Dr. Dwight Hopkins is a professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of many books on theology, and his latest is "Being Human: Race, Culture and Religion." He also attends Trinity United Church of Christ, where the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is the former pastor.
In a phone interview, Dr. Hopkins answered questions about the black church, black liberation theology, and how they provide a context for the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's controversial remarks.
- What is black liberation theology?
- Has it always included a political component?
- Do all black churches use liberation theology?
- What are the theological differences between black and white Protestant churches?
- What's the most common inaccuracy in all the Jeremiah Wright coverage?
- Is Jeremiah Wright correct to characterize criticisms of him as an attack on the black church?
What is black liberation theology?
Black liberation theology can be understood from a couple of angles. I usually look at each word. The theology part identifies the Christian connectedness or its roots in the Christian tradition. The liberation part relates to Jesus' message of liberation for people who are left out, people who are hurting. And the black part is how the theology and the liberation are revealed in African-American culture. The actual origin of black theology liberation takes place in 1966.
A group of about 45 black male clergy and one female clergy wrote a statement in the New York Times called "The Black Power Statement." That's the historical marker for the beginning of contemporary black theology liberation. They wanted to reconnect the actual foundation of the black church, which took place under slavery in America.
That church was founded for two specific reasons. Of course, one was to talk about personal healing and personal salvation, but the other aspect of it was to be involved in political conversation and political movements.
Black theology liberation arose from these black clergy persons, to reclaim that heritage of linking personal transformation with systemic transformation.
Are there other basic tenets of black liberation theology?
It's biblically based. Three passages come to mind: [The first is] Luke 4:18. This is the passage where Jesus gives his first public statement on what his mission is on earth, that is to say, why has he come down to earth, why has God revealed God's self in Jesus, the man on earth.
And that mission is very clear. It's to feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to help--to liberate, you know, those who are imprisoned, to support--you know, support the--justice for the oppressed. It's very clear. Black liberation theology, biblically speaking, is based on that.
The second passage is Matthew 25:31 and following. From the perspective of black liberation theology, or black theology liberation, they mean the same for me--that's the only passage where Jesus gives criteria to enter Heaven.