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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Martin Luther King's Dream vs. Black Liberation Theology

This is a reprint of my January 19, 2009  post, Does Barack Obama Believe In Martin Luther King's Dream? The subject is the theological foundation of Obama's church home of 20 years, and its incompatibility with Dr. King's dream.


I ask because the president-elect devoted 20 years of his life to a church pastored by a man who does not believe in that dream.

I base that statement on the fact that Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a disciple of theologian James H. Cone.

So where does Professor Cone differ from Dr. King? Cone views race relations in terms of class warfare, a notion King rejected.

Last March [in 2008], in this post I linked a telling article in Asia Times, and excerpted a passage of Cone's own words:

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.

Dr. King did not blame whites as a whole for the pervasive racism. In his Letter From Birmingham Jail, he acknowledged both strong allies and lukewarm supporters among whites. Furthermore, he counted whites - even unfriendly ones - as brothers and sisters. No class warfarist uses language like that.

It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.


I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "An Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.


And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies [earlier he cites "Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement"] a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.


I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother."

Five paragraphs above that last quote is this passage:

I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some-such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle---have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Contrast with this passage from Page 2 of Stanley Kurtz's article 'Context,' you say? A guide to the radical theology of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (article hosted on BNET):

Indeed, one of the most striking features of Black Theology and Black Power is its strident attack on white liberals. According to Cone, "when white do-gooders are confronted with the style of Black Power, realizing that black people really place them in the same category with the George Wallaces, they react defensively, saying, 'It's not my fault' or 'I am not responsible.'" But Cone insists that white, liberal do-gooders are every bit as responsible as the most dyed-in-the-wool segregationists. Well before it became a clich,, [sic] Cone boldly set forth the argument for institutional racism--the notion that "racism is so embedded in the heart of American society that few, if any, whites can free themselves from it."

The liberal's favorite question, says Cone, is "What can I do?" He replies that, short of turning radical and putting their lives on the line behind a potentially violent revolution, liberals can do nothing. The real liberal question to blacks, says Cone, is "What can I do and still receive the same privileges as other whites and--this is the key--be liked by Negroes?" Again, he answers, "Nothing."

Unfortunately this quote doesn't tell us what these privileges are that Cone believes while liberals receive from racism and are unwilling to give up. It would shed light on his thinking.

Cone plays down his allusions to violence, but the word "necessarily" as it appears in this statement (on Page 3) suggests he doesn't rule it out entirely:

To revolutionize or eliminate these faulty "white values," black pastors and theologians must reject the influence of "white seminaries with their middle-class white ideas about God, Christ, and the Church." "This does not necessarily mean burning of their buildings with Molotov cocktails," says Cone. But it does require the replacement of middle-class consciousness with "black consciousness," with "a theology which confronts white society as the racist Antichrist, communicating to the oppressor that nothing will be spared in the fight for freedom."

Earlier on that page is this choice quote:

"Theologically," Cone affirms, "Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man 'the devil.'"

Contrast with King's epistle (emphasis added):

I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency...The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have a difficult time believing that Rev. Wright could immerse himself in this theology and not make it a cornerstone of Trinity United Church of Christ. I also have a hard time believing that Obama would spend 20 years in a church whose theology he finds largely offensive.

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