Tag Archives: James Hal Cone

The Musical Jesus: From James Hal Cone to Jesus Walks

James Cone’s work The Spirituals and the Blues is a unique expression of African American political theology. In this text he seeks to examine the unique cultural foundation that has shaped both Spiritual and the genre of Blues as a form of musical expression. For Cone music can represent a cross section between political ideology and theological frameworks. Through this piece it is apparent that the distinctive experiences of African American has radically shape their view of politics and religion and that the connection between Spirituals and Blues makes sheds some light on this point. For him both are deeply connected to the point that you cannot one from the other. Furthermore, he believes that the use of Spirituals and the Blues have both been utilized by African American to subvert the oppressive forces of Western white supremacist culture. He writes: “Black music is also social and political. It is social because it is black and thus articulates the separateness of the black community. It is an artistic rebellion against the humiliating deadness of western culture.” (p5-6). Ultimately for Cone the use of Spirituality and the Blues serves as a way for African American to seek liberation from political and theological institution that is both destructive and oppressive.

Cone does great work in explicating the differences between traditional notions of Spirituals and how he believes African Americans have actually used Spirituals. This begins with his rejection of a Marxian view of Spirituals. Marx believes that the Spirituals sung by the Africans slaves’ sole purpose was to act as an opiate for them in relation to their slave masters. Marx’s ideology is marred by his concept of class consciousness. From this he believed that Spirituals allowed the slaves to passively conform to the desires of their slave masters. Cone however, vehemently disagrees with this assessment. He believes that African slaves were keenly aware of the power of musical interpretation and inherently new the dangers it posed to the authority of the slave masters. Thus, the slaves had to be subtle in the ways that they used Spirituals as theme for liberation without alarming their white slave masters. The Exodus story and Moses served as one way that the slaves could elude to liberation that did not alert their masters to their intentions.

The Exodus narrative as a slave spiritual had a profound implication on the way the slaves envisioned their lives both politically as well as theologically. Moses’ message of liberation called for divine liberation in heaven as well as earthly liberation from the slave masters. Cone points to slaves like Nat Turner who courageously learned to interpret the bible for himself. It is from his version of scripture that he saw the Christian imperative for not only a spiritual liberation heaven but its Earthly manifestation in the mist of slavery. This ultimately led to his rebellion and subsequent death. Similarly to Cone’s configuration of the Spirituals he believes that the Blues had a similar message. The Blues represent a secularized version of the socio-political message that was expunged from Spirituals. They too could equally be used as tools of liberation against dominant oppressive groups. Much like spiritual the Blues could be used to articulate a powerful socio-political message with profound theological implications. They affirmed the personhood of African Americans in the face of institutions that were created to take this very thing away from them.

While reading Cone’s work I began to think about some of the other connections that can be made with between African American experiences and how that has translated into music to have implications for theology, politics, and society in general. I preface this by stating that James Cone wrote this particular work in the 1970’s so what he wrote was indeed insightful for the context to which it was written. However, I believe that the religious insights from spiritual are reflected within the work of African American’s in other genres of music as well. In today’s context I do not see theo-political issues reflected in any particular artist or genre rather I see it in various songs by various African American artists. For example, Kanye West in his song “Gorgeous” poses a very interesting question.

West is questioning the function of hip hop music in the 21st century. Much like the Blues did for African Americans in the 20th century hip hop resonates with ideal and experience of many African American youth today. This is complicated by the secular nature of hip hop music. Hip hop music in itself could be seen as the religion of the youth today. The thought, ideas, cultural values, and even its counter cultural elements are appealing to youths. Ultimately, West is posing the question has hip- hop music replaced the socio- political elements that were once held onto by the Blues and Spirituals. Hip hop is to the soul of modern youth as what spirituals were to slaves. While admittedly this is not the case for all of hip hop music, West may be on to something, certainly there are hip hop songs that articulate a political theology the likeness of spirituals and the blues. Kanye West’s own work is an example of this. His song “Jesus Walks,” although not a gospel song has some inherently spiritual dimensions to it. From the introduction to the hook the song is laced with theo-political implications. He begins with the verse:

