Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Black Liberation Theology 101

Let's clear up the misconceptions surrounding Black Liberation Theology!

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88552254&sc=emaf

A Closer Look at Black Liberation Theology

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Trinity United Church of ChristAll Things Considered, March 18, 2008 · Presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) defended his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, on Tuesday, even as he repudiated some of the pastor's inflammatory sermons. But Wright's comments likely come as no surprise to those familiar with black liberation theology, a religious philosophy that emerged during the 1960s.

Black liberation theology originated on July 31, 1966, when 51 black pastors bought a full page ad in the New York Times and demanded a more aggressive approach to eradicating racism. They echoed the demands of the black power movement, but the new crusade found its source of inspiration in the Bible.

"God's presence in the world is best depicted through God's involvement in the struggle for justice," says Anthony Pinn, who teaches philosophy and religion at Rice University in Houston. "God is so intimately connected to the community that suffers, that God becomes a part of that community."

Freedom and Liberation

Dwight Hopkins, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, says black liberation theology often portrays Jesus as a brown-skinned revolutionary. He cites the words of Mary in the Magnificat — also known as the "Song of Mary" — in which she says God intends to bring down the mighty and raise the lowly. Hopkins also notes that in the book of Matthew, Jesus says the path to heaven is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. And the central text for black liberation theology can be found in Chapter 4 of Luke's gospel, where Jesus outlines the purpose of his ministry.

"Jesus says my mission is to eradicate poverty and to bring about freedom and liberation for the oppressed," Hopkins says. "And most Christian pastors in America skip over that part of the book."

Hopkins attends Trinity United Church of Christ, where Rev. Wright just retired as pastor. In the now-famous sermon from 2003, Wright said black people's troubles are a result of racism that still exists in America, crying out, "No, no, no, not God bless America! God damn America — that's in the Bible — for killing innocent people."

According to Hopkins, that was theological wordplay — because the word "damn" is straight out of the Bible and has a specific meaning in the original Hebrew.

"It means a sacred condemnation by God to a wayward nation who has strayed from issues of justice, strayed from issues of peace, strayed from issues of reconciliation," Hopkins says.

A Loud, Passionate, Physical Affair

Anthony Pinn of Rice University acknowledges that black liberation preaching often sounds angry. But he says the anger does not advocate violence but is instead channeled into constructive routes. Trinity UCC, he notes, has 70 ministries that help the poor, the unemployed, those with AIDS or those in prison. Pinn says the words can be jarring to the untrained ear, but they're still valid.

"Folks, including myself, may be taken aback by the inflammatory nature of the rhetoric, but I don't think very many of us would deny that there is a fundamental truth: Racism is a problem in the United States," Pinn says.

Black liberation preaching can be a loud, passionate, physical affair. Linda Thomas, who teaches at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, says the whole point of it is to challenge the powerful and to raise questions for society to think about. Thomas says if white people are surprised by the rhetoric, it's because most have never visited a black church.

"I think that many black people would know what white worship is like," Thomas says. "Why is it that white people don't know what black worship is about? And I think that is because there is this centrality with white culture that says we don't have to know about that."

Obama presents himself as uniquely situated to bridge those two cultures because of his biracial heritage. In his speech on race Tuesday, the presidential hopeful said he could no more disown his controversial pastor than he could disown his white grandmother.

"These people are a part of me. And they are part of America, this country that I love," Obama said.

He denounced the harshness of Wright's words — not because they were false, he said, but because they did not acknowledge the strides that the U.S. has made in the fight against racism. Obama said his own candidacy shows how far the country has come.


7 comments:

meadi4 said...

I used to be a member of the Emmaus United Church of Christ in Vienna, Virginia. I wish that I could belong to a community like Trinity United Church of Christ. I so much miss the deeply intellectual, loving, questioning, searching that such a community offers. I'm so grateful that you are standing behind Reverend Wright, and I hope Barack Obama. I just love him - you can tell from his speech that he has been nurtured by a wonderful community.

bigmichigan said...

