The firestorm of controversy around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, senior pastor of Barack Obama’s church in Chicago, continues unabated. This morning, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, in his “Best of the Web” column, picks up an item from an Asia Times columnist who goes by the nom de cyber of “Spengler.” It is a quote from James Cone, professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York and probably the world’s foremost proponent of “black theology.” Come has been read on the subject by thousands of ministerial students for at least a couple of decades now, and his popularity in mainline seminaries makes this quote all the more shocking:
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community … Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.
A footnote on the Asia Times piece indicates that this comes from a William R. Jones essay entitled “Divine Racism: The Unacknowledged Threshold Issue for Black Theology,” found in African-American Religious Thought: An Anthology, edited by Cornel West and Eddie Glaube (Westminster John Knox Press). You can find this book for yourself at Google Books, though the essay is not present in its entirety, and unfortunately the footnote that would provide a source for Cone’s quote isn’t present.
Taken on its own, this quote is a testimony to both racism and heresy. The racism is in the claim that God, to be for black people, must stand against white people and help blacks to destroy their white enemies. The heresy is in the rejection of the New Testament’s declaration that in Christ, the walls between people have collapsed, and that now there is “neither Jew nor Greek,” which is to say that race and ethnicity no longer separate humanity into hostile camps, because Christ has overcome those hostilities in His triumph over sin and all that opposes God.
But given Cone’s stature as a theologian, it’s important to avoid using isolated quotes. I’d like to ask if any Reformed Pastor readers have this book, and can provide a citation for this quote; if so, e-mail me or put it in a comment. Even better, if you can provide this original article or book from which it came, that would be very helpful. I’d like to know whether James Cone is the racist and heretic that he seems to be in this quote, or if this was wrenched out of context by Jones and then passed along in the popular press. Getting a better picture of Cone may help in getting a better picture of Wright, and that in turn may tell us a lot about a man who might be the next president of the United States.
UPDATE: No word yet on the source for Spengler’s quote. But this came in via the comments:
For white people, God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ means that God has made black people a beautiful people; and if they are going to be in relationship with God, they must enter by means of their black brothers, who are a manifestation of God’s presence on earth. The assumption that one can know God without knowing blackness is the basic heresy of the white churches. They want God without blackness, Christ without obedience, love without death. What they fail to realize is that in Amereica, God’s revelation on earth has always been black, red, or some other shocking shade, but never white. Whiteness, as revealed in the history of America, is the expression of what is wrong with man. It is a symbol of man’s depravity. God cannot be white even though white churches have portrayed him as white. When we look at what whiteness has done to the minds of men in this country, we can see clearly what the New Testament meant when it spoke of the principalities and powers. To speak of Satan and his powers becomes not just a way of speaking but a fact of reality. When we can see a people who are controlled by an ideology of whiteness, then we know what reconciliation must mean. The coming of Christ means a denial of what we thought we were. It means destroying the white devil in us. Reconciliation to God means that white people are prepared to deny themselves (whiteness), take up the cross (blackness) and follow Christ (black ghetto).
That’s from James Cone (Black Theology and Black Power) and is quoted in The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity by Thabiti M. Anyabwile (Orbis), page 150. Once again, racism and heresy combined.