- black theology
- Black theology, a form of liberation theology, developed in the United States in the context of the 1960s Civil Rights movement and the changes wrought by Martin Luther King Jr. Christian thinkers within the African-American community developed a particular appreciation for the insights of liberation theologians, beginning with the notion that the Christian message is shaped by one's location in life and that most Christian theology has been done by elite white males of European heritage. Traditional theological affirmations have been shaped to reflect the experience and practice of this relatively small group.Black theology was designated to reflect the reality of the African-American community, whose members struggle under the oppression of white racism. Racism expresses itself not only as direct hatred of African Americans and violence (or the threat of violence), but also in the institutionalized power held by people of European heritage that denies people of color the chance to participate as equals in the society.The idea of a black theology was initially articulated by James H. Cone, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary. Cone received his Ph.D. as the Civil Rights movement was peaking in the mid-1960s. Like his South American counterparts, he found his basic themes in the New Testament Gospel texts, especially in Luke 4:18-19, where the youthful Jesus announces his mission: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Cone concluded that as God through Jesus entered the affairs of humanity, he took sides, identifying with the oppressed. Their suffering becomes his divine despair. Cone found new force in Jesus' condemnations of the rich, and his pronouncement of blessing on the poor, who he understood as completely ready to receive the kingdom of God.Cone's initial statement of his position, Black Theology and Black Power (1969), appeared simultaneously with the major texts of liberation theology, and drew very mixed reviews, many older theologians interpreting it as youthful and immature. However, it struck a cord among many black Christian intellectuals and became a foundation upon which both Cone and a host of peers have built a mature theological structure. Following Cone's leadership have been, among others, J. Deotis Roberts, James H. Evans, Cornel West, and Dwight Hopkins.Over time, black theologians gained the respect of their colleagues and watched as the ideas seeded a set of reactions and responses. Not the least of these were conscious attempts within black congregations to embody Christianity in African-American forms, the most famous being the foundation of the Black Christian Nationalist Movement by former United Church of Christ minister Albert B. Cleage Jr. (now known as Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman). Black theology has also taken root in Africa and in African communities in Europe. In the United States, Cone and his colleagues have been critiqued as somewhat blind to the oppression of women, and two additional movements - feminist theology and Womanist Theology - have emerged in partial response to black theology.Further reading:■ James H. Cone, Black Theology and Black Power (New York: Seabury Press, 1969)■ James H. Evans, comp., Black Theology: A Critical Assessment and Annotated Bibliography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987)■ Dwight Hopkins, Shoes That Fit Our Feet: Sources for a Constructive Black Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1993)■ J. Deotis Roberts, Black Theology in Dialogue (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987)■ Cornel West, Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro American Revolutionary Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.