“Theology is a radical and passionate study of the revolutionary activity 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.”
In the quote above, James Cone, the father of Black Theology, effectively busts the myth of Christianity as a rigid religious organ. He locates the Christian faith in the liberation struggle, tying it up inextricably with the by-product of Black Consciousness, the Black Power Movement, which stems from the 1960’s civil rights activism in the United States. This article seeks to demonstrate how Black Theology, like, and because of Black Power, is iconoclastic in its response against the White Supremacist system, which continues to keep Blacks in bondage.
Without careful analysis, Black Theology can be easily dismissed by the Black Conscious Movement, such has been the indoctrination of the scripture from a white missionary’s perspective into our reality. Christianity has been misunderstood and thus dismissed as counter-revolutionary, as a pacifist religion that endorses oppression with scriptures such as Luke 6:27-36 (KJV), which in a nutshell calls for pacifist responses such as to “love our enemy” and to “turn the other cheek” in the face of violence and oppression. Black Theology rejects these. It should be clear that Black Theology not only seek to melanate or blacken biblical characters so as to disrupt lifelong-etched images of white Jesus, courtesy of, as another writer puts it, “(growing) up in one of those households where the picture of white Jesus fought for space on the wallpapered wall with pictures of Mpho and Mphonyana & the nameless black girl with tears.” but Black Theology also challenges the ethical and moral scriptures which do not resonate with an apt response that should emerge, from a place where Black Theology itself originates – Black pain.
Black Theology remembers Jesus the revolutionary, it remembers his militant response in Matthew 21: 12-13, which, as Steve Biko puts it, “depict Jesus as a fighting God who saw the exchange of Roman money—the oppressor’s coinage—in His father’s temple as so sacrilegious that it merited a violent reaction from Him—the Son of Man.” It remembers how this fighting God describes the very purpose of his existence on earth as bringing radical change through violence towards liberation, and not peace (Matthew 10:34). As a challenge and a necessity, James Cone asks to remove Jesus from the 1st century and locate him in the 21st. Would he, as he violently revolted against the Roman system in his Father’s house, do the same against White Supremacy in his motherland? The answer is quite obviously a resounding Yes! Thus, Jesus and indeed God is not that which is aloof from us. Jesus, according to the New Testament, is the man for others who views his existence as that which is inextricably linked with other men, especially the suffering. Jesus therefore lives in the now, and as the #RhodesMustFall movement have demonstrated and other emerging movements continue to do, we must channel the inherent Godliness we possess, and unleash it towards the destruction of the world as we know it.
In his must read work, ‘Risks of Faith’, Prof. Cone criticises the Church as we know it, as endorsing the system of oppression. He says, “if the real Church is the people of God whose primary task is being Christ to the world by rendering services of liberation, and by being itself a manifestation of the new society, then the empirical church has failed on all accounts.” He later says that the Church presents itself as “an institution whose existence depends on the evil that produces the riots in the cities.” He then concludes that Christ, being essentially a revolutionary, ‘seems to be operating on the fringes or even outside the denominational Church’, the existence of which is impossible without Christ in the first place. Here we see how Black Theology as a situational interpretation of scripture completely twists and bastardises the standard view of Christianity, producing at the output end of it a religion whose essence is completely foreign to that which the master gave us.
Black Theology is for this reason the legitimate religious vehicle with which to drive the struggle and effectively drive the master out of our native terraces, and into whatever whole from which they emerged. Like Biko said, “No nation can win a battle without faith.”
By Montsho Tiro