What is Black Liberation Theology? Some basics.

As the controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright continues to build, and we hear more of what he has to say about the foundations of his world view and that of the church where he was pastor, it would not be a bad idea to have a glance at Black Liberation Theology.  Black Liberation Theology is Wright’s framework, his lens.

While political figures are mentioned in the article below, I am posting this NOT for political reasons, but rather because I think this is a good, dense, brief over view of Black Liberation Theology.

Americans must try to know something about Black Liberation Theology right now.

Here is a worthwhile article (dated 2 April 2008) from the website of the excellent Acton Institute by Anthony Bradley who is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, and assistant professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

The Marxist Roots of Black Liberation Theology by Anthony B. Bradley

What is Black Liberation Theology anyway? Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright catapulted black liberation theology onto a national stage, when America discovered Trinity United Church of Christ. Understanding the background of the movement might give better clarity into Wright’s recent vitriolic preaching. A clear definition of black theology was first given formulation in 1969 by the National Committee of Black Church Men in the midst of the civil-rights movement:

Black theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, so that the black community can see that the gospel is commensurate with the achievements of black humanity. Black theology is a theology of ‘blackness.’ It is the affirmation of black humanity that emancipates black people from White racism, thus providing authentic freedom for both white and black people. It affirms the humanity of white people in that it says ‘No’ to the encroachment of white oppression.

In the 1960s, black churches began to focus their attention beyond helping blacks cope with national racial discrimination particularly in urban areas.

The notion of “blackness” is not merely a reference to skin color, but rather is [this is important] a symbol of oppression that can be applied to all persons of color who have a history of oppression (except whites, of course). So in this sense, as Wright notes, “Jesus was a poor black man” because he lived in oppression at the hands of “rich white people.” The overall emphasis of Black Liberation Theology is the black struggle for liberation from various forms of “white racism” and oppression.

James Cone, the chief architect of Black Liberation Theology in his book A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), develops black theology as a system. In this new formulation, Christian theology is a theology of liberation — “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 Cone. Black consciousness and the black experience of oppression orient black liberation theology — i.e., one of victimization from white oppression.

One of the tasks of black theology, says Cone, is to analyze the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ in light of the experience of oppressed blacks. For Cone, no theology is Christian theology unless it arises from oppressed communities and interprets Jesus’ work as that of liberation. Christian theology is understood in terms of systemic and structural relationships between two main groups: victims (the oppressed) and victimizers (oppressors). In Cone’s context, writing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the great event of Christ’s liberation was freeing African Americans from the centuries-old tyranny of white racism and white oppression.

American white theology, which Cone never clearly defines, is charged with having failed to help blacks in the struggle for liberation. Black theology exists because “white religionists” failed to relate the gospel of Jesus to the pain of being black in a white racist society.

For black theologians, white Americans do not have the ability to recognize the humanity in persons of color, blacks need their own theology to affirm their identity in terms of a reality that is anti-black — “blackness” stands for all victims of white oppression. “White theology,” when formed in isolation from the black experience, becomes a theology of white oppressors, serving as divine sanction from criminal acts committed against blacks. Cone argues that even those white theologians who try to connect theology to black suffering rarely utter a word that is relevant to the black experience in America. White theology is not Christian theology at all. [!] There is but one guiding principle of black theology: an unqualified commitment to the black community as that community seeks to define its existence in the light of God’s liberating work in the world.

As such, black theology is a survival theology because it helps blacks navigate white dominance in American culture. In Cone’s view, whites consider blacks animals, outside of the realm of humanity, and attempted to destroy black identity through racial assimilation and integration programs–as if blacks have no legitimate existence apart from whiteness. Black theology is the theological expression of a people deprived of social and political power. God is not the God of white religion but the God of black existence. In Cone’s understanding, truth is not objective but subjective [!] — a personal experience of the Ultimate in the midst of degradation.

The echoes of Cone’s theology bleed through the now infamous, anti-Hilary excerpt by Rev. Wright. Clinton is among the oppressing class (“rich white people”) and is incapable of understanding oppression (“ain’t never been called a n-gg-r”) but Jesus knows what it was like because he was “a poor black man” oppressed by “rich white people.” While Black Liberation Theology is not main stream in most black churches, many pastors in Wright’s generation are burdened by Cone’s categories which laid the foundation for many to embrace Marxism and a distorted self-image of the perpetual “victim.” [So, there is a natural connection between the struggle of classes and the struggle of races.]

Black Liberation Theology as Marxist Victimology

Black Liberation Theology actually encourages a victim mentality among blacks. John McWhorters‘ book Losing the Race, will be helpful here. Victimology, says McWhorter, is the adoption of victimhood as the core of one’s identity — for example, like one who suffers through living in “a country and who lived in a culture controlled by rich white people.” It is a subconscious, culturally inherited affirmation that life for blacks in America has been in the past and will be in the future a life of being victimized by the oppression of whites. In today’s terms, it is the conviction that, 40 years after the Civil Rights Act, conditions for blacks have not substantially changed. As Wright intimates, for example, scores of black men regularly get passed over by cab drivers.

