It is a tribute to the power of the Christian message that there is such a thing as African American Christian theology at all. Christianity was the religion held by slave masters -- often distorted into an ideology of oppression. But African Americans found a model of liberation in the Exodus. They discovered that Jesus more closely resembled the beaten and lynched slave than their pious oppressors. And African Americans -- by their courageous assertion of God's universal love and man's universal dignity -- redeemed a nation they had entered in chains.
But black liberation theology takes this argument a large step further -- or perhaps backward. The Rev. Wright's intellectual mentor, professor James Cone of Union Theological Seminary, retreats from the universality of Christianity. "Black theology," says Cone, "refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him." And again: "Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy." And again: "In the New Testament, Jesus is not for all, but for the oppressed, the poor and unwanted of society, and against oppressors."
This emphasis on the structural evil of white America has natural political consequences -- encouraging a belief that American politics is defined by its crimes, a tendency to accept anti-government conspiracy theories about AIDS and drugs, a disturbing openness to anti-American dictators such as Castro and Gaddafi. It explains Wright's description of the Sept. 11 attacks as a "wake-up call" to "white America."
But the deepest flaws in black liberation theology are theological, not political. Jesus did advocate a special concern for the rights and welfare of the poor and helpless. But he specifically rejected a faith defined by social and political struggle, much to the disappointment of his more zealous followers. The early church, in its wrenching decision to include gentiles as equals, explicitly rejected a community defined by ethnicity. No Christian theology that asserts "Jesus is not for all" can be biblical.
Friday, May 02, 2008
Gerson: A Jesus for All People
On the subject of race relations and in light of the the Rev. Jeremiah Wright-Barack Obama feud, I like what Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson writes: