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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

1060: God's presence is best depicted through God's involvement in the struggle for justice

Day 1060: Thursday, February 9, 2023

"God's presence in the world is best depicted through God's involvement in the struggle for justice,"

Black Liberation Theology, in its Founder's Words

The Rev. James Cone is the founder of black liberation theology

During the first days of Barack Obama’s run for the presidency, he was forced to defend his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, even as he repudiated some of the pastor's inflammatory sermons. But Wright's comments likely came as no surprise to those familiar with black liberation theology, a religious philosophy that emerged during the 1960s.

Black liberation theology originated on July 31, 1966, when 51 black pastors bought a full page ad in the New York Times and demanded a more aggressive approach to eradicating racism. They echoed the demands of the black power movement, but the new crusade found its source of inspiration in the Bible.

"God's presence in the world is best depicted through God's involvement in the struggle for justice," says Anthony Pinn, who teaches philosophy and religion at Rice University in Houston. "God is so intimately connected to the community that suffers, that God becomes a part of that community."

Dwight Hopkins, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, says black liberation theology often portrays Jesus as a brown-skinned revolutionary. He cites the words of Mary in the Magnificat — also known as the "Song of Mary" — in which she says God intends to bring down the mighty and raise the lowly.

Hopkins also notes that in the book of Matthew, Jesus says the path to heaven is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. And the central text for black liberation theology can be found in Chapter 4 of Luke's gospel, where Jesus outlines the purpose of his ministry.

"Jesus says my mission is to eradicate poverty and to bring about freedom and liberation for the oppressed," Hopkins says. "And most Christian pastors in America skip over that part of the book."

Hopkins attends Trinity United Church of Christ, where Rev. Wright just retired as pastor. In the now-famous sermon from 2003, Wright said black people's troubles are a result of racism that still exists in America, crying out, "No, no, no, not God bless America! God damn America — that's in the Bible — for killing innocent people."

According to Hopkins, that was theological wordplay — because the word "damn" is straight out of the Bible and has a specific meaning in the original Hebrew.

"It means a sacred condemnation by God to a wayward nation who has strayed from issues of justice, strayed from issues of peace, strayed from issues of reconciliation," Hopkins says.

A Loud, Passionate, Physical Affair

Anthony Pinn of Rice University acknowledges that black liberation preaching often sounds angry. But he says the anger does not advocate violence but is instead channeled into constructive routes. Trinity UCC, he notes, has 70 ministries that help the poor, the unemployed, those with AIDS or those in prison. Pinn says the words can be jarring to the untrained ear, but they're still valid.

"Folks, including myself, may be taken aback by the inflammatory nature of the rhetoric, but I don't think very many of us would deny that there is a fundamental truth: Racism is a problem in the United States," Pinn says.

Black liberation preaching can be a loud, passionate, physical affair. Linda Thomas, who teaches at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, says the whole point of it is to challenge the powerful and to raise questions for society to think about. Thomas says if white people are surprised by the rhetoric, it's because most have never visited a black church.

"I think that many black people would know what white worship is like," Thomas says. "Why is it that white people don't know what black worship is about? And I think that is because there is this centrality with white culture that says we don't have to know about that."

Obama was uniquely situated to bridge those two cultures because of his biracial heritage. In his speech on race Tuesday, the presidential hopeful said he could no more disown his controversial pastor than he could disown his white grandmother.

"These people are a part of me. And they are part of America, this country that I love," Obama said.

He denounced the harshness of Wright's words — not because they were false, he said, but because they did not acknowledge the strides that the U.S. has made in the fight against racism. Obama said his own candidacy shows how far the country has come.

Announcement from Fr. John Dear:

Quote for the Day:

"Unconditional love. That’s the bottom line. Everything is here because of love. That’s why we were created -- to love. Love keeps things going, not just for now, but forever. Love gives life and makes sure what’s around today will be around tomorrow. That’s what the cosmos best responds to… Jesus doesn’t tell me to hate or to kill. He tells me to love.”

--Bob Lax (in The Way of the Dreamcatcher, by Steve Georgiou)

Dear friends, Blessings of Christ’s peace!

(Robert Lax)

On March 4th, I’ll welcome writer and teacher Steve Georgiou to the Beatitudes Center to talk about our friend, Robert Lax (1915-2000). Long ago, Lax was Thomas Merton’s best friend at Columbia. “Lax was born with the deepest sense of who God was,” Merton wrote. “He was much wiser than I, and he had clearer vision, and was, in fact, corresponding much more truly to the grace of God than I. He had seen what was the one important thing.”

Born a Jew, Lax converted to Catholicism five years after Merton. After teaching for a while, Lax worked as an editor at Time magazine and The New Yorker; a Hollywood screenwriter; a reporter for the progressive Catholic magazine Jubilee; and even a circus clown. Lax’s dear friend Jack Kerouac called him “a laughing Buddha.” Living in Greenwich Village in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lax befriended Bob Dylan and was with him the night he wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

(Lax, Merton, Reinhardt)

In the 1960s, Lax retired to the island of Patmos in Greece as a hermit. His poetry is revered in Europe. His book, Circus of the Sun, was called “the greatest English language poem of this century” by The New York Times Book Review.

Steve Georgiou met Lax on Patmos in the 1990s and later published a beautiful celebration of his life and teachings, The Way of the Dreamcatcher: Spirit Lessons with Robert Lax, Poet, Peacemaker, and Sage.

Robert Lax Thomas Merton

“Life is about learning how to flow with your basic goodness,” Lax told young Steve. “It’s about entering the heart and making it the fount of your being.” Join me as I welcome Steve Georgiou on Saturday March 4th to reflect on the peacemaking life, solitude, and poetry of our legendary friend Bob Lax.

To register, visit

The program will begin at 11am Pacific/ 12pm Mountain/ 1pm Central/ 2pm Eastern time. You will receive the zoom link a few days beforehand, so be on the lookout!, and a recording link afterwards. If you have questions, email Kassandra at See you there!

May the God of peace bless us all! - Fr. John

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