“We at war ” “We at war with terrorism, racism” “But most of all we at war with ourselves”(Jesus walk)” “God show me the way because the Devil tryna break me down” (Jesus walk with me)”

These lines hint at how West views some of our current socio-political struggles. Threats such as terrorism, racism, and even our inner struggles can leave us helpless. He sees they only way out is through his belief in Jesus. Jesus serves as liberation in this context in much the same way that Christian theology function as a form of liberation for the slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. West in this particular song is making use of theology and politics to articulate freedom from systems of oppression that dominate society today. Although West’s song gives insight to current use of African American political theology, I wonder what other songs and genres have similar themes.

Recommendations:

James Cone’s The Spirituals and The Blues

Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson. The Hip Hop Church: Connecting With The Movement Shaping Our Culture

Anthony Pinn, et. al.: Noise and Spirit: The Religion and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music

(A THROW BACK!): Calvinism And Holy Hip Hop

White Saviorism Cultural Appropriation in Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”

The Cross, Predestination, and Emmit Till

MTV is for Minstrel Television: Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus, & Race

The Power Of Love part 2: Gendering Black Theology & Black Power

CHRISTIAN NATIONS AND SLAVE NARRATIONS

white heart

To keep up with this series, please read the first post: James Cone’s Relational Theology

In my first post of this series, I took on the burden of showing how U.S. Black liberation theology, and therefore possible all liberation theologies, should be rightfully called part of the emerging schools of relational theologies. Using James Cone as my example for this thought experiment, I looked at how much his earliest writing, the underrated text, Black Theology and Black Power, hid beneath its confrontational and angry tone, a loving God who shared God’s power with humanity. James Hal Cone’s particularly Wesleyan/Holiness Neo-Orthodox [Barthian] understanding of the Creator’s movement in Genesis 1 & 2 allows him and subsequent liberation theologians to do critical power analysis by starting with God in se. By [correctly] locating God’s presence among the crucified persons of history, Cone systematized a theology of God’s love with God’s special election of the oppressed as a fixture. I want to make my purpose for this series clear; this is not an attempt to make liberation theology “palatable” as some Public Relations stunt done in hindsight or reveal anything on my part for Liberation Theology to become “MainStream”; what I intend to do is to look at liberation theologians’ understanding of love and how we continue a refusal to severe our understanding of what it means to be loving from what it means to be just. I am doing this as part of a pushback of what I see frequently being done today in the academy, in churches, and online, with pastors and bloggers wishing to silence voices for justice in the name of being relational [nice & civil], love.

The question I wish to address in this particular post is: What went wrong with James Cone’s revolution? Excuse me if I dismiss the right wing U.S. American politics of the 1980’s with ‘Merica’s several invasions and overthrows interventions in Latin America and in places like Haiti where a liberation theologian was popularly elected as head of state.  Staying in the academic context, James Cone’s awe-inspiring efforts to oust white supremacy were ultimately undone by his own doing.  The popular narrative that we hear in seminary is Tillich and Barth neglected Men of Color, James Cone neglected women, and Womanism supersedes both of them.  This divide and conquer approach to theology is quite unhelpful for those of us who seek to work for liberation. This approach to theology is part of a White progressive metanarrative that conveniently works to dismiss criticisms of racism and is more than eager to return to the status quo (Tillich and Barth, with a little bit of white Lean-In feminism mixed in).  As a Trinitarian, I envision theology and tradition as being done in a circle, with Jesus the Word at the center, and writers, theologians, pastors, bloggers, and laypersons dancing and dialoguing, partaking in Christ’s life, mutually exchanging ideas and our encounters with the Risen King.

