Remembering The Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone

The Rev. James Hal Cone taught at Union Theological Seminary until his death. He was there for decades and taught generations of students.

Yesterday The Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone, the Distinguished Charles A. Briggs Chair in Systematic Theology at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, died. Dr. Cone was a creator of Black Liberation Theology in the 1960s and we would be remiss not to mark his passing and credit his accomplishments.

Best known for his advocacy of black theology and black liberation theology, Dr. Cone’s 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power provided a new way to comprehensively define the distinctiveness of theology in the black church.

His work was influential from the time of the book’s publication and remains influential today.

The hermeneutic, or interpretive lens, for Dr. Cone’s theology starts with his own experience of life as an African American combined with the theological questions emerging from his life. The theologians he studied in graduate school did not provide meaningful answers to his questions.

 

This disconnect became more apparent when he was teaching theology at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas.

He asked: “What could Karl Barth possibly mean for black students who had come from the cotton fields of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, seeking to change the structure of their lives in a society that had defined black as non-being?”

He felt that Black Christians in North America should not follow the “white Church”, on the grounds that it was a willing part of the system that had oppressed black people. Accordingly, his theology was heavily influenced by Malcolm X and the Black Power movement as well as Martin Luther King Jr. was also an important influence/ In fact, Dr. Cone describes King as a liberation theologian before the phrase existed.

Let us hold Dr. Cone in our thoughts as we prepare for another week of challenges and surprises. And let us close with this prayer by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

“O God, we thank you for the lives of great saints and prophets in the past, who have revealed to us that we can stand up amid the problems and difficulties and trials of life and not give in.

We thank you for our foreparents, who’ve given us something in the midst of the darkness of exploitation and oppression to keep going.

Grant that we will go on with the proper faith and the proper determination of will, so that we will be able to make a creative contribution to this world. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray.”

May God’s people say: Amen

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