black theology





black theology

Black liberation theology   contextualizes liberation theology in an attempt to help African-Americans overcome oppression. Black liberation theology seeks to liberate people of color from multiple forms of political, social, economic, and religious subjugation and views Christian theology as a theology of liberation.  Thus it is a part of the Liberation Theology with particular context of the Black people.


"Black Theology, Black Power, and the Black Experience"

Part Two in a Three-Part Series on Liberation Theology

by Ron Rhodes

"Between 1517 and 1840 it is estimated that twenty million blacks were captured in Africa, transported to America, and brutally enslaved. The experience of these blacks - and their descendants - serves as the backdrop for understanding contemporary black liberation theology.

During slave trading days, blacks were crammed into ships like sardines into a can and brought across the Atlantic. Many died at sea from dysentery, smallpox, and other diseases. "Some starved themselves to death refusing to eat. To prevent this form of suicide, hot coals were applied to the lips to force the slaves to open their mouths to eat."

Upon arriving on American shores, the slaves - men, women, and children - were forced to work from sunrise to sunset. Even old and ailing slaves were forced to work.

The brutality shown to the slaves is among the saddest chapters in American history. Black theologian Anthony Evans tells us that "black women were raped at will by their masters at the threat of death while their husbands could only look on. Families were separated as they were bought and sold like cattle."

For tax purposes, slaves were counted as property - like domestic animals. Eventually, however, a question arose as to how to count slaves in the nation's population. The Congress solved the problem by passing a bill that authorized the U.S. Census Bureau to count each slave as three-fifths of a person. This Congressional compromise resulted in what one Negro writer of the 1890s called "the 'Inferior Race Theory,' the placing of the Negro somewhere between the barnyard animals and human beings."


Initially, there was heated resistance to evangelizing among slaves. Black scholar C. Eric Lincoln tells us there were three principal reasons for this:

"(1) the hearing of the gospel required time that could be economically productive; (2) slaves gathered together in a religious assembly might become conscious of their own strength and plot insurrections under cover of religious instruction; (3) there was an English tradition of long standing that once a slave became a Christian he could no longer be held a slave."

In addition, many whites were repulsed at the suggestion that blacks could go to heaven. Morgan Godwyn, a graduate of Oxford University who served in churches in Virginia around 1665, wrote that slavemasters would commonly exclaim, "What, such as they? What, those black dogs be made Christians? What, shall they be like us?"

Some whites tried to argue that blacks were less than human. Buckener H. Payne, in his book The Negro: What Is His Ethnological blacks are present with us today, they must have been in the ark. There were only eight souls saved in the ark, however, and they are fully accounted for by Noah's family. As one of the beasts in the ark, the black has no soul to be saved." So why try to evangelize them?

Regardless of such preposterous arguments, missionary work eventually began among the slaves in the early 1700s and many of them became Christians. The brand of Christianity that was preached to them, however, was one that justified slavery. It was argued that Paul and other New Testament writers issued specific instructions for master-slave relations, thus apparently sanctioning the practice. Moreover, a curse of slavery was placed on the "sons of Ham" (Gen. 9:20-27) - who were interpreted to be blacks. Furthermore, slavery was considered a "religious good," for it amounted to importing unsaved heathens to a Christian land where they could hear the gospel and be saved.

(However, though Paul gave instructions on master-slave relations, his underlying belief was that slaves should be freed [1 Cor. 7:21]. Moreover, a curse of slavery was placed only on Ham's son, Canaan - whose descendants later occupied Phoenicia and Palestine. They were Caucasians. As for slavery being a "religious good," this seems an absurd claim in view of the cruel, inhuman treatment shown to the slaves.)

Most blacks accepted the slave brand of Christianity at face value. Moreover, white missionaries persuaded the blacks that life on earth was insignificant because "obedient servants of God could expect a reward in heaven after death."[7] The white interpretation of Christianity effectively divested the slaves of any concern they might have had about their freedom in the present.

As more blacks began attending white Christian churches, restrictions in seating, communion services, and property ownership caused many blacks to seek autonomy in their own congregations and ultimately, separate denominations. So, by the mid-1700s, black slaves had begun meeting in private to worship since authentic worship with whites was impossible. There is sufficient historical evidence to conclude that themes later developed by black liberation theologians were present in these early slave meetings in at least a nascent form.

For example, God was interpreted by the slaves as a loving Father who would eventually deliver them from slavery just as He had delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage. Jesus was considered both a Savior and an elder brother who was a fellow sufferer.