Let’s not pretend like our run-of-the-mill mainline Protestant theologian is doing theology by studying the intersections of race and gender too.  He’s not using or writing theological works by Womanists or other Women of Color. Studies have shown the POC most cited by white theologians is the late Reverend Dr. MLK Jr.  The White Progressive Relational narrative of supersessionism keeps the status quo virtually in tact with a few qualifications.  The prophetic challenge made by Cone well over three decades ago goes silently into the night, so one would seem to think.  I have been considering Cone as a relational theologian for quite some time, and even presented a paper on it at a regional American Academy of Religion meeting, in dialogue with Womanist and Patristic theologies.

It was not until recently had I took the opportunity to consider James Cone as a theologian of gender as well.  I had bought hook, line and sinker to the [false] narrative of how Womanist God-talk overcame Black liberation theology [and therefore shutdown anti-racism critiques via academic derailing].  That was until I read, and re-read over and again Amaryah Shaye’s awesome post  Reconsidering Cone: Gendering Blackness. Before you read the rest of this post, please read Amaryah’s post, because this essay is in dialogue with some of her insights. My plan is to move from Amaryah’s points about blackness being gendered into a different direction (or maybe it is the same direction?).

THIS IS A [ANGRY BLACK] MAN’S WORLD

First things first, I am not going to dismiss the criticisms that James Cone’s theology in his early work was patriarchal. In fact, I plan on embracing this weakness as part of this discussion on gender and blackness. With Shaye, I recognize the limitations of Cone’s work, and how Womanist Theology has been offered in the academy as a trump card; Amaryah puts it this way,

“Black women as situated at the intersection of multiple oppressions (race, gender, and class) become the starting point for doing this theology. This move seems to suggest that blackness, which Cone defines as “ontological symbol” and “visible reality”, is limited as a starting place to liberative theology because it is not particularly gendered. It is interesting, then, that womanist theology is often cited as a way of both intervening in and disabling discussions of race, gender, power, and theology which seems to have the unintended effects of recentering white women as proper subjects of gender analysis and black men as the proper objects of racial analysis.”

If you recall, I noted in my previous post for this series that Cone does not believe blackness to be a category that is natural, biologically determined set of traits and personalities. Blackness as a symbol is an orientation towards being in solidarity with the oppressed. If Blackness is indeed a symbol born out of racial and gender violence, then blackness as a way of being, doing and thinking has implications for not only racial performance, but also gender performativity as well.

Let us first start with how James Cone identifies himself before he moves forward with his Christological arguments against White Supremacist Religiousity. In Black Theology and Black Power, Cone says,

“This work, then, is written with a definite attitude, the attitude of an angry black man, disgusted at the oppression of black people in America, and with the scholarly demand to be “objective” about it.”

(page 2)

James Cone’s task for his post-Civil Rights movement theology of love is to form a people. It is in this desire for people-formation, that of a Black Church that practices anti-Racist Christianity that James Cone injects gender into the equation of Black liberation. In another place in BT&BP, Cone claims, “If in this process of speaking for myself, I should happen to touch the souls of black brothers (including black men in white skins) so much better.” (ibid) Another point to be taken away is that Cone locates himself in the United States, and makes sure we know where his anger and love is directed to: “I am critical of white America, because this is my country; and what is mine must not be spared my emotional and intellectual scrutiny.” (page 4)

Black Theology & Black Power is one of a few theological responses written by black male systematic theologians to Black nationalist movements and factions such as the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; Two other examples include Liberation And Reconciliation: A Black Theology by J. Deotis Roberts and  The Black Messiah by Albert Cleage.  As a post-colonial writer, I know that there are a few schools of thought pertaining to nationalisms and how they function in domination systems when it comes to anti-imperial resistance.  Ranging from seeing nationalism as cautiously good , to something we should hold with ambivalence, as well  as seeing nationalism and the nation-state as concepts that remain necessarily hegemonic and violent.  In his essay, “DissemiNation: time, narrative, and the margins of the modern nation,” Homi K. Bhabha writes that the notion of “peopledom” or “the nation” are not historical events or” patriotic body politics,” but remain part of a “complex rhetorical strategy of social reference where the claim to be representative provokes a crisis within the process of signification and discursive address.”

