otherwise these are meaningless symbols on the page.

The first thing that the media, and others on blogs who simply copy and paste from the pitiful Spengler article, do not seem to grasp the idea of understanding their subject. Ask a theologian who is aware of Cone on a competent level and immediately ontology and Tillichian symbolism will surface. By the way, Cone footnotes Tillich a lot in A Black Theology of Liberation. (You can read up on ‘ole grab-ass here if you need to.)

In A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone makes the claim that Jesus was black. However, this rightly understood means that Jesus is ontologically black today. See the quote below:

If Jesus is the Suffering Servant of God, he is an oppressed being who has taken on that very form of human existence that is responsible for human misery. What we need to ask is this: ‘What is the form of humanity that accounts for human suffering in our society? What is it, except blackness?’ If Christ is truly the Suffering Servant of God who takes upon himself the suffering of his people, thereby reestablishing the covenant of God, the he must be black.

…But some whites will ask, ‘Does black theology believe that Jesus was really black?’ It seems to me that the literal color of Jesu is irrelevant as are the different shades of blackness in America. Generally speaking, blacks are not oppressed on the basis of the depths of their blackness. ‘Light’ blacks are oppressed just as much as “dark” blacks. But as it happens, Jesus was not white in any sense of the word, literally or theologically. Therefore, Alber Cleage is not too far wrong when he describes Jesus as a black Jew; and he is certainly on solid theological grounds when he describes Christ as the Black Messiah.

James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 20th Anniversary Edition, 122-123.

Here is where Tillich comes into play: “Jesus is black” is a symbol – a concrete reality that points or mediates something transcendent. Jesus was a Jew severely oppressed by the Romans. However, if Jesus were in 1970 USA when Cone wrote A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone is saying that Jesus would be black, not white. It was blacks who underwent (and arguably still do) the oppression, sexual humiliation and lynching that are all too similar to Roman occupation and crucifixion.

See? Not that hard. People quoting just need to care to read.

So the implications that follow from such a statement are, that the white church is not following Jesus and in fact, the white person needs to become ontologically black – not in skin per se, remember this is symbolism, but in action (praxis). I’ve heard Cone mention that Dietrich Bonhoeffer would fit the description of an ontologically black while a literal white man. Blackness is not relegated to skin pigmentation, its deeper than that (although those with dark pigmentation find they are oppressed because of their skin in America).

Now, one might say, this merely looks like moving one’s social location, and indeed it is that, but more. Cone has made the argument in class that liberation theology is not responding to the question of believer/unbeliever, but instead oppressed/oppressor. Therefore, the “white church” or “white god” takes on a whole new meaning. And quite honestly, it should. When the white authorities look the other way, or involved themselves, in lynching on Saturday and then on Sunday went to church all dressed up, one would think that would cause quite a stir – to be the oppressor and yet identify as if one is Jesus, the one who was oppressed? That is the wrong kind of scandalous. To such a life style that lives so blindly, liberation theology and the suffering of Jesus is rightly a scandal, a scandal as the cross should be. The status quo is the white god that kills to keep populations down. What kind of Christianity is that? Is that actually Christianity at all?

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of J. Kameron Carter’s critique of Cone and I think the move that Carter makes puts out a more fruitful ecclesiology. He has a book coming out soon, but for any of you anxious to see some other work, check out Carter’s article “Christology, or Redeeming Whiteness: A Response to Jame’s Perkinson’s Appropriation of Black Theology”:

This brings us to an alternative scriptural interpretation of the meaning of baptism and, thus, an alternative for understanding Perkinson’s claim that the problem of racism “is as deep as the body one inhabits.” That alternative is this: Baptism is induction into a different mode of being in the world, one that surpasses the mode of being whose nodal points are the hegemonic and the counterhegemonic. Christ, under this alternative, does not symbolize the existential possibility of receiving the other into oneself so that one no longer lives hegemonically. He does not symbolize how whites can be “redeemed” by expanding their existential horizons so that “black pain and power [might be] at work” in them. For, in actuality, this is not immersion into the other at all. It is the other being subsumed into the constituting “I,” an “I” that has chosen, in an egalitarian gesture, to expand its borders from being a “mom and pop” store to being a shopping mall. Inhabiting or being received into Christ’s actual body in such a way that one lays no claim to naming oneself and, therefore, in which one holds nothing of oneself back in self-possession-this is what baptism represents in this second alternative. Baptism in this second alternative involves handing oneself over to God in Christ so as to receive oneself back as gift. This is the deeper meaning of Christ’s baptism, which cannot be severed from the event of the Cross.

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black theology, James Cone

Understanding Wright by Understanding Cone (1): Black Liberation Theology from Cone

For those of you who do not know much on Black Liberation Theology, heres a little post for you. If you want to see more on Cone’s thought, rather than just the book suggestions below, see this post.

I remember an interview of Dr. Wright a few years back where he cites James Cone and Dwight Hopkins as the church’s chief theological influences. Funny enough, Sean Hannity said he’d gone to seminary, which by any standard after seeing the interview, his seminary failed him (or he failed himself) because he displayed an appalling lack of understanding to say the least. (Edit: I’m told he went to a “minor seminary” which apparently means a Catholic high school. If this is true, he seems to think some theological training back in high school is good enough? Either way, minor seminary or graduate school, he is woefully out of his element.)

Now, for James Cone, where to start? He is seen as the start of Black Liberation Theology in academic space (while the black church movement just prior to Cone is less talked about) and has written numerous books. However, it might actually be best to start with Dwight Hopkins’ Introducing Black Theology of Liberation. An introductory text will always be helpful. I would also suggest giving the Cone interview on Bill Moyer’s Journal a watch. I find myself from time to time revisiting it. Its a terrific interview.

You want to go straight to the source and read Cone’s books? Well there is, to name a select few: A Black Theology of Liberation, Black Theology and Black Power, God of the Oppressed, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare, Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998.

Personally, I think Risks of Faith to be one of the most accessible books in the short list. It has been required in two different classes by two different professors here at Union and for good reason, it is actually a collection of articles spanning Cone’s career and makes a great little package. Martin and Malcom is essentially Cone’s theology in one book. Anyone reading Cone needs to go through God of the Oppressed – you just shouldn’t even try to get around it. A Black Theology of Liberation is the beginning construction of, you guessed it, Black Liberation Theology. Black Theology and Black Power again, this needs to be read if you’re reading Cone. This was his first book and it was from here that he launched towards the project of Black Liberation Theology.

I suppose if one were to read one book (which really shouldn’t be done, shame on you), I’d go with God of the Oppressed, however, in the specific case of the media latching on to specific sections of Cone’s work, read A Black Theology of Liberation. It is a seminal work, the beginning of his constructive work, etc. If one is going to read BTL, some concepts, theology, and theologians you need to understand or be aware of are: Paul Tillich and his idea of symbolism, Jürgen Moltmann and Hope Theology, Reinhold Niebuhr and his anthropology and conceptions of power, Karl Barth, W. E. B. DuBois, Rudolf Bultmann, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King Jr. to name a few.

Below is one of the foundational turns that Cone makes in BTL. Jesus was black.

If Jesus is the Suffering Servant of God, he is an oppressed being who has taken on that very form of human existence that is responsible for human misery. What we need to ask is this: ‘What is the form of humanity that accounts for human suffering in our society? What is it, except blackness?’ If Christ is truly the Suffering Servant of God who takes upon himself the suffering of his people, thereby reestablishing the covenant of God, the he must be black.

…But some whites will ask, ‘Does black theology believe that Jesus was really black?’ It seems to me that the literal color of Jesus is irrelevant as are the different shades of blackness in America. Generally speaking, blacks are not oppressed on the basis of the depths of their blackness. ‘Light’ blacks are oppressed just as much as “dark” blacks. But as it happens, Jesus was not white in any sense of the word, literally or theologically. Therefore, Alber Cleage is not too far wrong when he describes Jesus as a black Jew; and he is certainly on solid theological grounds when he describes Christ as the Black Messiah.

