We Are All Children of God

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“But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning.
Who knows how we’ll end up.” (1 John 3:2a, The Message)

The influential theological movement of Black liberation theology emerged in the late 1960s and sought to address the issues of racial oppression and social injustice. It emphasizes the liberation of Black people from various forms of oppression and the creation of a just and equitable society.

I wrote about liberation theology a few weeks ago, seeking to understand its connections to science. In my article, I submitted that this approach to theology seeks to redress the dehumanizing injustices generated and sustained by oppressive structures and institutions by underscoring that God is the God of the oppressed. This focus emphasizes the liberation of the oppressed through social and political action. There, I considered Hispanic liberation thinkers, but this week, I want to turn my attention to Black liberation theology.

The founder of Black liberation theology, Rev. James H. Cone, explains that “in a white-dominated society in which Black has been defined as evil,” it becomes necessary to frame the gospel in relevant ways to the life and struggles experienced by American Blacks so “Black people can learn to love themselves.” This theological perspective has significant implications for the science of race, unconscious bias, implicit stereotypes, and understanding injustice.

In addressing those implications, I will lean heavily on the seminal books of Cone: “A Black Theology and Black Power” and “A Black Theology of Liberation.”

Black Theology and the Science of Race

The troubling concept of racial superiority in our present social fabric stems from flawed biblical and scientific interpretations that create an illusory sense of propriety that justifies white supremacy, slavery, and other manifestations of the sin of racism. In the pursuit of racial superiority, some scientists have sought empirical evidence that proves the white race possesses greater intellectual abilities, aiming to justify the oppression of those deemed inferior. This pursuit served as the foundation for a social structure that supported slavery, criminalized interracial marriage, upheld segregation, instituted mass incarceration of BIPOC populations, and established multiple policies designed to shape the population’s biology and genetic pool. Sadly, even the Bible has been used to support white superiority and racial oppression.

Cone asserts that Christianity “came to the Black man through white oppressors,” who conditioned them to reject their “concern for this world and their Blackness” and to focus on an eschatological hope mediated by whiteness. Consequently, we need a new hermeneutical and theological principle focused on liberation. This theological norm endeavors to align the Black condition with God’s revelation, redress the failure to acknowledge their equality, and struggle against the evil forces perpetuating oppression. Therefore, moving beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement’s structure of nonviolence, Black liberation theology highlights Black power as a robust tool for social justice and equality. Why? Because “liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity.”

Therefore, amid a world bent on oppressing BIPOC populations, Black liberation theology re-envisions a Christ akin to a revolutionary leader (i.e., a role model for social activism) that flips the tables of social power, legitimizes the Black struggle and proclaims the soteriological arrival of God’s kingdom in terms of social justice (i.e., the complete liberation of the oppressed). So, instead of preserving the prevailing narratives that perpetuate and justify racial injustice—be they scientific, biblical, or otherwise—Cone challenges them to highlight the experiences and voices of the oppressed to address their need for social and spiritual salvation (i.e., liberation).


  • Check SftC’s curated resources on the science of race.
  • To learn more about implicit biases or to take an implicit bias test, visit Harvard University’s Project Implicit.
  • Check out James Cone’s 13-minute interview on NPR’s Fresh Air.
  • Kendra Arsenault from Advent Next Theological Podcast introduces Black liberation theology.
  • In “God of the Oppressed,” James Cone unpacks how the gospel connects to the experiences of the Black community.
  • In “Forgive Us Our Biases,” Drew unpacks how cognitive biases affect our behavior.

The Intersection of Faith and Science

I began by quoting the Apostle John’s declaration that, despite skin color or ethnic differences, we are all children of God. However, it seems that somehow we have set this declaration aside. So, I need to unpack a bit of history. In the 19th century, Samuel Morton and Josiah Nott renewed the effort to seek empirical evidence to explain observable differences between the races. These efforts shifted from relying solely on biblical justification to include scientific proof to rank people by racial superiority, brain capacity, and intelligence. This shift gave rise to using science as a tool of power to uphold the idea of the white race as superior.

Now, even when we don’t like this idea, we have been conditioned to think about race in these terms. As we look around, we see a social and religious context built on racial division and conflict. This framework represents a contravention of God’s intent. We have become adept at navigating the field of conscious or explicit biases (i.e., biases that happen consciously and intentionally) and stereotypes. The problem is dealing with unconscious or implicit biases (i.e., social stereotypes that are pre-reflective attributions of particular qualities by an individual or a member of some social group). The existence of these biases reminds us of the prevalence of systemic and corporate sin in our social context.

In a way, Black liberation theology forces us to address these uncomfortable truths. Even when critics of the movement challenge its foundational presuppositions on the grounds it displaces the preeminent place of the gospel by putting race first, there is truth behind these theological constructs. Cone suggests that white theology does not have appropriate answers for the problems of Black people. Therefore, in a social context where BIPOC individuals are oppressed and marginalized by the ruling majority, if they “are to have freedom,” they must redefine sin as social to challenge the status quo.

In fact, some modern scientific findings align with Cone’s theological emphasis on the unique experiences of Black people. While we are all biologically the same, the experiences of BIPOC communities are shaped by the infliction of trauma, systemic abuses in medicine, social rejection, and oppression. These dynamics have negatively impacted the health and well-being of Black people for generations, reflecting the core of this theological movement.

Black liberation theology provides a critical lens through which we can examine and address the intertwined issues of racial oppression, social injustice, and theological misinterpretations. By centering the experiences and struggles of Black individuals, this theological framework critiques the historical and ongoing misuse of science and religion to justify racial superiority. Moreover, it offers a transformative vision of liberation rooted in social and political action. Lastly, it underscores the importance of framing the gospel in ways that resonate with the lived realities of the oppressed, promoting self-love and dignity among Black people.

As we continue to explore the intersection of faith and science, it becomes evident that the quest for racial equality and justice requires confronting both conscious and unconscious biases. Black liberation theology challenges us to rethink traditional narratives and to recognize the divine activity in the struggle for social justice. It calls for a new hermeneutical approach that aligns with God’s revelation and actively engages in the fight against systemic oppression. Ultimately, it calls us to work for a world where the soteriological promise of God’s kingdom is realized through the complete liberation of the oppressed, affirming the inherent worth and equality of all God’s children.

In Nobis Regnat Iesus,
Ed

 

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