Cone wrote in Black Theology and Black Power to create a national culture that would be be centered in the Black Church.  By claiming to speak only for himself, Cone conversely re-positions himself as a representative of the U.S. Black radical tradition.  It is difficult for us to conceive of a discourse on national culture where love and hate do not occupy the same psychic space, as Homi Bhabha argues because nation-states need an Other in which to assert their aggression.  However, because James Cone adopts Anders Nygrens’ theology of love, whereby God imputes agage-love into creation through the election of Israel and the Incarnation of Christ, there is no need for any hate or bigotry in Cone’s relational theology.  Instead, what we have is a revolutionary struggle for the sake of saving the souls of both White Supremacists as well as victims of racism.  Cone’s community does not exist for some imaginary, law and order nation-state; it lives and breathes for the Kingdom of God, which is always on the move with the liberating presence of Jesus.

If It Wasn’t For The Womanists

You would think that this Jesus Juke you just witnessed above gets James Cone off the hook for his patriarchal presentation of blackness. NOPE! It is precisely because Cone relies on the rhetorical strategies of Black nationalist movements that Black theology’s sexism must now undergo scrutiny.  What I am saying is that it is just not enough [and feel free to vehemently disagree with me in the comments] to say that Cone is in the wrong simply because he excludes black women’s experience from his work.  The valuing of inclusion is something that neoliberal institutions such as universities and corporations love to talk about, but they only seem able to talk about inclusion as the end all be all, and not the violent natures and histories of their exclusions.

I have lost count about how many times I have written about negative stereotypes of Black people but Cone defines Black Power as the capacity for black men to not be “poisoned” by the negative tropes White Supremacist narratives have placed on him (page 8).  White Supremacist systems demonically sexualizes black bodies while erasing their genders.  The purpose that dark bodies serve is to be at the pleasure of their Masters all the while remaining threats to their Masters.  I side with Amaryah Shaye’s take on Cone,

“It is precisely because blackness is gendered as ungendered that the violence of violation and exploitation that constitutes black bodies is worked.  Instead, of saying Cone’s theology doesn’t have anything to say about gender, we might say that Cone highlights the ungendered nature of blackness primarily through his engagement with blackness as a struggle against the gratuitous violence that visits black bodies on the regular.”

While Shaye is reflecting on A Black Theology of Liberation, I return once more to Black Theology and Black Power with a few examples.  Pointing to the economic violence of white racism,

“A black theologian wants to know what the gospel has to say to a man who is jobless and cannot get work to support his family because the society is unjust.  He wants to know what is God’s Word to the countless boys and girls who are fatherless and motherless because white society decreed that blacks have no rights”

(page 43).

Enter James Cone’s anachronistic, a-historical reading of black experiences during Jim and Jane Crow law.  Cone portrays the black familial experience of one ideal, nuclear family beaten at the hands of White Supremacy, where the black man is unable to be the breadwinner.  Reality is from the time of African enslavement on these shores to legal segregation and up until today, black women have always shared the title of “breadwinner.”

Waiting To Exile

Cone also argues that America’s racism is “biologically analogous” to women’s pregnancies, either a country is not racist or it is [he’s arguing along the same lines as Frantz Fanon in Towards The African Revolution].  Fanon’s line of argumentation was that all imperialist nations are racist because the creation of colonies requires racist logic. Fanon successfully makes his case without the need for a gendered understanding of nations. Unfortunately, James Cone epically fails in this regard.