Reducing black identity to “victimhood” distorts the reality of true progress. For example, was Obama a victim of widespread racial oppression at the hand of “rich white people” before graduating from Columbia University, Harvard Law School magna cum laude, or after he acquired his estimated net worth of $1.3 million? How did “rich white people” keep Obama from succeeding? If Obama is the model of an oppressed black man, I want to be oppressed next! With my graduate school debt my net worth is literally negative $52,659.

The overall result, says McWhorter, is that “the remnants of discrimination hold an obsessive indignant fascination that allows only passing acknowledgement of any signs of progress.” Jeremiah Wright, infused with victimology, wielded self-righteous indignation in the service of exposing the inadequacies Hilary Clinton’s world of “rich white people.” The perpetual creation of a racial identity born out of self-loathing and anxiety often spends more time inventing reasons to cry racism than working toward changing social mores, and often inhibits movement toward reconciliation and positive mobility.

McWhorter articulates three main objections to victimology: [1] First, victimology condones weakness in failure. Victimology tacitly stamps approval on failure, lack of effort, and criminality. [Thus, different standards are needed for education, etc.] Behaviors and patterns that are self-destructive are often approved of as cultural or presented as unpreventable consequences from previous systemic patterns. Black Liberation theologians are clear on this point: “People are poor because they are victims of others,” says Dr. Dwight Hopkins, a Black Liberation theologian teaching at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

[2] Second, victimology hampers progress because, from the outset, it focuses attention on obstacles. For example, in Black liberation Theology, the focus is on the impediment of black freedom in light of the Goliath of white racism.

[3] Third, victimology keeps racism alive because many whites are constantly painted as racist with no evidence provided. Racism charges create a context for backlash and resentment fueling new attitudes among whites not previously held or articulated, and creates “separatism” — a suspension of moral judgment in the name of racial solidarity. Does Jeremiah Wright foster separatism or racial unity and reconciliation?

For Black Liberation theologians, Sunday is uniquely tied to redefining their sense of being human within a context of marginalization. “Black people who have been humiliated and oppressed by the structures of White society six days of the week gather together each Sunday morning in order to experience another definition of their humanity,” says James Cone in his book Speaking the Truth (1999).  [Thus, Rev. Wright will say that questioning his positions (black liberation theology, victim theology) is really an attack on the “Black Church”.]

Many black theologians believe that both racism and socio-economic oppression continue to augment the fragmentation between whites and blacks. Historically speaking, it makes sense that black theologians would struggle with conceptualizing social justice and the problem of evil as it relates to the history of colonialism and slavery in the Americas.

Is Black Liberation Theology helping? Wright’s liberation theology has stirred up resentment, backlash, Obama defections, separatism, white guilt, caricature, and offense. Preaching to a congregation of middle-class blacks about their victim identity invites a distorted view of reality, fosters nihilism, and divides rather than unites.

Black Liberation Is Marxist Liberation

One of the pillars of Obama’s home church, Trinity United Church of Christ, is “economic parity.” On the website, Trinity claims that God is not pleased with “America’s economic mal-distribution.” Among all of controversial comments by Jeremiah Wright, the idea of massive wealth redistribution is the most alarming. The code language “economic parity” and references to “mal-distribution” is nothing more than channeling the twisted economic views of Karl Marx. Black Liberation theologians have explicitly stated a preference for Marxism as an ethical framework for the black church because Marxist thought is predicated on a system of oppressor class (whites) versus victim class (blacks).

Black Liberation theologians James Cone and Cornel West have worked diligently to embed Marxist thought into the black church since the 1970s. For Cone, Marxism best addressed remedies to the condition of blacks as victims of white oppression. In For My People, Cone explains that “the Christian faith does not possess in its nature the means for analyzing the structure of capitalism. Marxism as a tool of social analysis can disclose the gap between appearance and reality, and thereby help Christians to see how things really are.”  [At this point we should be mindful of the examination of Liberation Theology by the CDF under Joseph Card. Ratzinger.]

In God of the Oppressed, Cone said that Marx’s chief contribution is “his disclosure of the ideological character of bourgeois thought, indicating the connections between the ‘ruling material force of society’ and the ‘ruling intellectual’ force.” Marx’s thought is useful and attractive to Cone because it allows black theologians to critique racism in America on the basis of power and revolution.

For Cone, integrating Marx into black theology helps theologians see just how much social perceptions determine theological questions and conclusions. Moreover, these questions and answers are “largely a reflection of the material condition of a given society.”

In 1979, Cornel West offered a critical integration of Marxism and black theology in his essay, “Black Theology and Marxist Thought because of the shared human experience of oppressed peoples as victims. West sees a strong correlation between black theology and Marxist thought because “both focus on the plight of the exploited, oppressed and degraded peoples of the world, their relative powerlessness and possible empowerment.” This common focus prompts West to call for “a serious dialogue between Black theologians and Marxist thinkers” — a dialogue that centers on the possibility of “mutually arrived-at political action.”

