Lutheran Quarterly, August 1975, Volume XXVII Number 3 has two interesting historical articles. I am not making any assessments in first sharing Rev. Dr. Will Herzfeld article addressing the subject of “Black Theology & White Theology” the that will be followed tomorrow by an article by Merle Longwood, retired Professor of Religious Studies at Siena College, Loudonville, NY on “Justice and Reparations: The Black Manifesto Reconsidered.”
Black Theology & White Theology
By WILL HERZFELD
Will Herzfeld is pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland, California.
IT is becoming
increasingly common for theologians in the world to speak of a "Black theology" and a "White theology." What
precisely is meant by both expressions needs more clarity. Evidence
shows that many of our theological institutions have not been able to come to grips with these concepts. I feel that
there is a need to deal with these issues, since a complete theological education must take into consideration the encounter between Black theology and White theology.
It is in the hope of trying to clarify some of these issues, particularly in view of the suggestion that the training of Blacks and Whites ought to consider the issue, that this article is offered.
Let's begin by taking a brief look at the major concerns of
Black theology as I see them. It was in the U.S.A. that Black theology first
began to appear. It was a response of Black Christian theologians to the
development of the Black Power
movement as it found its expression in persons like Stokley Carmichael in the early 1960's. This movement emphasized the importance of Black people emancipating themselves from White oppression by whatever means they themselves thought to be necessary. It represented a claim by Blacks to the right
to determine the means necessary to secure liberation from oppression. It did not acknowledge the right of Whites, whether Christian or not, to lay down conditions for the Black struggle. The Black claims the right to think and act in his/her own behalf. It was seen as essential that the Black person be free from all attempts to soften anger or to limit the scope of his/her action. Black people had to rediscover their own humanity through making their own decisions over against the White establishment. Black Power was the affirmation of one's
"being" over against that which dehumanizes.
Therefore if Black People are to be liberated it will be Blacks who will do the liberating, not Whites. White liberals fail to understand this. The liberal mentality sees progress without conflict, which by any stretch of the imagination is impossible. Frederick Douglass said: .. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning . . this struggle may be a moral one; or it may be both moral and physical but there must be a struggle."
The offer of integration
had to be rejected, because it represented an attempt to force Blacks to conform
to White norms and enabled us to make progress only at the expense of our
integrity and self-assurance. All too often this attitude is
adopted by the main-line churches in America and Europe. The result is that Black people have become suspicious of these churches.
Those Black theologians who have moved into the area of Black theology have given an enthusiastic and positive response to this kind of thought. The Black search for freedom is identified with the promise of liberation given in the Gospel: "For freedom Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1). White Power and White racism are identified with those demonic and destructive principalities and powers which Christ has come to conquer (Mark 1:12 ff, 3:27). It is emphasized that although Christ has won the decisive victory over such powers it is nevertheless still necessary for us to join in the struggle and to become
instruments for the extension of the Kingdom (2 Timothy 1:10, Ephesians 1:22, Hebrews 3:8). The claim that this struggle is waged for the good of Whites as well as Blacks is one which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made often during the civil rights movement. It is a valid one since the one who enslaves another enslaves himself/herself.
BLACK THEOLOGY AND THE GOSPEL
The gospel is the
message of love. Black Theology contends that love, like morality, can only be
possible among equals. Unless Blacks are free from oppression and are
able to take the initiative to make their own judgment and decisions as mature
Christians there can be no love between the races. To figure
otherwise is to make love into something that it is not, to devalue and sentimentalize it so that it becomes a device to keep Blacks" in their place." Heretofore love has been presented as submission and meekness in the face of injustice; this has often gone along with a devaluation of the gospel in which
salvation is interpreted in exclusively other-worldly terms and distorted into a promise of a better life after death beyond the grave which will compensate for the agonies and sufferings of life in the world today. So White Western Christianity becomes the .. opium for the people" offering heavenly rewards for earthly submission.
The Gospel of Jesus
to those who are being oppressed is not, as is often said,
that the oppressed must meekly submit to injustice. Instead, that Gospel
means that however unfavorable the circumstances the oppressed must seek to
initiative and to assert their dignity as people and as children of God. We must never allow the oppressor to force us into any relationship where we may be controlled or dominated.
I must add here that when I was
growing up in rural Alabama, this "love" that the Lutherans had for me never
made me want to vote (on the contrary, it told me not to) and never
concerned itself with segregated churches, schools or water fountains. It still is apparent
that there is a lot of that kind of "love"
extant among Lutherans, North and South, today. The same platitudes about meekness and about submission are uttered by most White pastors and most White Lutherans in general.
problem is with a twisted understanding of reconciliation. The liberal insists on reconciliation
without confrontation or reparation. Christians must recognize the right of every
person to confront another and to demand recognition as a person. Justice must
obtain, only then can we go on to
talking about reconciliation in pure human terms.
It is not my intent to be only hostile or disparaging when I speak of White theology, as I have done in the previous sentences. What I have described, however, what has been called theology, has enslaved Whites and Third World people.
There is a demand in certain quarters for" a White theology in a different sense of that expression." That is to say, it is emphasized that it is as necessary to work out the implications of the liberation gospel for White society as for Black and Third World People. White people in Christian Churches do have problems, as is evidenced by the battles in two major White denominations today. Therefore a theology must be formulated which speaks to the dehumanizing effects of the materialistic and selfish society which White people have created. This is a society where things such as institutions, doctrines, and structures are more highly valued than people.
I believe the demand that we formulate a White theology of liberation is a legitimate and important demand. A reappraisal of the values of White society by the church is overdue. The problems and needs of White society are such that the only logical solution to them is to be found in the word of God as it comes from the oppressed community, and at first that word is judgment.
Finally I would like
to say a few words about the kind of presuppositions which underlie the kind of
approach to theology which I have taken for granted in these notes. My feeling is
that we are created in the image of God, and that takes precedence over our
fallenness. Christianity fulfills, completes and corrects the aspiration
of natural man toward the good and the good God. There is no reason why the
Black experience should not be regarded as a prolegomenon to the Gospel just as
validly as Greek Philosophy or Western thought. Therefore I would agree with Paul
Tillich that there must always be a dialogue between the Christian tradition and the world. The world formulates the questions and the church gives the answers in Christ. The world, especially the Third World, sets the terms of the debate, and we are called to engage in the
debate, not to abstract ourselves from it in the interest of so called" Pure Theology" -which is
in fact nothing other than a sterile abstraction. Unless the Gospel speaks to me in my situation-my blackness-then it will not be a part of my life. Indeed, it is not then the gospel. The debate and subsequent pronouncements must have to do with the liberation of the oppressed or it is just another one of those demonic and destructive powers from which Christ came to deliver us.