ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Malcolm missed the difference between slave Christianity and slaveholder Christianity
By Kelly Brown Douglass
Review by Keith Johnson
The author attempts to explain the images that Christ has within the African American community and the theology that each image represents.
Chapter 1: The Roots of the Black Christ
The author starts by tracing the image of Christ being black by pointing to the late 60s. Black activists wanted nothing to do with the image of the White Christ. The increased Black Awareness started Black theologians trying to put the image of a Black Christ in theological terms. The author points out that the difference actually started with the advent of slavery in the United Sates and the conversion of the African slaves.
She walks us through the history of the justification of slavery and the problems with slaveholding Christians had with reconciling the institution of slavery.
The slaveholders developed an elaborate apologetic (the White Christ) to justify this institution. key pieces of this apologetic are 1) preach the parts of the Old testament that justifies slavery; 2) since Jesus never said that slavery was sinful Jesus must have agreed that slavery was OK; and 3) avoid preaching the Gospel and stick to Paul’s letters.
In response to this Christ, the slaves met secretly to talk about their Christ. this Christ was beaten and killed but his spirit could not be killed. they also identified with the story of Exodus. “The world of Exodus shaped slave Christianity.”
What God did for the people of the Old Testament, the slaves were sure that God would do for them. They felt that their God and their Christ were the true representatives not the one that the slaveholders held out to their slaves.
Most of all they felt that Jesus offered them freedom in this life not in just the next life. the slaves saw a huge contradiction between the White Christ upholding slavery and the message that they found in the Gospels. This is the beginning of the image of the Black Christ
Chapter 2: The Black Struggle and the Black Christ
Ms. Brown Douglas compares and contrasts Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in relation to the image of the Black Christ.
Martin Luther King challenged the white segregationist clergy to respond to this question, “who is their God? Is their God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph? And is their savior the Savior who hung on a cross at Golgotha?” MLK was challenging their (the white clergy) image of Christ. like the slaves before him, he believed that the image of a White Christ that the segregationists held was in conflict with the liberating message that the segregationists held was in conflict with the liberating message that the gospels of Jesus taught. MLK at the time made what was then a radical move, he called African-Americans children of God. By doing so, he identified God with the plight of the oppressed, namely, the African Americans.
He told the believers of the White Christ: African Americans have the same rights as they [Whites] but that God cared just as much for the Blacks as well as the Whites. This also suggested that freedom should and would come during his life as well as the next life. Thus, he is following in the footsteps of the slaves who started the Black Christ.
Malcolm X thought that Christianity itself was a tool to keep African-Americans in their place. He thought the “turn-the-other-cheek” attitude was use by the slaveholders to keep their slaves passive and content on this Earth. Although he missed the difference between slave Christianity and slaveholder Christianity, the author feels that he is right about worshiping a white Christ. It was revealed that during the case of brown vv. the Board of Education case that psychologists testified that Black children needed positive Black role models for healthy self-esteem. Therefore, in Malcolm’s eyes Christ has to be Black, so that African-Americans can identify with Christianity and still have a healthy view of themselves.
MLK theology made Christ a liberator of African-Americans but Malcolm X made Christ’s skin color an important component to the theology of the Black Christ.
Chapter 3: The Theological Development of the Black Christ
Kelly Brown Douglass uses three examples of the theology of the Black Christ.
Albert Cleage actually states that Christ is Black. He bases this observation on the fact that Arabs are Black people, and Egyptians are Black people. His thesis is the tribes of Israel are made up of non-whites such as Chaldeans, Egyptians, Midianites, Ethiopians, Kushites, and other dark peoples. Cleage feels that these people mixed the dark people of Central Africa. For Cleage, Jesus was really a Black Messiah born of a Black Woman. He felt that he had to to do this in order to make Christianity viable to the people of inner city Detroit during the racial turmoil during the 60s. His view is also shaped by the fact that he was very close to Malcolm X. Cleage felt that a non-Black Christ would have forced him to choose between nationalism and Christianity. What he chose to do was find a way to keep both.
James Cone offers a symbolic version of Christ’s Blackness. Cone borrowed from Paul Tillich’s definition of ontological symbols. For Cone to affirm that Christ is Black is the best way for African-Americans to relate to Christianity.
Cone wanted to engage White theologians who were silent on the injustice to African-Americans yet felt compelled to comment on the violence of the more militant aspects of nationalism. Cone felt that this was hypocritical. to complain about the violence that the African-American radical were committing but not to say anything about the systematic violence that they as a people went through was wrong. Cone needed a way to start the dialogue and try to find a way to make Christianity relevant to the African-American in the 20th century.
J. Deotis Roberts saw Christ’s Blackness even more symbolic than Cone. He felt that Christ was a universal figure for all people. He felt that Blacks can call him Black just as Whites, Native Americans, Asians can see Christ as one of them. His main concern for this view was he did not want Christ to be exclusive or oppressive to others once the African-Americans claimed that Christ was Black. The key for Roberts is to emphasize Christ’s relationship with all humanity. If African-Americans claim that Christ is Black, it is for self-esteem but it does not take away the universal nature of the Gospel.
Chapter 4: Critical Assessment
Although the Black Christ has made inroads in theological circles it has not made any inroads in Black churches. Why? Kelly Brown Douglas feels that one of the reasons it has not done better is that its theology concentrated on social justice issues but failed to address the spiritual and personal aspects of Christianity. Kelly Brown Douglas also feels that the biggest problem is the fact that the Black theologians have overlooked the impact women have had upon the church.
She feels a Womanist approach to the problem will rescue the image of the Black Christ from just the halls of academia and have a greater impact with the people in the Church.
Chapter 5: A Womanist Approach to the Black Christ
With a Womanist approach to the Black Christ it gives the image a multidimensional layer. “Specifically, a womanist portrayal of Christ confronts the black women’s struggles with the wider society as well as within the Black community.” She feels that this view of Christ will help us deal with racism, sexism, heterosexism (her term). A womanist porayal of Christ will offer rich living symbols of Christ.
A womanist view of Christ is better equipped to deal with all types of oppression. the womanist Black Christ challenges everyone to see Christ in himself or herself and in everyone.
Kelly Brown Douglas is an Episcopal minister and an associate professor of theology at Goucher College (Baltimore, MD).
Source: Kelly Brown Douglas. The Black Christ. Orbis Books, 1994
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple. We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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By Bart D. Ehrman
The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else’s name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptablehence, a forgery. While many readers may wish for more evidence of the charge, Ehrman’s introduction to the arguments and debates among different religious communities during the first few centuries and among the early Christians themselves, though not the book’s main point, is especially valuable.Publishers Weekly / Forged Bart Ehrmans New Salvo (Witherington)
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updated 28 July 2008