Saturday, February 22, 2014

Black Liberation Theology

Studying Christianity? Black liberation theology is an interesting and controversial strand of contemporary Christianity. It's controversial because one of the founders, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was also President Obama’s home pastor in Chicago. Opponents of the president brought up some of Rev. Wright’s more incendiary sermons during the 2012 election.

What is liberation theology?  According to Bill Moyers in the video clip above,  it attempts to “read the Bible through the experience of people who suffered and who are then able to say to themselves that we read the Bible differently because we have struggled."

The movement started in 1966 during the Civil Rights era. Wright and others portray their struggle for civil rights as a struggle for justice.  And they see God as involved in that struggle.

According to religious scholar and professor, Anthony Pinn, "God is so intimately connected to the community that suffers, that God becomes a part of that community."   Chapter 4 of  Luke's Gospel is the central text for liberation theorists, according to Dwight Hopkins, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School,   "Jesus says my mission is to eradicate poverty and to bring about freedom and liberation for the oppressed."

In 2012, opponents of President Obama tried to portray liberation theology as violent.  They pointed to specific sermons (you can see one of them in the Moyers clip above) they saw as inflammatory. According to the New York Times, Glen Beck, the conservative radio host, called Liberation theology “the theological tradition based in hate, intolerance and racial black nationalism.”

But Linda Thomas, who teaches at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, says in this NPR story, that the point of liberation theology "is to challenge the powerful and to raise questions for society to think about. Thomas says if white people are surprised by the rhetoric, it's because most have never visited a black church."

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