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When black theology emphasizes the right of black people to defend
themselves against those who seek to destroy them, it never fails that white
people then ask, "What about the biblical doctrine of reconciliation?"
Whites who ask that question should not be surprised if blacks respond,
"Yeah man, what about it?" The difficulty is not with the reconciliation
question per se but with the people asking it. Like the question of
violence, this question is almost always addressed to blacks by
whites, as if we blacks are responsible for the demarcation of community on
the basis of color. They who are responsible for the dividing walls of
hostility, racism, and hate want to know whether the victims are ready to
forgive and forget–without changing the balance of power. They want to know
whether we have any hard feelings toward them, whether we still love them,
even though we are oppressed and brutalized by them. What can we say to
people who insist on oppressing black people but get upset when black people
Because black liberation is the point of departure of black theology’s
analysis of the gospel of Jesus, it cannot accept a view of reconciliation
based on white values. The Christian view of reconciliation has nothing to
do with black people being nice to white people as if the gospel demands
that we ignore their insults and their humiliating presence. It does not
mean discussing with whites what it means to be black or going to white
gatherings and displaying what white call an understanding
attitude–remaining cool and calm amid racists and bigots.
To understand the Christian view of reconciliation and its relation to
black liberation, it is necessary to focus on the Bible. Here reconciliation
is connected with divine liberation. According to the Bible, reconciliation
is what God does for enslaved people who are unable to break the chains of
slavery. To be reconciled is to be set free; it is to have the chains struck
off the body and mind so that the creatures of God can be what they are.
Reconciliation means that people cannot be human and God cannot be God
unless the creatures of God are liberated from that which enslaves and is
When Paul says, "God was in Christ reconciling the
world unto himself," this is not a sentimental comment on race relations.
The reconciling act of God in Christ is centered on the cross, and it
reveals the extent that God is willing to go in order to set people free
from slavery and oppression. The cross means that the Creator has taken upon
himself all human pain and suffering, revealing that God cannot be unless
oppression ceases to be. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God
places the oppressed in a new state of humanity, now free to live according
to God’s intentions for humanity.
Because God has set us free, we are now commanded to go and be reconciled
with our neighbors, and particularly our white neighbors. But this does not
mean letting white people define the terms of reconciliation. It means
participating in God’s revolutionizing activity in the world, changing the
political, economic, and social structures so that distinctions between rich
and poor, oppressed and oppressors, are no longer a reality. To be
reconciled with white people means destroying their oppressive power,
reducing them to the human level and thereby putting them on equal footing
with other humans. There can be no reconciliation with masters as long as
they are masters, as long as men are in prison. There can be no
communication between masters and slaves until masters no longer exist, are
no longer present as masters. The Christian task is to rebel against all
masters, destroying their pretensions to authority and ridiculing the
symbols of power.
However, it must be remembered that oppressors never take kindly to those
who question their authority. They do not like "thugs and bums," people who
disregard their power, and they will try to silence them any way they can.
But if we believe that our humanity transcends them and is not dependent on
their goodwill, then we can fight against them even though it may mean
Excerpts from "The Risks of Faith" by James H. Cone (pages 38-39)
He is the author of "Black Theology and Black Power" and "Martin & Malcolm &
America" among several other books. Dr. Cone is also Charles A. Briggs
Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological
Seminary. He lives in New York City.
* * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * *
Why Are So
Many African Americans Attracted To A Church That Was Once Identified
With White Racism?
This is an unlikely development for the denomination
that emerged in 1845 when its proslavery members split from their Northern
peers so that their missionaries could own slaves. That’s why “there’s a
perception in many people’s minds that growth in the African American
churches of the Southern Baptist Convention is counterintuitive,” says C.
Ben Mitchell, an associate professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
and consultant to the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Today
the denomination identifies itself with conservative theology and its public
policy positions mirror many of those held by the Religious Right. The SBC
has also drawn fire for its belief on homosexuality, women and much else.
But Southern Baptists say minorities are drawn to the SBC’s conservative
Christian traditions and strong family values.
