Social Justice and Theology
Black Liberation theology offers a much needed critic of classical theology, and the various ways in which it favors, and even fosters the racially oppressive behavior and attitudes that many white people have towards marginalized people. However, while Black Liberation has adequately pushed back against the issue of white supremacy, it has done so without giving a sufficient attention to the issue of patriarchy, which has an oppressive affect on women of color. It is an issue of intersectionality. While the issue of racial oppression is extremely important, it should not be elevated to a point where it is deemed to be more important than the liberation of women of color. This paper will look into the role of the Black Liberation Theology in shaping social justice with regards to women of color and classical theology.
Almost all liberation theologies and movements have arisen out of a non-religious context. The liberation movements of The Latin Americans, Black Americans, American women, Black South Africans and Asians, have had ideologies that are a break from “Christian theology.” ”
As a shared assessment, liberation theologies promote thoughtful questions into the normative usage of religious Scripture, convention and understanding in Christian theology. Liberation theologians stress that the leading theologies of the West have been utilized to support the conventional mandate of the time (Grant, “Black Theology” 320). The church and its representatives have been too content with whatever the ruling classes deemed feasible. The interpretation of God’s word has remained flexible and open to whatever twists the regime sees as more adjusting and convenient. This is one of the major reasons why religious doctrine of the time has never appealed to liberation theologians; their opinions were opposed by the political establishments of the time.
Paradoxically, the disapproval that liberation theology has towards classical theology has become against liberation theories themselves. Just like many European and American theologians that have accepted the Western oppression sewn in the theologies of the past, some liberation theologians too have accepted the oppressive aspects of their liberation struggles. The problem arises where one evil is replaced by another, when racism is abandoned, sexism is accepted. Where classism is questioned, racism and sexism have opened sails. And where sexism is rejected, racism and classism are often overlooked (Grant, “Black Theology” 320).
What is asserted in this essay is the position of the black woman and the clout of assumptions surrounding them in the liberation theory, in general, and black theology in particular. The Black liberation is a critique of the classical theology and how it harbors white supremacy and racial radicalism towards the marginalized communities. While the Black Liberation theology has resisted white supremacy, it has ignored the issues of patriarchy; so tightly knit with the problem of marginalization. This leaves the women of color oppressed, and ultimately, it is also a problem of intersectionality. The problem of racial tyranny is an imperative issue; however, it should not be raised so high that the freedom and rights of black women take a back seat to it.
The Black Liberation Movement and the theology it revolves around, is dipped in religious salvation. Their approach to Jesus is more literal — a poor, oppressed human being, who rose from his trials as a free man-reborn, no longer a slave to the bounds of his earthly existence. It is not hard to see how his premise connects extremely well with the Black Liberation Movement. The “Holy Spirit” is not just holy, but also free! The image of God in the black churches of the time was a grand entity, one that sets His believers free, quite like the way He saved the Jewish slaves through Moses. According to James Hal Cone, a black theologian and strong advocate of the black liberation ideology, spoke of God as the champion of the victimized, specifically the African-American community (Cone, “A Black Theology of Liberation” 56-7).
However, like most other theologies and options, the Black Liberation Theology focuses on the black Man not woman. Their brand of oppression was a double edged sword, racism and sexism. Their experiences and desire for freedom and liberation is overlooked, making the black feminists feel that the black liberation theology can only gain legitimacy once it discards ALL forms of bias, which of course means race and gender (Hopkins, 30) During the earlier days, the Black Liberation Movement catered only to the men; women of color were discriminated in white and black churches.
The historical progress of the Black Church, their sessions and groups within principally White churches, have been driven by the yearning of Black people to preserve their human pride and their need for human fairness in an environment where they were denied this basic right by the dominant social and ecclesial wing of society. Catholic and protestant churches alike had conceded Christianity to the White supremacist, adjusting the mandate of the powerful to conform to the then prevalent social norms of segregation, servitude and slavery.
