Thursday, April 10, 2008

Black Theology Reprise

Adam Clark, my black theology professor, wrote the following article for the Cincinnati Enquirer, addressing the Rev. Wright flap. I think he did it well.

Wright's teachings are part of African-American opposition to empire

The presidential candidacy of Obama can be assessed on its own terms. But the uproar over the rhetoric of Wright is largely a result of America's unfamiliarity with the history and language of the black church. The political character of black sermons such as Wright's are not rooted in the give and take of electoral politics, they derive from biblical faith. The black church has historically identified with the minority Jewish population of the first century. They regard the Jewish population's relationship to the Roman Empire as similar to their own relationship to the American Empire. This identification has caused black Christians to make a distinction between the biblical Jesus and the American Christ. The American Christ is a product of the American middle class, a deity who endorses empire and converts his followers into being pro-war, pro-death penalty and anti-abortion. The biblical Jesus reveals a God who is provocative, a God who upsets the powers and is eventually rejected and crucified by them.

The language of the black church that conveys this oppositionality does not translate well into the arena of presidential politics. It was never intended to. The black church's language is the language and worldview of a people who have been at the margins of social power - a symbolic language, not a literal language. Words seldom have a one-to-one correspondence with events. Black religious language is inherently evocative, hyperbolic and impassioned - aimed more toward devotion than debate. It is intended to convey divine ecstasy and anger to parishioners, not dialogue among pundits.

In response, a local Catholic apologist has weighed in:
Clark's Defense is insulting
What's more, Wright's so-called Black Liberation Theology bears nothing in common with "biblical faith." The Gospel message is universal. It is the message of salvation from the slavery of sin through the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The race-based theology - ideology is a better word - espoused by Wright and defended by Clark is something else entirely.

Honestly, I find the reductionistic approach to Cone's theology insulting. And since when is the "Gospel universal" - as if the Catholics even mean the same things by that word as the Protestants, let alone black Christians struggling for civil rights?

In any event, read both and weigh the issues yourself. I did post a response to Leonardi's editorial on his blog (listed at the end of his article).


Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I found Clark's comments helpful and relevant, particularly as it relates to Wright's comments about the relationship between U.S. foreign policy and 9/11. But, I can see why a significant number of people continue to be troubled by Wright's " comments regarding the spread of aids and cocaine. Personally, I think Wright has a legitimate point regarding his critical comments about our foreign policy but find his "conspiracy" ramblings unhelpful....personally, I would like to hear Wright address these matters at some point in the the meantime hope the pundits and political adversaries of Obama move onto something else because it is not shedding any light on the topic of race or the current political situation...imho...

Rich Leonardi said...

What's "reductionistic" [sic] is identifying the Gospel with an ideology or a racial classification.

rmkton said...

I think it is funny that so much is being made of Wright's comments when I think most folks know that what pastors/ministers preach from the pulpit is often quite different than what they practice or believe...hmmm, upon thinking about this maybe some don't know that.

Pastors from the pentecostal/evangelical tradition typically preach a more conservative message with lots of statements that make good sound bites because it sounds so much more inspired and motivational than one without it...and isn't that how we judge a message?

R. Michael