Though the church has supported civil rights for
decades, its first apology to Blacks came only in 1995:
“We lament and
repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery…. We apologize to all
African Americans.” Gary Frost (first Black
president of NAMB) says Blacks are drawn to the church for its worship, not
“There are those who are very much in line with all the Religious Right on
the social causes and the Bible, but who would take a different view
concerning some of the economic issues,” Frost
God is Just is the second affirmation of the religion undergirding
much of Black life. God is caring and provident, but God is also just
and impartial. This important doctrine is not strange to Western
Christian thought, either within or outside theological circles. The
whole Hebrew-Christian tradition was launched on ethical monotheism, the
idea that there is only one true God, and this Deity requires ethical
accountability. As the prophet Micah declared, "And what doth the Lord
require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly
with thy God?" (6:8). Civilization itself, not just stereotypical "law
and order," is vitally dependent on the core belief in the justice of
This affirmation is obviously relevant and applicable in almost every
phase of Western intellectual as well as legal and ethical life. In the
culture of the privileged classes and the power elite, enthusiasm for this
doctrine results from a vision of God as enforcer or guarantor of the status
quo. God threatens with justice those who break the social contract, raining
retribution on those who dare to contradict the common code, which favors
the class on top. However, this same divine quality is the hope of the
have-nots. Justice is the limit placed on exploitation; it is the vengeance
and vindication without which their lowly lives would have little meaning.
God’s holiness and righteousness, synonyms for justice, are the basis for
all guilty conscience, whatever the sin and among whatever sector of the
population. It is hard to visualize any ethical decision where this doctrine
has no relevance.
Divine justice impinges on the thought of the non-believer as well as the
devout. It underlies the intensity of the atheist’s or the agnostic’s
concern for human principles. For instance, the undeserved suffering of
children can be used as an argument against God’s existence. Non-believers
maintain that if there were a God, that deity would be just and would refuse
to allow such a patent denial of fairness. Again, many skeptics choose the
bleak wastes of alienation from God on the basis of a misguided picture of
God’s justice. They accept the notion that the Creator and Sustainer of all
life promotes justice that requires the eternal fires of a burning hell.
This is understandably repugnant to their thoughtful concerns and
Fortunately, the justice of God can be viewed more positively. It
undergirds every crusade for equity and human betterment within the
Judeo-Christian era. Social activists of every generation, including a wide
spectrum of present proponents of the social relevance of the gospel, have
all proclaimed the justice of God and depended on it for their validation.
The nature of God does indeed demand radical changes in the established
At this point Black belief sees a more intensive application of social
justice, and they believe the God of justice is literally on the side of the
oppressed. This, along with their suffering caused by injustice, explains
the more energetic efforts to bring about equal opportunity. However, an
additional motivation comes from the fact that belief in God’s justice also
confers meaning on their struggles in the interim, keeping them safe in the
midst of crushing absurdities. In the end, one must know that no oppression
goes unpunished and no sacrificial suffering goes unnoticed and unrewarded.
The just God who is no respecter of persons gives none the power to trample
the rights of others with impunity. Thus, the final judgment day feared by
some becomes cause for the celebration of vindication and victory for the
victims of history’s most glaring injustices.
In Black culture, belief in God’s justice may be documented as easily in
the streets as in the church. In the early days of her first stage career,
the late Alberta Hunter, grand dame of contemporary blues, wrote a song
illustrating this. Written to be sung by Bessie Smith, it dealt with a woman
who had been thrown out by her lover. In her blue cries of pain she sings a
social protest based on a folk doctrine of justice, which helps her remain
balanced despite her desperation:
"You treat me wrong, you drove me from yo’ do’.
You treat me wrong, you drove me from yo’ do’.
But the Good Book say you gonna reap what you sow."
This declaration of God’s justice sounds almost like revenge by black
magic, but its real function was to give a heartbroken woman a way to make
sense of her powerless existence - a means of stamping on her days the
label, "Still Worth the Living."
Street folk may not mention God in all their references to justice, but
everyone in the culture is likely to know who is behind the reality of
justice. Sometimes they say, "Chickens come home to roost," a phrase widely
publicized when Malcolm X tactlessly connected it with the J. F. K.
assassination. Whether Christian or Muslim or neither, the justice Malcolm X
hinted at is all but universally recognized in the Black ghetto.
Perhaps the best known and most frequently used folk phrase for this
belief is the popular proverb, "What goes around comes around." Quoted in an
infinite variety of situations, it always declares that life is lived in an
inexorable system of accountability. No person can expect to sidestep the
results of her or his actions; the consequences are as inevitable as the
agricultural law of identical harvest-Gal. 6:7.
A slave narrative cited in "Black Belief" illustrates the basis for
virtually getting happy over the very existence of hell:
"We were scart of ol’ Solomon and his whip.... He didn’t
like for us Niggers to pray either. We never heard of no church,
but we were prayin’ in the cabins. We’d set on the
floor an’ pray with our heads down low and sing low, but if
Solomon heard, he’d come and beat on the wall with the stock
of his whip. He’s say, "I’ll come in there and tear the hides
off you backs"....I know that Solomon is burnin’ in hell
today, and it pleasures me to know it."