The following are some of the Christian Pastors who under the segregation and seperation within the America developed gradually from revengeful massacre to the non-violent participation in the liberation of the blacks of America

It was not long before slave theology gave rise to black activism. There are many important figures who contributed to the cause of black liberation throughout black history. We can only mention a few here.


“Nat preached to other slaves, counseling them to seek self-respect, to fight for justice, and to resist and rebel against the institution of slavery if they were to be free men"

Nathaniel Turner (1800-1831) was the most notorious slave preacher who ever lived on American soil. Turner's hatred of slavery propelled him to seek freedom by violence. Indeed, Turner killed nearly sixty white people before being captured and hanged in September, 1831. This violent revolt marked the beginning of the black struggle for liberation.

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) a Jamaican is regarded by many as "the apostle of black theology in the United States of America." Martin Luther King, Jr., said Garvey "was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny, and make the Negro feel he is somebody." Garvey was one of the first to speak of seeing God through black "spectacles."

Somewhere in the book of life we are told that "God created of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth," and after mankind, in scattered groups, had for thousands of years lived in their own spheres without trouble or molestation, promoting in their own way the course of peace and happiness, the white race, a party of this group, went out to enslave, conquer and rob the rights of the Peaceful. Through that system of enslavement, conquest and robbery, the black man was taken into this country where he was forced against his will to labor for the enrichment of the white man. Millions of our people in the early days of slavery gave their lives that America might live. From the labours of these people the country grew in power, until her wealth to-day is computed above that of any two nations. With all the service that the Negro gave he is still a despised creature in the eye of the white people, for if he were not to them despised, the 900,000,000 of whites of this country would never allow such outrages as the East St. Louis massacre to perpetuate themselves without enforcing the law which provides justice for every man be he black or white."  Speech by Marcus Garvey, July 8, 1917

Dr. Howard Thurman was an influential author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was Dean of Theology and the chapels at Howard University and Boston University for more than two decades, wrote 20 books, and in 1944 helped found the first racially integrated, multicultural church in the United States. Howard Thurman, in his book Jesus and the Disinherited (1949), saw black life paralleling Jesus' life because His poverty identified Him with the poor masses. Thurman also noted that Jesus was a member of a minority group (the Jews) in the midst of a larger and controlling dominant group (the Romans). Thurman thus drew many applications for the black experience from the life of Jesus.

"In the conflicts between man and man, between group and group, between nation and nation, the loneliness of the seeker for community is sometimes unendurable. The radical tension between good and evil, as man sees it and feels it, does not have the last word about the meaning of life and the nature of existence. There is a spirit in man and in the world working always against the thing that destroys and lays waste. Always he must know that the contradictions of life are not final or ultimate; he must distinguish between failure and a many-sided awareness so that he will not mistake conformity for harmony, uniformity for synthesis. He will know that for all men to be alike is the death of life in man, and yet perceive harmony that transcends all diversities and in which diversity finds its richness and significance."

"...community cannot feed for long on itself; it can only flourish where always the boundaries are giving way to the coming of others from beyond them -- unknown and undiscovered brothers."  From The Search For Common Ground; An Inquiry Into The Basis Of Man's Experience Of Community.

In 1935-36, Thurman led a delegation of African Americans to meet Mohandas Gandhi. "God-given faith," Gandhi proclaimed, "could be used to fight the oppression of white American segregation."  He challenged Thurman to rethink the idea of Christianity as a religion used by whites to keep black "in their place" with images of a white Christ and ideas of a land of milk and honey in the great beyond. Hindu principles offered Indians a basis for nonviolent opposition to British power, he said. Did Christianity have a similar power to overcome white racism?   This led him to "In Jesus and the Disinherited", Thurman expound on the idea of Jesus as a liberating figure, bringing new testament gospel together with non-violent resistance.

In 1944 Thurman left his position as dean at Howard University to co-found the first fully integrated, multi-cultural church in the U.S. in San Francisco, CA. The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples was a revolutionary idea. Founded on the ideal of diverse community with a focus on a common faith in God, Thurman brought people of every ethnic background together to worship and work for peace. "Do not be silent; there is no limit to the power that may be released through you."

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was America's most visible civil rights leader from 1955 until his assassination in April, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Though he cannot be called a formal participant in the black theology movement, he nevertheless roused the conscience of black America to passionate commitment to liberation.

