Posts Tagged black liberation theology

Liberation Theology and Marx in the Mainstream

Jeremiah Wright, liberation theologyOver at the New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer is worried about a renewed “liberation-theology scare” in the upcoming election (HT), wherein folks are once again forced to contemplate whether race-injected Marxism is a good idea.

According to Oppenheimer, any critiques of President Obama’s (former?) connections to black liberation theology—nay, any critiques of black liberation theology itself—are much ado about nothing:

While Mr. [Jeremiah] Wright has said his ministry is inspired by James H. Cone, the author of “Black Theology & Black Power,” the founding text of black liberation theology, Dr. Cone’s 1969 book is far subtler than any one sermon, no matter the preacher. Contrary to the simplifications of the past four years, liberation theology, which has become hugely influential, teaches not hate, nor anti-Americanism, but a renewed focus on the poor and the suffering, as embodied by Jesus.

“Liberation theology, at its most simple, is the Sunday school Jesus who healed the sick or took care of the poor people,” said Shannon Craigo-Snell, a theologian at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kentucky. “It’s what your Sunday school teacher taught you if you grew up in a church. It isn’t something people should be afraid of, unless they’re invested in poor people not getting fed or sick people not getting healed.”

…In the words of Dr. Craigo-Snell and Dr. Cone, it sounds obvious: Jesus identified with the oppressed, not the oppressor. But Dr. Cone notes that many theologians have ignored poverty or subordinated it to other concerns. After the Social Gospel of the very early 20th century passed, the poor largely slipped from the agenda of Christian theology.

I’ve written on this subject several times (e.g. here and here) and have already thoroughly outlined my misgivings with a Jesus whose primary mission is to offer political salvation from earthbound tyrants. What I find striking in Oppenheimer’s analysis is his attitude that liberation theology’s Marxist orientation should be shrugged off as uncontroversial, plain-Jane, pro-poor do-gooderism.

First, he attempts to dispense with what he thinks to be the actually controversial stuff, i.e. claims that black liberation theology is “ethnocentric.”

His evidence that it’s not:

As a category, liberation theology, which often draws heavily on Marxist analysis, is not ethnocentric. It has been taken up by oppressed groups including third world peoples, Latinos, Asians and other American ethnic minorities…Since [Gustavo Gutiérrez's] and Dr. Cone’s books, lesbian, gay and other queer theologians have developed a liberation theology of sexuality. Black women propound what they call womanist theology, and Latina women have taken up “mujerista” theology, for the Spanish word for “womanist.”

When folks critique folks like Rev. Wright, they are not talking about generic, “category” liberation theology. They are talking about black liberation theology, and there’s a tiny little thing that distinguishes black liberation theology from Read the rest of this entry »

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Laxy Praxy: Doing vs. Learning in Liberation Theology

Given that I recently reviewed Anthony Bradley’s Liberating Black Theology, I thought this video would be a valuable follow-up to the discussion. Although Bradley’s book focuses specifically on black liberation theology, this is only one manifestation of a larger theological trend among oppressed minorities.

In the video, Acton Institute’s Michael Miller interviews other Acton thinkers (Samuel Gregg, Anielka Munkel, and Jordan Ballor) on the history of liberation theology, as well as its recent resurgence among evangelicals.

You can watch the video here:

What I find most noteworthy is the overarching discussion about liberation theology’s emphasis on doing vs. learning.

As Gregg puts it:

One of the things that liberation theologians talked about was this idea of praxis — you have to act, you have to do things — to which the response of people like John Paul II or then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was, “Yes, action is important, but it has to be informed by correct thought.” In other words, orthodoxy, which means right thought, has to inform orthopraxy. Orthopraxis in itself would not give you a coherent reason for doing what it is you’re doing. So theologically, and even just in terms of its own logic, I think liberation theology was always destined to fall apart.

As far as where exactly liberation theology is resurfacing, Ballor provides some Read the rest of this entry »

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Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America

Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America by Anthony BradleyThe first time I heard Reverend Jeremiah Wright yell, “God damn America!” I was eating breakfast with complete strangers. My college choir was touring the Midwest and each night we would stay with local volunteer families. There I was, sipping coffee with my host family, when the now-infamous clip of Rev. Wright’s sermon began to play on the morning news.

A bit of awkwardness set in, but it was eventually relieved by the mother, who let out a modest laugh and simply said, “Well…that was interesting.”

It was the spring before the 2008 election, and that replay of Rev. Wright’s sermon was certainly not the last. But throughout the entire media hubbub that followed, I couldn’t help but think back to that mother’s reaction.

What did most Americans really think of all this? What was it about Rev. Wright’s sermon that so thoroughly enraged them? Did it have to do with his core religious beliefs, or was it merely his insult to America? Did they outright dismiss Rev. Wright as a fringe radical, or did they understand that his belief system held prominence in some circles?

For those whose education in black liberation theology ended with media sound bites, theologian Anthony Bradley’s new book, Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America, will sufficiently fill in the gaps.

For Bradley, however, the Obama-Wright controversy serves only as a window into the realm of black liberation theology. Without it, most Americans, including most blacks, would be unaware that such theology even exists. Therefore, Bradley’s book is not about politics, nor is it even about Rev. Wright. Instead, it focuses wholly on the actual theology — its history, its anthropology, and its overall implications. More specifically, Bradley seeks to both outline its core problems and suggest a proper alternative that is, in his belief, consistent with both the black experience and the Word of God.

So what is black liberation theology?

Here’s a definition quoted in the book from the National Committee of Black Church Men (1969):

Black theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Black theology is a theology of “blackness.” It is the affirmation of black humanity that emancipates black people from white racism, thus providing Read the rest of this entry »

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