Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Facing Racism and Heresy in the African American Community -part 3

In this third part, once again notice that numbering for endnotes begins with the first posting.

Black Liberation Theology:

Radical Afrocentric Christianity is often a part of Black Liberation Theology. The two movements generally agree that the Hebrew Bible and biblical faith are rooted in black culture and black history. Sometimes this is explained in a very radical and rather anti-Semitic manner such as in the works of Yosef A. A. ben-Jochannan, the author of We The Black Jews: Witness to the `White Jewish Race' Myth.12

Often, it is, instead, slanted in a different, but still racist and heretical way, in the more academic works of such authors as Dwight N. Hopkins and James H.Cone who are mentioned in the first posting.

In Hopkins' book, Down, Up, and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology, he explains that all cultures are given by God as a spark within and therefore he does not insist on “some movement to bring God to the side of a narrow nationalist cultural self-glorification. Nor is it the hubris of privileging one branch of human kind (that is, the black race) over another (the white race.)”13 And yet, writing further he states:

"The image of God in the black poor is the deeply entrenched Spirit that God's grace gave black folk at creation and that, now through generation after generation, exists by nature.
In addition, this Spirit within summons the black marginalized sectors of society to further liberate their captivity to false white normativity (sic) by claiming biblical indicators and pointers of black presence in the Bible itself. Biblical passages refer to Jesus with hair like wool and skin of bronze color. In fact, the only white people in the Christian Scriptures during the time of Jesus' birth are the European Roman exploiters and colonizers. Not only was Jesus not white, Jesus was from African and Asian ancestry.

Moreover, prior to debates about Jesus' ancestry, arguments continue to surface about the Garden of Eden being located in Northeast Africa. The implication suggests that even in the mythos of the creation narrative, Eve and Adam were Africans. Though the Spirit of liberation dwells in all people, no matter how much it might be submerged and surrounded by one's effort to turn away from it and thereby from God, God, in one sense, projected God's African-Asian image into the first human creation. When God said let us make human beings in our own image and created the first human beings in Africa, on a logical level, God was an African who reflected the divine self into human beings on the African continent."14

Likewise, but in a much more strident manner, writing about God's redemptive dealings with humanity, Cone states:

"For white people, God's reconciliation in Jesus Christ means that God has made black people a beautiful people; and if they are going to be in relationship with God, they must enter by means of their black brothers, who are a manifestation of God's presence on earth. The assumption that one can know God without knowing blackness is the basic heresy of the white churches. They want God without blackness, Christ without obedience, love without death. What they fail to realize is that in America, God's revelation on earth has always been black, red, or some other shocking shade, but never white." 15

A horrific progression to this is that Cone wrote, Black Theology & Black Power, using Karl Barth as his guiding theologian. He quotes him incessantly. But, Cone in his thought's about God's revelation displaced Barth's theology. His idea that African Americans “are a manifestation of God's presence on earth” is without question anti-Barth. He later retracted his use of Barth in his preface to the 1989 reprint, writing:

"Barth's assertion of the Word of God in opposition to natural theology in the context of Germany during the 1930's may have been useful. But the same theological methodology cannot be applied to the cultural history of African Americans or to Africans and Asians on their continents. …

As in 1969, I still regard Jesus Christ today as the chief focus of my perspective on God but not to the exclusion of other religious perspectives. God's reality is not bound by one manifestation of the divine in Jesus but can be found wherever people are being empowered to fight for freedom.”16

Both of the quotes by Hopkins and Cone are racist, heretical and explainable in the context of liberation theology. Liberation Theology began in South American and was a liberal but compassionate focus on the poor and oppressed in South American. It began among Catholic theologians who attempted to locate the revelation of Jesus Christ in the presence of the poor as a means of combating some oppressive governments.

Marxism was a part of the mix as a way of contextualizing the theology, changing the system and attempting to avoid relativism. That is to say, one looked within the society or culture to arrive at both the definition of sin and the presence of God. But, one begins with one's own awareness or suspicions, not with Scriptures. Sin was generally found anchored to the political system with some support in the community, God was found within the oppressed.

God is now manifested in any culture deemed oppressed. In fact according to some, culture is the bearer of God's revelation. On the web site of one Afrocentric Presbyterian Church, within their Credo, are the words "We beleive (sic) that human cultures are the containers of Divine Self -Revelation and that as such, the culture of every human being is to be respected.”

Yes, clearly, cultures are to be respected but even more clearly cultures are not the containers of God's revelation. When God's truth is revealed in some other way then through Jesus Christ alone as he is revealed in the Old and New Testaments, biblical Christianity begins to lose its way.

It happened in Germany during the Romantic period. Barth refers to this as he points to the “despised eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,” while suggesting that the heresy of his own day was nothing new.17 Liberation theology began with Christ found in the poor, accordingly, God is now revealed in black culture subsuming all other oppressed people, including LGBTQ under their theology.18

A great peril arises when race, culture or religion (and here I am speaking of false religion) is seen as the true manifestation of God and so is worshiped in one manner or another. When this new manifestation of God speaks its words they will only be human words and often they will be false words and destructive to the Church.

12 Yosef A.A. ben-Jochannan, We the Black Jews: Witness to the `White Jewish Race' Myth, Vol. I & II, reprint (Baltimore: Black Classic Press 1993).

13 Hopkins, Down, Up, and Over, 262.

14 Ibid., 263.

15 James H. Cone, Black Theology and Black Power (New York: Orbis 1997) 150.

16 Ibid., xii.

17 Karl Barth, Theological Existence To-Day: A Plea for Theological Freedom, (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1933) 53.

18 Black Liberation theology is not alone in using their theology to pull in all other problems. For instance feminist ideology subsumes all other perceived oppression under its concepts. For instance the pollution of the environment is seen as a way of oppressing women because it is felt that nature and women are alike in some of their characteristics.

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