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Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of Black people in U.S. history. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

Race relations in the United States have been fraught with trouble and a constant source of division in the Christian tradition as a direct result of the Maafa and the deplorable and barbaric system of slavery. It is true that race is an artificial social construction, deliberately imposed upon people to secure their exploitation. In America it has always been an unequal relationship between social aggregates, and in being so, whiteness as a racial identifier is a mark of privilege (Douglas 1999). Known as America’s original sin, slavery and all of its subsequent forms and issues profoundly divided the church. From the beginning of the American slave trade, many slaveholders justified stealing Africans from their homes and enslaving them with claims that they were evangelizing heathens (Douglas, The Black Christ 1994).  These slaveholders rationalized that the brutality of slavery was outweighed by the assurance of salvation. The Black church and Black liberation theology, born from the atrocities of slavery, are among the greatest gifts this nation has given our global community. From the very beginning the slave undertook the redemption of the religion that the master profaned in his midst (J. Cone 2011).

While the whole of the Black church tradition has been instrumental in being a prophetic witness of gospel values, Black liberation theology offers the whole Christian community language about the way Jesus shows up on the side of the marginalized and dispossessed. Black theology recognizes that God, through Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, works with the poor as they learn to love themselves enough to practice their total freedom and create full humanity on earth as it is in Heaven (Hopkins 1999).

In the larger history of Christian theological reflection, Black liberation theology has endeavored to give substance and systemic expression to a theological perspective that sees the work of salvation in the broadest of terms. This work underscores the theme of liberation as the central message of the gospel and the essential work of the church (Warnock 2014). Early Black Liberation theologians needed to find a means to relate the Christian Gospel to the Black experience in a way that did not condemn Black people’s responses to their oppression. These early theologians were working to force theologians from—and the general body of the dominant culture to deal with—Black people’s particularities set in a white supremacist system undergirded by patriarchy (Douglas 1994).

Because Black liberation theology emancipates Black people from white racism by its affirmation of Black humanity, it provides authentic freedom for Black people, white people, and ultimately all people (Lincoln 1974). Black liberation theology asserts that if we are to take seriously the doctrine of imago Dei, then we must recognize that in the created order no individual or group can be held as privileged to “other” another; no racial construct, or premise for marginalization is valid.  The gift of Black liberation theology is that, for all people, it resists all forms of supremacy. As we consider Black History Month, no matter the ethnic composition of your own local parish, it is incumbent upon us to look at the gift of Black liberation theology and seek to understand the way in which it is able to speak to our congregations. The themes of equality, equanimity, and justice are not limited to the fissures of Black/white relations, they are gospel values for all people at all times.  The task of theology is to keep the Biblical community and the contemporary community in constant dialogue—and even tension—so we may speak meaningfully about God (Cone 1986). May this month refresh your hunger for Justice, and your thirst for Righteousness.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 1986. A Black Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Cone, James. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

—. 1994. The Black Christ. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

Hopkins, Dwight N. 1999. Introducing Black theology of Liberaton . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Lincoln, C. Eric. 1974. The Black Church Since Franklin. New York: Shocken Books.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.

 

 

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