“Because Jesus Christ is the focal point for everything that is said about the Christian gospel, it is necessary to to investigate the meaning of his person and work in light of the black perspective. It is one thing to assert that he is the essence of the Christian gospel and quite another to specify the meaning of his existence in relation to the slave ships that appeared on American shores. Unless his existence is analyzed in light of the oppressed land, we are still left wondering what his presence means for the auction block, the Underground Railroad and contemporary manifestations of black power. To be sure, white theology has informed us that Jesus Christ in the content of the gospel, but it has failed miserably in relating that gospel to Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser. It is therefore the task of black theology to make theology relevant to the black reality, asking, ‘What does Jesus mean for the oppressed blacks of the land?'”
~ James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, p.110.
I am convinced that we, as people of faith, are often asking the wrong questions and that there are occasions when the questions that we ask are indicative of the fact that we are not pleased or satisfied with the answer that God has provided. To be clear, the reality of American slavery was not the answer to the question of freedom. Because African people were enslaved does not suggest or imply that this was God’s will for their lives. No, it instead points to the sinfulness of humanity– not the ignorance or absence of God.
We are often found questioning God for actions that we have done or that persons we can name and identify have done to us. We do not turn to the creature but to the Creator and ask, “Why? Why did You allow this to happen?” We do not ask, “Why are we so mean, so hurtful, so selfish?” We do not question our sinful nature but God’s divine goodness. It is the classic and traditional human response.
James Cone writes, “If Jesus Christ is to have any meaning for us, he must leave the security of the suburbs by joining blacks in their condition.” But, why can’t Jesus be in the city and the suburbs, with “them” and “us”? Why must an omnipresent God be seen only with us in order to be for us? And what kind of god is this as this is certainly not Jesus the Christ of the gospel, socially colored or otherwise? This is the god of black and white theology.
He seems to be asking, “What does Jesus mean for socially colored black people in light of their oppressive experience in America? What is or will Jesus do for us?” But, Jesus experienced the human condition and socially colored blacks are not the only ones who have been oppressed. All are being oppressed by sin and he came to die for all.
Is this not enough? Must he died a special and separate death, perform segregated miracles for this community and that culture in order to prove his allegiance? Must he come to our side, walk and talk with us only and be our Messiah and not theirs? Or can he come to save the world?
These questions don’t matter either because he already has. And sinners don’t come in races. He came to die for all, whether we like them or feel as if they are worthy of his forgiveness and the gift of salvation. We must accept that slavery while horrible is no worse a sin than any of those that we commit each day. We will find ourselves in the same state and perhaps in the same line as those we feel are the “chief of sinners” if we too do not confess our sin and need of God’s saving grace. Liars and oppressors, gossipers and enslavers, gamblers and segregationists will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Cone has accepted “white theology” as a part of God’s identity but I don’t recall reading from the prophets or any other messenger in the Bible that God said, “I am the Lord, thy God. I am white.” We have allowed race to segregate God’s will for humanity, to determine our understanding of God and revise the vision that God has for humanity through His son, Jesus Christ.
What would Jesus do if he were socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige? This is the wrong question as it places Jesus in the problem and not above it. We limit Jesus’ ability in our minds by suggesting that because he came in the flesh, he is somehow limited by it or confined to it, that race has the same power of him as it does us. God forbid. Jesus is also fully divine, a reality that we cannot comprehend or make sense of not only when it comes to our suffering but his own.
Cone argues, “What need have we for a white Jesus when we are not white but black? If Jesus is white and not black, he is an oppressor and we must kill him.” Now, I know that Cone is addressing an academic and theological perspective as it relates to the identity and purpose of Christ. I certainly hope that he does not believe that Jesus is white or black or any other social color. And to suggest that you can kill the one who is “the resurrection and the life” is clearly a bit of book drama for he knows that he cannot. Cone is speaking to the death of an idea, I think.
Still, I think that these are the wrong questions, the wrong arguments to raise. He wrote this book some forty years ago and persons are still asking these questions. What does this suggest of our answers or even our issue. Our problem is with race, its construction and foundation. It is race that we should be question not God. God did not create race, we did. So, again, why are we blaming God for something that we created, support and accept?
The question should be since Jesus is not socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige, why do we continue to accept race’s definition of his life and ours? Because Jesus is the focal point of our the gospel and of our lives as believers. He is the reason for our transformation not race. There’s no question about that.