Speaking The Truth
Theology is Language about God. Christian theology is language about God s liberating activity in the world on behalf of the freedom of the oppressed. Christian theology must begin with Scripture and with Christ. Christian theology is language about the crucified and risen Christ who grants freedom to all who are falsely condemned in an oppressive society. By using Scripture, we are forced by Scripture itself to focus on our social existence, but not merely in terms of our own interest. In an attempt to do theology in the light of this crucified and risen Christ, James A. Cone has spoken of Christian theology as black theology because theology derived from the moans and shouts of oppressed black people defines a different set of problems than those found in the white the white theological textbooks. The style of black worship is a constituent of its content, and both elements point of the theme of liberation.
Black religion is by definition the opposite of white religion because the former was born in the black people s political struggle to liberate themselves from oppression in the white church and the society it justifies. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950 s and 60 s, which was created and largely centered in the black churches with Martin Luther King, Jr., as its charismatic leader, demonstrated the continuing relevancy of black religion in the struggle for political and social justice. Not only were political strategy sessions held in the context of church worship, but also many black ministers withdrew from formal denominational ties in order to devote full time to sit-ins, freedom rides, and other political activities. But do to the increasing violence of the existing structures of North American society, as well as black people s determination t assert their freedom in opposition to it, led many black civil rights workers to question king s uncompromising to the principle of nonviolence.
Black theology was born in response to the rise of Black Power and in the context of the National Committee of Negro Churchmen and was interpreted as the theological arm of Black Power. Although Black people respected King s commitment, they felt that his nonviolence method for radical change in was not powerful enough and was too dependent upon the possibility of changing the hearts of white oppressors. It was the extreme exploitation of the black community that a few radical preachers and activist were forced to develop a black theology during the 1960 s. Catholic and Protestant, ignored and sometimes condemned the rise of the black struggle for justice, black preachers commitment to that struggle necessitated their rereading of the Bible so that they could retain their Christian identity and also their commitment to freedom. This gave birth to black theology. When blacks, whites, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, women, and the poor of all groups throughout the world can begin to develop ideas of justice and of God and of the experience of liberation in our histories and cultures we can become the united community which Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of and what Jesus Christ gave his life for.
The separation of black and white churches in worship and other aspects of their life is a scandal, because each claims that Jesus Christ is Lord. To worship together as a community, people must live together in community and live together as people of God. Unless Christians can achieve this unity in Christ that that is more important than the race, creed, and nationality, we have no right to claim that Jesus Christ is Lord.
They major reason for the differences between black and white religion is found at the point of the great differences in life. While slaves, blacks nurtured their religion in intimate communication between friends and within families as well as in larger secret meetings that was later to be called by many scholars as the invisible institution . In addition to creating this invisible institution blacks also started an independent church movement mainly in the North (late in the eighteenth century) not only to worship God but also to cope with the social, political, and economic needs of the community. The idea of blacks separating from whites to their own independent churches was a revolutionary because whites thought if blacks could do things own there own they could think on their own as well. White slavemasters realized this and made black churches illegal in many parts of the South. The independent black church movement became one of the major bearers of black religion.
After the Civil War there was a presence black suffering which caused a majority of black ministers to withdraw from political engagement in the church and to devote their time strictly to church issues; This period was called by many as the deradicaliztion of the black church . This withdrawal of the church from politics gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement that gave way to many influential thinkers. The two most recognized thinkers were Martin Luther King, Jr., (Baptist) and Malcolm X (Islam) in which King believed that blacks and whites should work together toward the creation of an entirely new world while Malcolm X advocated black unity. Although King and Malcolm had many different ideas about white and blacks they laid the foundation that gave birth to black liberation theology which has become widely known and taught in many parts of the world.
Black worship is connected with black life. Whether Catholic of Protestant-Methodist, Baptist, or Pentecostal, black worship is not derived primarily from these theological and historical traditions. A black congregation may be any of these religions but always will be different. And the difference is far more important in the assessment of the meaning of black worship than are the white traditions form which the black church often gets its name. Black worship was born on the slave ships and nurtured in the cotton fields of Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Blacks believe that worship cannot be separated from their African heritage on the on hand and American slavery and Christianity on the other. Because black people were victims, they could not accept white people s interpretation of the gospel. No matter what trials and tribulations black people encounter, they refuse to let despair define their humanity. They simply believe that God can make a way out of no way. Blacks merely contend that trouble does not have the last word and they will understand it better as time goes on.
Black church people contend that the search for unity in Jesus Christ cannot separate from struggle for justice in society. Segregation and slavery in the society prompted black churches to define black people s political resistance against oppression as a witness to God s eschatological intentions to establish justice for the poor and weak in the land. Sometimes, however, slaves openly expressed their rejection of the white church and its theology and seldom regarded it as a true representative of the body of Christ. In the writings of many black theologians the black church projected an image of church unity based on a political commitment of white Christians to eliminate racism in their churches and in the society accounts for the lack of serious dialogue on the part of black independent churches in the ecumenical deliberations of the Consultation on Church Union. The Theme of Black ecumenism and the liberation struggle also challenges contemporary black denominational churches to implement in society the freedom they sing and preach is the temptation to imitate their oppressor, even when the two groups remain socially separate.
The confusion about ecumenism and liberation in the black church is also found in its attitude toward the relationship between men and women. Due to most of the black churches dominated by men ministers find it difficult in supporting the equality of women in the church and society stems partly from the lack of clear liberation criterion rooted in the gospel and in the present struggles of oppressed people. If the black church denominations could begin to deal with the problems of separation among themselves as well as sexism in the church, they would be able to deal with the problems of unity between black Christians and non-Christians. The ecumenical perspective does not diminish the focus on black liberation rather it enhances it not only because most of the world s poor are colored but because it requires the cooperation of all victims if the world is to be transformed.