James H. Cone
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James Hal Cone (August 5, 1936 – April 28, 2018) was an African-American Christian theologian in the Methodist tradition.
Black Theology and Black Power (1969)
- It is important to make a further distinction here among black hatred, black racism, and Black Power. Black hatred is the black man's strong aversion to white society. No black man living in white America can escape it. ... But the charge of black racism cannot be reconciled with the facts. While it is true that blacks do hate whites, black hatred is not racism. Racism, according to Webster, is 'the assumption that psychocultural traits and capacities are determined by biological race and that races differ decisively from one another, which is usually coupled with a belief in the inherent superiority of a particular race and its rights to dominance over others.' Where are the examples among blacks in which they sought to assert their right to dominance over others because of a belief in black superiority?...Black Power is an affirmation of the humanity of blacks in spite of white racism. It says that only blacks really know the extent of white oppression, and thus only blacks are prepared to risk all to be free.
- p. 14-16
- Black Power seeks not understanding but conflict; addresses blacks and not whites; seeks to develop black support, but not white good will.
- p. 16
- All white men are responsible for white oppression. It is much too easy to say, "Racism is not my fault," or "I am not responsible for the country's inhumanity to the black man. ... But insofar as white do-gooders tolerate and sponsor racism in their educational institutions, their political, economic and social structures, their churches, and in every other aspect of American life, they are directly responsible for racism. ... Racism is possible because whites are indifferent to suffering and patient with cruelty. Karl Jaspers' description of metaphysical guilt is pertinent here. "There exists among men, because they are men, a solidarity through which each shares responsibility for every injustice and every wrong committed in the world, and especially for crimes that are committed in his presence or of which he cannot be ignorant."
- p. 24
- According to the New Testament, Jesus is the man for others who views his existence as inextricably tied to other men to the degree that his own Person is inexplicable apart from others. The others, of course, refer to all men, especially the oppressed, the unwanted of society, the "sinners." He is God himself coming into the very depths of human existence for the sole purpose of striking off the chains of slavery, thereby freeing man from ungodly principalities and powers that hinder his relationship with God.
- p. 35
- In Christ, God enters human affairs and takes sides with the oppressed. Their suffering becomes his; their despair, divine despair. Through Christ the poor man is offered freedom now to rebel against that which makes him other than human.
- p. 36
- Jesus had little toleration for the middle- or upper-class religious snob whose attitude attempted to usurp the sovereignty of God and destroy the dignity of the poor. The Kingdom is for the poor and not the rich because the former has nothing to expect from the world while the latter's entire existence is grounded in his commitment to worldly things. The poor man may expect everything from God, while the rich man may expect nothing because he refuses to free himself from his own pride.
- p. 36
- A man is free when he sees clearly the fulfillment of his being and is thus capable of making the envisioned self a reality.
- p. 39
- As long as man is a slave to another power, he is not free to serve God with mature responsibility. He is not free to become what he is—human.
- p. 39
- For the gospel proclaims that God is with us now, actively fighting the forces which would make man captive. And it is the task of theology and the Church to know where God is at work so that we can join him in this fight against evil. In America we know where the evil is. We know that men are shot and lynched. We know that men are crammed into ghettos. ... There is a constant battle between Christ and Satan, and it is going on now. If we make this message contemporaneous with our own life situation, what does Christ's defeat of Satan mean for us?
- pp. 39-40
- Theologically, Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man "the devil." The white structure of this American society, personified in every racist, must be at least part of what the New Testament meant by the demonic forces. According to the New Testament, these powers can get hold of a man's total being and can control his life to such a degree that he is incapable of distinguishing himself from the alien power. This seems to be what has happened to white racism in America. It is a part of the spirit of the age, the ethos of the culture, so embedded in the social, economic, and political structure that white society is incapable of knowing its destructive nature. There is only one response: Fight it!
- pp. 40-41
- Racism is a complete denial of the Incarnation and thus of Christianity. ... If there is any contemporary meaning of the Antichrist (or "the principalities and powers"), the white church seems to be a manifestation of it. It was the white "Christian" church which took the lead in establishing slavery as an institution and segregation as a pattern in society by sanctioning all-white congregations.
- p. 73
- 'People should love each other' sounds like Riis Park at sundown. It has very little meaning to the world at large.
- p. 135
- The revolution which Black Theology advocates … [means] confronting white racists and saying: 'If it's a fight you want, I am prepared to oblige you.' This is what the black revolution means.
- p. 136
- We cannot solve ethical questions of the twentieth century by looking at what Jesus did in the first. Our choices are not the same as his. Being Christians does not mean following 'in his steps.'
- p. 139
- To be Christian is to be one of those whom God has chosen. God has chosen black people!
- pp. 139-140
- Therefore, simply to say that Jesus did not use violence is no evidence relevant to the condition of black people as they decide on what to do about white oppression.
- p. 140
- The Christian does not decide between violence and nonviolence, evil and good. He decides between the less and the greater evil.
- p. 143
- Whether the American system is beyond redemption we will have to wait and see. But we can be certain that black patience has run out, and unless white America responds positively to the theory and activity of Black Power, then a bloody, protracted civil war is inevitable.
- p. 143
- Being black in America has little to do with skin color. Being black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are.
- p. 151
A Black Theology of Liberation (1970)
- The black theologian must reject any conception of God which stifles black self-determination by picturing God as a God of all peoples. Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God's experience, or God is a God of racism. ... The blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God's own condition. This is the essence of the Biblical revelation. By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering...Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity.
