Racism is a touchy subject in America right now, and it has been for the last 200+ years. It is something that has been ingrained in our culture, thus Black Liberation Theology was born. In this post, we will take a look at the history and explanation of what this ideology actually holds to.
What Is Black Liberation Theology? Black Liberation Theology was birthed in the 50s and 60s in response to the racial issues that were prevalent in America. It teaches that God is near to the poor and powerless and that He cares for those who are enslaved. Black Liberation Theology taught that there was equality among black people and white people and that God did not discriminate.
So let’s look into the foundation of this theology and how it affects all of us.
The History of Black Liberation Theology
Black Liberation Theology began with Dr. Reverand James Cone, an ordained minister who wrote 12 books and over 150 articles. He lived from 1938 to 2018 and lived his life fighting to bring the true Gospel message into society.
And yet the Christian gospel is more than a transcendent reality, more than “going to heaven when I die, to shout salvation as I fly.” It is also an immanent reality—a powerful liberating presence among the poor right now in their midst, “building them up where they are torn down and propping them up on every leaning side.” The gospel is found wherever poor people struggle for justice, fighting for their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.— James H. Cone
During his life, James Cone lived amongst much social turmoil. Black Americans were treated poorly and did not share equality. As a result of this, Cone challenged society and challenged pastors and Christians of that day.
Many pastors in both black and white congregations stayed silent on the approach and did not actively pursue change. The question of the day became, can black people be Christians?
Cone approached this question by saying that while blacks can be Christians, those who are racist or a white supremacist cannot. This was the foundation for Black Liberation Theology.
And this leads us to the interworkings of this ideology.
What is Black Liberation Theology?
It’s important to know what theology is so we can better understand this particular one. Theology is simply the study of the nature of God. So when someone says Black Liberation Theology, they are talking about how God’s nature applies to Black Liberation.
Cone taught that America had it all wrong especially considering it is a Christian nation, he used the story of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt to illustrate a picture of God’s love and concern for the black community, as well as any oppressed or enslaved people group.
He also used passages like Isaiah 61 to explain how God views and cares for African Americans.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…
Black Liberation Theology is rooted in the very life and ministry of Jesus and all that He came to do. During his life, Jesus quoted the very words of the prophet Isaiah that are listed above, showing that His life and heart is for all those who are in bondage or who are poor and brokenhearted.
Cone sought to break the lie that had been planted in American culture that taught one race was superior to another, in addition to this, he fought to empower his own African American people to rise up view themselves in a proper Biblical light.
In short, Black Liberation Theology is the belief that God is for the oppressed and does not desire enslavement for any race, that Black people are just as valued and accepted by God as white people are.
What This Means For Everyone
I personally am not a fan of throwing the word “theology,” on every ideology we come up with, but I don’t disagree with Cone’s work or views, however, it seems there is a sort of division still being placed between white and black culture when we define the heart of God as applying to a specific people group.
In other words, God does not have in mind one specific people group that needs liberation over another, but rather, the heart and character of God is love, mercy, and compassion, and it is because of these characteristics of our creator that He is against oppression, enslavement, and unjustice in every single corner of the world.
Therefore, when we tackle issues of injustice, we need to understand that injustice is not a prejudiced vice, but rather, an underlying evil that hates all people groups and manifests itself in various ways.
God created all people, we fell and sin entered the world and we have suffered because of it. But God sent His son to die for the whole world because He loves us so deeply. Jesus’ death and resurrection not only made a way for us to enter heaven but for the earth to be restored into God’s original intended form.
God’s original design was perfect and unified, therefore we are all called to walk in that knowledge and freedom. Theology is for the world, it is not directed to certain races or communities.
This is not to knock Cone’s work because I don’t believe He is wrong, but placing a title on it that belongs to a single people group is not what God displays in the Bible, whether white or black. We just have to be careful about the kinds of labels we place on things because even when we intend to empower people or to do good, we can sometimes bring more harm than good.
Just a few more thoughts before I end here. As I researched Black Liberation Theology I was inspired and reminded of the power of God and theology. It made me consider how years and years of fighting injustice through a secular means does not bear fruit, but instead, division, while fighting through sound Biblical Doctrine has the power to utterly transform societies.
Sound doctrine brings life to cultures and societies because sound theology is the heart of God for the world. This is a powerful truth to be observed in any Christian activist’s work, and another example is the well-known missionary William Carey who fought for the rights of the oppressed women of India.
Carey used proper Theology to transform India and liberate the women there who had been murdered and devalued for centuries.
That is the power of the Gospel message of Christ, He came for all to be set free, He died for all so that all could come to Him and live in His presence for all eternity.