Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone died last week at the age of 79. Cone was a professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary and the father of black liberation theology. In a 2008 Acton Commentary, Anthony Bradley provided a brief explanation of Cone’s system of black liberation theology and its roots in Marxism:
Black liberation theologians James Cone and Cornel West have worked diligently to embed Marxist thought into the black church since the 1970s. For Cone, Marxism best addressed remedies to the condition of blacks as victims of white oppression. In For My People, Cone explains that “the Christian faith does not possess in its nature the means for analyzing the structure of capitalism. Marxism as a tool of social analysis can disclose the gap between appearance and reality, and thereby help Christians to see how things really are.”
In God of the Oppressed, Cone said that Marx’s chief contribution is “his disclosure of the ideological character of bourgeois thought, indicating the connections between the ‘ruling material force of society’ and the ‘ruling intellectual’ force.” Marx’s thought is useful and attractive to Cone, because it allows black theologians to critique racism in America on the basis of power and revolution.
For Cone, integrating Marx into black theology helps theologians see just how much social perceptions determine theological questions and conclusions. Moreover, these questions and answers are “largely a reflection of the material condition of a given society.”