- pp. 63-64
- Black theology cannot accept a view of God which does not represent God as being for oppressed blacks and thus against white oppressors. Living in a world of white oppressors, blacks have no time for a neutral God. The brutalities are too great and the pain too severe, and this means we must know where God is and what God is doing in the revolution. There is no use for a God who loves white oppressors the same as oppressed blacks. We have had too much of white love, the love that tells blacks to turn the other cheek and go the second mile. What we need is the divine love as expressed in black power, which is the power of blacks to destroy their oppressors, here and now, by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject God's love.
- p. 70
- Is it possible to understand what God's love means for the oppressed without making wrath an essential ingredient of that love? What could love possibly mean in a racist society except the righteous condemnation of everything racist? Most theological treatments of God's love fail to place the proper emphasis on God's wrath, suggesting that love is completely self-giving without any demand for obedience.
- p. 73
- A God minus wrath seems to be a God who is basically not against anything.
- p. 73
God of the Oppressed (1975, 1997)
- page numbers below are from revised 1997 edition
- If Ludwig Feuerbach is correct in his contention that “Thought is preceded by suffering,” and if Karl Marx is at least partly correct in his observation that “it is not consciousness that determines life but life that determines consciousness,” then it is appropriate to ask, What is the connection between life and theology? The answer cannot be the same for blacks and whites, because blacks and whites do not share the same life. The life of a black slave and white slaveholder were radically different.
- p. 20 (1975 edition)
- Jesus Christ is not a proposition, not a theological concept which exists merely in our heads. He is an event of liberation, a happening in the lives of oppressed people struggling for political freedom. Therefore, to know him is to encounter him in the history of the weak and the helpless. That is why it can be rightly said that there can be no knowledge of Jesus independent of the history and culture of the oppressed. It is impossible to interpret the Scripture correctly and thus understand Jesus aright unless the interpretation is done in the light of the consciousness of the oppressed in their struggle for liberation.
- p. 32
- Since most professional theologians are the descendants of the advantaged class and thus often represent the consciousness of the class, it is difficult not to conclude that their theologies are in fact a bourgeois exercise in intellectual masturbation.
- p. 43
- What difference does it make that one should "prove" a philosophical point, if that point has nothing to do with spreading freedom throughout the land?
- p. 46
- This is the dialectic of Christian thought: God enters into the social context of human existence and appropriates the ideas and actions of the oppressed as his own. When this event of liberation occurs in thought and praxis, the words and actions of the oppressed become the Word and Action of God. They no longer belong to the oppressed. Indeed, the word of the oppressed becomes God’s Word insofar as the former recognize it not as their own but as given to them through divine grace.
- p. 98-99 (1975 edition)
- The dialectic between the social situation of the believer and Scripture and the traditions of the Church is the place to begin the investigation of the question, Who is Jesus Christ for us today? Social context, Scripture, and tradition operate together to enable the people of God to move actively and reflectively with Christ in the struggle of freedom.
- p. 115 (1975 edition)
- How can Christian theology truly speak of the hope of Jesus Christ, unless that hope begins and ends with the liberation of the poor in the social existence in which theology takes shape? In America this means that there can be no talk about hope in the Christian sense unless it is talk about the freedom of black, red, and brown people.
- p. 128 (1975 edition)
- Christ is black, therefore, not because of some cultural or psychological need of black people, but because and only because Christ really enters into our world where the poor, the despised, and the black are, disclosing that he is with them, enduring their humiliation and pain and transforming oppressed slaves into liberated servants. ... The “blackness of Christ, ”therefore, is not simply a statement about skin color, but rather, the transcendent affirmation that God has not ever, no not ever, left the oppressed alone in struggle. He was with them in Pharaoh’s Egypt, is with them in America, Africa and Latin America, and will come in the end of time to consummate fully their human freedom.
- p. 136-137 (1975 edition)
- According to the Bible, the cross and resurrection of Jesus are God’s decisive acts against injustice, against the humiliation and suffering of the little ones. Indeed, it is because God disclosed himself as the Oppressed One in Jesus that the oppressed now know that their suffering is not only wrong but has been overcome. This new knowledge of God in Jesus grants the oppressed the freedom of fighting against the political structures of servitude which make for pain and suffering.
- 182 (1975 edition)
Speaking the Truth: Ecumenism, Liberation, and Black Theology (1986)
- Preaching the gospel is not easy in a church defined by the denominational interests of status-seeking clergy and laypersons. Doing Christian theology is difficult in a seminary or university determined by the academic interests of privileged professors and students. Speaking the truth can be politically dangerous in a society defined according to the socio-economic interests of the rich. Preaching the gospel, doing Christian theology, and speaking the truth are interrelated, and neither can be correctly understood apart from the liberation struggles of the poor and marginalized.
- p. v
- As ambassadors of Jesus Christ, Christians have no choice but to join the movement of liberation on the side of the poor, fighting against the structures of injustice. Faith in Jesus Christ, therefore, is not only an affirmation that we utter in Sunday worship and at other church gatherings. Faith is a commitment, a deeply felt experience of being called by the Spirit of Christ to bear witness to God's coming liberation by fighting for the freedom of the poor now.
- p. v
- Any talk about God that fails to make God's liberation of the oppressed its starting point is not Christian.
- p. 4
- If the church ... does not make God's liberation of the oppressed central in its mission and proclamation, how can it rest easy with a condemned criminal as the dominant symbol of its message?
- p. 6
- By focusing on Scripture, theology is granted the freedom to take seriously its social and political situation without being determined by it. Thus the question is not whether we take seriously our social existence but how and In what way we take It seriously. Whose social situation does our theology represent? For whom do we speak? ... We are forced by Scripture itself to focus on our social existence, but not merely in terms of our own interests. ... There can be no Christian speech about God which does not represent the interest of the victims in our society.
- pp. 7-8
- By becoming poor and entrusting divine revelation to a carpenter from Nazareth, God makes clear where one has to be in order to hear the divine word and experience divine presence.
- p. 9