If you’ve been paying attention at all to the news you are aware of the brouhaha involving Senator Barack Obama who gave a speech in defense of his twenty-year relationship with his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The most egregious comment the pastor made in a sermon was, “Not ‘God bless America.’ No, no, no! Not ‘God bless America,’ but ‘God damn America!’” I, like many of you, found these remarks to be vitriolic and hateful.
In Obama’s comments regarding Rev. Wright’s disturbing diatribes during his sermons, he said, “Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.” Uh, excuse me, senator, but these are frighteningly inflammatory remarks, and this is not normal speech for a sermon given by any pastor I know. And I’ve known more than a few pastors and chaplains of all faiths in my time.
Have I made such remarks when I preach Sunday after Sunday? No. But I do make outrageous statements each week when I preach. I’m frequently heard to proclaim: “God loves you!” “Christ died for your sins.” “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father but through me.’” “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen, just as he said.” I could go on, but you get the picture.
Perhaps it would help if I explained the doctrinal position of the Trinity Church of Christ. Rev. Wright became its pastor in 1971, embracing what is known as Black Liberation Theology (BLT).
The message of black theology is that the African American struggle for liberation is consistent with the gospel – every theological statement must be consistent with, and perpetuate, the goals of liberation. This theology maintains that African Americans must be liberated from multiple forms of bondage – social, political, economic and religious. This liberation involves empowerment and seeks the right of self-definition, self-affirmation and self-determination.
The modern American origins of contemporary Black Liberation Theology can be traced to July 31, 1966, when an ad hoc group of 51 black pastors, calling themselves the National Committee of Negro Churchmen (NCNC), bought a full page ad in the New York Times to publish their "Black Power Statement," which proposed a more aggressive approach to combating racism using the Bible for inspiration. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_theology)
In an article "An Investigation of Black Liberation Theology," Dr. H. Wayne House wrote, “Black theology (and liberation theology in general) seeks to speak to ‘this-world’ problems, rather than ‘other-world’ issues; to concrete circumstances, rather than abstract thought; to the sinfulness of man’s plight in a ghetto, rather than sin in man’s heart; and to a savior who delivers man from earthly slavery, rather than a Savior who saves man from spiritual bondage. This is black liberation theology in a word.” (http://wooq.blogspot.com/2005/09/black-liberation-theology.html)
It’s important to understand that this theological position is not typical of Black churches in America. Black Liberation Theology (BLT) grew out of the 50s and 60s when many blacks were attempting to make sense of the racial tensions that still existed in America. During this era we saw the rise of the Black Panthers, the Black Muslims, and numerous other groups that related to a shared experience of racism amidst the growth of the Civil Rights Movement. I first became aware of BLT when I signed up for classes at the College of Alameda after returning from Vietnam in 1972. While there I befriended one of the founders of the Black Panthers. We spent hours discussing political and philosophical views. This alone was an education in itself.
While taking a class in African American History from Dr. Malcolm LaPlace, an African American who served in WWII as an officer in an all-black army unit, I gained an insight into the experience of many blacks from that era. He invited me to his home for dinner on several occasions where he would share many of his life’s experiences with me. I cherished those times together! One day at the end of class he announced that two members of the class who were Black Muslims would be sharing their beliefs with us the following week. This caught my attention! I had only been a Christian for a year at this point, but I still approached Dr. LaPlace after class and asked if he’d give me equal time. He said “Sure! We’ll have a debate.” I wasn’t looking for a debate, but at least I’d have a chance to speak to the entire class about Jesus!
The next week the debate began. The Black Muslim guys, dressed in their black pin-striped suits and top hats, were up first. They accused me of being a racist, along with numerous invectives and diatribes, all the while attempting to explain their belief system. Of the 65 students in class, all but three were black. When it was my turn to speak, I simply shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ, explaining how he died for our sins so we could have eternal life. This really set off my opponents! The debate had been scheduled for one day. It lasted three! As I was making my concluding remarks on the final day, one of the Black Muslim guys angrily ran to the front of the class, pointed his finger in my face and shouted, “I believe you’re the devil. Prove to me and this class that you’re not the devil.” I said, “Okay. That’s simple. I used to serve the devil. But last year I gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ. The Bible says when you trust in Jesus you become a child of God. So, you see, I can’t be the devil.” My misguided friend lost complete control and began ranting and raving about how God was actually black; that the white man is the devil; but this black God made the white man to dominate the black man, etc, etc. The class began to laugh, picked up their books and walked out.
I share this story because it illustrates what’s wrong with Black Liberation Theology. In this theological construct blacks are victims in life, and salvation is being freed from white dominance and influence. The truth is, as sinners, we are set free from sin and death through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now that’s a sermon worth preaching!