The Historical Development of Black Theology
Orriadnie A. Brown
Black theology is not bound to biblical liberalism, but is of a more pragmatic nature. Only the experience of black oppression is the authoritative standard. James Cone explains that at the core of black liberation theology is an effort in a white-dominated society, in which black has been defined as evil to make the gospel relevant to the life and struggles of American blacks, and to help black people learn to love themselves. It’s an attempt; he says “to teach people how to be both unapologetically black and Christian at the same time.” A white man who is in power cannot be a Christian, unless he gives up that power and give it to the black man. This paper will examine the historical development of black theology by identifying sacred ideological constructs, religious traditions, and the concept of liberation through the lens of Rastafarianism and the Nation of Islam bringing clarity to black identity. One of the religions that help describe the historical developments of black theology is Rastafarianism. Rastafarianism is a religious movement born out of the black slums of Jamaica which harnessed the teachings of the Jamaican born black nationalist, Marcus Garvey and conditionally uses selective Old Testament Christian writings to support its teachings and practices. Born in 1887, Garvey’s influence on the poor black slave descendants in Jamaica came to its peak in the 1920’s where his message of encouragement and calling on black people to take pride in them-selves won some fanatical supporters. Although historically Marcus Garvey was a political leader interested in making the black race economically equal with the white, in oral tradition he has become a divinely anointed prophet. Rastafarians main belief is in the divinity and/or messiah ship of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, the influence of Jamaican culture, resistance of oppression, and pride in African heritage. Rastafarians takes the Bible as its sacred text, but interprets it in an Afro-centric way in order to reverse what Rastas see as changes made to the text by white powers. Another sacred symbols of the Rastafarians is the dreadlocks on a Rasta’s head. They are said to represent the Lion of Judah and are in contrast to the straight, blond look of the white man and the establishment and in response to interpretations of passages from Leviticus 2 in the Bible. Another major symbol of Rastafarians are colors, specifically red, gold and green. These were taken from the Garvey movement and form the background of the Ethiopian flag. Red stands for the Rasta Church Triumphant but also the blood of the martyrs of Rasta. The green represents the beauty and vegetation of Ethiopia, the Promised Land, and the gold symbolizes the wealth of the homeland that shall be regained. Rastafarians new demand for liberation in Jamaica reflected a significant turn in the movement, receiving its clearest expression in the increasingly radical politics of Jamaican popular music. While rock-steady gave expression to the vague Rastafarian promises of repatriation and unification, reggae musicians sang specifically about the Rastafarian concepts of “Jah,” “Babylon,” and “Mount Zion,” and they openly promoted the spiritual pleasures of marijuana. They also developed historical narratives reminding the Jamaican people about the horrors of slavery, while ironically also promoting traditional Rastafarian themes of peace and unification. Another one of the religions that help describe the historical developments of black theology is the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam is mainly an African American religious movement founded in Detroit, Michigan by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in July 1930 to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of African-American's in the United States of America. The movement teaches black pride and principles of...