King was an advocate of Ghandian nonviolent social change. Through nonviolent suffering, King believed that "blacks would not only liberate themselves from the necessity of bitterness and the feeling of inferiority toward whites, but would also prick the conscience of whites and liberate them from a feeling of superiority."  To some, King's assassination indicated that nonviolence as a means of liberation had failed and that perhaps a more revolutionary theology was needed.




Albert B. Cleage, Jr. was a Christian religious leader, political candidate, newspaper publisher, political organizer and author. He is founder of the Shrine of the Black Madonna Church and Cultural Centers in Detroit, Atlanta and Houston. Albert Cleage was one of the more militant black writers of the 1960s. His claim to fame was The Black Messiah, a 1968 collection of sermons in which he set forth his brand of black nationalism.

In 1968, following a year of racial unrest in Detroit, Cleage published The Black Messiah, which detailed his vision of Jesus as a black revolutionary leader. In 1972, he published his second book, Black Christian Nationalism, and inaugurated the Black Christian Nationalist Movement as a separate denomination. The name was later changed to the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church (PAOCC), and Cleage changed his own name to Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, meaning “liberator, holy man, savior of the nation” in Swahili. The PAOCC includes churches in Atlanta, GA, and Houston, TX, several cultural centers, bookstores, community service centers, and a working farm.

Cleage rejected the Pauline books in the New Testament. He said that - in contrast to the black Messiah - there was a spiritualized Jesus constructed by the apostle Paul who "never knew Jesus and who modified his teaching to conform to the pagan philosophers of the white gentiles. We, as black Christians suffering oppression in a white man's land, do not need the individualistic and other-worldly doctrines of Paul and the white man."

Modern American origins of contemporary black liberation theology can be traced to July 31, 1966, when an ad hoc group of 51 black pastors, calling themselves the National Committee of Negro Churchmen (NCNC), bought a full page ad in the New York Times to publish their "Black Power Statement," which proposed a more aggressive approach to combating racism using the Bible for inspiration .


WE, an informal group of Negro churchmen in America, are deeply disturbed about the crisis brought upon our country by historic distortions of important human realities in the controversy about "black power." What we see shining through the variety of rhetoric is pot anything new but the same old problem of power and race which has faced our beloved country since 1619.

 We realize that neither the term "power" nor the term "Christian Conscience" is an easy matter to talk about, especially in the context of race relations in America. The fundamental distortion facing us in the controversy about "black power" is rooted in a gross imbalance of power and conscience between Negroes and white Americans. It is this distortion, mainly, which is responsible for the widespread, though often inarticulate, assumption that white people are justified in getting what they want through the use of power, but that Negro Americans must, either by nature or by circumstances, make their appeal only through conscience. As a result, the power of white men and the conscience of black men have both been corrupted. The power of white men is corrupted because it meets little meaningful resistance from Negroes to temper it and keep white men from aping God. The conscience of black men is corrupted because, having no power to implement the demands of conscience, the concern for justice is transmuted into a distorted form of love, which, in the absence of justice, becomes chaotic self-surrender. Powerlessness breeds a race of beggars. We are faced now with a situation where conscienceless power meets powerless conscience, threatening the very foundations of our nation.

Therefore, we are impelled by conscience to address at least four groups of people in areas where clarification of the controversy is of the most urgent necessity. We do not claim to present the final word. It is our hope, however, to communicate meanings from our experience regarding power and certain elements of conscience to help interpret more adequately the dilemma in which we are all involved.

I. To the Leaders of America: Power and Freedom

It is of critical importance that the leaders of this nation listen also to a voice which says that the principal source of the threat to our nation comes neither from the riots erupting in our big cities, nor from the disagreements among the leaders of the civil rights movement, nor even from mere raising of the cry for "black power." These events, we believe, are but the expression of the judgment of God upon our nation for its failure to use its abundant resources to serve the real well-being of people, at home and abroad.

We give our full support to all civil rights leaders as they seek for basically American goals, for we are not convinced that their mutual reinforcement of one another in the past is bound to end in the future. We would hope that the public power of our nation will be used to strengthen the civil rights movement and not to manipulate or further fracture it.