Ecclesial institutions wore the white supremacists cloak and legitimized its theology to ensure that its members could own slaves, and restrict black participation with a guilt free conscious. Under the shelter of the Civil Rights Movement, a theological basis for a specifically black liberation theology was founded. The Black peoples’ quest for liberation recognized and evaluated the structures and examples of connections that kept on underestimating, depreciating, abusing, and generally propagating the persecution and dehumanization of their race. In the United States, the religious ideology of Christianity and Christ was mutilated and concentrated on racism. The base of this racist ideology legitimized Black oppression and was mainly focused on segregation and a white supremacist agenda. This gross misrepresentation of the religion led to the reevaluation of the Christian context and why Jesus has always and will always be the liberator and Messiah of the oppressed. A number of Catholic social-justice activists, that included theologians, participated in another struggle against poverty and subjugation in Latin America that also engaged the Latin American liberation theology. While the premise may be similar, these struggles spoke different languages and ended up ignoring each other. The Black Liberation Theology was ignored by many Latin American activists who in their biases were blind to the struggle. Moreover, racial oppression came forward as the main cause that had led to oppression and poverty within the U.S. (Phelps, 673).
The Black Liberation Theory focuses on the church’s relationship with its followers and questions the ideologies it seeks to establish while assisting and accommodating the powerful. The Black Theology demands support for the oppressed in their fight against the culture of slavery and servitude in society. They challenged the church to renounce the deterioration, dehumanization and oppression of the suffering communities. The challenge put forward by the Black Liberation Theology is ultimately a goal set for the church and the movement itself to achieve liberation and communion. Intra-ecclesial communion, ecumenical communion and facing public trials and outrage were the main focus at the 1985 synod. The church was expected to support the fundamentals of communion, which were a commitment to reconciliation, righteousness and freedom for the black population towards a new era of love. Commitment to liberation was directly linked to commitment to communion. Human freedom is a basic right, a pre-requisite for an ethical existence. A community cannot exist upon terms of slavery and servitude (Phelps, 673-4).
The Black Theology and Lack of Representation for Women of Color
Two assumptions can immediately be made when examining black theology:
(1) There is no place for women of color in this theology
(2) Black men are given the representation of black women as well.
Both of these assumptions need to be eradicated, as they are false. These assumptions restrict women of color to certain societal parameters and roles, arising out of a male dominated culture.
It is necessary to make one of two assumptions while examining Black Theology: (1) there is no place for black women in the enterprise, or (2) black men are capable of speaking for us. Both assumptions need to be eradicated as they are false. In a culture like this, men have the authority to speak for women, regarding all matters, and it is no coincidence that almost all the known faces of the Black Liberation Theology are men. This was an expected outcome of the disparity of power and status between the genders. Professional theology required a high level of intellect and training (Grant, “Black Theology and the Black Women “322”).
This “mastery” was naturally not expected of women from the word go. The parameters of intelligence and skill accommodated only men. It is not surprising that the ability to “reason” and the door to logical discourse, debates, philosophy and rigorous intellectual training is something beyond the realm of women. Since time immemorial, men have been associated with terms of reason and decision making, whereas women were categorized with instinct and emotionalism. Women were restricted to matters concerning the home, while men completed the more vital work, including the utilization of the balanced resources. This classification of roles was not as clearly developed in the slave classes. However, since the liberation of the Blacks, the development of the genders has not been uniform due to the continued shadows of sexism even today.
This implies that the black male has step-by-step expanded his energy and participation in the male-centric society, while black women have kept on bearing the generalizations and mistreatments of a prior period. At the point when sexual dualism has completely run its course, operating at a profit group (and I trust it has!), it won’t be hard to deduce why women of color are undetectable in Black Theology. Generally, as the white woman had no place in White Theology other than being an antenna for the white man’s religious translations, black women have had no spot in the advancement of black theology either. Without anyone else’s input, or by the sinecure of a male-centric society, black men have regarded it legitimate or natural to represent the whole black group, men and women alike (Grant, “Dark Theology and the Black Women “322”; Phelps, 677).
