BLACK THEOLOGY & MARXISM

Black Theology focuses on Biblical interpretation from an Afroethnic perspective. Today, many leading Afroethnic theologians sit in places of prominence in the theological community and have influenced race relations throughout the world.

In pursuit of a correct interpretation of modern Afroethnic church meaning it is necessary for us to delve into the theology underlying much of what is preached and understood in those institutions. Although not all African American churches are heavily influenced by Black Theology, and some are largely connected to the mainstream Christian perspective, most African American churches have internalized at least some of the major tenets of Black Theology.

ORIGIN

Black Theology originated in the late 1960s. It developed alongside the Frankfurt School of Marxism; which influenced, and helped cause, the Cultural Revolution. The key to understanding Black Theology lies in the founders and developers of the system. Who were they?

In an article entitled 'The Marxist Roots of Black Liberation Theology,' Dr. Anthony B. Bradley of The King’s College wrote: “James Cone, the chief architect of Black Liberation Theology in his book ‘A Black Theology of Liberation’ (1970), develops black theology as a system.” [1]

In the “Black Theology” entry of the 'Evangelical Dictionary of Theology' the contributor wrote: “Among his contemporaries James Cone is primus inter pares due to the number of publications and, more importantly, because they contain near normative formulations of the discipline… In the opinion of the present writer James Cone should indeed be considered the originator of the contemporary expression of black theology.” [2]

Most scholars agree that James Cone not only invented modern Black Theology, but that he represents the clearest and most vocal expression of it. As a result, I will interact with him liberally throughout this writing. Additionally, the work of South African anti-Apartheid theologian Allan A. Boesak will feature prominently to provide a global perspective on Black Theology.

JAMES CONE

James H. Cone currently holds the Charles Augustus Briggs chair of systematic theology at Union Seminary (Columbia University). Utilizing this access, his Black Theology is able to influence mainstream thinking.

In his book, 'For My People,' Cone wrote: “The publication of the ‘Black Power Statement’ may be regarded as the beginning of the conscious development of a black theology.” The document Cone was referring to was published in 1966 by the National Committee of Negro Churchmen (NCBC) and includes these excerpts:
“It is of critical importance that the leaders of this nation listen also to a voice which says that the principal source of the threat to our nation comes neither from the riots erupting in our big cities, nor from the disagreements among the leaders of the civil rights movement, nor even from mere raising of the cry of ‘black power.’ These events, we believe, are but the expression of the judgment of God upon our nation for its failure to use its abundant resources to serve the real well-being of people, at home and abroad… the failure of American leaders to use American power to create equal opportunity in life as well as in law – this is the real problem and not the anguished cry of ‘black power.’” [3]
The seeds of a materialist worldview can be found even in Black Theology’s prerequisite document. Calls for the redistribution of wealth so as to create equal living conditions strongly correlates to Marxist economics. The only primary difference being that the NCBC identified the class crisis with God’s judgment. This construction evolved into full Marxism with Cone’s formulation.

James Cone wrote:
“The origin of black theology has three major contexts: (1) the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, largely associated with Martin Luther King, Jr., (2) the publication of Joseph Washington’s book, 'Black Religion' (1964); and (3) the rise of the black power movement, strongly influenced by Malcolm X’s philosophy of black nationalism.” [4 (6)]
This paper will explore each of these three veins of influence in order to gain better insight into the meaning of Black Theology.

MARTIN LUTHER KING

Firstly, Cone cited Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) and his movement as an origin context of Black Theology. It should not be expected that Cone means the integration aspects of MLK’s program (at least not as moderns interpret it) because the later cited black nationalism runs contrary to this, and because the “Black Power” statement of 1966 rejected integration until African American power was on par with that of European Americans (which has never been achieved).

Cone emphasized the influence of MLK upon Black Theology: “From the beginning, black theology was… strongly influenced by the life and thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.” [4]

MLK’s thought was largely constructed on materialist theology massively susceptible to Marxist intrusion. This materialist thinking led to a “Kingdom of God on earth” mentality which runs dangerously close to utopian Marxism.

