Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Between Three Worlds - Name It and Claim It
So what’s all the fuss with Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Well it’s not the prevalence of his theology within the black church. And that’s somewhat odd. In a country that had just fought the war to end all wars to end totalitarianism black people were still literally the odd man out. Politically the government stood by several states that maintained a strict system of Jim Crow laws that affected nearly every aspect of black life. Commercially black people were systematically cut out and left behind as other Americans thrived with good jobs that afforded middle class lifestyles. Academically the country that opened the school day with prayer to the One who made all people from one man was quite comfortable with schools that were segregated and most definitely unequal. Socially housing and lending patterns assured that African-Americans would remain segregated in all black neighborhoods. And religiously evangelical churches all across the nation would read from Paul’s injunction regarding our common communion from 1 Cor. 11 and then proceed to violate the spirit and letter of the words by forbidding communion and membership to their brothers and sisters solely on the basis of the color of the their skin.
Against all this black people had one faithful and diligent ally namely the black church. It was this church that would lead the battle into the classrooms, lunch counters and courtrooms to seek equal rights under the law for people created in God’s image and blessed to be born in America. The 1960’s brought a number of changes to this struggle one of which was the black power movement. It was in the midst of the Civil Rights struggle and the black power movement that became an offshoot of that struggle that Dr. James Cone published his landmark books ‘Black Theology and Black Power’ and ‘A Black Theology of Liberation’. It could be that Dr. Cone though that the black church needed to adjust to the times much like liberal theologians earlier in the 20th century believed the white church needed to adjust to modernism. And in light of the presence of the Nation of Islam and the general treatment of most African-Americans by their native land one could have easily thought that Black Liberation Theology would initiate a new wave of black churches bound together by our common experience and new ethno-centric theology.
But that did not happen. Apart from anomalies like TUCC most black churches do not adhere to Black Liberation Theology. Why is that? There are many reasons that I don’t want to get into here. Suffice it to say that if you were to talk with the average African-American church member whether he or she is Methodist, Baptist or Pentecostal the theology espoused would be more in line with Dr. Frederick K. Price than Dr. Jeremiah Wright.
What we know as prosperity theology has been around since soon after the church of the risen Savior began. Paul warned Timothy of those who preached a message in which godliness was a means to material wealth. (see 1Tim. 6) In America this theology began to gain traction around the 1920’s. Many black folks were exposed to this kind of theology by Rev. Ike whose radio ministry reached its peak in the 1970’s. Perhaps because of his time Rev. Ike always stood on the outside of the mainstream black church. It wasn’t until African-Americans actually began to move into the middle class in larger numbers that prosperity theology really took off within the black church. And in many ways it is now the dominant theology among the black church and within the black community. Unlike Black Liberation theology the prosperity gospel didn’t arise and remain mainly among the academy. It captured the hearts and minds of a new generation of black pastors who began or revamped churches based on this theology of worldly success and wealth.
But just how did this brand of theology that was still on the fringe up to the mid to late eighties come to dominate the black church scene? More on that next time.
To Him Who Loves Us…