In his book Prophesy Deliverance, West believes that by working together, Marxists and black theologians can spearhead much-needed social change for those who are victims of oppression. He appreciates Marxism for its “notions of class struggle, social contradictions, historical specificity, and dialectical developments in history” that explain the role of power and wealth in bourgeois capitalist societies. A common perspective among Marxist thinkers is that bourgeois capitalism creates and perpetuates ruling-class domination — which, for black theologians in America, means the domination and victimization of blacks by whites. America has been over run by “White racism within mainstream establishment churches and religious agencies,” writes West.

Perhaps it is the Marxism imbedded in Obama’s attendance at Trinity Church that should raise red flags. “Economic parity” and “distribution” language implies things like government-coerced wealth redistribution, perpetual minimum wage increases, government subsidized health care for all, and the like. One of the priorities listed on Obama’s campaign website reads, “Obama will protect tax cuts for poor and middle class families, but he will reverse most of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers.”

Black Liberation Theology, originally intended to help the black community, may have actually hurt many blacks by promoting racial tension, victimology, and Marxism which ultimately leads to more oppression. As the failed “War on Poverty” has exposed, the best way to keep the blacks perpetually enslaved to government as “daddy” is to preach victimology, Marxism, and to seduce blacks into thinking that upward mobility is someone else’s responsibility in a free society.

Anthony B. Bradley is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, and assistant professor of theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. His Ph.D. dissertation is titled, “Victimology in Black Liberation Theology.” This article was originally published on the newsletter of the Glen Beck Program. Watch Bradley’s guest appearance on Beck’s CNN Headline News show here.


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  1. Fr. E says:

    This shows to prove how some special interest groups (or even some “Christian” communities) are essentially Marxist organizations. They can only justify their existence through economic or identity oppression. I recently came across a book called, “Deaf Liberation Theology.” I am tempted to buy. As a Deaf man and a priest it would obviously interest me and I have certainly encountered prejudice among hearing people, although most hearing people don’t oppress me. I have found many hearing people to be fascinated with ASL and Deaf culture. On the other hand, I identify myself as a Christian first and not a Deaf man.

    Also, I would love to send these black preachers to Nigeria where there are many black priests who were trained and educated by white Irish and English priests. Some of the best educated priests I know are Nigerians. Doesn’t sound like oppression to me.

  2. Malta says:

    It is safe to assume that many of the greatest Father of the Church were darkly complected, including St. Augustine. Jesus Himself was, most likely, darkly complected (though not African, obviously.) But who really cares? I thought our obliviousness to such things is what made us truly Catholic-universal-and color blind! In fact, at the extraordinary mass I go to there are blacks, whites, asians etc. Who really cares about such things in the Catholic-mileu?

    Obviously, there are some people who DO care about such things, and, aside from a remnant of white racists, it flatly falls on those who cry-out “racism,” but practice a reverse-racism themselves.

  3. Tom Ryan says:

    Maintaining the perpetual victim status may explain why Wright appears to be trying to torpedo Obama’s candidacy at this point. If a black becomes president, it puts the Victim Business in trouble.

    That said, I’m a little skeptical about The Acton Institute after reading INSTAURATIO CATHOLICA http://instauratiocatholica.blogspot.com/ where they linked the Jones podcasts.


  4. Margaret says:

    Thank you for posting this, Fr. Z. It is a most enlightening article (and by using the term “light” in this context of gaining a deeper, better understanding I am doubtless showing my inherent racism.) :-)

    Seriously, though, I wonder if any of these BLT theorists have spent a lot of time with the under forty crowd. Things have changed an awful, awful lot since the sixties. Integration and interracial marriage have gone a long way towards removing a lot of the bad racial attitudes in this country. How could I hold onto a negative stereotype about blacks that completely contradicts my lived experience??? Really– the cognitive dissonance required to juggle ugly biases versus the reality of friends, classmates, teammates, neighbors, parishioners, etc. would be impossible. My brain would explode.

    Aren’t we allowed to come to a point in this country when we truly are colorblind? Many of us have been there for quite a while now. It’s time for the BLT types to let go of their own biases now, thank you very much.

  5. As an African American, I’m deeply offended by this “liberaion” theology. It doesn’t even work in the area of common sense. Kind of funny how the Pharisee’s were looking for Jesus to free them from the opression of the Romans, but Jesus did the exact oppisite.

    Honestly this attitude from the 60’s and 70’s needs to go. Being in California it’s a bit spoiling to an extent, but I really don’t see how this BLT even makes sense from the point of basic logic. If there’s something to be believed, it should make sense, or have some way of rationally making sense. But maybe my Math education has me all thrown off.

  6. Joseph says:

    A lot of wasted ink.

    As soon as a “theology” is based on a human accidental trait, it fails falls under it own weight as anti Biblical, at least if we believe the new Testament. In the Bible, peoples land of origins are mentioned, but almost never racial traits or anything pertaining to looks, even with Jesus, save some oblique passages in Revelation. Just not worth the bother reading this kind of silliness.