We deplore the overt violence of riots, but we believe it is more important to focus on the real sources of these eruptions. These sources may be abetted inside the ghetto, but their basic causes lie in the silent and covert violence which white middle-class America inflicts upon the victims of the inner city. The hidden, smooth and often smiling decisions of American leaders which tie a white noose of suburbia around the necks and which pin the backs of the masses of Negroes against the steaming ghetto walls—without jobs in a booming economy; with dilapidated and segregated educational systems in the full view of unenforced laws against it; in short: the failure of American leaders to use American power to create equal opportunity in life as well as in law—this is the real problem and not the anguished cry for black power."

From the point of view of the Christian faith, there is nothing necessarily wrong with concern for power. At the heart of the Protestant Reformation is the belief that ultimate power belongs to God alone and that men become most inhuman when concentrations of power lead to the conviction—overt or covert—that any nation, race or organization can rival God in this regard. At issue in the relations between whites and Negroes in America is the problem of inequality of power. Out of this imbalance grows the disrespect of white men for the Negro personality and community, and the disrespect of Negroes for themselves. This is a fundamental root of human injustice in America. In one sense, the concept of "black power" reminds us of the need for and the possibility of authentic democracy in America.

We do not agree with those who say that we must cease expressing concern for the acquisition of power lest we endanger the "gains" already made by the civil rights movement. The fact of the matter is, there have been few substantive gains since about 1950 in this area. The gap has constantly widened between the incomes of non-whites relative to the whites. Since the Supreme Court decision of 1954, de facto segregation in every major city in our land has increased rather than decreased. Since the middle of the 1950s unemployment among Negroes has gone up rather than down, while unemployment has decreased in the white community.

While there has been some progress in some areas for equality for Negroes, this progress has been limited mainly to middle-class Negroes who represent only a small minority of the larger Negro community.

These are the hard facts that we must all face together. Therefore, we must not take the position that we can continue in the same old paths.

When American leaders decide to serve the real welfare of people instead of war and destruction; when American leaders are forced to make the rebuilding of our cities the first priority on the nation's agenda; when American leaders are forced by the American people to quit misusing and abusing American power; then will the cry for "black power" become inaudible, for the framework in which all power in America operates would include the power and experience of black men as well as those of white men. In that way, the fear of the power of each group would be removed. America is our beloved homeland. But, America is not God. Only God can do everything. America and the other nations of the world must decide which among a number of alternatives they will choose.

II. To White Churchmen: Power and Love

As black men who were long ago forced out of the white church to create and to wield "black power," we fail to understand the emotional quality of the outcry of some clergy against the use of the term today. It is not enough to answer that "integration" is the solution. For it is precisely the nature of the operation of power under some forms of integration which is being challenged. The Negro Church was created as a result of the refusal to submit to the indignities of a false kind of "integration" in which all power was in the hands of white people. A more equal sharing of power is precisely what is required as the precondition of authentic human interaction. We understand the growing demand of Negro and white youth for a more honest kind of integration; one which increases rather than decreases the capacity of the disinherited to participate with power in all of the structures of our common life. Without this capacity to participate with power—i.e., to have some organized political and economic strength to really influence people with whom one interacts-integration is not meaningful. For the issue is not one of racial balance but of honest interracial interaction.

For this kind of interaction to take place, all people need power, whether black or white. We regard as sheer hypocrisy or as a blind and dangerous illusion the view that opposes love to power. Love should be a controlling element in power, but what love opposes is precisely the misuse and abuse of power, not power itself. So long as white churchmen continue to moralize and misinterpret Christian love, so long will justice continue to be subverted in this land.

III. To Negro Citizens: Power and Justice

 Both the anguished cry for "black power" and the confused emotional response to it can be understood if the whole controversy is put in the context of American history. Especially must we understand the irony involved in the pride of Americans regarding their ability to act as individuals, on the one hand, and their tendency to act as members of ethnic groups, on the other hand. In the tensions of this part of our history is revealed both the tragedy and the hope of human redemption in America.

America has asked its Negro citizens to fight for opportunity as individuals whereas at certain points in our history what we have needed most has been opportunity for the whole group, not just for selected and approved Negroes. Thus in 1863, the slaves were made legally free, as individuals, but the real question regarding personal and group power to maintain that freedom was pushed aside. Power at that time for a mainly rural people meant land and tools to work the land. In the words of Thaddeus Stevens, power meant "40 acres and a mule." But this power was not made available to the slaves, and we see the results today in the pushing of a landless peasantry off the farms into big cities where they come in search mainly of the power to be free. What they find are only the formalities of unenforced legal freedom. So we must ask, "What is the nature of the power which we seek and need today?" Power today is essentially organizational power. It is not a thing lying about in the streets to be fought over. It is a thing which, in some measure, already belongs to Negroes and which must be developed by Negroes in relationship with the great resources of this nation.