James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 20th Anniversary Edition, 122-123.

Read more on what it means for Jesus to be black here.

Cone is also working on, soon to put it out, a book on lynching and, as indicated in the Moyer’s interview, drawing connections between lynchings of blacks and the crucifixion of Jesus. It should be an interesting work and very helpful. As far as I can see, it will not be so much a change in Cone’s work as it continues his project as he fleshes it out.

For all that Cone has done, he is not without his critics. Of the critics I have read, I think perhaps the most interesting is J. Kameron Carter of Duke’s Divinity School. He is putting out a book quite soon called Race: A Theological Account.

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black theology, Cornel West, Jeremiah Wright, obama

A Humble Suggestion

In light of the recent, and still continuing, ill informed media “backlash” that seems tantamount to a mindless feeding frenzy by a school of sharks – stupid, stupid sharks – I have a suggestion for Cornel West. Cornel WestHe has written Race Matters. He has also written Democracy Matters. How about writing, Religion Still Matters to round out a trilogy.

Despite how much I do I like Jon Stewart, even he recently bought into the idea that this whole fiasco is not a topic on religion, but one on race. Its both actually, that and people attempting to score cheap political points off of racial fear.

Dr. Wright constructed his sermons out of a complex tradition and to pull a Davis:

I personally regarded many of Rev. Wright’s sermons as filled with hate words and bigoted generalizations base on race (in this case, all Whites). One could even call them racist. His remarks post-9/11 were nothing short of reckless and unforgiveable.

…1. If a white minister preached sermons to his congregation and had used the “N” word and used rhetoric and words similar to members of the KKK, would you support a Democratic presidential candidate who decided to continue to be a member of that congregation.

or a Ferraro:

‘To equate what I said with what this racist bigot has said from the pulpit is unbelievable,’ Ferraro said today. ‘He gave a very good speech on race relations, but he did not address the fact that this man is up there spewing hatred.’

is spectacularly uninformed, or racist, or both. Religion still matters, no matter how much people on the political trail want to act like it does not.

For instance, Obama in his speech would not abandon his former pastor (well done), but however, in distancing himself from his pastor, he made his pastor his “spiritual advisor,” which seems to reject or question the possibility that Christianity is inherently political. Quite simply, Christianity becomes defanged and subservient. And as far as I can tell, Obama is the most charitable of the three presidential contenders which is why I even mention him.

The good news is, there are some in the media (actually just one so far) that I’ve seen approach this issue with a critical eye and actually want to understand what Wright was saying.

[Wright’s] sermon thesis [from September 16, 2001]:

1. This is a time for self-examination of ourselves and our families.

2. This is a time for social transformation (then he went on to say they won’t put me on PBS or national cable for what I’m about to say. Talk about prophetic!)

“We have got to change the way we have been doing things as a society,” he said.

Wright then said we can’t stop messing over people and thinking they can’t touch us. He said we may need to declare war on racism, injustice, and greed, instead of war on other countries.

“Maybe we need to declare war on AIDS. In five minutes the Congress found $40 billion to rebuild New York and the families that died in sudden death, do you think we can find the money to make medicine available for people who are dying a slow death? Jeremiah WrightMaybe we need to declare war on the nation’s healthcare system that leaves the nation’s poor with no health coverage? Maybe we need to declare war on the mishandled educational system and provide quality education for everybody, every citizen, based on their ability to learn, not their ability to pay. This is a time for social transformation.”

3. This is time to tell God thank you for all that he has provided and that he gave him and others another chance to do His will.

By the way, nowhere in this sermon did he said “God damn America.” I’m not sure which sermon that came from.

Yes, oh my, can you believe it, such a “crazy pastor” said those sane words. Religion still matters.

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