The Black Christ
By Kelly Brown
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Christ. Orbis Books, 1994
* * *
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus
By Charles C. Mann
a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous
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. It’s exhaustively researched
but so wonderfully written that it’s
anything but exhausting to read. With
1493, Mann has taken it to a
new, truly global level. Building on the
groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby
The Columbian Exchange and, I’m
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,
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.
* * *
Forged: Writing in the Name of God
Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are
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 acceptable—hence, 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 Ehrman’s New Salvo (Witherington)
* * *
updated 28 July 2008