Getting power necessarily involves reconciliation. We must first be reconciled to ourselves lest we fail to recognize the resources we already have and upon which we can build. We must be reconciled to ourselves as persons and to ourselves as a historical group. This means we must find our way to a new self-image in which we can feel a normal sense of pride in self, including our variety of skin color and the manifold textures of our hair. As long as we are filled with hatred for ourselves we will be unable to respect others.

At the same time, if we are seriously concerned about power, then we must build upon that which we already have. "Black power" is already present to some extent in the Negro Church, in Negro fraternities and sororities, in our professional associations, and in the opportunities afforded to Negroes who make decisions in some of the integrated organizations of our society.

We understand the reasons by which these limited forms of "black power" have been rejected by some of our people. Too often the Negro Church has stirred its members away from the reign of God in this world to a distorted and complacent view of an otherworldly conception of God's power. We commit ourselves as churchmen to make more meaningful in the life of our institution our conviction that Jesus Christ reigns in the "here" and "now" as well as in the future he brings in upon us. We shall, therefore, use more of the resources of our churches in working for human justice in the places of social change and upheaval where our Master is already at work.

At the same time, we would urge that Negro social and professional organizations develop new roles for engaging the problem of equal opportunity and put less time into the frivolity of idle chatter and social waste.

We must not apologize for the existence of this form of group power, for we have been oppressed as a group, not as individuals. We will not find our way out of that oppression until both we and America accept the need for Negro Americans as well as for Jews, Italians, Poles and white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, among others, to have and to wield group power.

However, if power is sought merely as an end in itself, it tends to turn upon those who seek it. Negroes need power in order to participate more effectively at all levels of the life of our nation. We are glad that none of those civil rights leaders who have asked for "black power" have suggested that it means a new form of isolationism or a foolish effort at domination. But we must be clear about why we need to be reconciled with the white majority. It is not because we are only one-tenth of the population in America; for we do not need to be reminded of the awesome power wielded by the 90% majority. We see and feel that power every day in the destructions heaped upon our families and upon the nation's cities. We do not need to be threatened by such cold and heartless statements. For we are men, not children, and we are growing out of our fear of that power, which can hardly hurt us any more in the future than it does in the present or has in the past. Moreover, those bare figures conceal the potential political strength which is ours if we organize properly in the big cities and establish effective alliances.

Neither must we rest our concern for reconciliation with our white brothers on the fear that failure to do so would damage gains already made by the civil rights movement. If those gains are in fact real, they will withstand the claims of our people for power and justice, not just for a few select Negroes here and there, but for the masses of our citizens. We must rather rest our concern for reconciliation on the firm ground that we and all other Americans are one. Our history and destiny are indissolubly linked. If the future is to belong to any of us, it must be prepared for all of us whatever our racial or religious background. For in the final analysis, we are persons and the power of all groups must be wielded to make visible our common humanity.

The future of America will belong to neither white nor black unless all Americans work together at the task of rebuilding our cities. We must organize not only among ourselves but with other groups in order that we can, together, gain power sufficient to change this nation's sense of what is now important and what must be done now. We must work with the remainder of the nation to organize whole cities for the task of making the rebuilding of our cities first priority in the use of our resources. This is more important than who gets to the moon first or the war in Vietnam.

To accomplish this task we cannot expend our energies in spastic or ill-tempered explosions without meaningful goals. We must move from the politics of philanthropy to the politics of metropolitan development for equal opportunity. We must relate all groups of the city together in new ways in order that the truth of our cities might be laid bare and in order that, together, we can lay claim to the great resources of our nation to make truth more human.

IV. To the Mass Media: Power and Truth

The ability or inability of all people in America to understand the upheavals of our day depends greatly on the way power and truth operate in the mass media. During the Southern demonstrations for civil rights, you men of the communications industry performed an invaluable service for the entire country by revealing plainly to our ears and eyes, the ugly truth of a brutalizing system of overt discrimination and segregation. Many of you were mauled and injured, and it took courage for you to stick with the task. You were instruments of change and not merely purveyors of unrelated facts. You were able to do this by dint of personal courage and by reason of the power of national news agencies which supported you.

