Black liberation "theology"

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on March 30, 2008

I've attended decades of Bible studies and Sunday sermons at a variety of churches -- mostly evangelical, but also some "mainline" protestant churches. I've even attended some Catholic masses and once went to Friday prayers at a hole-in-the-wall mosque.

Yet, it wasn't until the controversy erupted over Sen. Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that I'd ever heard of "Black Liberation Theology." After doing some reading on the subject, I think the term is misused. It's not "theology" at all. I saw it referred to as "Black Liberation Theory" somewhere, and that seems to more accurately describe it -- God only makes an appearance as a hypothetical cudgel to bash "oppressors."

In the world of black liberation theory, God is black; Jesus is black and all of the disciples are black.

I know, you thought they were all Jews. I'll try to give you a shorthand for this theory of the world, but you'll forgive me if it doesn't make much sense, you work with the material you have.

The world is divided into two halves -- the oppressors and the oppressed.

Oppressors are white.

The oppressed are black.

In this construction, skin color is largely irrelevant, which is why there's so much sympathy for the Palestinians -- largely considered a caucausoid race -- over the Israelis. It's oppressor vs. oppressed and that's the way the world is.

This use of "white" as a synonym for "oppressor" is probably one of the main reasons that so many white people unfamiliar with black liberation theology would be offended by the likes of what is basically Rev. Jeremiah Wright's shorthand when they hear his sermons. When Wright lashes out at "whites" he doesn't mean the poor, working class shmoe in Ohio living in a manufactured home working two jobs to make ends meet. Instead, he's referring to the CEOs and high-paid managers who made all those sub-prime loans.

Of course, understanding this shorthand in no way makes it acceptable. It's no more acceptable for Wright and his ilk than it would be for some white pastor at a largely white church to decry n-word gangbangers who deal drugs and do drive-by shootings. The white pastor's not referring to blacks who are hardworking, upstanding citizens working two jobs so they can send their kids to a parochial school because the public school in the hood is horrible.

Both Wright and this hypothetical white pastor (who've I no doubt exists somewhere in this country) are divisive, wrongheaded and aren't preaching the gospel from the pulpit. There's also the distinct possibility that they're evil too.

Black Liberation Theory is all about us vs. them. In this alternate universe Jesus Christ wasn't really concerned about people's souls; he opposed the oppressive Romans. (Which is why when Satan offered it to him, he became King of the World and turned those stones into bread.) God, likewise, doesn't care much about the eternal, he's focused on helping you throw off the oppressors' chains.

"Churches" that follow black liberation theory aren't really churches at all -- if a church is a place to worship and learn about God. In fact, Jesus could never have existed -- let alone died on a cross and rose again -- and their "theology" would change not one whit.

That fact alone makes it not a "theology" but merely a "theory." Further study on my part may be required, but my initial inclination is to question whether a "church" that preaches this "theology" is really Christian.

For those who are interested, I found these two articles to be especially useful:

"An Investigation of Black Liberation Theology" by H. Wayne House. (As of this posting, the article no longer appears on House's site -- it was there earlier this week. The Google cache version can be found here.)

"The Prophetic Stream, Conspiracy Theory and Paranoia: What’s Wrong with African-American Preaching" by Richard Landes at Augean Stables.

Also informative, but a little more sympathetic than I think is warranted, is this lecture by professor Terry Matthews at Wake Forest.


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March 2008



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