With nationalist rhetoric, the bodies of women are quite frequently used to represent nation-states; this further perpetuates rape culture, and male ownership over the female body.  Issues of territorialism, war, and economics come to mind, particularly when we are dealing with issues such as the raping of wives, mothers, and daughters as a tactic for war.  Indeed James Cone is at war with White Supremacy, and depends on militaristic language to resist the white supremacist conservative and liberal churches.  Denouncing white intellectual arrogance, Cone questions whether white men’s ability to have the answer to the problem of race:

“Why must the white man assume that he has the intellectual ability or the moral sensitivity to know what blacks feel or to ease the pain, to smooth the hurt, to eradicate the resentment? Since he knows he raped our women, dehumanized our men, and made it inevitable that black children should hate their blackness, he ought to understand  why blacks must cease from listening to him in order to be free.”

(page 21)

Cone goes on to depict White Supremacy as a system that gave “whites’ freedom to beat, rape, and kill blacks” (41). Cone’s concern for gendered experiences are limited to the extent sexual violence is occurred upon black bodies. While Cone remains problematically silent on violence as particularly gendered, what he does do is names rape culture as part of the experience of black oppression. Part of the problem with the so-called victory of relational theologies is that many white Christians, specifically emergents, feel like they need to relate their experiences to everyone else’s when this should not be the case. For clarity, what I am trying to say is that relational theology is both about God’s interrelation with the world as well as God being All-present mystery. Because human beings are made in the Imago Dei, we cannot fully know how each other feel. To know is not only to be responsible as I wrote in the previous post, but to know that we just will never know the other, and respect others’ boundaries and differences because that is what divine love looks like.

James Cone’s use of Blackness as a religious symbol does come with its problems. If Jesus is essentially black, what does that mean for persons in the Black atheist tradition? Are all blacks essentially theists and religious? I find Delores S. Williams’ Wilderness Experience as a nice corrective to such an Exodus/Nationalist approach. The Wilderness Experience is easily reconcilable with Liberation theology, and may look something like what many theologians call an Exile approach to religion, with Christianity’s natural place as one of radical marginality, and always on the move. This is a Christianity without borders, without an attachment to a nation-state, like the story of Hagar and Ishmael, is a story that is as Williams hopes for “male/female/family inclusive.” Finally because Cone works with Blackness as a symbol, he frees up theology from relying on anatomical and biological understandings of humanity’s original sinfulness, and opens up the possibilities for immense human change through repentance.  As a relational theologian, Cone’s theology of gender affirms all human bodies as essentially good.

Next week, in part three, I shall look at James Cone’s theology of the cross and the Culture of Death, and what constitutes Modern-Day lynching in 2014.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Reconsidering Cone: Gendering Blackness by Amaryah Shaye

Europe’s MAD MEN: Don Draper, Norway, Race, and the Rise of the Right

Ephesians 6 and Dominionism

On Utopian Christianity: Rick Perry’s The Response, The Nation-State, and the Bible

Ishmael and Immigration: A Postcolonial Reading of Genesis 16

Origen of Alexandria: the Third Commandment and the Pledge of Allegiance

Recommended Reading:

Sisters In The Wilderness: the Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores Williams

Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society editted by Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas

Black Theology and Black Power as well as A Black Theology of Liberation both by James Cone

The Power Of Love part 1: James Cone's Relational Theology

LIBERATING OPEN THEOLOGIES

white heart

For better or worse, Liberation Theology has endured having a reputation as an out-dated theological system written by subjective, angry Persons of Color and Women. It’s taught in seminaries as either a heretical abomination for pastors to avoid or as a needed corrective to years of corrupted systematic theologies that served its purpose in the 1970’s and ’80’s. In contrast, the spectrum of theologies referred to as Relational Theologies (and they range from Missional to Emergent to Post-Conservative to Wesleyan to Open and Process-Relational) are presented as systems of thought that are objective, balanced, and as the natural next wave forward for Christianity. Unlike Liberation Theology, Works on Relational Theologies / Theologies of Love are written for both laypersons and academics.