MLK’s theological materialism was either the result or cause of his rejection of all the major spiritual tenets of the Christian faith. As King wrote:
“In this paper we shall discuss the experiences of early Christians which lead to three rather orthodox doctrines – the divine sonship of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the bodily resurrection. Each of these doctrines is enshrined in what is known as the ‘the Apostles Creed.’ It is this creed that has stood as the ‘Symbol of Faith’ for many sincere Christians this creed has planted a seed of confusion which has grown to an oak of doubt. They see this creed as incompatible with all scientific knowledge, and so have proceeded to reject its content. But if we delve into the deeper meaning of these doctrines, and somehow strip them of their literal interpretation, we will find that they are based on a profound foundation. Although we may be able to argue with all degrees of logic that these doctrines are historically and philosophically untenable.” [5]
Most relevant to his attempt to create a worldly utopia of equality and justice was King's rejection of the eventual return of Christ:
“It is obvious that most twentieth century Christians must frankly and flatly reject any view of a physical return of Christ. To hold such a view would mean denying a Copernican universe, for there can be no physical return unless there is a physical place from which to return. In its literal form this belief belongs to a pre-scientific world view which we cannot accept.” [6]
If Christ is not coming back than Marxism is mankind’s greatest hope, the creation of an economic, cultural, and political egalitarianship in this life. Perhaps MLK sensed this connection and moved towards cultural communism as he progressed.

Evidence of this move can be seen in who MLK chose as his top advisors. During his Civil Rights campaigns, King relied upon former Communist Party USA member Stanley Levison, whom the FBI asserted wrote many of MLKs most important speeches. [7 (p. 195)] King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, contained numerous Marxists and was largely controlled by Levison.

In his later years, MLK’s Marxist vision for American became increasingly obvious. King spent the last few years of his life campaigning for a socialist vision of wealth redistribution:
“In 1967, King became more critical of American society than ever before. He believed poverty was as great an evil as racism. He said that true social justice would require a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Thus, King began to plan a Poor People’s Campaign that would unite poor people of all races in a struggle for economic opportunity. The campaign would demand a federal guaranteed annual income for poor people and other major antipoverty laws.” [8]
“BLACK RELIGION”

Secondly, Cone cited the publication of Joseph White’s book 'Black Religion' as a context for the development of Black Theology. As an African American, Washington asserted that the African American church did not represent authentic Christianity because it had been isolated from the truths of Euroethnic theology. As he wrote:
“Having outlived its usefulness as a community center and never having been permitted to attune its life to the dynamics of the Protestant tradition of the Christian faith, independent Negro religion is a most extraordinary phenomenon. As we have seen, Negro religion is an attempt to develop fraternalism in response to the paternalism of white Protestantism. Although it intended to imitate Protestantism, it developed solely into a racial fellowship with no other reason for existence. This pervasive spuriousness has so confused its interpreters that nearly all have concluded that “the Negro church is an ordinary American church with certain traits exaggerated because of caste.” But the contrary is true. Negro religion was never steeped in the theological, Biblical, cultural, and historical reality of Protestantism. Negro religion would wither away were it not for the forces of segregation and discrimination which demand its existence as an option for Negro outcasts.” [9 (Pg. 235-237)]
Washington’s book was published in 1964 and widely read. His belief that the African American church existed only as an ethnic fellowship was generally accepted, [20] and his assertions that Afroethnic religion did not represent authentic Christianity led to the formation of Black Theology as a counter attack against Euroethnic religion which Washington accused of having refused to allow African American churches to express Christian truth. As Washington put it:
“Americans today recognize five major religions: Protestantism, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, secularism, and the religion of the Negro. The religion of the Negro differs from all others in being defensive, reactionary, and lacking in universal or historical appeal. It alone is stagnant… The reality of religious separation by race is not understood, nor can it be changed, by scholars who are as much outside the Christian community of faith as the Negro.” [9 (235-237)]
Washington preceded to discuss how the European heritage of most American Christians segregated African Americans from the theological process because Christianity had become, through the history of Christendom, a Euroethnic religion. Euroethnics, then, have a monopoly on Christian dialogue.

In response to “Black Religion,” Black Theology developed an anti-Euroethnic edge in which it attempted to construct a theology entirely independent of the dialogue and historical flow of European Christianity. Black Theology seeks to dismiss the last two thousand years of Christian thinking in favor of religion based on Afroethnic thinkers. [10]

MALCOLM X

Thirdly, Cone indicated that the Afroethnic nationalism of Malcolm X represents the third parental ideology leading to Black Theology.

