Why Black Theology Makes Sense

Obama's pastor's ideas sound racist, but the Bible emphasizes that each ethnic group has a special mission to the world.

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from Sean Hannity recently on Fox News. Hannity pointed to statements on Wright’s church website that seemed to place an undue emphasis on blackness.


asks its members

to make a "Personal Commitment to Embracement of the Black Value System--to Measure the Worth and Validity of All Activity in Terms of Positive Contributions to the General Welfare of the Black Community and the Advancement of Black People towards Freedom."

Hannity pressed Rev. Wright on whether there was something offensive about this language: “Now, Reverend, if every time we said 'black,' if there was a church and those words were 'white,' wouldn’t we call that church racist?" Wright responded by demanding to know how many books Hannity had read by James H. Cone, a professor at New York's Union Theological Seminary who originated Black Theology. Trinity’s website pays prominent homage to Cone, but Hannity did not seem familiar with his work.

Had Hannity studied Cone, he would have discovered statements even more troubling than Rev. Wright's reference to a "black value system" on his website. A fiery rhetorician, Cone decried white oppression in terms that seem to call for a violent revolution by blacks. In his 1969 manifesto,

"Black Theology and Black Power

, Cone wrote, “I believe that all aspiring black intellectuals share the task that LeRoi Jones has described for the black artist in America: 'To aid in the destruction of America as he knows it.'" No wonder Rev. Wright told the New York Times that Obama had indicated to him that as a presidential candidate he might need to "publicly distance himself" from his religious mentor.


Nonetheless, if you take an honest look at the concept of race as it plays out in the Bible, you will find that Wright--and even Cone--has a Scriptural leg to stand on. There is nothing biblically problematic about seeing a particular race as having a unique perspective on God. On those terms, Obama could even defend his pastor’s theology rather than distancing himself from it.

In the Hebrew Bible race-blindness is not the ideal. On the contrary, the special importance of race is key to understanding a scripturally based worldview. According to the Book of Genesis, all human beings belong to one of three great races descended from Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Noah and his family were the only humans left alive after the Flood that destroyed the world. According to tradition, Shem became the ancestor of the peoples of Asia, including the Middle East. That is why Jews are called “Semites,” meaning "offspring of Shem." Ham fathered the peoples of Africa, and Japheth, those of Europe. The Book of Genesis also offers a more detailed breakdown of the racial identity of the world’s inhabitants. From Shem, Ham, and Japheth there descended a total of seventy primordial national units, listed in Chapter 10 of Genesis.

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David Klinghoffer
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