    Social justice IS a legitimate concern of Christians, in and out of the pulpit, but theology to announce and accentuate human differences that the Bible clearly states are to be overlooked as being essential, and in fact, can cause one to stumble if this is our focus, is the quintessence of a contradiction in terms. Christians are least Christian when we are concentrating of our physical, cultural, racial, even gender differences as opposed to seeing into the soul of another. We can appreciate differences, even celebrate them, within reason, but never to say that our differences, or more precisely our distinguishing traits, are what defines us in a primary sense, which is much of what this hullabaloo is ALL about, in spite of high falutin’ explanations to the contrary.

    The word “racism” has a positive connotation as well negative. It can mean being for one’s own race, or proud of one’s race, again, in the most positive sense. But this can, and often does, turn to the disparaging of those not “de la raca” and hence, its ugly reputation. This, is what a lot of this is about, that, and controlling people through the enforcement of negative self image by way of a permanent “underdog” status, overcome only with bluster and hatred toward others perceived as oppressors.

    Many whites do, unfortunately, carry on in this country as if they can remain oblivious to the plight of other groups, and trivialize the pain and long term effects true racism HAS wrought, ESPECIALLY on blacks in this country. But the idea that the battles fought in the sixties were, in effect, barely efficacious, and that we still need loud and angry and disgusted voices thundering from black pulpits lest the racist (by nature) whites take up where they left off, is really the stirring up of old and festering wounds by those who have much to lose by the battle shifting elsewhere, where their tried and true rhetoric rings hollow, as these folk are “one trick ponies.”

  7. Dustin says:

    Black liberation theology becomes much easier to understand when one considers two key experiences in the life of Black Americans:

    It’s fairly well known that, while slavery endured, the slaves in their work songs and in their adoption of Christianity identified themselves strongly with the plight of the Israelites in Egypt. The slaves identified with the Hebrews not out of a common “victimhood,” but out of a hope for deliverance, and the expectation that God’s promises of justice would be fulfilled in their own liberation (the embrace of “blackness,” then, is in much the same manner that the Jews were called the “Chosen,” as the mark that set them apart from the oppressor and ennobled their trials.)

    James Cone has written extensively about the second example, lynching, in his book God of the Oppressed and most notably in his landmark lecture, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” He spoke quite directly, in a Bill Moyers interview from a few months ago, of how God, in his deliverance of the Israelites, and the sacrifice of his son, is a God who is closest to those who suffer, rather than those who inflict suffering. Cone’s lecture quite starkly points out that the God of those who were strung up on the lynching tree and murdered, and the God of those who committed the murders, were not the same. The Cross, in the light of the Black experience, is a lynching tree, and the suffering of those who were tortured and murdered is directly linked with the “Oppressed One,” Jesus Christ, whose suffering most clearly made him a God of the Oppressed, rather than of the oppressor.

    The whole Bible is a story of deliverance from evil (we pray this every Sunday). The cruelty visited upon Black slaves and their descendants cannot but move us to pray this all the more fervently. Even the CDF’s own 1984 “Instruction” acknowledged that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of freedom and a force for liberation.” Where it intersects with inflexible Marxism it is perhaps in need of adjustment, but when Cone writes, as the article puts it, that “no theology is Christian theology unless it arises from oppressed communities,” there is nothing here to object to but the message of the Cross itself. To be offended by a theology that identifies human suffering with that of the God-man is hardly a Christian response.

    The twin interviews with Bill Moyers are highly, highly recommended for a much clearer understanding than I can provide. I don’t consider it fair to take all of one’s knowledge on such an issue from such an apparently hostile source as the Acton Institute.
    Jeremiah Wright, April 25 2008: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04252008/profile.html
    James Cone, November 23, 2007: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11232007/profile.html

  8. The influence of James Cone on WHITE priests of a certain age should not be underestimated either. I read Cone in a Theology program in a predominently white Catholic college in the late 1980s on the recommendation of nuns and priests who were influenced by the “Spirit of Vatican II”

    They use Cone to illustrate how we should be perpetually ashamed of ourselves and, by extension our “patriarchal” and “oppresive” Catholic Church.

    Malta: Good point in your first paragraph. I’ve wondered about how the historic strength of our Faith in North Africa could be leveraged to illustrate to those who, erroneously, think the Church is totally white that they are wrong.

  9. Dustin says:

    For a biblical perspective on Jeremiah Wright’s comments, Fr. John Kavanagh’s column in the April 14 issue of America applies some needed moderation to this heated topic.


  10. EDG says:

    Dustin – There were certain Southern states or areas in those states where it was against the law to preach to and, particularly, to baptize black slaves. This was because if they were baptized, it meant that they could be considered fully human and therefore they couldn’t be treated the way the slave economy treated them. Certain Protestant theorists, in an attempt to support their local slaveowner, came up with the idea that there had been two creations: the first one, of course, was the creation of the “white race,” and the second one was the creation of blacks, who were created on a lesser model, so to speak, to serve the whites.

