Black Theology of Liberation: Towards Achieving a Prophetic Vision of Justice and Community

Below is an excerpt from this year’s PAUL BECHTOLD LIBRARY FACULTY CHOICE AWARD article, by Br. Ernest Miller, FSC, from this year’s inaugural journal. You can read the rest of it and check out the other articles in our online publication.
Ernest Miller, FSC, this year's Paul Bechtold Library Faculty Choice Award Winner

Ernest Miller, FSC, this year’s Paul Bechtold Library Faculty Choice Award Winner

An excerpt:

…When we look closely, a hotel civilization is indicative of the American worship of wealth and the insatiable desire for convenience and felicity, which leaves the tradition of struggle for decency, dignity, freedom, and democracy aimless.

In his 1998 State of the Union Address, President Bill Clinton made a bold pronouncement that because those times [late 1990s] were good, we have a stronger nation: “We are moving steadily toward an even stronger America in the 21st Century; an economy that offers opportunity; a society rooted in responsibility: and a nation that lives as a community.”5  Clinton’s perspective is paradigmatic of what still masks the struggle of ordinary Americans to live decent and dignified lives.  What Clinton espouses provides ground for the Jamesian notion of a “hotel civilization” to serve as a heuristic to contextualize Cone’s method of linking theological scholarship and identification with those for whom this moment in American civilization is not beneficial; the city on the hill is fiction.

Cone would suggest that black liberation theology ask, “Beneficial for whom?”  What is the evidence that makes us think America has created a society in which the disinherited, who are disproportionately black and brown folk, are provided an equal opportunity to access economic and social betterment?  What is the evidence that makes us think that the nation has achieved community?  These are among the questions a black theology of liberation must confront.  West takes particular affront at the “sugar-coated language that accents the superfluities and superficialities of our day [that] must be pierced to deal with the harsh realities.”  He extends his critical analysis here:

[T]oday we face a new moment of triumphalism with new idols like markets and privatizing forces, accompanied by new forms of mendacity, such as using stock market records and balanced budgets as benchmarks of good times rather than the quality of lives lived for the least in society.  Perhaps good times should be gauged by the depth of spirituality needed to keep keeping on in the midst of material poverty, and also in the spiritual poverty of brothers and sisters disproportionately white in disproportionately vanilla suburbs.  These sisters and brothers are dealing with existential emptiness and spiritual malnutrition because they have not received enough care and nurture and love along with all their money and prosperity.6

In the intervening years since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death in 1968, and Howard Thurman’s death in 1981, the nation has come a long way.  Yet, we are still living in a difficult moment in the history of the grand American democratic experiment.  The American political discourse and the nation’s priorities are tilted away from pressing social problems. Thus, it is crucial that we continue to look for theological sources of light to sanctify our public life.

The goal for black liberation theology is to achieve a way of living unchained that is available to all who hunger and thirst for justice, especially those whom Thurman calls the “disinherited,” or, put another way, those who “stand with their backs against the wall.”7  The same question that Thurman raised many decades ago—and black theology must still raise—remains as relevant as ever: “Why [is it] that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore, effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice…? Is this impotency due to a betrayal of the genius of the religion, or is it due to a basic weakness in the religion itself?”8

Framed by these questions, this paper proposes that black liberation theology urges a progressive movement toward achieving justice and genuine democratic community for all Americans… Continue reading (with full text and his citations) here


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