Virtual Voices

Why black liberation theology fails

Religion

I was thrilled to be a guest on Glenn Beck's show on the Fox News Channel yesterday discussing liberation theology and social justice and how they compare to orthodox Christian belief. I was reminded that others have highlighted flaws mentioned by Beck. In my book Liberating Black Theology I also present the analysis of Alistair Kee, professor emeritus of theology at the University of Edinburgh. In his book The Rise and Demise of Black Theology, Dr. Kee concludes the following regarding the demise of black theology:

"There is the arrogance of Black Theology repeating year after year the same essentialisms and stereotypes which are frankly embarrassingly naïve in academic circles. There is a need for proper analysis of the worsening situation of Black poverty, a little more humility in view of the fact that 'we are more confused than ever about the reasons for it' . . . the forces of oppression and exploitation are increasingly taking control of the world through the processes of global capitalism. They cannot be successfully opposed simply by progressive Europeans. . . . Black Americans could play a vital part, if they read the new context and move their agenda forward."

In fact, Kee views the plight of the black poor in terms of economic bifurcations, not racial variance. He writes, "In the present context the issue is the suffering of poor black people which no longer arises predominantly from race but from the inherent inequities of American capitalism."

According to Kee, in 2006, blacks are no longer victims of oppressive American life, "they are beneficiaries. The rising black middle class has done very well in recent years." Blacks in America are no longer victims because they now assume a commonality of interest with whites when U.S. companies strike deals with corrupt foreign regimes or decimate the environment of desperately poor communities. Kee goes on to argue that as American citizens, voters, and consumers, blacks should be able to have more influence in American policies toward Africa.

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Again, one of Kee's primary critiques is that black theology fails to address the issues of class that are far more pervasive than race because of the new realities of this era. Racial discrimination and racial oppression are not the conditions that poor blacks find themselves in today. Poor blacks are not in their condition because or racism and racial discrimination.

Finally, Kee also notes that black liberation theology remains locked in the past. Now in many university posts, the second generation of black theologians employs a methodology that shackles black thought into historical sources, doing nothing more than regurgitating past formulas and critiques. You will find this often in the words of men like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

I discuss this more detail in my book on black theology, but at the end of the day it is difficult to explain all of the problems in the black community today on race or the legacy of racism. While it is important to acknowledge that the past affects the present, Kee and others point out that black theology fails because it singles out race to explain many issues in communities that can only be remedied by the gospel, not the federal government.

(Editor's note: Portions of this commentary were adapted from Anthony's book Liberating Black Theology).

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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