It could be said that the black men’s natural acknowledgment of this prevalent patriarchy is sensible and nothing extraordinary. However, matters differ greatly as Black male slaves were not able to profit from patriarchy before liberation. They were not acquainted with similar roles as the white male, so when given the chance to act as a defender and supplier for black women and kids, as white men did, matters continued in a similar fashion as a white male society, as far as the liberation of the black women was concerned. The Liberation Theory did not address the clout around “masculinity,” causing the Black male to assume his rights quite like a white male. The “man’s reality” was ultimately acting on par with a white male’s rights. These definitions were acknowledged and accepted without any inquiry or question. So despite liberation, black women simply underwent a change of masters amidst the patriarchy-fueled ideologies of male control (Long, 37).
Black men must make an inquiry to themselves; by what means can a white society described by dark subjugation, expansionism and government, give the regularizing origination of women for the black society? In what capacity can the circle of women, as characterized by the white man, be considered liberated from the shades of malice and abuses that are prevalent in the white community? The disparate status of the genders in the white community was never a standard of freedom or meant to be replicated by the blacks. By what method can a black clergyman proceed with a lecture that supports St. Paul’s proclamation concerning women while overlooking or denying his decree concerning slaves? (Hopkins, 35) Many black women are angered as they listen to “liberated” dark men speak about the “place of women” in words and expressions like the white masters they denounced!
The reason for the invisibility of black women in theology is because the theological aspect was never extended to the women’s sphere. The non-appearance of black women in the circles creating black theology essentially implies that the resultant religious philosophy can’t be to the greatest advantage of women of color. The answer is evident as Feminist scholars amid the previous couple of years have demonstrated how male theologists tend to produce ideas towards male-domination. Females, as a rule, are either overlooked or trapped by vague religious parameters that are similar to the trappings of a white female. Doubtlessly, in perspective of the persecution that dark individuals have endured, black men should be especially sensitive to the abuse and injustice being done here.
James Cone has expressed that the undertaking of black theology is to analyze the very essence of the Bible, to understand the teachings of Christ from the perspective of slaves. Black people need to witness the gospel as inseparable from their suffering; only then can they have the necessary will to push back and break away from the bounds of slavery and servitude. (“Black Theology and Black Power” 23). What are the powers of freedom doing at a black community or their church? Is it accurate to say that they are to be solely characterized by the battle against prejudice? A perfect response to that query is, NO. There are harsh substances operating at a profit group, identified with; however free of, the truth of bigotry, sexism is an ugly reality. Black men look to free themselves from racial generalizations and the states of mistreatment without giving due regard for the generalizations and abuses against women; this is inconsiderate of their position. Blacks battle to be free of the generalization that all blacks are filthy, terrible and manifestations of evil and darkness. The motto “Black is Beautiful” was a retaliation against these generalizations. A similar reality was the historical backdrop of Black women, regarded as “unclean,” particularly amid monthly cycles and after labor. Since the model of excellence in the ideal white world is “long haired blonde,” black women bore the brunt, the extra brunt of ugliness as well as oppression (Long, 74). Correspondingly, the Christian tale that a woman is in charge of the fall of humankind and is, in this manner, the wellspring of wickedness, has had an unfavorable impact in the overall reality of women of color.
Like all abused groups of people, the mental self-portrait of blacks has endured harm. Moreover, they have not been the masters of their own fate. It is the objective of the Black Liberation battle to change drastically the financial and political states of black individuals by teaching self-esteem, restraint, independence, and political force. The ideas of self-esteem, poise, confidence, and political interest, positively have expansive criticalness for dark ladies, despite the fact that they were told that, by temperance of their gender, they must be totally subject to man; yet while their recorded circumstance mirrored the requirement for reliance, the frailty of dark men made it vital for them to look for those qualities for themselves.
Just as all types of tyranny are linked, racism and sexism are interrelated as well. However, sexism has its own reality and significance. It represents an odd kind of oppression that is suffered by black women, by none other than black men. To examine the reality of sexism, it is vital to understand how it has snuck into their community and churches. The church and the social matrix will be discussed to determine to what degree Black Theology has matched up to its ideals of freedom for black women.
The Black Woman and the Church
On the contrary, Black Theology should continue to criticize the classical theology and that of the white church. However, that does not exempt the black church from all inspection and check. Perhaps, the black church should not consider itself so different from the white church in terms of contending to societal trends. Black Theology needs to undergo a “self-test.” According to James Cone, the role of the church can be divided into a three-point manifesto:
1) The reality and divine rule of freedom for all.