Today, however, your task and ours is more difficult. The truth that needs revealing today is not so clear-cut in its outlines, nor is there a national consensus to help you form relevant points of view. Therefore, nothing is now more important than that you look for a variety of sources of truth in order that the limited perspectives of all of us might be corrected. Just as you related to a broad spectrum of people in Mississippi instead of relying on police records and Establishment figures, so must you operate in New York City, Chicago and Cleveland.

The power to support you in this endeavor is present in our country. It must be searched out. We desire to use our limited influence to help relate you to the variety of experience in the Negro community so that limited controversies are not blown up into the final truth about us. The fate of this country is, to no small extent, dependent upon how you interpret the crises upon us, so that human truth is disclosed and human needs are met.


Bishop John D. Bright, Sr., AME Church, First Episcopal District, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Rev. John Bryan, Connecticut Council of Churches, Hartford Connecticut

Suffragan Bishop John M. Burgess, The Episcopal Church, Boston. Massachusetts

The Rev. W. Sterling Cary, Grace Congregational Church, New York, New York

The Rev. Charles E. Cobb, St. John Church, UCC, Springfield, Massachusetts

The Rev. Caesar D. Coleman, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee

The Rev. Joseph C. Coles, Williams Institutional CME Church, New York, New York

The Rev. Reginald Hawkins, United Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, North Carolina

Dr. Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Commission on Religion and Race, National Council of Churches, New York, New York

The Rev. R. E. Hood, Gary, Indiana The Rev. H. R. Hughes, Bethel AME Church, New York, New York

The Rev. Kenneth Hughes, St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Rev. Donald G. Jacobs, St. James AME Church, Cleveland, Ohio

The Rev. J. L. Joiner, Emanuel AME Church, New York, New York

The Rev. Arthur A. Jones, Metropolitan AME Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Rev. Stanley King, Sabathini Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesotta

The Rev. George A. Crawley, Jr., St. Paul Baptist Church, Baltimore, Maryland

The Rev. O. Herbert Edwards, Trinity Baptist Church, Baltimore, Maryland

The Rev. Bryant George, United Presbyterian Church in the USA, New York, New York

Bishop Charles F. Golden, The Methodist Church, Nashville, Tennessee

The Rev. Quinland R. Gordon, The Episcopal Church, New York, New York

The Rev. James Hargett, Church of Christian Fellowship, UCC, Los Angeles, California

The Rev. Elder Hawkins, St. Augustine Presbyterian Church, New York, New York

The Rev. Benjamin F. Payton, Commission on Religion and Race, National Council of Churches, New York, New York

The Rev. Isaiah P. Pogue, St. Mark's Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, Ohio

The Rev. Sandy F. Ray, Empire Baptist State Convention, Brooklyn, New York

Bishop Herbert B. Shaw, Presiding Bishop, Third Episcopal District, AMEZ Church, Wilmington, North Carolina

The Rev. Stephen P. Spottswood, Commission on Race and Cultural Relations, Detroit Council of Churches, Detroit, Michigan

The Rev. Henri A. Stines, Church of the Atonement, Washington, D.C.

Bishop James S. Thomas, Resident Bishop, Iowa Area, The Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa

The Rev. V. Simpson Turner, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, Brooklyn, New York

The Rev. Earl Wesley Lawson, Em-manual Baptist Church, Malden, Massachusetts

The Rev. David Licorish, Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York, New York

The Rev. Arthur B. Mack, St. Thomas AMEZ Church, Haverstraw, New York

The Rev. James W. Mack, South United Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois

The Rev. O. Clay Maxwell, Jr., Baptist Ministers Conference of New York City and Vicinity, New York, New York

The Rev. Leon Modeste, The Episcopal Church, New York, New York

Bishop Noah W. Moore, Jr., The Methodist Church, Southwestern Area, Houston, Texas

The Rev. David Nickerson, Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, Atlanta, Georgia

The Rev. LeRoy Patrick, Bethesda United Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Rev. Edgar Ward, Grace Presbyterian Church, Chicago, Illinois The Rev. Paul M. Washington, Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Rev. Frank L. Williams, Methodist Church, Baltimore, Maryland

The Rev. John W. Williams, St. Stephen's Baptist Church, Kansas City, Missouri

The Rev. Gayraud Wilmore, United Presbyterian Church USA, New York, New York

The Rev. M. L. Wilson, Covenant Baptist Church, New York, New York

The Rev. Robert H. Wilson, Corresponding Secretary, National Baptist Convention of America, Dallas, Texas

The Rev. Nathan Wright, Episcopal Diocese of Newark, Newark, New Jersey


Black Theology "is a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ,"  writes James Hal Cone, one of the original advocates of the perspective.


