1. Despite its attempt to build up a "black theology," it interacts almost exclusively with white, European theologians.
2. Despite its language of empowering the powerless, it uses exclusively masculine language, not just for God but also for humans.
Looking back at the book twenty years after its initial publication, Cone decided, despite having those failings brought painfully to his attention, to leave them in, unedited. This is, he claims, to remind him of his own participation in a kind of dehumanizing prejudice. One does not heal the wounds of the past by covering them up, but by letting them breathe, open for all to see.
I mention these critical failings because I am about to post two paragraphs from this book that really challenge me, and I don't want especially the second failing (the use of exclusively masculine language) to interfere with your reading.
At some point in the future, as I digest these and other words by Cone, I'll post some reflections of my own. In the meantime I am reeling. So, here are two paragraphs that have metaphorically knocked me down and disoriented me. I'd like for you, dear reader, to help me digest them:
The black man's response to God's act in Christ must be different from the white's because his life experiences are different. Christian love is never fully embodied in an act. Love is the motive or the rationale for action. The attempt of some to measure love exclusively through specific actions, such as nonviolence, is theologically incorrect. Christian love comprises the being of a man whereby he behaves as if God is the essence of his existence. It means that God has hold of him and his movement in the world. But this does not take away the finiteness of man, the existential doubt in making decisions in the world. To accept Christ means both self-acceptance and neighbor-acceptance with the existential threat of nonbeing. What existentialists call non-being is never removed from man's existence. Thus the love of self and the love of neighbor, which constitute the heart of one's being in God, never escape the possibility of self-annihilation and destruction of the neighbor. The violence in the cities, which appears to contradict Christian love, is nothing but the black man's attempt to say Yes to his being as defined by God in a world that would make his being into nonbeing. If the riots are the black man's courage to say Yes to himself as a creature of God, and if in affirming self he affirms Yes to the neighbor, then violence may be the black man's expression, sometimes the only possible expression, of Christian love to the white oppressor. From the perspective of a Christian theologian seeking to take seriously the black man's condition in America, what other view is possible?
It seems that the mistake of most whites, religionists included, is their insistence on telling blacks how to respond "as Christians" to racism, insisting that nonviolence is the only appropriate response. But there is an ugly contrast between the sweet, nonviolent language of white Christians and their participation in a violently unjust system. Maybe the oppressor's being is so warped by his own view of himself that every analysis made by him merely reveals his own inflated self-evaluation. Certainly as long as he can count on blacks remaining nonviolent by turning the other cheek and accepting the conditions of slavery, there will be no real pressure to confront the black man as a person. If he can be sure that blacks will not threaten his wealth, his superiority, his power in the world, there will be no need to give up his control of the black man's destiny.
Like I said, right now I'm reeling from the potency of Cone's words, words that I, despite my commitment to non-violence, must take seriously, because I stand condemned by them. I'm hoping to discuss this passage here, if anyone feels so inclined, and to eventually write an essay that attempts to address these concerns from the framework of non-violent resistance, rather than mere non-violence.