The spiritual "I Gotta Shoe" echoed this same joy about the afterlife as
a place to straighten out the imbalances in the accounts of this life. With
typical African indirection, the lyrics declared innocently, "When I git to
heaven, gonna put on my shoes, and gonna shout all over God’s heaven."
Slaves thus safely voiced their protest that masters did not provide shoes
in this life nor allow slaves to shout in church as the Spirit led them.
The song’s chorus shifted to the other final destination. "Everybody
talkin’ ‘bout heaven ain’t a-goin’ there, heaven, heaven, gonna shout all
over God’s heaven." With veiled language slaves announced that their masters
were looked for in hell. In the mind of the thinking slave, there was no
such thing as a really good master, so they all had confirmed reservations.
African traditional religion had held no concept of hell. Once in this
country, however, slaves adapted to the prevailing religion. They recognized
that masters were theologically correct about the existence of hell, since
there had to be a proper place for masters to finish reaping what they had
sowed. Fire and brimstone were strange and novel but wonderfully capable of
giving masters what they deserved.
This deep belief in the justice of God cannot be traced to missionaries
whom the masters provided to teach about hell. The afterlife of fire and
brimstone only dramatized in new detail the implementation of a divine
justice known and trusted in Africa. In both Africa and America, the
doctrine of justice was taught most effectively in oral tradition, by
parents, grandparents and the extended family or intimate community.
The Galatian text about reaping and sowing took hold so quickly among the
slaves only because the "Law of Identical Harvest" had been established long
since in the African mindset. The Yoruba people expressed it this way: "To
sow is difficult, to reap is free; what you sow today is what you reap
tomorrow." They had a succinct and powerfully meaningful name for God: "
Adekedajo, the silent active judge." One of their proverbs was a prayer that
petitions God to preserve the unjust enemy’s health (especially his senses),
so that the inevitable punishment due from a just God can be felt to the
fullest. Then there is appended one small request: "Lord, let me be living
and looking when the sentence is carried out." One knows that God is just,
but one would rather see its results than simply believe.
Congregations of all cultures laugh heartily at this prayer, especially
the last part. It is the high humor of self-recognition, the prayer of all
classes, cultures and generations. The ancient psalmist stated the same
sentiment: "I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the
Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 27:13). There is no cry here for petty
vengeance; the healthy psyche of the just individual simply has to know that
the flourishing of the wicked can only be for a season, and that God is not
mocked with their ill-won successes. One’s righteous efforts are therefore
not rendered meaningless.
Within this life, questions about justice will remain. No finite soul can
claim to have seen justice in every case. Neither can we expect to be in a
position to monitor God’s just actions. Mere mortals must be content to see
only some divine justice, and not even all of that right away. Some will
become clear many years later and some only in the afterlife. A religious
cross section of the American South unites today in singing a hymn with the
same message sung in even wider circles: "We will understand it better by
This "by and by" or afterlife is indispensable to belief in the justice
of God. The biblical figure Job, in trying circumstances, reportedly cried,
"Though...worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh (my unique personhood)
shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself...." (19:26-27). The theme of
the book is the justice of God and the explanation of why good people
The apostle Paul echoed the book of Job by linking the two ideas of
justice and afterlife. Paul ended his classic statement on eternal life by
connecting it to the justice that is essential for meaningful human
existence: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your
labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58). Paul deals here with the
bottom line: life is unbearable without such meaning. God’s justice is
essential to meaning even though it acts in the time frame of eternity. A
Black gospel song sings triumphantly, "Then my living shall not be in vain."
For all humanity, unless God is in fact just, life is indeed vain and not
worth the living.
Slaves survived their shackles with a magnificent affirmation of the
justice of God, contemplating the final judgment with celebration:
"In that great gittin’ up morning, fare ye well, fare ye well.
In that great gittin’ up morning, fare ye well, fare ye well."
The powerlessness of slaves has parallels throughout human life.
Presidents of corporations and countries today wield power vastly larger
than that of slaves. But the problems of pollution and inflation outweigh
all efforts to solve them and thus show themselves even more powerful. The
affluent parents of modern adolescents are often more powerless than those
whose lives are compressed and disciplined by the pressures of poverty,
provided minimal essentials are available. In a world where power in
business and politics is dispersed among many individuals who may or may not
be trustworthy, we have a fundamental need to know who is in control and to
be able to trust that one to be fair and just. Otherwise, all struggle is
meaningless. There is no segment of humanity immune to the need to affirm
the justice of God.
