In 2006, James Cone caused a stir by declining an honorary degree at the Interdenominational Theological Center Commencement Exercises after discovering that “prosperity preacher” Eddie Long would deliver the commencement address. Cone’s legendary spirit of protest some 39 years has led him to become a major voice in social justice for people of color. At the penning of books, Black Theology and Black Power (1969) and A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), he became known in black church and academic circles as the Father of Black Theology. Cone’s greatest accomplishment to systematic theology has been in successfully positioning black theology as a studied discipline within Christian theology.
James Cone in laying the foundation for legitimizing black theology called upon a range of Protestant theologians from Karl Bath to Jurgen Moltmann, and on the writings of Paul Tillich and others to prove that a theology rooted in the black experience was as legitimate as any. Cone based black theology upon a classical interpretation of the Christian faith. Black theologian Gayraud Wilmore in the book, Black Religion and Black Radicalism stated, “Cone showed how a radical but historically accurate exegesis of the biblical story leads to the conclusion that black power is an expression of the gospel in a particular situation of oppression” (Wilmore, p. 214).
Being black in America has very little to do with your skin color. To be black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are….Therefore, being reconciled to God does not mean that one’s skin is physically black. It essentially depends on the color of your heart, soul and mind (Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, p. 151 found in Wilmore, p. 217).
Cone was criticized for using orthodox Eurocentric Christian constructs in developing black theology and postulating Jesus was black and on the side of the oppressed. His critics believed he should have drawn upon the black church fathers, black history, and black culture for its genesis. Wilmore wrote:
To say that being black in America has little to do with skin color is true, but only a half-truth and capable of gross misunderstanding. It is possible to argue that in a world dominated by white power that is inextricable from white Christianity, being black, or identifiably “Negroid,” is a unique experience that has, since the contact of African peoples with the white Christian West, produced a unique religion – closely related to, but not exclusively bound by, the classic Christian tradition. That, in fact, is the reason for the emergence of a black theology. Simply being oppressed, or psychologically and politically in empathy with the dispossessed, does not deliver one into the experience of blackness any more than putting on a blindfold delivers one into the experience of being blind (Wilmore, 218).
Furthermore, Cone did lay an African American foundation when he wrote, "Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, and Denmark Vesey are examples of free persons. They realized that freedom and death were inseparable. The mythic value of their existence for the black community is incalculable, because they represent the personification of the possibility of being in the midst of nonbeing – the ability to be black in the presence of whiteness (Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, p. 102). "
Remember, it is not Mohammad, Buddha, Confucius, nor New Age that saves. Jesus saves!