Today’s focus: “White theology is a theology of oppression.”
Has whiteness infected the church? Is the theology of the Christian church perverted by whiteness? Has Christianity become the religion of the empire? Let’s turn to the work of James H. Cone, one of the architects of black liberation theology in the United States.
Consider his words in the Preface to the 1986 Edition of “A Black Theology of Liberation:
“I knew that racism was a heresy, and I did not need to have white theologians tell me so. Indeed, the exploitation of persons of color was the central theological problem of our time. “The problem of the twentieth century,” wrote W. E. B. DuBois in 1906, “is the problem of the colorline,—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of [persons] in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” Just as whites had not listened to DuBois, I did not expect white theologians to take black theology seriously. Racism is a disease that perverts one’s moral sensitivity and distorts the intellect. It is found not only in American society and its churches but particularly in the discipline of theology, affecting its nature and purpose.
White racist theologians are in charge of defining the nature of the gospel and of the discipline responsible for explicating it! How strange! They who are responsible for the evil of racism also want to tell its victims whether bigotry is a legitimate subject matter of systematic theology.”
Also, Paulo Freire, in the Foreword to the 1986 Edition of “A Black Theology of Liberation” by James H. Cone, writes:
“A white theology can be just as political as a black theology or a theology of liberation in Latin America. Although it is easily seen through, political concern seeks to hide the orientation of a white theology toward defending dominant class interests. This is why, though simulating neutrality, white theology is preoccupied with the conciliation of things that cannot be conciliated, why it denies so insistently the differences among social classes and their struggles, and why in its efforts for social good it does not go beyond the kind of modernizing reformisms that only shore up the status quo.
Thinking from the viewpoint of the dominant classes, theologians of this impossible neutrality employ mystifying language. They consistently attempt to soften the harsh, oppressive real world and exhort dominated classes to face their sacrifice with resignation. The pain and degrading discrimination they suffer— their very existence is a form of death—should be accepted by the dominated as purification for their sins. In short, the oppressed should thank their oppressors for the opportunities offered them to save themselves.”
It is relatively easy to see how white theology supported the oppression of black bodies during the time of slavery. It is less easy to see how white theology might be behind oppressing black bodies today. Theology, the study of God & religion, isn’t usually viewed as pro-oppression or anti-oppression.
Here’s the question of the day: If you discovered that an element of your theology, your beliefs, your religion, or your spiritual practices was the source of oppression for marginalized people, would you be willing to consider letting that element go or maybe attempting to transform and reclaim it?
Consider Jesus’ words in Luke 11:37-44
“While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”
Holy One, give me a clean heart, a humble spirit, and a right perspective. May my work, my gifts, and my energy be used to strengthen justice and to share the love of God. Amen