Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361
James Cone argues for a Christian theology of the oppressed, not as some particular type of theology, but as Christian theology itself. The forces of liberation relate to the essence of the gospel—that is, to Jesus.
There can be no Christian theology that is not identified unreservedly with those who are humiliated and abused. In fact, theology ceases to be a theology of the gospel when it fails to arise out of the community of the oppressed.
Cone takes up the question of liberalism in theology. While he acknowledges the importance of stressing God’s love and neighborly love, he points out that liberal theologians have done so
with a white emphasis. They stressed God’s love at the expense of black liberation, failing to articulate the rights of blacks to defend themselves against white racists. They asked blacks to turn the other check (so they could be “like” Jesus) when whites were destroying them.
Providing assistance through good behavior is not just inadequate, Cone points out; promoting positive behavior in a limited way sidesteps the larger harmful issues that have been ignored or perpetuated on a systemic basis, such as the destructive power of slavery and anti-Black physical and spiritual violence.
It is true that some liberals “helped” blacks by persuading whites to be nice to them, and this probably prevented some lynchings. But blacks know that a person can be lynched in other ways than by hanging from a tree. What about depriving blacks of their humanity by suggesting that white humanity is humanity as God intended it to be? What about the liberal emphasis on human goodness when whites were doing everything they could to destroy blacks?
Furthermore, it is always necessary to consider the church as part of the world, rather than to see some distinction between the two. The existence of the church
is inseparable from worldly involvement. Black theology cannot say “the church is the world” or “the world is the church," . . . but it does affirm that the church cannot be the church in isolation from the concrete realities of human suffering. The world is earthly existence, the place where human beings are enslaved.
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