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The NYT looks at Black Liberation Theology and its declining significance in the black community — only a quarter of churches now follow the theology that stresses that God’s commitment to free the Israelites in the Bible, among other places, means he will free blacks today. This thesis is a big part of my new book on Moses in America, so I’ve clipped a few interesting grafs from the article.
“Most black church members want to see their ministers involved in defending the race and improving civil rights,” Mr. Jackson said. “The anger and bitterness that bleeds through in Reverend Wright’s comments are something that many blacks can sympathize with, even if they don’t want to hear it in the pulpit.”
Black liberation theology may have taken modern flower in the 1960s, but its roots (no less than those of more conservative black theologies) extend deep into America’s historical cellar and its legacy of slavery.
In that context, the revolutionary message of the Bible seems inescapable, most notably in the story of the Exodus. “If you read that God told the pharaoh to release the slaves, you’d have to be pretty dense not to see the connection,” said James A. Noel, a professor at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.
Slave masters kept a wary rein on worship, fearful blacks might find inspiration in the Bible’s insurrectionary content. Black worshipers sought refuge in ravines and woods, building the “invisible church” that became the modern black church in all of its manifestations.
“The black church has always existed along a continuum, from a focus on healing to a focus on liberation,” noted Dwight N. Hopkins, a professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “The liberationists emphasize this earth and the more fundamentalist emphasize the resurrection and the life after.”Language, too, has defined the black church from slavery to liberation theology. Pastors, whether prophetic or fundamentalist, drew unambiguous inspiration from the diamond-hard words of the Old Testament, in which little store was placed in talk of man’s innate goodness. God might love, but He was a deity of forbidding judgments and punishments.
“The Old Testament God is a God who addresses nations, and judges nations and holds them to account,” Professor Noel said. “The prophets are concerned about social sin and God judges nations for their unrighteousness.”