What is Black Liberation Theology?

Liberation theology comes from the realization that salvation includes more than saving individual souls for eternal life after death (though it does include that).  A study of the word “salvation” and related concepts in the Old Testament reveals that salvation usually has a concrete setting in this life.  An individual prays for salvation from enemies or from sickness and praises God when the rescue comes.  The nation prays for salvation from enemies or for a return from exile.

The exodus or escape of a group of slaves from Egypt is the central historical event of the Old Testament.  It is the founding event of the nation of Israel and Israel’s covenant with God.  The story begin when God hears the cries of the oppressed and intervenes in history to save them from bondage.  Then God forms them  into a community of people with a special relationship to himself and to each other.

The theme of liberation continues in the ministry of Jesus, who announced his ministry by quoting these words from the prophet Isaiah,

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind,
To release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Salvation in the New Testament includes the forgiveness of personal sins for a new relationship with God and with one’s fellow pilgrims on earth through Jesus Christ.  It includes the hope of full deliverance in the future from all forms of bondage, sickness, suffering, and selfishness.  It also includes at least occasionally signs of that future deliverance–sometimes prayers for healing, prosperity, and freedom are answered in this life.  Salvation in the New Testament also includes the indwelling presence of Christ in the life of believers through the Holy Spirit.  The presence of Christ enables a follower of Christ to continue his ministry of compassion, justice, and liberation.

Liberation theology takes many forms.  Some are clearly wrong, depending on the failed economic theory of socialism and hoping to transform society through violent revolution.  But liberation theology does not have to be like that, and many forms are not.

Black liberation theology assumes that the experiences of black people gives them a unique vantage point for understanding the message of the Bible.  White people have more in common with Pharaoh and Caesar, black people have more in common with the liberated Hebrew slaves and the poor people who followed Jesus.

Black liberation theology in North America is heavily indebted to the ministry of Martin Luther King, who proved that change can come through nonviolent action coupled with prayer and faith.

Black liberation theology teaches that all people are sinful and need repentance, forgiveness, and the presence of the Spirit to overcome the effects of sin.  It also realizes that sin takes different forms in different people.  In Pharaoh and his followers sin manifests itself in a stubborn refusal to hear the cries of the oppressed and to submit to the message of judgment.  In the victims of Pharaoh’s oppression, sin often takes the form of a failure of courage, a lack of faith, an identification with the oppressors rather than heeding God’s message of liberation.

In addition to the reconciling message of Jesus as proclaimed by Dr. King, liberation theologians and preachers also listen to the words (and sometimes mimic the fiery rhetoric) of the biblical prophets like Amos and Jeremiah, or even James the Just, who grew up in the same house with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and sliver are corroded.  Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.  You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look!  The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.  You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemend and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Religious Wars

The Reformation Era by Robert D. Linder

Westport, CN and London: Greenwood, 2008

I have just finished reading Robert Linder’s new book on the reformation and plan to write a formal review. Dr. Linder is distinguished professor of history at Kansas State University.

A couple years ago he graciously agreed to speak to a small conference we had in Manhattan. I asked him to address the health of evangelical Christianity in the United States. He agreed, and as the date approached changed the working title of his lecture.

His first title was something like “The Health of the Evangelical Church in America.” Later he revised it to “The Seriously Ill Evangelical Church in America.” When he finally gave the lecture, the title was “The Apostate Evangelical Church in America.”

But that’s another story . . .

The book on the Reformation is written for high school and undergraduate students wishing to write a term paper the topic. It is packed full of information, including many primary documents, glossaries, brief biographies of major players, charts of main events and other helps, along with the main narrative. The book will prove very useful for its intended readers. I suspect that it will also be useful for graduate students preparing for exams. But I’ll finish the formal review later.

Right now I am thinking about all the bloody religious wars during that era.

This week I visited the ruined cathedral of Elgin. The remains are impressive enough–but how did the cathedral get ruined?

This one was actually destroyed well before the Reformation by the Wolf of Badenoch, son of the illegitimate father Robert II, in revenge for his excommunication.

But after the Reformation many of the catholic churches were destroyed by zealous reformers. These wars were probably political more than religious–except that religion and politics were so intertwined it was impossible to untangle them.

The thing that impressed me while reading Linder’s book and while visiting historic sites was that the only ones who came out without blood on their hands were the Anabaptists or radical reformers–those who took seriously the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the nonviolent lifestyle of the pre-Constantinian Christians–the forerunners of the Mennonites, the Brethren, the Baptists and other similar followers of Christ who believed in free association, separation of church and state, and freedom of conscience.

They were suspected of being related to the rebellion of the fanatical Thomas Müntzer, with whom they had nothing in common, and were persecuted mercilessly by protestants and catholics alike. The Anabaptists women in particular showed tremendous courage; many of them were tortured and eventually murdered, usually by drowning.

Free Burma or China-Free?

Next week I’ll finish the post I started last week, but right now there is something more timely.

We American Christians need to support the Buddhist monks in Burma, in their struggle for freedom. (See the “News” page) President Bush is calling for international pressure, especially from China, to pressure the military dictatorship to respect human rights. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with the president on this issue.

By the way, since evidently the pro-democracy advocates prefer to call their country Burma, I don’t think we should use the name that the dictators chose for the country.

This may not seem directly related, but it has a bearing. Sonja and I are justifiably proud of our niece Melissa, who is representing our state right now in the Special Olympics in China. See video here. The doors opened by Richard Nixon allow the kind of relationship where we can talk to China.

China buys oil and natural gas from Burma and supplies the generals with weapons. Chinese guns are killing peaceful demonstrators.

Another issue that does not seem connected, but may be: Last week the Mattel toy company issued an official apology to China for criticizing their factories for producing dangerous toys. Mattel said, the fault was their design, not negligence by the manufacturers or the government inspectors, that resulted in children’s toys being painted with lead paint. (See also the prior post “Fido’s Revenge)

There was once a time when another government thought we couldn’t do without their tea; but a grass-roots movement proved them wrong. I’m suggesting that we use our good relations with China and their desire for prestige in the eyes of the world with the upcoming summer Olympics to entice them to use their influence for good. If that doesn’t work, I would hope there would be a grass-roots movement to look for products made elsewhere.

A while back I bought a toy for the child of a friend. It was not imported from half-way around the world, and had no lead paint. It was made of wood by a local craftsman, and sold at a local fair.