Liberation Theologies in the U.S.A inhabited privileged academic spaces and served as push back against what religious thinkers were being taught. In particular, the writings of James Hal Cone have functioned as sort of a revolutionary break from traditional Christian reflections on tradition. What makes Cone indispensable to the field of theology is that his project was the first systematized intellectual experiment to re-orient Christian Theology as a protest versus White Supremacy. Throughout his work, while Cone admits that he is writing theology for black people, the ground of relationality that Cone works from makes his theology an address to everyone. Towards this end, this series will serve as a thought experiment in re-evaluating and re-presenting Liberation Theology as a Relational Theology.

Theologies Of Love After Christopher Columbus

The “discovery” of the New World by Christopher Columbus as a number of theologians such as Willie Jennings was a major shift in Christianity. Here we have whole societies wiped out by slavery, genocide, disease and war, with those who would propagate the religion of the Prince of Peace justifying these atrocities with their sacred texts. The prominent epistemology for studying religion in the centuries that followed involved the enlightened, rational Western male subject. In order to determine who is deemed rational, one must first through pseudo-scientific scientific means determine who is uncivilized and irrational; in other words, whose bodies are worthy of destruction? Our line-up of all the great Western philosophers from David Hume, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, and even Karl Marx had rather “insightful” things to say about dark bodies. In short, Persons of Color and women were deemed as things to be colonized and assimilated, tailored into the image of the European male elite.

As violent and grotesque as these histories are, the Triune God of love never leaves humanity without witnesses. By God’s grace, we have the testimony of Trinitarian theologians such as 19th century Wesleyan evangelist Julia J.A. Foote and Arminian pastors such as Lemuel Haynes. Howard Thurman’s and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s theologies were theologies of love. MLK Jr., as has been noted through years of research, was heavily influenced by the Boston Personalists. While Foote and Haynes suffered through the era of African enslavement on these shores, King Jr. and Thurman lived through legal racial segregation (a regime enforced through lynching+ political & economic oppression). With these theologies of the Cross, notions of suffering (theodicy) are never separated from the theologies of love written by persons of the African diaspora. I am contending that these various relational theologies proposed were responses to White Supremacy.

Creation and Our Interrelatedness

Enter James Hal Cone. Straight outta Governor Orval Faubus’ Arkansas, a man who got his PhD from the Northwestern University / Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary seminary where he did his dissertation on Karl Barth’s theological anthropology. In the midst of riots and chaos after the assassination of MLK Jr., what did the Church have to say to the Black Power movement? U.S. Christianity is supposed to be a religion populated by joyful and extremely nice middle-class people. Did the hope for the wretched of the Earth lay in the Christianized politics of respectability? Distressed by the white supremacy he experienced in society in general as well as the religious academy, Cone decided to write what many deemed a manifesto, Black Theology and Black Power. Considered by many to be a “reverse racist” pamphlet of hate, when taking an even closer look at this piece, one can see that BTBP is a forcefully written, persuasive case for relational theology as an anti-racist practice. Cone states his purpose on the very first page of the book, that “Black Power is about Black people taking the dominant role in determining the black-white relationship” (page 1, Intro).

To be black is not to have dark shades of melanin in your epidermis; “To be black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are. We all know that a racist structure will reject a black man in white skin as quickly as a black man in black skin” (151, Chapter 6). Cone recognizes that race and racism are social constructs, and not biologically proven realities. Cone’s invention for Christian theology is to invert blackness and whiteness as symbols. In the West, in movies novels, the good guys wear white, the bad guys always wear black. Cone flips these narrative tropes on their heads to counter institutional racism. Black Power, according to Cone, is Blacks using their self-determination and agency to emancipate themselves from the violence of white supremacy, even if their choices meant death (p 6). Black Power sought to remove Whites’ status as Master while recognizing Whites’ humanity; Cone contends, “Men were not created for separation, and color is not the essence of man’s humanity” (14). In other words, Anti-Black racisms, White Supremacy, and Colonialisms are in direct violation of God’s creative intent.

