Dan Trabue (blogging here) and I had a discussion recently arguing a little about theological points. I’m going to return to some of those here, and hopefully both continue the discussion as well as draw some other into it.

Before I crack Mr Cone’s book, some quotes I found in the last few days:

It makes sense if you understand that Liberation Theology views history and social wrongs as the primary emphasis of Scripture. Liberation theology teaches that salvation history is the story of the oppressed vs. the oppressor. And God is on the side of the oppressed. Liberation theology teaches that capitalist countries such as the U.S. do what they do militarily to keep poor people poor, and the rich people rich.

This is, at the base, a theological error which may have actually technically be heresy (that is be rooted in incorrect ideas about God and Trinity). John Zizioulas (among others) in his writings has explained that in the first centuries of Christian development there was a struggle between three notions of Truth. Jewish thought held that truth was to be found in history (which sounds very similar to that cited above). Greek though viewed truth in a Platonic or more eternal sense. Christianity held that Jesus was truth, that truth was to be found in the incarnation (see John 1). In the fourth century the Cappadocians succeeded in synthesizing this in their ideas of hypostasis, trinity and so forth. This synthesis is central to Christian thought and doctrine, but is rejected in the first quoted section.A teaching from that patristic era (I think the source was John Chrysostom) that while the rich should aid the poor from their abundance, this is not a one way street. That is, while the rich should being charitable, aid the poor, the poor in turn, being charitable, should pray for and on behalf of the wealthy. And that does not mean that the poor should pray that the rich “come to their senses” and aid the poor, but that the poor should pray for the health, well being, and good things on behalf of the rich. Liberation theology teaches the opposite of that and because of that is very very wrong. Charity is a primary virtue of Christian life, and by denying charity from the poor to be given to the rich rejects that virtue to be held by the poor. All Christians are called to be charity not just “the oppressors.”

Furthermore the teaching that the US and other powers “do what they do to keep people poor and the rich rich”, is categorically false. Malthusian ideas that wealth and prosperity is a zero sum gain and that there is a fixed amount of “wealth” or resources to go around is old and more importantly wrong! It doesn’t even make anthropological sense. Henry Ford didn’t build cars and and industry to “keep the Black man down” and neither did Rockefeller, Carnegie or any 18th century capitalists, just as Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft for that purpose. The number of people intentionally framing policy in a racial context is not as large as the racial theorists pretend, in fact it is much much smaller. The vast majority of the US and other powers consist of people getting up in the morning and working hard constructively to make and produce things for their family and clan. This production and constructive activity rarely if at all considers the “other” in a racial or ethnic context at all.

Worse is this from here:

If whiteness stands for all that is evil, blackness symbolizes all that is good. “Black theology,” says [black liberation theologian James] Cone, “refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community . . . Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.” Small wonder that some critics have condemned black liberation theology as “racist idolatry” and “Afro-Nazism.”

Before you can have a race war in America, you must first set forth an ideology that legitimizes race hatred and keeps that kind of hatred at a boiling point. The theology of Cone seems to be on this path, absolutizing “blackness,” which in turn gives the KKK, Aryans, and kindred spirits an excuse to absolutize “whiteness.”

The result? Two gods vying for supremacy, locked in mortal combat, with no possible resolution, even if by fire, as some groups seem to want.

What can be said positive about the quote from Mr Cone above. In a future post, I will develop further the notion that the ideas of Mr Cone that his theology can be viewed as similar to the prosperity Gospel but the gist of it is that if the Gospel means that God will help them “destroy their oppressors” then how different is that from the Gospel means “I will get rich” or that other earthly desires of mine be satisfied?

In the prior thread, I had suggested that the “resident alien” idea that Rowan Williams had proposed describing the early Christian church was the proper view of that a Christian should take in society and especially when confronted by oppressive situations. Mr Trabue responded that:

Considering one’s self a resident alien in a society with no rights or liberties – where one can’t vote to make changes – makes sense.

Considering one’s self a resident alien in a society where you are a minority voice – makes some sense, too.

Nonetheless, as resident aliens in a culture where we do have a voice and a vote, it also makes sense to work for positive change. And there’s certainly nothing unbiblical about doing so.


There certainly is not the first thing wrong biblically for voting one’s conscience in a democratic system where one has a voice and a vote, I’d hope that you’d agree. And, in fact, I’d find it shocking if a Christian said that, while they personally were OPPOSED to genocide (for instance), they wouldn’t want to push their personal religious beliefs off on their society when it engages in genocide.

There are three points to make in a response to this sentiment:

  • There is, for a Christian living in a participatory democracy or republic, a tension between the notion of “in/not of”, a commitment to other things, and resident alien held against that of rendering unto Caesar. That there is some wide latitude of responses which all remain valid.
  • At the same time, in Orthodox liturgy we profess just prior to participation in Eucharist that

    I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.

    Note the emphasized part. We are first and foremost to work on our sins not those of our neighbor but our self. God gave man free-will. It is not necessarily our place to deny our neighbor his free will in turn.

  • Your genocide example is telling. Some view abortion as genocide, especially as it is so prevalent in the Black community. Is that a plea to bomb or damage/close abortion centers I wonder? Or work politically to make them illegal? Again in this sense, I get no impression from the first centuries of Roman/Christian conflict and history that abortion was fought in any way but by example or for that matter the outworking of Roman political engines, including genocidal acts.

Filed under: ChristianityCultureEthics & MoralityMark O.Religion

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