James Hal Cone



 James Hal Cone (born August 5, 1938) is an advocate of Black liberation theology, a theology grounded in the experience of African Americans, and related to other Christian liberation theologies. In 1969, his book Black Theology and Black Power provided a new way to articulate the distinctiveness of theology in the black Church. James Cone’s work was influential and political from the time of his first publication, and he remains so today. His work has been both utilized and critiqued inside and outside of the African American theological community. 

He is currently the Charles Augustus Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

In the minds of many African-Americans, Christianity was long associated with slavery and segregation. African slaves were brought into America who were bought from Africa.  They were traded as properties. The Southern Baptist Convention had supported slavery and slaveholders, and it was not until June 20, 1995 that the formal Declaration of Repentance was adopted. This resolution declared that they "unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin" and "lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest." The convention offered an apology to all African-Americans for "condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime" and repentance for "racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously. Christianity was long associated with racism. Therefore, there must then be a dialogue regarding the implications of racism in today's society and to what extent historical factors affect the plight of the black community. Cone argues that, "About thirty years ago it was acceptable to lynch a black man by hanging him from a tree; but today whites destroy him by crowding him into a ghetto and letting filth and despair put the final touches on death."

Black theology deals primarily with the African-American community, to make Christianity real for blacks. It explains Christianity as a matter of liberation here and now, rather than in an afterlife. The goal of black theology is not for special treatment. Instead, "All Black theologians are asking for is for freedom and justice. No more, and no less. In asking for this, the Black theologians, turn to scripture as the sanction for their demand. The Psalmist writes for instance, 'If God is going to see righteousness established in the land, he himself must be particularly active as 'the helper of the fatherless' to 'deliver the needy when he crieth; and the poor that hath no helper.'

A Black Theology of Liberation (Ethics and Society) God of the Oppressed

"Our church is an impostor, because we no longer believe the gospel we proclaim. There is a credibility gap between what we say and what we do. While we may preach sermons that affirm the church's interests in the poor and the downtrodden, what we actually do shows that we are committed to the "American way of life," in which the rich are given privileged positions of power in shaping the life and activity of the church, and the poor are virtually ignored. As a rule, the church's behavior toward the poor is very similar to the society at large: The poor are charity cases...It is appalling to see some black churches adopting this condescending attitude toward the victims, because these churches were created in order to fight against slavery and injustice. For many slaves, the Black Church was God's visible instruments for freedom and justice. Therefore, to have contemporary middle-class black Christians treating the poor as second-class members of the church is a disgrace not only to the scripture but also to our black religious heritage." 
--James Cone

Cone is telling us that injustice itself is violence, and that we can’t get rid of violence unless we transform the social structure that creates violence. He urges us to learn how to “unpack tricky language” and take on pulling the wool off so that the world can see violence as it is.

"being black in America has very little to do with skin color. To be black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are...[It] does not mean that one's skin is physically black. "

James Cone first addressed this theology after Malcolm X’s proclamation in the 1950s against Christianity being taught as "a white man’s religion". According to Black religion expert Jonathan Walton:

"James Cone believed that the New Testament revealed Jesus as one who identified with those suffering under oppression, the socially marginalized and the cultural outcasts. And since the socially constructed categories of race in America (i.e., whiteness and blackness) had come to culturally signify dominance (whiteness) and oppression (blackness), from a theological perspective, Cone argued that Jesus reveals himself as black in order to disrupt and dismantle white oppression."

 "As in 1969, I still regard Jesus Christ today as the chief focus of my perspective on God but not to the exclusion of other religious perspectives.  God's reality is not bound by one manifestation of the divine in Jesus but can be found wherever people are being empowered to fight for freedom.  Life-giving power for the poor and the oppressed is the primary criterion that we must use to judge the adequacy of our theology, not abstract concepts.  As Malcolm X put it:  ‘I believe in a religion that believes in freedom.  Any time I have to accept a religion that won't let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion'." 1997 preface to a new edition of his 1969 book, Black Theology and Black Power:

 "those who would cast their lot with the victims must not forget that the existing structures are powerful and complex...Oppressors want people to think that change is impossible." (James H. Cone; Speaking the Truth; p. 49)

Black liberation theology contends that dominant cultures have corrupted Christianity, and the result is a mainstream faith-based empire that serves its own interests, not God's. Black liberation theology asks whose side should God be on - the side of the oppressed or the side of the oppressors. If God values justice over victimization, then God desires that all oppressed people should be liberated. According to Cone, if God is not just, if God does not desire justice, then God needs to be done away with. Liberation from a false god who privileges whites, and the realization of an alternative and true God who desires the empowerment of the oppressed through self-definition, self-affirmation, and self-determination is the core of black liberation theology.