    This theory was not common in the Catholic Church, but it was so widespread in the US that when the first bishop of St. Augustine, Fl, Bishop Augustin Verot, went to the First Vatican Council in 1868, he wanted the Council to adopt a resolution stating that there was only one creation and that blacks were human and that all humanity came out of this one creation. Since the two creation theory didn’t have much circulation in Europe, the Council fathers (mostly Europeans) had no idea what he was talking about and didn’t consider it very important, just another flaky American thing. Nothing was ever done about the statement, and Bishop Verot returned to the US quite disgusted, feeling that they had wasted their time condemning what he considered obscure German doctrines instead of dealing with this important matter.

    Interestingly, Bp Verot had been on the side of the Confederacy because he considered it the supporter of the agrarian, traditional life and morality, in contrast to the industrial North. He was quite paternalistic and regarded slavery as something that would go away but should be used as an opportunity to provide instruction and help to the Africans, who he said had come here against their will from a very different culture, in adapting to life here. But he never backed down on the assertion that Africans were fully human and had to be treated as such. After the Civil War, he brought an order of nuns, the Sisters of St Joseph, from France (he himself was actually from France originally) specifically for the purpose of educating black children and adults.

    What we are seeing with “black liberation theology” is basically a revival of the two-creations theory, now draped in Marxist terminology, but essentially asserting that blacks and whites are somehow inherently different. They aren’t. No group gets the “special suffering” prize; no group gets the “evil oppressor” award. All of these things are the results of sin, which is a personal matter and obviously not race-dependent. “Social sin” is nothing but individual sin having acquired enough power in a society to set up a system, such as slavery. Or are you perhaps saying that the black Africans who are suffering and dying under the latest black African tyrant are not really oppressed after all because, after all, he’s not part of the oppressor race, and they should all be happy to be massacred in their villages by another black man?

    The two creation theory is at the root of all this, and the tragic thing is that a lot of blacks have tacitly or sometimes even explicitly accepted it, and that’s what’s really the root of “black liberation theology.”

  11. Dustin says:

    For a biblical perspective on Jeremiah Wright’s comments, Fr. John Kavanagh, in the April 14 issue of America, applies some needed moderation to this very heated topic.


  12. Dustin says:

    I’m not sure, EDG, that black liberation theology actually posits ontological differences between the races. I’m disinclined to believe that. What it does focus on is lived experience, and it arises out of the specific context of the history of Black Americans under very real and systemic oppression. To counter your second-to-last graf, it is peculiarly American, and the issues you raise are more easily explained as the legacy of colonialism and interventionism.

    I’m pleased that you recognize such things as social sin and institutional racism–many people scoff at these ideas, even still.

    And yes, no one group’s suffering is singled out as of greater merit, and it should be pointed out that black theology does not deny the persecution of other groups. It chooses to focus on the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow because that’s what is most immanent to us, and strikes at the heart of America’s self-image. There are profound theological implications to the saying that “slavery is America’s original sin.” Black theology elucidates this. It is particularist in this respect. Any general, systemic critiques it makes arise from the particular. From the instance of the Crucifixion, all human suffering is thereby exalted. And in our own national narrative, it’s quite clear which groups are most clearly paralleled as treading the Via Dolorosa, and which groups are wielding the lash.

  13. Dustin says:

    Also, that’s a fascinating story, EDG. Where’d you read about that? I was already familiar with the “Children of Ham” rubbish, but this is new to me.

  14. Sid Cundiff says:

    Bradley’s excellent article prompts several comments, which I’ll post as time permits. The first observation about any liberation theology …. is that it doesn’t liberate (a point made by others). Black Liberation Theology is in fact enslaved to the very idea of race. “Race” is an invention of a particularly loathsome and foolish man, Arthur de Gobineau, the founder of faux “scientific” racialism. Truth be told, there is a wide spectrum of the degree of melanin in people’s skin, from a lot, to a little, and with every degree in between. But skin color is about as important as eye color — i.e. important only to retailers of suntan lotion and sunglasses. I don’t see Black Liberation Theology pointing this out and working to remove the whole lie of “race”. (And by the way, click on the link to Bradley to see his own degree of melanin.)

    Rather than “race”, what is important for knowing someone is ethnos, by which I mean a people who have a particular history. Pre-1808 Blacks are different from West Indian Blacks and African Blacks, because their history is different. Of course some history has to be overcome. And “In Christ there is no Jew or Greek.”

  15. Sid Cundiff says:

    A second observation on why liberation theology doesn’t liberate. The oppressor is also someone oppressed. He judges, wrongly, that he must oppress. Milton: “necessity, the tyrant’s plea”. The oppressor needs liberation from false ideology. The Gospel offers real liberation, for everyone.

    Yet the usual Marxist method of dealing with oppressors, putative or real, is to shed more blood than any oppressor.

  16. Jacob says:

    As a child of the ‘industrial North’, of a German immigrant who got off the boat and promptly enlisted in the Union Army and of Irish immigrants who were back home considered sub-human as well, I really can’t subscribe to the idea that there is some kind of ‘original sin’ of America that is slavery. My ancestors took part in or came after the United States’ baptism by blood.

