The Gospel According Barack Obama’s Pastor: Black Liberation Theology

The Gospel According Barack Obama’s Pastor: Black Liberation Theology

Recently a great controversy has broken out because of Barak Obama’s twenty plus year association with Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Dr. Wright is the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago where Obama is a member. He is the man that Obama has called his mentor and spiritual advisor. It seems that Rev. Wright consistently preaches dogma which is politically charged and racially divisive. He has been heard making statements like:

  • “God bless America… No!… God Damn America,” in suggesting that past US policies are partially responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
  • “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.”
  • He asserted that the US government provides drugs to African-Americans and once again said, “God Damn America.”
  • He called America, “U S of KKK A.”
  • He has referred to Italians as “garlic noses.”

In addition to these specific quotes, he claims that:

  • HIV was invented by the U.S. government as a tool of genocide against blacks,
  • the government sent illegal drugs to black neighborhoods to kill or imprison blacks,
  • the government infected black men with syphilis in the Tuskegee Experiment,
  • the government knew Pearl Harbor would be attacked before it happened,
  • the president will use the military against people for religious reasons, and that
  • the US is controlled by white supremacists.

On top of all of that, he named Louis Farrahkan as his church’s person of the year.

The things above are not given for the purpose of attacking Dr. Wright as an individual. Rather, we want to try and understand the thinking of people who have a worldview based on this kind of doctrine. Dr. Wright is certainly not the only person with this way of thinking. In fact, he is simply the most high profile individual who represents this worldview. Our purpose is to try and understand the belief system.

We are going to start with the veneer which overlays the belief. Looking at Dr. Wright’s church from a surface level would not necessarily bring us to the conclusion that he and his church have these kinds of beliefs. On the church’s website is this statement.

We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian… Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain “true to our native land,” the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.

On the church’s website, we also find this 10 point vision:

The Pastor as well as the membership of Trinity United Church of Christ is committed to a 10-point vision:

1. A congregation committed to ADORATION.

2. A congregation preaching SALVATION.

3. A congregation actively seeking RECONCILIATION.

4. A congregation with a non-negotiable COMMITMENT TO AFRICA.

5. A congregation committed to BIBLICAL EDUCATION.

6. A congregation committed to CULTURAL EDUCATION.

7. A congregation committed to the HISTORICAL EDUCATION OF AFRICAN PEOPLE IN DIASPORA.

8. A congregation committed to LIBERATION.

9. A congregation committed to RESTORATION.

10. A congregation working towards ECONOMIC PARITY.

Looking at these statements, it is not obvious at all where the conspiratorial and hateful remarks come from. Those kinds of teachings are definitely there if you know where to look, but they are hidden behind traditional Christian terminology which has been redefined. In order to get at this, it becomes necessary to dig a little deeper in order to grasp the real theology.

The church calls itself a Christian church, but is founded on a particular ideology which is quite different than traditional evangelical theology. It is based on Black Liberation Theology. Let’s take a moment and get to know this approach to believing in God.

What is Liberation Theology?

In order to understand Black Liberation Theology, we must first look at it’s foundation – Liberation Theology. Liberation Theology is an ideology which asserts that the message of the Gospel is a call to promote the freedom of people from political, social, and material oppression. It is very “this worldly” and was especially prevalent in the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America beginning back in the 1960s. It finds much of its inspiration in the socialist ideas of people like Hegel and Marx.

Liberation Theology is not understood to come from God’s revelation of himself through divinely inspired men who wrote the Bible. Rather, it comes from human interaction with society throughout history. Liberation theologians believe that pain and suffering are the forces which motivate people to seek God. They believe, in turn, that God is the driving force of history and that people can find him as they work to overcome oppression – specifically the oppression of the evil political and economic structures of society which keep some people in bondage. Instead of a spiritual salvation, Liberation Theology teaches that salvation is the process of liberation from oppression and injustice in earthly society.

The place of Jesus in Liberation Theology is not to serve as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, but as one who ideally exemplified the struggle for the poor and the outcast. Adherents of this theology believe that his life and teachings concerning the Kingdom of God served to demonstrate the love of God in an actual historical setting.

What is Black Theology?

Another foundation of Black Liberation Theology is simple Black Theology. Black theology emerges from the perspective of the descendants of African people who were forced to leave their traditional homelands and settle in a new place. The message of black theology is that the African-American struggle for liberation is consistent with the gospel. This theology maintains that African-Americans must be liberated from the social, political, economic and religious bondage that their ancestors were forced into. In a general sense, it includes empowerment of black people by asserting a right to self-definition, self-affirmation and self-determination.

In creating this approach to theology, black theologians sought a completely new “starting point” in theology. Thus, they attempted to re-read the Bible through the eyes of their enslaved ancestors to come up with a set of beliefs which would be centered on the thoughts, needs and desires of the African- American culture in its unique place of bondage in American society.

