The death of theologian James Cone last week brought back a flood of memories and sent me scurrying to my bookshelves to browse through the half dozen or so of his books that I own. It's not often that I get to quote Cone, for the mere fact that his work goes largely unappreciated by a wider audience.
Cone was considered a pioneer in what is generally known as "Black Liberation Theology."
You might wonder why, as I did back in seminary, there's a need to specify a particular form of theology. After all, isn't theology universal, regardless of color or culture?
The short answer to that is a resounding NO!
When I became familiar with Cone's works, I was profoundly influenced to radically alter my thinking.
In his book,
God of the Oppressed, Cone writes, "We cannot afford to do theology unrelated to human existence." [p. 16]
New York Times obituary
, he described black liberation theology as "an interpretation of the Christian Gospel from the experience and perspectives and lives of people who are at the bottom in society - the lowest economic and racial groups."
Europeans tend to spiritualize the Bible, depriving it of its basic context. Readers of Cone, or other liberation theologians, are challenged to confront/speak out/prophecy against material oppression, side with the 'least' among us, and work to empower the downtrodden.
That is - or should be - vividly evident when one reads the words of the prophet Isaiah as proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospel according to Luke,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." [Luke 4:18-19]
Given my personal life experience, I tend to look at these words primarily from a Hispanic/Latino perspective, but it could be interpreted from the perspective of any marginalized group.
For most Americans, it was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who raised awareness of the oppression of black people in this country during the Civil Rights era of the 1950's and 60's. Though thoroughly inspired by Scripture, King's acts of civil disobedience were grounded in the philosophy of passive resistance developed by Mahatma Gandhi in India's struggle for independence from the British Empire.
Cone, on the other hand, systematized those struggles theologically, in one of his earliest and most notable works,
A Black Theology of Liberation, published in 1970. This was the first exposure I had to Cone.
As I reflect back on my own theological development, I give thanks to God for the scholarship and intellect of this brilliant mind, who now occupies a rightful place among the communion of saints and whom I count among my great cloud of witnesses.
This week is filled with meetings both in and out of the office. I want to highlight three of them because of their significance to the ecumenical work of the greater church.
On Wednesday, May 2, I will be in Columbus at the Ohio Council of Churches as we say farewell to the Rev. Rebecca Tollefson, who is retiring as Executive Director; and Tom Smith, who is retiring as Public Policy Director. Both leave office on June 30, 2018.
The work of the Council goes largely unnoticed by the greater population, but as the mission statement indicates, the council works diligently to: make visible the unity of Christ's church, provide a Christian voice on public issues, and engage in worship, education and service.
We wish both Rebecca and Tom well as they transition into another phase of their ministry.
Thursday, May 3
, Bishop George V. Murry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown and I will be with the members of the Lutheran-Catholic Covenant Commission as we make our annual appearance before the commission to review the work of the past year and envision the year ahead.
Saturday, May 5
, Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, and I, will be at Christ the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Brecksville for a Stewardship Workshop which will feature the Rev. Dr. Clayton Smith, executive pastor for generosity at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, Missouri and author of Propel: Good Stewardship, Great Generosity. Rev. Smith will present two workshops following a panel discussion between bishop Hollingsworth and me.
I want to thank Synod Resource Specialist Karen Kaufman, who has done a tremendous job of preparing for this event along with Laura Hnat of the Diocese. Again, this is a vivid example of how much more effective we can be together ecumenically as the body of Christ.
Sunday, May 6
, I look forward to being with the people of God at Grace Lutheran Church in Wadsworth, to preach and preside. The worship service will be followed by a brunch, as if I needed any more incentive.
This week and always, may God's joy dwell in you, that your faith bear fruit that will last.
+Bishop Abraham Allende