    It is time for the Reverend Wright and those who sympathize with him to take a long look at their liberation theology and figure out how much of it continues to be justified and how much of it is simply a self-perpetuating cycle of victimhood and rationalization.

    The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the glory of the human race. Black liberation theology puts much emphasis on oppression and death. It’s time to think about resurrection and restored, glorified life through Christ.

  17. A Philadelphian says:

    It would be good to note that BLT and all liberation theology is not only rooted in Marxist materialism (which obviously has presuppositions that Christianity does not share), but also in a certain subjectivism. The two are somewhat related, since the collapse of any objective conception of reality has resulted in the reduction of the world to human experience. But still, the BLT crowd, no longer able to stretch its vision beyond the here and now to the God who lies beyond, is forced into a box of particularism and identity politics. It would seem that BXVI is really trying to do the opposite of this — to raise our vision to things that are higher and remind of us of the history and practice and meaning of the Church, which is universal.

  18. Jennifer E says:

    Thank you Fr Z.

    Liberation theology whatever form clearly misses the mark. Immediately I saw the reference to our own Liberation theology problem. Christ is kept again in the past and future, but in the here and now this idea of liberation theology is contrary to actual knowledge of “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” So many scabs come off . . . when St Paul had the slave with him he sent him back to his “owner” as a brother – but I am not sure that all the actual social structures fell away immediately. There is quite the misunderstanding as to the workings in the world and the workings of Christ.

    I had to (and still) have to overcome a particular victim mentality. Knowing the journey I am on has freed me and for certain, my attitude changed. My whole life and how I make decisions changes. But I need someone in my life that can point the way to Truth, not just someone to say, live by these laws. The one who is Law has flesh and this is the scandal. We want laws (a king, remember) but we refuse to see the One who walks among us even in all our limitations he walks with us.

    This is not just the scandal of Rev. Wright. I see it here at home in our own house. We must know and adhere to Christ, it is not enough to be on the “right” side. Remember the son who was at home grumbling that the father should throw a party for the prodigal son??

    Mom of three clinging to Christ best she can

  19. Darcy says:

    In reply to Margaret, I wish you were right but I don’t think the younger generation(s) are immune to this. I am in an interacial marriage, and my (black) husband feels distinctly that his conservative politics, orthodox Catholicism, and non-racism have made him an outsider in much of the black community, even to some of his own family members. As he says, he doesn’t know the “secret hand shake.” This type of racism even exists between African Americans. I’m glad Father Z posted this explanation of black liberation theology, because it is not going to go away.

  20. RBrown says:

    Good stuff. If I might add a few comments:

    1. In one sense Liberation Theology is a regression from Marxist atheism to the Hegelian Divinization of History. Generally, Liberation Theologians are quick to presume that political revolutions are the work of the Holy Spirit.

    2. LT’s integration of class struggle (i.e., Marxist analysis) into the Christian message means that the supernatural elements of the Gospels are usurped (and sometimes suppressed) in order to give way to social and economic progress of the underclasses.

    3. At the center of Liberation theology is a Christology in which Christ is merely a leader of the lower classes in the struggle against oppressors. Sometimes it goes so far as to portray Him wearing an automatic weapon. The Scriptural “basis” comes from a certain kind of exegesis that eliminates (as later additions) any supernatural and eschatological elements. This elimination is a consequence of a priori concepts that consider such elements not to be historical texts.

    4. Such elimination obviously facilitates the uselessness of the Eucharist and thus the Priest. Thus the existence of those Base Communities where the Eucharist was absent.

    5. One of the interesting ironies of Marxism is that, even though it is futuristic, it nonetheless has a concept of wealth and capital that is not only now obsolete but was at the time of Marx’s writings.
    Further, he seems to have had no concept of skilled labour and its leverage over the owners of production.

  21. mpm says:

    A Philadelphian: But still, the BLT crowd, no longer
    able to stretch its vision beyond the here and now to the
    God who lies beyond, is forced into a box of particularism
    and identity politics. It would seem that BXVI is really
    trying to do the opposite of this—to raise our vision to
    things that are higher and remind of us of the history and
    practice and meaning of the Church, which is universal.

    I agree wholeheartedly — “identity politics/theology” displaces
    all remembrance of the fact that Christ has broken down the wall
    of separation so that we can all be children of God.

    I completely sympathize with your and your husband’s plight, and
    I agree that it’s not going away soon. I think that is all the
    more reason to follow Pope Benedict in seeking our true identity
    in full communion with Christ and one another.

  22. RBrown says:

    From the instance of the Crucifixion, all human suffering is thereby exalted. And in our own national narrative, it’s quite clear which groups are most clearly paralleled as treading the Via Dolorosa, and which groups are wielding the lash.
    Comment by Dustin

    So which groups are treading the Via Dolorosa? My immigrant grandfather, who worked in the coal mines for next to nothing? If he was among them, how was I able to change membership from the oppressed to the oppressors?