Humanity “was created to share in God’s creative (revolutionary) activity in the world (Gen.1:27-28). But through sin man rejects his proper activity and destiny. He wants to be God, the creator of his destiny. […] But in his passion to become super-human, man becomes subhuman, estranged from the source of his being, threatening and threatened by his neighbor, transforming a situation destined for intimate human fellowship into a spider web of conspiracy and violence” (page 63). God reigns throughout creation and shares the divine power to create with humanity. The sin of Empire and White Supremacy dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressors. This loving God chooses not work unilaterally, and works with human persons who respond to God’s love for the sake of creating community. Cone’s re-telling of the Creation and Fall stories in Genesis are what set up the relational thrust of James Cone’s liberation theology.

Election and God’s Love For The Oppressed

The relational, loving God of Liberation theology has direct intimate knowledge of the suffering of the oppressed. To know is to be responsible; It is far less painful to be uninvolved in someone else’s life, their pain, their poverty, their marginalization (page 25). It is the choice of the latter that makes libertarian politics and laizze-faire economics both such easy and heretical choices. A proper acknowledgement of the suffering of marginated persons as well as the ownership of a vast array of privileges requires that one does the hard work of examining power within sets of given relationships. Referring to Anders Nygren’s significant work on biblical notions of love, Agape And Eros, Cone builds on this particular theology of love to enjoin divine love to divine justice, ” The activity of agape-love cannot be easily separated from God’s righteousness. Indeed they must be tightly held together. Love prevents righteousness from being legalistic, and righteousness keeps love from being sentimental” (p 51). Cone continues, “Love without power to guarantee justice in human relations is meaningless (p 53). In A Black Theology Of Liberation, Cone remains consistent, “The wrath of God is the love of God in regard to the forces opposed to the liberation of the oppressed. Love without righteousness is unacceptable to blacks: this view of God is a product of the minds of enslavers” (p 71).

One of the criticisms that Thomas Jay Oord had of Anders Nygren’s theology of agape love in Oord’s work, the nature of love: a theology, was that Nygren completely (and rather problematically) dismisses the witness of the Hebrew Bible when it comes to notions of love. James Cone does indeed make a departure from Nygren in this regard, and in fact, Cone prioritizes God’s love as it is revealed in the election of Israel central to his relational theological project. Through agape-love, God is the initiator of calling Abraham and then later, Moses, and God reveals God’s justice through God’s activity in history according to Scripture (page 44 of BTBP). Because God is love, God sets out to do what is right by putting a-rights those who have been wronged in human relationships. Divine relationality goes hand-in-hand with the preferential option for poor. If indeed “Black Power is the Spirit of Christ himself” that has interrupted the relationship between black persons who need liberation from self-hatred, and white persons who need to be freed from white supremacy (page 62), God is relational to the extent that God does what is just.

This God Who Risks is love. God is not sentimental. Jennifer Lopez is wrong when she says “love don’t cost a thing.” Love costs everything, God demands our entire being just as our neighbors’ suffering requires all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our bodies (53). A lot of Christians like to talk about being relational, and its just about centering everything around their emotions, and their experiences without risking having to listen to others. This is hardly a biblical (imo) understanding of relationality. James Cone notes that the real test for whites isn’t how they relate and communicate with acceptable blacks like MLK Jr. and Ralph Bunch, but “in how they respond to Rap Brown” (61). If I may have permission to wax this logic for 2014, the real test of whether whites can communicate with black as human beings is not what they reply to Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Oprah, but how they respond to Ratchet Culture.

In part two, I shall look at James Cone’s notions of relationality and how his gender & sexuality [black cishet male] possibly influences his writing.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Refusing to Reconcile Part 2: Spatiality, Fugitivity, and Blackness as Wild(er)ness by Amaryah Shaye

Recommended Reading:

The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie Jennings

The God Who Risks: a theology of divine providence by John Sanders

Black Theology and Black Power as well as A Black Theology of Liberation both by James Cone