“American white theology has not been involved in the struggle for black liberation. It has been basically a theology of the white oppressor, giving religious sanction to the genocide of Amerindians and the enslavement of Africans. From the very beginning to the present day, American white theological thought has been ‘patriotic,’ either by defining the theological task independently of black suffering or by defining Christianity as compatible with white racism.”
How generations of white Christians missed the liberating work woven into the fabric of the gospel and, I would argue, the entire Bible, is beyond my comprehension. The God we claim to worship is a God who sides with the oppressed, who hears the cry of the Israelites in Egypt and liberates them from slavery. This story of the Exodus was deeply ingrained in the language and metanarrative of the Civil Rights Movement, for on the eve of his assasination, Martin Luther King Jr. preached that “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” echoing the fate of Moses at the end of the Pentatuech.
Cone lights up the failure of white theology to recognise the liberating work intertwined in the biblical narrative with ferocity, saying that American white theology is a theology of the Antichrist. By placing God on the side of white theology, God is thus displayed as approving of the white oppression of the black community. This is the failure of white theology, the inability to acknowledge that when we have been silent, we have been complicit in the subjugation and marginalization of black people in the United States. Even more so, our failure lies in our unwillingness or inability to recognize that we worship a young, homeless, brown man who caused riots in the temple and was executed by the state. Jesus stands for the poor and oppressed in the New Testament and whatever brutality is brought against the black community is brought against Christ.
God does not ignore suffering in the Bible. God is not “blind to justice and injustice, to right and wrong, to good and evil.” Can we not say that systemic injustice, systemic racism is evil? Is it not our duty as Christians to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? Are we so egotistically fragile that when a prophetic voice like Cone’s calls out the ways we have been complicit in injustice, we feel the need to say, “Well you can’t blame all white people!”
My friends, we are to blame. We have been silent. Our white theology has failed to see that, at the center of it all, stands a God who sides with the oppressed and will stop at nothing to bring about liberation for those who suffer. It’s time for us to side with God.
Martin Luther King Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Address Delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple, 1968.
James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1970), 4, 6.
The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 34.