    How about Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Bill Cosby, or Tiger Woods? Are they oppressed?

    Are American Indians among the oppressed? If so, how are they able to get a university education for nothing?

  23. Boko Fittleworth says:

    Spengler over at asia times had a good article on this a while ago. He’s had Obama pegged as hard leftist for some time now.

  24. Clayton says:

    I do not like Obama, but this article is hardly worth the read. Of course Black Liberation Theology has Marxist tendencies, and of course Wright is associated with Wright. However, the connection between Wright’s vision of greater economic parity and the social democratic (such as the US Democratic Party) vision of greater economic parity is tenuously demonstrated in this article at best. No one, for example, is questioning the freedom of individuals to buy what they want or for businesses to exist under private ownership. In fact, Democrats tend to support local markets and higher quality goods, more so than their Republican counterparts.

    Also, there may be some faulty theology at work in Wright’s comments, but they are within a particular tradition which has, in addition to its ideological tendencies, benefited African-Americans in particular instances. He is acting no differently from a Catholic bishop denouncing American treatment of Hispanic influences by saying, “You are at fault for their poverty.”

    Let’s get out of this scandal-loving and ad hominem attitude. The care of our own souls is far more pressing at the moment, and I don’t think we sincerely have charity in minds when we claim to be caring over the souls of others.

  25. EDG says:

    Dustin – You can’t live your life bearing past suffering not as a cross that at one point may have been borne by people in your family or country, but as a chip on your shoulder. Christianity moves us beyond these categories, which was one of the great disappointments to Jews at the time of Christ, because they were really hoping for a messiah who’d come along and slam the Romans to save them from their sufferings as a small, powerless colonial outpost. Pascal said that Christ will be in agony until the end of the world, and this is simply the truth: in the Body of Christ, He will be suffering until the end of the world. And it’s because of sin and evil, which can sometimes become enshrined into a way of life because it makes things so much easier for people – and that’s all collective or social sin is, the building of a legal structure to provide social accomodation to a particular sin that appeals to people at a given time, in this case, the exploitation and unjust treatment of other, less powerful people (and not only blacks were enslaved, incidentally – chattel slavery had died out in Europe and was reintroduced through contacts with Islam, where it was a mainstay of their society – and many Europeans were enslaved and died in chains in far off places).

    As for Catholic history, one of the problems in the US is that it is virtually unknown. The victors write the history. The Protestants won and basically suppressed any history relating to the Catholic Church, both in its original Spanish phase and later in the 19th century. One of the problems that the Church had was that there was an enormous amount of blatant anti-Catholicism and Catholics were even subject to legal restrictions in certain parts of the country. The Church was not distinguished in fighting against segregation, incidentally, but a lot of that was because Catholics and blacks, in the segregated parts of the country, were about on the same level.

    Something interesting that I read in Justice Clarence Thomas’ autobiography, btw, was his comment that if the Catholic Church had exerted as much effort opposing segregation as it had exerted on abortion, things would be much different in the US now. Seeing the minimal effect our efforts have had on abortion, I doubt it; but it certainly would have supported the small group of black Catholics, although oddly enough, black Catholics have a higher per-capita earning rate than white Catholics, so I guess the Catholic school system was, ultimately, helpful to them. But Justice Thomas said that he left the Church in his 20s because it simply didn’t respond.

    Ironically, Bp Verot’s diocese was the site of major civil rights conflicts in the 1960s. The whites who were really awful were not Catholics, but Baptists; however, the bishop at the time, Archbishop Hurley, could have been much more supportive but he really did nothing. The reason for this was that he thought that Martin Luther King was a Communist. Hurley was an excellent bishop in many ways, but he had been a Vatican diplomat prior to coming to St Augustine and had been the Vatican representative at the Stepinak trial under Tito, so he hated Communists and Communism. I’m sure MLK had some associates who may have been Communists, because the radical left is very good at attaching itself to any social movement that comes along; but he himself obviously was not, nor were the many St Augustine blacks who turned out and suffered enormous abuse in the attempt to integrate the Woolworth’s counter and beaches in North Florida.

  26. Manuel says:

    Its racism pure and simple. It does not need to have hate involved but when your world view is consumed by categorizing people by their skin color, then it is most obviously racism.

  27. RBrown says:

    Also, there may be some faulty theology at work in Wright’s comments, but they are within a particular tradition which has, in addition to its ideological tendencies, benefited African-Americans in particular instances. He is acting no differently from a Catholic bishop denouncing American treatment of Hispanic influences by saying, “You are at fault for their poverty.”
    Comment by Clayton

    If a Catholic bishop was saying that, he’s more wrong than right.

    I mentioned above that Marxism has an false concept of wealth–that it is a zero sum game, the only reason some people are rich is because others are poor. Anyone who knows anything about the modern economy and particularly the Multiplier Effect knows this is untrue.

    Unfortunately, this notion persisted in Church documents until Centissimus Annus, where for the first time it was said that the poverty of certain nations was a consequence of a lack of production. Previously, the reason given was a lack of distribution.