While in prison at the age of twenty, Malcolm X converted to Islam. The rest of his career was spent perpetuating the Nation of Islam’s racial doctrines concerning the inherent evil of Euroethnic people. [11]

James Cone, himself, is a believer in much of these hateful ideas. Cone once remarked: “Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man ‘the devil.’” [12]

Malcolm X’s belief that race comes before religion was echoed in a statement made by the National Black Lay Catholic Caucus in 1970: “The question of whether we can be black, Christian, and Catholic is such an important question that many blacks are leaving the church because they cannot reconcile the differences. Therefore, we resolve that we are black first and then Catholic.” [4 (Pg. 50)]

THEOLOGY

Connected to the question of origins is the question of theology. What is it that Black Theology specifically stands for?

One of the most oft cited expressions of Black Theology is represented by Boesak: “Black theology is a theology of liberation.” [13 (9)] In one of his books, Boesak’s subtitle reads: “Liberation, the Content of Black Theology.” [13 (16)] Boesak elaborates:
“Liberation Theology, by beginning with the Exodus, by making of theology a critical reflection on the praxis of liberation, places the gospel in its authentic perspective, namely, that of liberation. It seeks to proclaim the gospel according to its original intention: as a gospel of the poor. In this, Black Theology seeks the God of the Bible, who is totally and completely different from the God whites have for so long preached to blacks.’” [13 (10)]
What is true for Boesak is also true for James Cone. As one commentator writes:
“For Cone, no theology is Christian theology unless it arises from oppressed communities and interprets Jesus’s work as that of liberation. Christian theology is understood in terms of systematic and structural relationships between two main groups: victims (oppressed) and victimizers (oppressors). In Cone’s context, writing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the great event of Christ’s liberation was freeing African Americans from the centuries old tyranny of white racism and white oppression.” [1]
In this dynamic of oppressed against oppressors we see the obvious imprint of the Marxist worldview, and in the Afroethnic/Euroethnic dynamic of Cone’s ideology one can see the direct mirror of the Proletariat/Bourgeois class struggle of Karl Marx.

As the same commentator points out: “Black liberation is Marxist liberation, and Black Liberation theologians have explicitly stated a preference for Marxism as an ethical framework for the black church because Marxist thought is predicated on a system of oppressor class (whites) versus victim class (blacks).”

For Cone no Euroethnic theology can be an accurate or holy because it does not rise out of the oppressed minority classes nor does it participate in the all-important act of material liberation.

Boesak feels entirely comfortable to dismiss the Reformation as an insignificant theological act because it had no effect upon the liberation of the non-European ethnicities:
“What must be considered one of the most significant events in the history of the Christian Church, the Reformation, bypassed completely the black situation… Whether Rome won or Wittenberg or Geneva… for the red, yellow, and black people of the world this was all irrelevant. This had no bearing whatsoever on their situation.” [13 (17)]
Because of this obsession with liberation, black theologians are consumed with the story of the Exodus. Boesak emphasizes this repeatedly throughout his writings: “In the Old Testament, the Exodus, that liberating deed par excellence, is the object of the confession of Israel,” and again: “One can safely say that the Exodus – event is as central to the Old Testament as is the resurrection to the New.” [13]

Often the Exodus as a foreshadowing of the spiritual liberation from sins in the New Testament is entirely lost on these theologians consumed with liberation as a material Marxist event.

Black Theology’s insistence that Euroethnic man, and his view of God, is evil necessitates a dismissal of him as being related to God or Christ in any form. For many Afroethnic theologians, this leads to ridiculous claims.

Among Cone’s favorite quotes is the following preached by Black Liberation thinker Cleage: “When I say Jesus was black, that Jesus was a black Messiah, I’m not saying ‘wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus was black?’ or ‘Let’s pretend Jesus was black,’ or ‘It’s necessary psychologically for us to believe that Jesus was black,’ I’m saying Jesus WAS black.”

