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WARNING: THIS SITE FEATURES ORIGINAL THINKING...Jim Croce once sang Don't tug on Superman's cape..., which seems like reasonable advice should we not wish to anger the supreme powers. We do have this duality in our culture: the Superman that is the state collective, the leftist call to a politics of meaning managed by the state, the deification of "we're from the government and we'll take care of you" - versus the Superman that celebrates individual freedom, private property, freedom of conscience, free enterprise, and limited government. We humbly take on the latter's mantle and, eschewing the feeble tug, we dare to PULL, in hope of seeing freedom's rescue from the encroaching nanny state. We invite you, dear reader, to come and pull as well... Additionally, if you assume that means that we are unflinching, unquestioning GOP zombies, that would be incorrect. We reject statism in any form and call on individuals in our country to return to the original, classical liberalism of our founders. (We're also passionate about art, photography, cooking, technology, Judeo/Christian values, and satire as unique, individual pursuits of happiness to celebrate.)

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March 04, 2008
It's the identity... or How to Map Identity Politics Onto Christian Theology and Stay Forever Frozen in the Act of Liberation...
Filed in: Current Affairs, It feels so wrong so it's gotta be Wright, Politics

One sidelight to the recent row over John McCain receiving an endorsement from John Hagee has perhaps been a bit of renewed attention on Barack Obama's membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

This (primarily audio) YouTube offering has been making the rounds as an homage of sorts to the teaching of Pastor Jeremiah Wright (Obama's mentor, who has (apparently) baptized Obama, his children, officiated at his marriage and blessed Obama's house).

In case you didn't catch the high points, they go something like this [Ed: this is not a verbatim transcription, just attempting to capture the essential points]:

Justice is ignored.

#1 We've got more black men in prison than there are in college - racism is alive and well. Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run...

#2 [Ed: there does not appear to be a number two in this discussion.]

#3 America is still the number one killer in the world...

#4 We put Mandela in prison and supported apartheid... we believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.

#5 We supported Zionism shamelessly while ignoring the Palestinians and branding anyone who spoke out against it as being anti-Semitic...

#6 We conducted radiation experiments on our own people...

#7 We do not care if poor black and brown children cannot read and kill each other senselessly. We abandoned the cities back in the sixties when the riots started... have more homeless than any nation in the world.

#8 We started the AIDS virus and now that it is out of control we still put more money in military than in medicine, more money in hate than in humanitarian concerns... if you are poor, black, and elderly forget it.

#9 We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that third world people live in grinding poverty...

#10 We are selfish, self-centered egotists who are arrogant and ignorant...

In light of these 10 facts, God has got to be sick of this sh*t.

It is certainly difficult to ascertain the hermeneutic employed here. It doesn't appear that there is a particular Biblical text that is being referenced. Other than the timbered voice of authority, the content does not appear to be primarily focused on religious instruction.

If we look past the anger, is there some method to employ to make a determination about what this message is rooted in?

A few days prior to this writing, Sean Hannity conducted a brief interview with Pastor Wright in which Wright substantively directed Hannity to study up on Black Theology and Liberation Theology referring to a couple of progenitors of those theological systems: James Cone and Dwight Hopkins. Presumably, only upon some confirmation of comprehension of systematizers such as these, could one opine on what characterizes the belief system espoused by Wright's church.

Hopkins is a Cone disciple and it appears that the bulwark of Black Theology rests on his work. In this post we'll focus on Black Theology and let Cone elucidate for us:

In 2000, in Cross Currents, Whose Earth Is It Anyway, Connecting racism with the degradation of the earth is a necessity for the African American community:

No threat has been more deadly and persistent for black and Indigenous peoples than the rule of white supremacy in the modern world. For over five hundred years, through the wedding of science and technology, white people have been exploiting nature and killing people of color in every nook and cranny of the planet in the name of God and democracy...

