The Pan African community is rich with a history of freedom-fighting and change-making, from Nat Turner’s insurrection to Marcus Garvey’s international Back to Africa Movement to the Civil Rights Movement. What many of these moments have in common is that they all encompassed a religious aspect that allowed their participants to connect spiritually to the struggle afoot.
Although Black liberation theology as a structured class of preaching wasn’t officially established until the 1960s, the philosophy has been used to fuel some of the most transformational moments in African American times. It was the glue that held the community together, the mantra that kept the spirit of hope alive.
Author of “Survival & Liberation,” Carroll Watkins Ali, explains that Black liberation theology is tremendous in its influence such that it empowers the African American church through racial and cultural relativity.
“In light of the realities of Black existence in a White racist system, Black liberation theology’s intent is to empower Black people,” she writes. “The God language of Black liberation theology encourages Black people to image God as Black like them… It is also liberating because it frees us from the oppressive image of the White God of Western Christianity who sanctioned slavery, and whose response to slaves in essence was ‘the best way to be a good Christian is to be a good slave.’ The Black God of Black liberation theology’s message to the oppressive circumstances of Black life in America today is ‘God is a God of the oppressed.’”
James A. Cone is often credited for establishing the religious movement in the midst of extreme change in the ’60s.
Theologian and minister, the Rev. Michael Mancha of Palmdale, Calif., says after graduating college, Cone recognized he was not prepared to preach to the Black matters at hand, which included Freedom rides, riots, and protests. He explained that, “worst of all, he felt that the theological training he had just finished had left him completely unprepared to address his own community.”
So then Cone, who connected Black power with Black liberation theology, found that it was through spiritual teaching that the movement would generate true freedom for Black people. But Mancha stressed that Cone’s perspective of Black power was not violent, but it was about affirming the humanity of Blacks and that only Black people knew the extent of White oppression.
Mancha stated: “I believe that Black liberation theology is a theology that unapologetically focuses on the specific faith and cultural needs of the Black American community, incorporating methods that are not considered as ‘mainstream’ Christian ideology (a hyper-focused attention on emotionless rationale, rejection of any and all occurrences of people of color in the Bible; etc.) usage of ‘cultural storytelling’ methods that are more inclusive of people of color and less fixated on Eurocentric perspectives; and an uncompromising recognition of the reality that is in the United States.”
Further, as society has transformed, Mancha and others agree that the method in which the philosophy and spirituality are taught has changed. Given that circumstances have metamorphosed at face value, African Americans ruminate on the underlying issues which are in need of redress. However, the consciousness of the conditions is minimal. Therefore, many view Black liberation theology as controversial and dangerous.
Mancha points to Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colo., who subscribes to the notion. Professor De La Torre writes in “Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins” that due to the mental enslavement generated by the common establishment (societal norms, media, White supremacy, etc.), victims are sheltered from the realities of their conditions and therefore seek not to liberate themselves. As a result, however, it is the responsibility of those in positions of influence to educate those who continue to wallow in ignorance, thus Black liberation theology is a need.
“Few members of the dominant culture question the construction of their conscience. Accordingly, those who approach ethics from positions of power and privilege must remain vigilant during their moral deliberations lest they confuse what is ethical with what is their habitus. Their only hope is to move beyond their social location by forming relationships of solidarity with the marginalized,” De La Torre writes.
Mancha adds that due to the potency of the theology, the concept may be difficult for average “media-merchandized post-post modern” congregants. He said, however, that it is possible that Black liberation theology can render tremendous change in the Black community as has been evident with movements in the past and current establishments like the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“Black liberation theology invigorates congregants, and consequently communities, to refocus on their respective areas of influence, and get busy making a positive difference now, not in the great bye-and-bye. And it can continue,” Mancha said.
“As a Christian, I denounce armed political rebellion and recognize Christ’s dominion and pragmatic, relentless, omnipotence within my life and upon this world, including all of its systems.
For me, Black liberation theology continues to be a profoundly effective tool that exists for clergymen/women to pragmatically work toward strengthening and mobilizing our communities.
Through which means? ‘By any means necessary’ of course.”