Another of Cone’s cited favorites from Cleage: “[Jesus was a] revolutionary black leader, a member of the zealots… he sought to free Israel’s black Jews from oppression and bondage, dying not for the eternal salvation of the individual, but for the rebirth of the lost Black Nation.” [4 (36)]

Besides being heretical, these claims demonstrate the extent to which Black Theology is an anti-Euroethnic manifestation of black power. Cone followed his friend’s outrageous claims by asserting: “Christianity is not alien to black power; it is black power.” [5 (38)]

PURPOSE

The observation of these disturbing tendencies represented by Black Theology begs the question: what is the purpose of Black Theology?

While individuals certainly have their own personal motivations, the broader thrust of Black Theology seems to indicate a fundamentally Marxist function to undermine Western civilization by delegitimizing it. As has been discussed, Black Theology is, “A scarcely concealed, Marxist-inspired indictment of American [society].” [12]

Many Afroethnic theologians openly admit their theological beliefs are based on eisegesis. As Cone himself said: “blacks, themselves, had to search deeply into their own history in order to find a theological basis for their prior commitment to liberate the black poor.” [4 (36)]

Whenever possible, Afroethnic theologians attempt to slander and degrade Euroethnic society. Boesak commented: “Black history, in as far as it is also white history, can be described as one of enmity, slavery, and colonialism, factors which still have their influence in contemporary society.” [13 (30)]

Some thinkers have asserted that Black Theology was created to alienate the ethnicities from one another, and to create a cultural religion which claims truth only for itself. By doing so, it becomes intolerant of Euroethnics, and claims they can only participate in the truth so long as they accept Afroethnics as superior. This suspicion is only strengthened when authors like Cone title their books 'For My People,' suggesting his message was manufactured exclusively for his own group.

CONCLUSION

Black Theology is a product of the 1960s Cultural Revolution, which in turn was founded upon the principals of Marxism. The Cultural Revolution’s obsession with overturning the entirety of European Christian civilization led to the development of a theological belief system which would undermine the ethnic stock of Europe, and seek to overturn the free market principles that led to Western colonial empires. By turning the Bible into a narrative for Marxist revolution against the West, Afroethnic theologians have stripped it of the moral and social framework upon which the West was founded.

Perhaps Cone explained Black Theology best in the title of one of his chapters: “Black Theology as a Weapon Against White Religion.” [4 (34)]


NOTES

[1] Bradley, Anthony B. “The Marxist Roots of Black Liberation Theology.” Acton Institute. April 1, 2008. Accessed November 4, 2014. http://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2008/04/02/marxist-roots-black-liberation-theology.

[2] Cruz, V. “Black Theology.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 8th ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984. 158-161.

[3] “Black Power: Statement by National Committee of Negro Churchmen.” New York Times. July 31st 1966.

[4] Cone, James H. For My People: Black Theology and the Black Church. 2nd ed. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1984.

[5] King, Martin L. “The Humanity and Divinity of Jesus.” Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute. January 1, 1950. Accessed November 4, 2014. http://mlkkpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/kingpapers/article/volume_i_29_november_1949_to_15_february_1950.

[6] King, Martin L. “The Christian Pertinence of Eschatological Hope.” The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr. January 1, 1950. Accessed November 4, 2014. http://mlk kpp01.stanford.edu/kingweb/publications/papers/vol1/500215-The_Christian_Pertinence_of_Eschatological_Hope.htm.

[7] Garrow, David J. “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.” New York: Quill William Morrow, 1999.

[8] Garrow, David J. “Martin Luther King Jr.” World Book Online. Berkshire Hathaway.

[9] Washington, Joseph. “Black Theology: The Negro and Christianity in the United States.” New York: University Press of America, 1984.

[10] Ironically, the very development of Black Theology has become a reaction to Euroethnics, and Washington’s original critique, that the African American church constitutes a poorly constructed substitute after Euroethnic rejection, has become true of the theology which attempts to undue that fact.

[11] Encyclop√¶dia Britannica Online, s. v. “Malcolm X”, accessed October 25, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/359906/Malcolm-X.

[12] Kurtz, Stanley. “‘Context, You Say? – Ethics & Public Policy Center.” Ethics Public Policy Center. May 19, 2008. Accessed November 4, 2014.

[13] Boesak, Allan Aubrey. Farewell to Innocence: A Socio-ethical Study on Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1977.