As quoted on BeliefNet in 1999:

What deepens my anger today is the appalling silence of white theologians on racism in the United States and the modern world. Whereas this silence has been partly broken in several secular disciplines, theology remains virtually mute. From Jonathan Edwards to Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr to the present, progressive white theologians, with few exceptions, write and teach as if they do not need to address the radical contradiction that racism creates for Christian theology. They do not write about slavery, colonialism, segregation, and the profound cultural link these horrible crimes created between white supremacy and Christianity. The cultural bond between European values and Christian beliefs is so deeply woven into the American psyche and thought process that their identification is assumed. White images and ideas dominate the religious life of Christians and the intellectual life of theologians, reinforcing the "moral" right of white people to dominate people of color economically and politically. White supremacy is so widespread that it becomes a "natural" way of viewing the world. We must ask therefore: Is racism so deeply embedded in Euro-American history and culture that it is impossible to do theology without being anti-black?

In his Ingersoll Lecture at the Harvard Divinity School late in 2006, Cone offered in The Cross and the Lynching Tree:

The church’s most vexing problem today is how to define itself by the gospel of Jesus’ cross as revealed through lynched black bodies in American history. Where is the gospel of Jesus’ cross revealed today? Where are black bodies being lynched today? The lynching of black America is taking place in the criminal justice system where nearly one-third of black men between the ages of 18 and 28 are in prisons and jails, on parole, or waiting for their day in court. One-half of the two million people in prisons are black. That is one million black people behind bars, more than in colleges. Through private prisons, whites have turned the brutality of their racist legal system into a profit-making venture for dying white towns and cities throughout America. One can lynch a person without a rope or tree.

It appears that Cone's writings do not differ much from the first recording above. How is he to be understood?

One instructive point of view is by traditional Christian author Ron Rhodes. In what is one of the few evaluations on Liberation and Black Theology, there is a significant historical backdrop given as well as a methodology for understanding Cone's theological position:

In assessing the theology of James Cone, it is critical to recognize that he sees black experience as the fundamental starting point for ascertaining theological truth...[and] Cone says that "it is this common experience among black people in America that Black Theology elevates as the supreme test of truth. To put it simply, Black Theology knows no authority more binding than the experience of oppression itself. This alone must be the ultimate authority in religious matters." [Ed: references are in the linked document.]

We also learn from Cone's writings (as referenced by Rhodes) that God is black, Jesus is black, that the idea of salvation is predominantly the liberation of oppressed blacks in this life, and further that liberation is the "emancipation of black people from white oppression by whatever means black people deem necessary." - including the potential for violence.

If we attempt to comprehend how Black Theology differs from traditional Christian Theology in a theological context it is that its focus is on black experience and its 'gospel' is in the liberation of the black oppressed. This has evolved today to the point that 'praxis' - the act of revolutionary liberation from oppression - has primacy. Traditional Christian Theology certainly offers liberation - focused on a liberation from sin - but it is also universal: "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." (Rev. 22:17) - and "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female" in Christ (Gal. 3:28).   

Given that we live today in a post-Christian society it may be instructive to take a view that considers a political rationale as well. It seems perhaps reasonable to conclude that Black Theology is a mapping of identity politics* onto traditional Christian theology. In this way it can be explained as the engulfing of traditional Christian terminology and meaning with the mission of identity politics - and in this case the identity politics of black Americans. Those interested in the meaning of language as it relates to our culture have visited this kind of expedient adoption.

Given that slavery has been abolished, amendments to the constitution have been made, the Civil Rights movement has been almost universally embraced, legislative acts have been promulgated, broad entitlements have been granted, affirmative action has existed, and we have conducted a long term experiment with enhancing the experience of a large number of groups with political identity, it seems almost strange that Black Theology rhetoric is what it is.

Perhaps it is that the point of view is so entrenched in the focus on oppression as an experience of primacy that any party to it can never move - the act of liberation is perpetually frozen in the experience of self-imposed oppression.

*Identity politics is certainly a laden phrase. It has been significantly elucidated elsewhere. A reasoned reading of almost any definition describes with almost identical language the separable tenets of Black Theology.

Michelle Malkin is one of the few conservative bloggers to examine the roots of Obama's faith. Her referenced post also links to a transcript of the second video clip above as well - so you don't have to take my word for Wright's pedagogical instruction to understand his church's faith from Cone.

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