James Cone on Political Messiahs

One of my favorite theologians is James Hal Cone, one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology.  I do not agree with everything he says, but he makes a lot of great points in much of his work.

Recently a lot of people involved in politics have been either trying to prove that the President is a political savior or promoting the idea that there needs to be a Ronald-Reaganesque conservative messiah to save the nation.  In both cases, I feel I must protest, and Cone’s quote, while particularly speaking about African-Americans in the early 1990s, could easily be applied to persons of any race, ethnic background, and socio-economic status, especially in today’s political climate.

“Because the socioeconomic  condition of poor African-Americans is worse today than during Martin’s and Malcolm’s time, many hope for charismatic leaders with spiritual power and intellectual insights which transcend  capabilities of ordinary human beings. Charismatic leaders, however, cannot liberate black people from their misery.  They may even hinder the process.  Thus, it is important to emphasize that Martin and Malcolm, despite the excessive adoration their followers often bestow upon them, were not messiahs.  Both were ordinary human beings who gave their lives for the freedom of their people.  They show us what ordinary people can accomplish through intelligence and sincere commitment to the cause of justice and freedom.  There is no need to look for messiahs to save the poor.  Human beings can and must do it themselves.” page 315 in Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare?

Resisting Cone’s description of African Americans as essentially poor and oppressed, one can agree with Cone that the people do not need a “Chosen One,” whether the second coming of Woodrow Wilson or George W Bush to depend upon for their freedom and justice. That just takes God, and their God-given intelligence and creativity to make they changes that the people want in society.

5 thoughts on “James Cone on Political Messiahs

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