What can we do to get these other sermons on the TV? The thing that is hurting Obama the most from the election perspective is the repeated phrase "he listened to this hate for 20 years". Any religious person listening to the one where he is singing with the choir and church would be able to relate to that.

Anonymous said...

I am not a member of Church of Christ, or any faith-based institution for that matter. Although once heavily involved in Church, my experiences have led me to view many Christian Churches as more interested in the divisiveness of the Gospel than its inclusiveness. As a result, I initially felt like this fiasco was the Church's "chickens coming home to roost." Now however, although my spiritual views have not changed, my opinions on this issue has.

Regardless of my faith, it hurts to watch a minister become a political football tossed about by flailing campaigns in hopes of finding a resuscitative lifeline in the polls. At the end of the day, Rev. Wright is a person as are the members of his church that have become "racist bigots" in the eyes of some. Rev. Wright obviously does something for the many that he has touched over the years - politicians, ministers/ministries, celebrities and lay alike. Where are they? Where is Oprah? Why wouldn't spiritual leaders across the spectrum come out and say, "ENOUGH!" The unfair coverage of this matter is painful to watch because the hypocrisy is patronizing and cuts so deep into our society.

I suppose the only reason I decided to share my thoughts on this blog was because I do not think Rev. Wright deserves better and I hope a more positive message gets out. Although I do not think it wise that a minister - THE spiritual leader of the Church which is home to a leading Presidential Candidate - would make such politically incorrect statements, I cannot help but to believe that the treatment he - and as a byproduct, his flock - received is patently unfair. Rev. Wright and his church is not on anyone's ballot. He and you deserve better than this from the communities you have touched in a positive way and I hope they will soon come to your aid to show the world who you really are.

As you make substantive information available, I will work to share your perspectives with my friends and family. I want to do my part in ending this ugly dialogue that's surfaced, if only starting with my own email list.

Thanks for listening and I wish you and your congregation all the best,

Dee
St. Louis, MO

Thoughts of a conservative genius mind said...

You said in Luke chapter 4 it says.

""Jesus says my mission is to eradicate poverty and to bring about freedom and liberation for the oppressed," Hopkins says. "And most Christian pastors in America skip over that part of the book."

There is no such thing in Luke 4.

I watched the service over the web. I was impressed with the service, but not the preaching. Black liberation theology is not biblical. Jesus was speaking of the poor in spirit.

I could even attend such a church if the biblical teaching were correct.

I am very familir with Liberation Theology.

See my blog on my experience with liberation theology and what I thought of Trinity Church's Service

http://mark24609.blogspot.com/2008/03/deconstructing-obama.html

Matthew said...

Hey, I was wondering if you or another TUCC member would care to look at and improve the wikipedia page on Black liberation theology. There's isn't very much information there, and there is also a "Controversy" section that deals with the Wright controversy by highly selective quotation of his sermons. (Can you guess which quotes are featured?)

Anonymous said...

I believe it the writer was paraphrasing the passage when Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah.

Anonymous said...

" "No, no, no, not God bless America! God damn America — that's in the Bible — for killing innocent people."

According to Hopkins, that was theological wordplay — because the word "damn" is straight out of the Bible and has a specific meaning in the original Hebrew.

"It means a sacred condemnation by God to a wayward nation who has strayed from issues of justice, strayed from issues of peace, strayed from issues of reconciliation," Hopkins says."

So...you are telling me that Rev Wright is now speaking for God when he calls for God to "Damn America"?

And you are ok with that?

You can twist and parse and wrap up the language of the Bible all you want in however many twisted convolutions you want, but the fact remains, Wright is a hate monger and a racist and anyone who follows his "preaching" should be looked at as twisted in their thinking toward race relations and should be condemned for the significant lack of critical thinking capabilities.