Black liberation theology is closely related to the broader phenomenon of liberation theology, which calls for social activism, class struggle, and even violent revolution aimed at overturning the “capitalist oppressors of the poor” and installing, in its place, a socialist utopia that will finally enfranchise the poor and downtrodden. As an extension of this movement, black liberation theology similarly seeks to foment Marxist revolutionary fervor but one founded on racial rather than class solidarity.
A clear definition of black liberation theology was first given formulation in 1969 by the National Committee of Black Church Men:
"Black theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in the light of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, so that the black community can see that the gospel is commensurate with the achievements of black humanity. Black theology is a theology of 'blackness.' It is the affirmation of black humanity that emancipates black people from White racism, thus providing authentic freedom for both white and black people. It affirms the humanity of white people in that it says 'No' to the encroachment of white oppression."
The chief architect of black liberation theology was James Cone, author of Black Theology and Black Power. One of the tasks of this movement, according to Cone, is to analyze the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ in light of the experience of blacks who have long been victimized by white oppressors. According to black liberation theology, the inherent racism of white people precludes them from being able to recognize the humanity of nonwhites; moreover, their white supremacist orientation allegedly results in the establishment of a "white theology" that is irrevocably disconnected from the black experience. Consequently, liberation theologians contend that blacks need their own, race-specific theology to affirm their identity and their worth.
“What we need,” says Cone, “is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of Black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.” Observing that America was founded for white people, Cone calls for “the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world.” He advocates the use of Marxism as a tool of social analysis to help Christians to see "how things really are."
Another prominent exponent of black liberation theology is the Ivy League professor Cornel West, who calls for "a serious dialogue between Black theologians and Marxist thinkers" -- a dialogue that centers on the possibility of "mutually arrived-at political action."
Black liberation theology entered the public consciousness in 2008 when the media focused on the racist sermons of Barack Obama’s minister Jeremiah Wright, a strong adherent of the movement.
Adapted from "Marxist Roots of Black Liberation Theology," by Anthony B. Bradley (April 6, 2008).