  28. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    Mr. Brown,

    I think you have bought into the straw man argument of the neo-cons, who wish to change Catholic Social teaching. Leo XIII and Pius XI never viewed economics as zero sum game. However, they did recognize that not everyone who is rich got there by moral means, and that some got there by taking advantage of others. Also Centissium Annus should not be viewed through the hermeneutic of rupture. No matter what the neo-cons say Centissium Annus was not a corrective or a turning away from the great social encyclicals of the 20th century. If you look at at the Compendium of Social Teaching the Church still acknowledges the problem of a just distribution of goods. The poverty of certain nations was a consequence of a lack of production, but that lack of production was in turn a consequence of a lack of distribution of the means of production, usually meaning that the control of production was placed solely in the hands of the State. What is somewhat ironic is that Fr. Sirico (president of the Acton Institute) worked on the very Compendium of Catholic Social Teachings, which expressly condemns so many of Fr. Sirico’s opinions on economics.

  29. Clayton says:

    RBrown-Let me redirect to the pertinent point in my argument: we should not use ‘patriotic’ or other populist measures to bully preachers into retracting their sermons. Preachers work within communities, and, therefore, reflect the values of those communities. If you want to address the idea, fine, but don’t single the person out in some sort of ad hominem attack. In other words, creating what is essentially an anti-clerical and, ultimately, irreligious (by that I mean the restriction of true religion to operate freely) attitude which harms all religions, not just Wright. The result of this logic is that we must be prepared to defend people like Rev. Wright in this context, or else make very clear that, while we are prepared to indulge the people in this act of vengeance to remove one competitor, we would not have the same done to us on similar principles (seems to go against the golden rule, though, yes?).

    To return to your comment, Marxism is indeed wrong in figuring economics to be a zero sum game, but you are wrong by not taking into account the POTENTIALITY of some nations to produce at higher prices and to be remunerated at fair gains. This potentiality is something that cannot simply emerge out of human ingenuity, it must be created by another force acting on it. Hence, the matter IS one of distribution as well.

    It isn’t that people are wealthy which is the problem for poor people, it is the problem that people are wealthy and not sharing. They have the right to remain wealthy, and, in fact, the sharing is something which is GROUNDED in superfluous wealth, but these same people do not have the right to leave unconsidered the desparation of others. If their indifference is towards someone whom Providence has put in their way to help, they become implicated in whatever evil follows from their lack of aid. You can see where I’m going with this….

  30. roydosan says:

    Funny how those who are so quick to condemn Marxism are so reticent when it comes to condemning capitalism.

  31. Carson says:

    Few would disagree with James Cone’s assertion that theology must arise out of the particular historical experience. But I take issue when that theology leads to certain statements such as this one, made by an earlier poster:

    “The Cross, in the light of the Black experience, is a lynching tree, and the suffering of those who were tortured and murdered is directly linked with the “Oppressed One,” Jesus Christ, whose suffering most clearly made him a God of the Oppressed, rather than of the oppressor.”

    And later: “From the instance of the Crucifixion, all human suffering is thereby exalted”

    There is a danger in an uncritical connection between a “theology of the cross” and the experience of suffering of oppressed peoples. Yes, of course it is true that the Bible clearly presents God as liberator of the oppressed and as the Crucified One who intimately knows the pain and suffering of all people.

    However, the power of the cross in the redemption of humanity does not lie in Jesus’ passive victimhood or suffering, per se. There is a certain reductionistic tendency in any liberation theology, including BLT, to conflate a theology of the cross with systemic oppression and suffering. The salvific power of the cross CAN NOT be simply equated with the particularities of historical suffering. The critical difference is that the oppressed in history do not CHOOSE their suffering. There is nothing redemptive about suffering itself. The salvific power of the Paschal Mystery is the total and complete love of Christ in which he chose the cross. That Jesus was executed as a matter of political expediency on the part of the Roman oppressors and certain Jewish leaders is not good news and certainly not capable of saving us. The kenotic (self-giving) love of God who CHOOSES to empty himself and become intimately vulnerable has that saving power. The New Testament witness, whether it be Paul’s hymn in Philippians 2 or Mark’s understanding of the suffering Messiah, consistently points to a theology of the cross in which it is the SELF-SACRIFICIAL love of God “behind” the cross which has the power of liberation. That is the mystery capable of saving both the oppressor and the oppressed, and why God is the God of both.

  32. Dale says:

    The Glen Beck Show??? You’ve got to be kidding me.

  33. Dale says:

    Also, the article’s credibility is strained a bit by implying that this author is a PhD and thus knowledgeable on the topic given the title of his dissertation. The Seminary’s website where Mr. Bradley teaches only claims “PhD studies” i.e. no degree–which makes me wonder…

  34. Dale: No, that doesn’t strain the credibility of anything, if the sources he cites bear what he wrote. If he is right, he is right, regardless of his degree. So, someone who disagrees needs to avoid the classic trap of making ad hominem attacks and rather attack the substance of the article.

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