2) The liberation movement shares its roots with the true teachings of the Gospel.
3) If the Church persists in its traditions and not the message of the Gospel, it will lose its followers (Cone, “Black Theology and Black Power” 25-6).
The point that the Black Theology must raise is whether or not the black church is up for this task of the “self-testing.” The communication of the Black Church regarding God and His message must remain consistent with its actions. Why must the Church undergo such a test because it has been unable to deliver the true spirit of the struggle/liberation movement as far as women are concerned?
If the freedom of women is not broadcasted, the congregation’s declaration can’t be about perfect freedom. In case the liberation does not partake in the freedom battle of black women, its effort is not credible. And, if by any chance women are mistreated, the congregation can’t in any way, shape or form “an unmistakable appearance that the gospel is a reality”- for the gospel can’t be genuine in that setting. One can see the disagreements between the congregation’s dialect or decree of freedom and its activity by looking at two important things:
1) The status of the black woman in the congregation.
2) Black women in the service of the congregation.
It is said that women are the “backbone” of the church. At first glance, this may give an impression of a compliment, particularly when considering the vitality and support of the spine in human anatomy. Generally, men have cornered the service as a calling. The service of women as appointed clergypersons has been (without shock I must add) dubious at best. The black church founders were not able to see the treacheries of their own practices, notwithstanding when they stood against the shameful acts of the white church, against which they revolted.
The Black Understanding and the Black Woman
Generally, black clergymen have not propagated the persecution of black women in either the black church or otherwise. The status of black women in theology is similar to their position in the congregation. The Black setting is a background for the development of the Black Theology out of which its inquiries rise; the black community’s questions concerning humanity and God’s presence are detailed and answered. This is thought to be the connection in which God’s disclosure is gotten and deciphered. However, can one perspective, or only that of the poor and the abused, be enough to shape the image of a theology? During the liberation struggle in the 1960s, the true and developed face of the black theology emerged, considering how important the experience of the bigger group’s battle for freedom was (Jones, 57). Be that as it may, on the off chance that this is, undoubtedly the scenario that Black Theology must work for the common group similarly as it ought to work in the congregation group. It must balance a judgment in a “self-test” to see if the talk or declaration of the black community’s battle for liberation is predictable with its practices. How does the “self-test” guideline work among poor people and the mistreated?
Some faces of tyranny that survive within a society of the oppressed have spoken in terms of Black Theology. The injustices can be scaled against the old-testament; the trials of the prophets mentioned in the Holy Scripture, are not so far away from the reality of the black people. Black Theology does not speak of gender bias specifically because it is a problem not even considered an issue as yet! Sexism is the reality and truth of the black community, along with conformity through silence with regards to this specific issue (Cone “Black Theology and Black Power” 29).
According to Cone, the black church is not so different from the white one, in terms of their standards and approach towards equality of all women. Why do the ministers hesitate in giving the women the same status as men? The lack of a clear statement in the Black Liberation Theory and ideas is where this problem stems from. It is quite easy for black clergymen to connect and speak of the same message that was spoken from the Gospel, regarding slavery and servitude, while missing the entire context, when the same verses were applied to sexism.
It is not easy to understand how black males tend to not include the freedom of black women from their understanding of the liberation gospel. The situation of oppressed women with these groups would reveal a truly poor and sidelined faction, leading to some inescapable and undeniable facts, relating to the biased inclination of the Liberation Theology.
Women and Christology in the Framework of Society
The term patriarchy is synonymous with the status of women in Christology. Their positioning in the social fabric spoke of a very limited scope. Christology is more in alignment with the orthodox ideologies that the blacks were fighting so hard against.
According to these ideas, men stand dominant to women. Women are mostly demoted to a secondary subordinate role and the reality is perceived through the looking glass of men, but never women. But patriarchy “mentions more than a social hierarchy of the genders (Grants, “White Women’s Christ” 68). Patriarchalism is a method of viewing the world so that women and men are not assigned arbitrary roles, at least not yet. Rather they represent the following things:
1) A system
2) A direct and clear objective
4) A rational analysis.