Excerpts from "Soul Theology: The Heart of
American Black Culture" Henry H. Mitchell and Nicholas Cooper Lewter
"The Gospel isn't something we come to church to hear; it's something we
go from church to tell." (Vance Havner)
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a
pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in
it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full
portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the
master's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only
one and a half pots full of water to his master's house. Of course, the
perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for
which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own
imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of
what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be
a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.
"I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."
"Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"
"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my
load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way
back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of
this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his
compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to
notice the beautiful flowers along the path."
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the
sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this
cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because
it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the
bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only
on your side of your path, but not on the other pot's side? That's
because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it.
I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we
walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have
been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table.
Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to
grace his house."
Each of us has our own unique flaws. We're all cracked pots. But if we
will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father's table.
In God's great economy, nothing goes to waste. So as we seek ways to
minister together, and as God calls you to the tasks He has appointed
for you, don't be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and allow Him
to take advantage of them, and you, too, can be the cause of beauty in
His pathway. Go out boldly, knowing that in our weakness we find His
strength, and that "In Him every one of God's promises is a Yes."
A Baptist preacher and his wife decided they needed a dog. Ever mindful
of the congregation, they knew the dog must also be Baptist. They
visited an expensive kennel and explained their needs to the manager,
who assured them he had just the dog for them.
The dog was produced and the manager said "Fetch the Bible." The dog
bounded to the bookshelf, scrutinized the books, located the Bible, and
brought it to the manager.
The manager then said "Find Psalms 23". The dog, showing marvelous
dexterity with his paws, leafed thru the Bible, found the correct
passage, and pointed to it with his paw.
Duly impressed, the couple purchased the dog. That evening a group of
parishioners came to visit. The preacher and his wife began to show off
the dog, having him locate several Bible verses. The visitors were
Finally, one man asked "Can he do normal dog tricks too?"
"Let's see" said the preacher. Pointing his finger at the dog, he
The dog immediately jumped up on a chair, placed one paw on the
preacher's forehead and began to howl.
The preacher turned to his wife and exclaimed: "Good grief, we've bought
a Pentecostal dog!"
ANOINTING: Used to describe any non-regular emotion (crying in
middle of a song, (when you forget the words), telling the church off
(especially when it comes to tithes and offering), doing the Olympic
shout around the church (first one that hits the wall gets a white
hanky tied around their neck)
TRICK OF THE ENEMY: Used to describe anything that happens
you didn't do what you were supposed to do, like your car getting
repossessed because you didn't pay the note, lights getting shut off,
because you quit working to go on tour with pastor's choir, or your
child repeating the 1st grade, because he/she missed the whole 2nd
semester to go on a 90 day/90 night fast and consecration
RHEMA WORD: Any message from an out-of-town pastor or evangelist
PROPHETIC WORD: Same message from that out-of-town pastor,
5 decibels louder, while the congregation is standing. Quiet organ
music optional, but works better with silence.
CARNAL: Used to describe a saint who goes to the movies. The term
doesn't apply if you rent the same movie from Blockbuster.
DIDN'T GOD MOVE: What the saints say after a long service where
pastor didn't preach, and everyone just bucked the whole service.
UNLOCK YOUR BLESSING: What preachers say, after they've finished
preaching, and they say "you must give $50 to unlock your blessing".
For a more dramatic effect, the offering is started at $1,000 and can
be worked down to $25.
HE'LL DO IT IF YOU LET HIM (followed by inaudible tongues): Round
of bucking will begin in 5 minutes. Organist get ready.
WE GOT TO MOVE ON: What the preacher says, when he wants Buck
start up again. Organist, turn up the volume on the leslie.
WE HAVE TIME FOR ONE MORE TESTIMONY: Not really, we're just
on pastor to come in the service. If you're called on during this
one, when you hear clapping, that is the signal to stop testifying,
because the saints are no longer interested in what God has done for
WE CAN NEVER PAY FOR THE WORD: Get your checkbook out; the
will begin momentarily. This phrase always comes before the offering
is taken for the guest speaker.
ALL THINGS MUST BE DONE, DECENTLY AND IN ORDER: Closing speech,
after casting the devil out. Everyone has crossed the line and must sit
2 services, before participating again.
PRAYER PARTNER: Phone buddy-5 minutes of prayer, 1 hour of church
........And the church said AMEN. We're a mess, I tell ya.