On God and Jesus Christ

Cone based much of his liberationist theology on God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the Book of Exodus. He compared the United States to Egypt, predicting that oppressed people will soon be led to a promised land. For Cone, the theme of Yahweh’s concern was for “the lack of social, economic, and political justice for those who are poor and unwanted in society.” Cone also says that the same God is working for the oppressed blacks of the 20th century, and that “God is helping oppressed blacks and has identified with them, God Himself is spoken of as ‘Black’.”

Cone saw Christ from the aspect of oppression and liberation. Cone uses the Gospel of Luke to illustrate this point: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” “‘In Christ,’ Cone argues, ‘God enters human affairs and takes sides with the oppressed. Their suffering becomes his; their despair, divine despair.’” Cone also argues that, "We cannot solve ethical questions of the twentieth century by looking at what Jesus did in the first. Our choices are not the same as his. Being Christians does not mean following 'in his steps.'" [Black Theology and Black Power, Page 139]

Cone objected to the persistent portrayal of Jesus as White. "It's very important because you've got a lot of white images of Christ. In reality, Christ was not white, not European. That's important to the psychic and to the spiritual consciousness of black people who live in a ghetto and in a white society in which their lord and savior looks just like people who victimize them. God is whatever color God needs to be in order to let people know they're not nobodies, they're somebodies."

Jeremiah Wright 

 Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr. (born September 22, 1941) is Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), a megachurch in Chicago exceeding 6,000 members.  In early 2008, Wright retired after 36 years as the Senior Pastor of his congregation and no longer has daily responsibilities at the church.

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost." 

Isaiah 10 1 Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, 2 to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. 3 What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? 4 Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised. 

Although African American writers and politicians used the term ‘‘Black Power’’ for years, the expression first entered the lexicon of the civil rights movement during the Meredith March Against Fear in the summer of 1966. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that Black Power was ‘‘essentially an emotional concept’’ that meant ‘‘different things to different people,’’ but he worried that the slogan carried ‘‘connotations of violence and separatism’’ and opposed its use (King, 32; King, 14 October 1966). The controversy over Black Power reflected and perpetuated a split in the civil rights movement between organizations that maintained that nonviolent methods were the only way to achieve civil rights goals and those organizations that had become frustrated and were ready to adopt violence and black separatism.

Although King was hesitant to criticize Black Power openly, he told his staff on 14 November 1966 that Black Power ‘‘was born from the wombs of despair and disappointment. Black Power is a cry of pain. It is in fact a reaction to the failure of White Power to deliver the promises and to do it in a hurry.… The cry of Black Power is really a cry of hurt’’ (King, 14 November 1966).

As the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and other civil rights organizations rejected SNCC and CORE’s adoption of Black Power, the movement became fractured. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Black Power became the rallying call of black nationalists and revolutionary armed movements like the Black Panther Party, and King’s interpretation of the slogan faded into obscurity.
 ‘‘Black Power for Whom?’’ Christian Century (20 July 1966): 903–904.

Black theology deals primarily with the African-American community, to make Christianity real for blacks. It explains Christianity as a matter of liberation here and now, rather than in an afterlife.


The Black Jesus

“The 'raceless' American Christ has a light skin, wavy brown hair, and sometimes - wonder of wonders - blue eyes. For whites to find him with big lips and kinky hair is as offensive as it was for the Pharisees to find him partying with tax-collectors. But whether whites want to hear it or not, Christ is black, baby, with all of the features which are so detestable to white society
” (J. H. Cone, “The White Church and Black Power,” in G. S. Wilmore and J. H. Cone, Black Theology: A Documentary History, 1966-1979 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1979), pp.116-17.)

The influence of liberation theology diminished after proponents were accused of using "Marxist concepts" leading to admonishment by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1984 and 1986. The Vatican criticized certain strains of liberation theology for focusing on institutionalized or systemic sin, apparently to the exclusion of individual offenders/offences; and for allegedly misidentifying Catholic Church hierarchy in South America as members of the same privileged class that would had long been oppressing indigenous populations.