Under these guidelines, the view of the world is unrestricted and open to interpretation and human flaws are far easier to pinpoint and refer for correction. A mindset and an order of things and what is real. When the roles of the male and female population of the Western culture are studied, all that is seen entail tightly spun social fabric that works by maintaining male privilege and authority, while marginalizing women and relying on their submission to the male will.
Patriarchy has been labeled as an intangible reuse, which is not only persuasive, but also has traces of evidence through history and in various facets of human existence. This point is quite clear when all aspects of governance and power are neatly divided between male hands. It’s not just the society and its various aspects, but even God is referred to in the first and third person as masculine (Grant, “White Women’s Christ” 69).
Solidly, this implies that in patriarchy, women’s lives are precisely controlled and measured so that, though socialization and human identity are guided by a division of sex (the manly and the ladylike), creating sex roles for all intents and purposes of the running system of human social fabric is important. While Theology and Christology have improved in this context, there are many pieces of the puzzle that are out of place or unchangeable. Distinctively, in philosophy and Christology, the male-masculine is anticipated as the esteemed element and the female lady-like figure is anticipated as a degraded element. As a result, there is the systematization of double presence; moreover, a dual existence for women (Grant, “White Women’s Christ” 69).
The Suppression of Women in the light of Christology
The question to be examined and taken up is the question that follows the first. Why so many opinions seconding the oppression of females are Christological? As the Christian’s faith is represented by Jesus Christ and so is the essence, it is vital for theologians to make a statement of their interpretations in the context of this faith. Through this method, their analysis is met with the greatest of authenticity and authority that is needed to define the meaning of Christianity. If a status for women was to be determined in Christianity, the current standing of things would be considered alright because the first argument would be how Jesus supported the presumed status of women in the society as condoned by Jesus, and it must be maintained as such (Grant, “White Women’s Christ” 74).
How has Christological opinions been utilized to back the submissive status of women in the contemporary society and church? The answer to this question is given by looking at the issues of guidance in the society. When looking at questions relating to the leadership positions in the society as a general matter, it is discovered that women have been and remain to be diligently removed from the leadership positions contained in the society. The reason that is given is that women stand to be weak as a gender and are psychologically, also politically unequipped for leadership roles. The “women’s sphere” has been traditionally stated as the home, her part being that of a mother, a wife and a housekeeper. Women are the backbone of a society because of the way they act as a support system for the guidance and authority of men, whether it is politics, religion or business. Women are the “supporters,” never the frontrunners (Grants, “White Women’s Christ” 75).
The difficulties faced by the African-American women during the enslavement period show that this disagreement is also functional in the Black Church. Women are basically excluded from the roles in leadership due to the same reasons presented by the male-centric society, history and biblical definitions. These theological justifications have stunted the expansion of the Liberation Theory to include women on an equality basis. Moreover, the issue relating to that of leadership roles is a larger one, but similar in nature to women not being ordained as clergymen (Copeland, 23-4).
The Preliminary Points of the Womanist Theology
Since it is essential to recognize Black and White women’s encounters, it is likewise vital to take note of these differences in Christological and theological contexts. It is important to emphasize the contrast between Black and White women’s point-of-view where theology is concerned. Black women researchers ought to take after the depiction of philosophical action as the “womanist theology.” Black women observe, study and look at theology (as they should) through a tridimensional experience of bigotry/sexism/classism. To overlook any part of this experience is to repudiate the all-encompassing and integrated truth of black womanhood. At the point where Black women say that God is in favor of the mistreated, it is automatically implied that God stands alongside the suffering (Douglas, 2-3; Copeland, 47-8).
The dogma of Christology has been problematic, since its inception, at least for the women. The teachings of the Church state that God’s personification is exclusively symbolized by Jesus, a historical male figure. While his principles have provided the basis for orthodox theology, it has definitely been misconstrued through the ages, providing a unilateral Christological approach to history and theology. The virtual assurance of the matter that the Christological concerns arising from women’s questions are irrelevant and useless, are a result of the social context of the development of Christology. In order for the women to be rescued from all this, they must start re-evaluating and studying Christology, beginning from the questions that arise out of their experiences. A fraction of women have already started to re-think the process of faith and how it affects their lives.
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