#relg102 Medium Post: Theology

While I was unfamiliar with all of Dr. Cone’s work and did not know what to expect, I had read a significant amount of Dr. King’s work and was familiar with his calls to action for the white theologians and his letter from the Birmingham jail.

I was struck by the contrasting approaches to the issue of black liberation by both King and Cone. Though both King and Cone had the same general goal, that is the end of Jim Crow, Dr. King emphasized non-violent protest and confronting the issue together. He was willing to write to the misguided white theologians and to try to correct their misunderstandings. In his letter, he used religion as something that ought to bring people together rather than keep them apart. Dr. King described a “network of mutuality,” in which white and black people are equal and interconnected. That is to say that laws that the laws that subjugate black people also affect white people as fellow Christians. His vision for the Civil Rights movement was one that involved working within the current system of American democracy. Cone compared the plight of black people in America to the suffering of Jesus Christ, who died for the liberation of his people. White theology, according to Cone, is inherently oppressive and contradicts the true word of God, which is one that supports liberation. It has been used as a tool for white oppression. Unlike Dr. King, Dr. Cone called for a more complete overhaul of the system in place. According to Cone’s black theology, rebellion is not only the way forward, but also the way forward that God calls for in the Bible. Dr. Cone wrote, “the rebel is one who refuses to accept the absurd condition of things but fights against them despite the impossibility of arriving at a solution.” Cone saw black liberation as a difficult, even impossible goal, but he still saw it as a cause worth fighting for.

Cone’s writings reminded me of Malcom X and the Black Panthers, whose approach to the Civil Rights movement also contrasted King. For Malcolm X, there was no way forward that did not include violence. Malcom X embodies Cone’s definition of the rebel who would fight no matter the impossibility of his task.