A Return to Blackness

A Black Theology of Liberation by James Cone was the first theological text I ever read. I cherish the writings of Dr. Cone because he has the ability to articulate what it means to be pro-Black and Christian. He was the first theologian I was introduced to of any color. He remains the most important and influential theologian in my life. Because my community/heritage and my faith have always meant a lot to me I was and continue to be fascinated by the intersection of those worlds.

Not long after I read that book by Dr. Cone, I enrolled into the religious studies program at Oakland City University, a small General Baptist school in southwest Indiana. None of my classmates had ever read any Black theology. In fact they didn't even know who James Cone was. If it was not for my professors' ability to engage in discussions about race and social justice I probably would've went crazy during my two years at that school.

It seems that since about 2011 I have been unable to escape the White evangelical world; a world extremely unfamiliar to me for the first 24 years of my life (I grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal tradition in Baltimore, MD). While immersed in the White evangelical culture I have become increasingly frustrated by White folk's inability to decentralize their whiteness, especially in circles where diversity is supposedly made a top priority. A key component of whiteness is racial privilege; the privilege to assume that whiteness is the norm against which everyone else should be compared and the privilege to live one's life without ever needing to be aware of one's whiteness and how it might be impacting their life.

I see this most prevalent in theology. White theologians are held as the standard of theological thought while theologians of color are seen as contextual. This bothered me throughout college, but I didn't know how to articulate my concerns. I also, admittedly, was unaware of just how many theological works have been produced by people of color.

Recently, I was inspired by some conversations I had on twitter to get back into reading theology. The discipline of reading, for me, is similar to how many people treat the discipline of staying physically fit. I will read a lot over a short period of time, then go a long period of time without reading at all. After reflecting on those twitter conversations I made the decision to only read books by Black theologians for the next year.

I have decided to embark on this journey for three reasons. The first reason is that I am tired of the fact that in an ever-browning society and Church whiteness is still being normalized. One specific example of this is InterVaristy Press's Fall 2014 catalog which will not include a single author of color (read more about this here).
The second reason for my decision is because my study of and knowledge about Black theology is simply inadequate. Outside of the usual suspects of Cone, Thurman, and Cleage, I really haven't read much from other Black theologians. That inadequacy leads me to my third reason, which is the love I have for my community and the work of liberation I wish to engage in. The Black faith community has been involved in liberating its people here in America for a long time. As a person that looks to my faith to inform me of what I must do to dismantle systems of oppression, it would be foolish of me not to study how my ancestors did the same. The concept of sankofa has always been important to me.

History shapes identity. Therefore, I find it absolutely necessary for Black Christians to know and understand how Black folk have historically understood their Christian faith, interpreted scripture, and how the Black church has influenced the Black community. If we do not lift up our own work, our own thinkers, and our own traditions we are stuck in this world with a spiritual identity and a thought process that is not ours and that is ultimately not helpful given the conditions of our community within American society.

I have started the process of compiling resources. I will most likely review the books after I finish reading them (despite the age of some of them). I am also open to recommendations.

Here is the list (so far):

The Black Christ by Kelly Brown Douglas

In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness by Emilie Townes

God of the Oppressed by James Cone

Black Awareness: a Theology of Hope by Major J. Jones

Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores Williams

Power in the Blood? The Cross in the African American Experience by JoAnne Marie Terrell

The Search for Common Ground by Howard Thurman

Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective by Kelly Brown Douglas

Heart & Head: Black Theology--Past, Present, and Future by Dwight Hopkins

Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion by Charles H. Long

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  1. Here, here. Articulate,on point and timely. Thank you for taking us "Black to the future!"

  2. This is incredible and challenging. My ancestors are shinto buddhist and I am wondering where and how we respect a history and identity even when it conflicts with what I believe. I want to retain parts of my ancestors' practice because it is incredibly important to me to keep that cultural identity. What are you thoughts on "going back" and respecting a tradition that is not a christian one?

    1. I think it absolutely necessary to respect the tradition you come from. One of the beautiful things about Christianity for many Black Americans is how some of our African religious practices have stayed alive in worship.