What is Black Liberation Theology?

As it turns out, Liberation Theology is also expressed in other offshoot theologies. There are such expressions as Feminist Liberation Theology, Asian Liberation Theology, Hispanic-American Liberation Theology, Native American Liberation Theology and, of course what we are looking at today, Black Liberation Theology. So, just what are the unique expressions of Black Liberation Theology as it emerges out of a more general Liberation Theology?

Black Liberation Theology got its distinctive name in the 1960s, but traces its heritage to earlier centuries when black churches worked to obtain self-determination for African decedents who found themselves in bondage.

American Black Liberation Theology can be traced back to July 31, 1966, when a group of 51 black pastors bought a full page ad in the New York Times and published their “Black Power Statement” under the name of the National Committee of Negro Churchmen. The leaders of this movement from the earliest days included such black church leaders as James Cone and Dwight Hopkins.

This theology is an attempt to make the gospel relevant to the African-American community who constantly struggle under the burden of white oppression. In the words of James Cone, this theology tries to answer the question: “What, if anything, does the Christian gospel have to say to powerless black men threatened on a daily basis by the insidious tentacles of white power?” He felt this question had to be answered if Christianity was to have any relevance for black society.

Black Liberation Theology sees God as one who is totally identified with the goals of the black community. Not only that, he is understood as being against white people who are the oppressors of the black community. Black theology sees God as one who participates in the destruction of the white enemy. The black community has been oppressed by whites, and the divine love of God is expressed in the world in the form of Black Power – the power of black people to destroy their oppressors by any means at their disposal.

In Black Liberation Theology, the ultimate expression of God’s love does not relate to the help one human might give to another. Rather, it is expressed by those who work for political, social, and economic justice. Under this belief system, that specifically means a redistribution of power and wealth into the hands of the oppressed black population.

As a result, there is a very close relationship between the beliefs which inform Black Liberation Theology and the actions in life which express it. Black Liberation Theology is the religious component of the belief system. It systematizes the beliefs so that black Americans will know how to act. The other component of the belief system relates to Black Power – which is seen as the political arm of the system. Black Power represents both freedom and self-determination for the black community.

In the theological sense, the concept of “black” represents two elements. First, it represents the physiological trait of being a black-skinned person, particularly in America. The second thing that it represents is the particular attitudes and actions that people have concerning the liberation of black people from white racism. In this sense, blackness relates to anyone who works for liberation. In the broadest sense, blackness is the definition of goodness.

On the other side of the equation is whiteness. Whiteness is connected with oppression and sickness. In the broadest sense of the word, whiteness is equated with evil.

The bottom line is that black people who are oppressed by white society are aligned with God for the purpose of expressing his righteousness by overcoming the white oppressors in society and by taking the reigns of power in this world.

All of this does not mean that there is no belief in heaven and the afterlife. It is just that God’s priority related to his Kingdom’s purpose, and his actions regarding his Kingdom, are related to the liberation of black people from white oppression in the here and now.

Based on this understanding, we can now see an entirely different meaning in the 10 point vision of Dr. Wright’s Trinity Church.

1. A congregation committed to ADORATION = Adoration of a God who is committed to liberating oppressed black people (A God who is not focused this way is not worthy of worship).

2. A congregation preaching SALVATION. = Gaining liberation from the oppression of white people.

3. A congregation actively seeking RECONCILIATION. = Seeing society reconciled to the purpose of God to liberate black society from the oppression of white people.

4. A congregation with a non-negotiable COMMITMENT TO AFRICA. = A specific focus on black people as the ones whom God favors.

5. A congregation committed to BIBLICAL EDUCATION. = The Bible as interpreted by Black Liberation Theology.

6. A congregation committed to CULTURAL EDUCATION. = Educating people on how black people are oppressed and white people are oppressing them.

7. A congregation committed to the HISTORICAL EDUCATION OF AFRICAN PEOPLE IN DIASPORA. = A particular focus on the oppression of black Americans.

8. A congregation committed to LIBERATION. = Freedom from the oppression of white society.

9. A congregation committed to RESTORATION. = Restoration of a world in which black people have the reigns of power.

10. A congregation working towards ECONOMIC PARITY. = A socialistic economy where wealth is redistributed from wealthy white people to poor black people.

Now we can see more clearly where the anti-American and racist statements against white people come from. Dr. Wright, and others who follow this theology, really believe that white society is out to have its foot on his neck and on those in his congregation. Based on this theology, the means for dealing with white oppression is to point it out and condemn the oppressors.

The Worldview of Black Liberation Theology

What Worldview does Black Liberation Theology Represent? (How Black Liberation Theology Answers the 7 Worldview Questions)

1. What is the nature of ultimate reality?

Black Liberation Theology conceives of reality as structured with a transcendent creator God who created the material universe as it now is. God, though, is not nearly as interested in people’s eternity as he is in accomplishing a particular outcome on earth. Specifically, he is primarily focused on liberating black people from their white oppressors.

