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Barton Gingerich May 1, 2012
Radical theologian James Cone of Union Theological Seminary in New York City preached for the "Love Your Neighbor" coalition of liberal causes lobbying at the United Methodist General Conference. In his April 30 sermon, Cone defended the "queer people of this world" and urged church acceptance of homosexual practice as a cause in sync with his own black liberation theology.
"Love Your Neighbor" is trying to persuade United Methodists to overturn its traditional stance on marriage and sex, while also defending abortion rights, urging anti-Israel divestment, and supporting open borders immigration, with a host of other liberal political causes.
Cone grew up in the lynching-territory of Arkansas during the 1940's and 1950's. He became active in the civil rights movement while developing his theology as a seminarian. Eventually he became the founding spokesman of black liberation theology, a controversial and race-based approach to spirituality. As a giant in liberal American theology in the 20th century, "Love Your Neighbor" no doubt hoped he would lend weight to their sexual liberation cause.
“You may be down, but you’re not out,” Cone told his pro-LGBT audience, “We must remember that the cross comes before resurrection, and today may be your cross.” He cried, “This is our hope: that we may heal the wounds of racial violence that continue to divide our churches and our societies.”
Cone has warred against racial inequality in his life’s work. “Now I have spent my time pointing out the hypocrisy and the mendacity of the white church in a white dominated society while lifting up the voices and experiences of the oppressed,” he revealed. “I speak and write out of a deep theological conviction that the true power of the Christian Gospel is its unambiguous call for liberation from the forces of oppression and a fierce unambiguous condemnation of those who oppress.”
Defending the disenfranchised, Cone asked: “How can people not believe what the world says when they have so few political and social resources to defend their humanity.” And he lamented: “So few economic resources to even physically survive and so few educational resources to express their somebody-ness.”
Cone emphasized “the crucified people of history,” especially the American black population. He asserted, “African Americans use their faith to survive and to resist. White Americans use their faith to terrorize black people.” Later he disclosed that Malcolm X was the “third person of my trinity” (which also features John Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Jr.). After condemning the “white darkness” in America, the theologian confessed that “blackness is the image of God in black people.” Reflecting on his childhood, he reminisced, “Blackness saved me from whiteness.” Nevertheless, he complained, “You seldom find a church with any diversity in it.”
In the middle of his sermon, Cone displayed his vision of the Gospel. “Many Christians believe that Christ died on a cross to save humankind from sin. ‘Taking our place,’ we say, ‘Jesus suffered on the cross and gave his life as a ransom for many. The cross is the great symbol of the Christian narrative of salvation,’” he declared in perfunctory fashion. “Unfortunately,” he mourned, “during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, the cross as a symbol of salvation has been detached from the ongoing suffering of human beings, the crucified people of history. The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks.” The liberation thinker believed that “[r]ather than reminding us of the cost of discipleship, it has become a mark of cheap grace.” He tried to commiserate with his audience, saying, “God must be with us, because we are on the cross too.” And he rejoiced: “The cross is God’s condemnation of power, with powerless love snatching victory when in the hands of defeat.”
The Union Theological professor then adjoined his black liberation theological architecture with the LGBT agenda and other liberal concerns: “I write for gays and lesbians and bisexuals and those who are transgendered. The queer people of this world. I write for the undocumented workers toiling in our nation’s farm fields. I write and speak for Muslims who live under the fear of war and empire in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I write and speak for all people who care about humanity.”
Cone warned “there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America or the world and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy and homophobia.” He seemed to believe that a new Jim Crow era now threatened America: “I say as long as you are silent and do nothing about homophobia and white supremacy and all these other evils, you are just as guilty as those who hung blacks on trees and queer people on picket fences.” Cone used frightening imagery to drive his audience to consternation, predicting: “You might end up in a tree too, just like the blacks and gays that the whites and straight people despise.”
The liberal United Methodist audience responded enthusiastically to Cone’s fiery rhetoric and feisty assessment of American racism and homophobia, with applause, vocal affirmation, and numerous tweets online. “White churches with a white Jesus oppressed blacks and marginalized them," Cone thundered. "Today, white churches and black churches are doing the same thing excluding gay people from their communities saying, ‘I love the sinner hate the sin.’ Now I never heard Jesus say that!”
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