Posts tagged liberation theology

That’s Why They Crucified Him: An Interview with James Cone

The following interview is by Joe McKnight, an MA candidate at Union Theological Seminary. James Cone is the founder of black liberation theology and the Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union.

The interview appeared in The Revealer

This should not be my first interview. That’s what I’m thinking during my haircut, a feeble attempt to look more professional. I hear a classmate’s voice in the chair next to me; he asks what I’m doing and I tell him.Really? Yes, really. I hand him the fifth draft of my questions, and after he looks them over, I ask if he has any advice. “Practice deference,” he answers. Good lord, yes! Being from the South, if I’ve been trained to be anything, it’s deferential.

“Do you think I should tuck my shirt in?” I ask my classmate.

“Doesn’t hurt,” he replies.

When I knock on the door, no one answers. Maybe he forgot! Hallelujah! I ring the door-bell; there is rustling. I thought I’d left behind the notion of divine intervention after my first year of seminary, but the hope that it exists comes roaring back. I’m that scared. It will have to be God, James Cone, and me.

He stands in the doorway, grinning. Despite his 73 years, I’m certain his face has changed little since his youth. His once soaring afro, however, has. He is wearing black slacks and house slippers; he wears his button down oxford lightly.  Its pattern can only be described as Africa-meets-hounds-tooth, a look befitting Dr. Cone’s legacy. He asks me to sit in a deep-seated chair in his spotless apartment. I do not lean back. Both of our shirts are tucked in.  I am sitting alone in this living room with the father of black liberation theology.

Reinhold Niebuhr could write and preach about the cross with profound theological imagination and say nothing of how the violence of white supremacy invalidated the faith of white churches. It takes a lot of theological blindness to do that, especially since the vigilantes were white Christians who claimed to worship the Jew lynched in Jerusalem.
James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
One has to have a powerful religious imagination to see redemption in the cross, to discover life in death and hope in tragedy. What kind of salvation is that? No human language can fully describe what salvation through the cross means. Salvation through the cross is a mystery and can only be apprehended through faith, repentance, and humility. The cross is an ‘opening to the transcendent’ for the poor who have nowhere else to turn - that transcendence of the spirit that no one can take away, no matter what they do. Salvation is broken spirits being healed, voiceless people speaking out, and black people empowered to love their own blackness.
James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
The gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hope out of despair, as revealed in the biblical and black proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.
James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
[Black ministers’] sense of redemption through Jesus’ cross was not a propositional belief or a doctrine derived from the study of theology. Redemption was an amazing experience of salvation, an eschatological promise of freedom that gave transcendent meaning to black lives that no lynching tree could take from them.
James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
How is the presence of God, precisely that God who delivered an enslaved people and became self-manifest in Jesus Christ crucified and risen, actualized today in a world of affliction? The answer: primarily through divine scandalous love for the poor and the intention that the poor should receive life. If this is the self-definition of God’s heart, then knowing and loving God mean letting one’s own life be configured to this shape of divine action in the world.
Elizabeth Johnson, Quest for the Living God
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