2. What is the nature of material reality?

Material reality is understood to be a creation of God whose purpose it is for black people to live free from the domination of white oppressors.

3. What is a human being?

Human beings are creations of God who were created to be free from oppression from other people. There is no inherent sin within an individual. Sin is understood to be a condition of human existence in which man denies the liberating activity of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

4. What happens to a person at death?

Life after death is not a particular focus of Black Liberation Theology. The focus on life after death is seen to be a lie of the Christianity of white America. God is understood to be more concerned with eliminating the suffering of people in the black community in this world than in preparing them for the next. This does not mean that there is no belief in the afterlife, only that this theology does not put any emphasis on it.

5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?

Knowledge is possible because God created mankind with this ability.

6. How do we know right and wrong?

Right and wrong are specifically related to oppression. Those who do wrong are people who act contrary to the interests of the oppressed community or its liberation. Doing right relates to helping liberate people from their oppression.

7. What is the meaning of human history?

History has meaning in the struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. Meaning emerges when the oppressed are victorious.

Based on this analysis, it is evident that there are two different worldview positions which are on display. This makes Black Liberation Theology a hybrid worldview. There is a Theistic approach on display as the entire belief system is couched in Christian terminology. However, there is also a significant Naturalistic component as well, as we can see from the focus on their approach to achieving their goals. They call on God to help them, but depend primarily on the activism of their adherents to accomplish any change. The goal is not to develop a personal relationship with God, but to achieve power in earthly society.

The Practical Implications of the Beliefs of Black Liberation Theology

The practical implications of the Black Liberation system of theology is that people are compelled to fight in this life for the liberation of those in the black community in order for them to gain their freedom from the oppression of white society. While those in this fight are not specifically encouraged to invoke violence, it is also not ruled out.

On a societal level, Black Liberation Theology would require that socialism become the economic system in America, and that wealth and power be transferred from the white majority to the black minority.

What Is Black Liberation Theology’s Authority Foundation?

Black Liberation Theology, on a surface level, uses the Bible as its primary authority. However, the Bible is interpreted through the teachings of the theology. The Bible is not taught based on its own teachings. Rather, the starting point is found in the beliefs of Black Liberation Theology, and the Bible is interpreted through that lens. Understanding that, we can see that the real primary authority is the writings of the theologians who promote Black Liberation Theology. In the ultimate sense, the authority of the teachings of Black Liberation Theology rests on the shoulders of those who invented and promulgate it.

What Evidence Exists to Support its Authority?

The question is: Why is this particular approach to theology the Truth about how to interpret the Bible? To answer this, we must look, first, to the credibility of the people who invented Liberation Theology, then to those who specifically applied it to the American black community. Essentially these people have based their teachings on their own ideas rather than on the text of the Bible itself. There is no objective evidence that this teaching represents the actual way that reality is structured. All we have is the assertion of those who invented and perpetuate it.

How Can We Evaluate the Viability of Black Liberation Theology’s Authority?

Based on the evidence to support Black Liberation Theology, there is no particular reason why the writings of these various liberation theologians should be more valid than theologians who use a different approach. It denies God’s self-disclosure in the Biblical text in favor of a God who is asserted from Liberation Theology. In this case, the object of God’s liberating action is specifically African-Americans. It is a new theology which completely departs from the historic Christian faith based only on the assertions of its inventors.

Interacting with a Black Liberation Theology Believer

Interacting with people who hold this belief is particularly difficult because they see themselves as Christians. It is just that they have an entirely different understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

Regardless of the fact that people who believe this have a different way of understanding the person and purpose of God, their need for a God who offers forgiveness and liberation from personal sin is still a reality in their lives. Even those in the black community who become materially successful and have been liberated in their own little worlds, still experience the guilt of sin and the pain of separation from God on a personal level.

In sharing Christ with someone who believes in this theology, it is essential to begin by actively expressing the love of God in daily life. Adherents of Black Liberation Theology are almost completely focused at this level. Once true love, compassion and empathy are experienced in a personal relationship, it will become obvious that you are not a person who can be identified as an oppressor. When this is understood and accepted, individuals will begin to be open to why you are able to have peace, purpose and meaning in your life, and hope for eternity. Only then will you have the opportunity to share the specifics of the true Gospel message of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

Summary

Black Liberation Theology has its roots in Marxism more than in Christianity. Christianity is only a veneer which makes it appear more acceptable to society at large and more difficult for outsiders to see its true nature. Those who hold to this belief system may call themselves Christians, but it is very possibly in name only. We need to be very sensitive to all of those we interact with to make sure that they truly know a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, regardless of the label they put on themselves.

© 2008 Freddy Davis