The graphic above is very difficult to look at, but it is a helpful way to demonstrate the confusion inherent to liberation theologies. As the scandal over Obama's membership with a church that embraces black liberation theology, Americans need to take an honest look at what this movement actually is.
Feminist, womanist, mujerist, black.....these are a few of the areas that have a stake in the liberation theology movement. Womanist is essentially the African-American counterpart to the feminist theology. Mujerist, similarly, is the Latina version. Feminist and black are self-explanatory in light of a fuller definition.
Black liberation theology shares much in common with liberation theology in general but also has its own uniqueness. As a theology of liberation, it is concerned with the political and economic aspects of salvation rather than salvation in spiritual terms. Moreover, God is viewed as being primarily for the poor over against the rich in society. However, black theologians seek to interpret liberation from a black American or black African perspective (though even blacks in the United States and Africa sense differences in their emphases). Black theology, unlike Latin American liberation thought, is concerned with racism and a historical identity.A casual reading of this definition reveals a "theology" that begins at the point of correcting a wrong--oppression and racism. No one will deny that issues of race have gone unresolved in this country, and like the prolife movement, those engaged in the cause will and should continue to battle these issues. However, when we speak of the task of theology but interpret the Scriptures through the lenses of our own experience, we are not doing theology, that is called politics and politics is the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy.
James Cone is a key player in the history of black liberationism, having written many books that try to locate the solution to racism exclusively in black theology. The foundation of this so-called theology is in the experience of oppression and fails to be Christocentric. It finds answers to concerns of justice and racism not in the church or the Scriptures, but in the outworking of government. This is a "theology" that begins with and is deeply rooted in politics. Cone writes,
Christian theology is never just a rational understanding of the being of God. Rather it is a study of God's liberating activity in the world, God's understanding in behalf of the oppressed. (A Black Theology of Liberation, p. 3)At first glance, Cone doesn't seem to dismiss the study of the nature of God, but then he insists that instead of that, "rather" it has to do with what God is doing here on earth on behalf of the victims of racism. No serious theologian of any race would suggest that God isn't interested in the lives of people on earth here and now, that our doctrines are only concerned with the hereafter. But several areas of theology all work together to help us understand how it is that God is working in our lives. While we can't tolerate racism, we must recognize the significance of sin, that man is fallen. We can't ignore that God is sovereign, though man is still responsible for his actions. We must think of creation, fall, and redemption on a spiritual level with earthly implications, but no where in Scripture is man promised a easy ride and in no way is God's ultimate plan about Jesus' kingship here and now. During Jesus' time on earth, the same mistake was made, that he would be some sort of earthly king at that time.
But for Cone, that task of theology is to explicate the meaning of God's liberating activity so that those who labor under enslaving powers will see that the forces of liberation are the very activity of God. (Ibid., p. 3) And as this movement actually embodies politics and does little actual theology, we are to understand the government as its agent of grace, not the church.
I am not suggesting for one moment that people of religion have to leave their voice outside of the public square and adopt some sort of secularist common ground. In fact, I wrote my master's thesis on just the opposite idea and spend a great deal of time showing how the notion of religious neutrality is impossible. So I have no qualms with black liberationism in the public square. What I do have a problem with is the advocates of this so-called theology arguing for a public square sanitized of any religious language or influence, knowing full well their politics and their theology are a single entity. When evangelicals argue for certain moral positions, they are generally shouted down for having religious reasons and verbage. Yet those engaged in government who are also advocates of black liberationism are free to bring their theology into the public square. The pursuit of universal health care, redistribution of wealth, unfettered access to abortion and birth control, and other matters related to social "justice" are how this movement understands God acting in today's world. In this view of reality, "God" actually becomes big government and enslaves not just the black community, but every community to higher taxes and limited resources and opportunity.
I am equally, if not moreso, bothered by the lack of respect for the church as God established it. The church is not primarily a political bandwagon, it is a community of believers whose primary focus is the worship of God and glorifying him in all areas of our lives. The church is the body of Christ, a doctrine that is not to be taken lightly. A church willingly used for political expediency is apostate.
Clearly there is a difference between church and state, but no necessary separation. Hopefully we don't have to be witness to Obama's form of spirituality that embraces black liberationism as a Christian theology and government policy while shutting out all others.