The Black Church

The Reality of Oppression

Jesus suffered and died in order to liberate humanity from suffering caused by those in power who abuse their authority.
— Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki

The discussion of race can be difficult, yet when speaking about the context of a communities’ theology, race must be considered. My experiences as a white person is different than a person of color. It is essential to understanding and collaboration for a community to realize the challenges of another community. In order for me to fully speak the Gospel to a diverse community of believers, I must strive to look beyond my own experiences, and focus on the context of those I serve.

In my white, suburban Lutheran church, it was common to hear about oppression, the oppression of sin. We were given imagery like “being a slave to sin” or “being bound to our sinful nature, unable to free ourselves.” In reading the work of and listening to the teachings of black theologians like Richard Perry, Fidon Mwombeki, and James Forbes, clarified my understanding of oppression within the black church as a much different reality.

The history of slavery and oppression within the black community has given their church a much stronger connection to the Gospel language of suffering and freedom. White men tried to control slaves with the fear of God. Instead, the Gospel message empowered slaves with the grace of God. They have taken the religion of their oppressor and revealed the truth of the Gospel for liberation, healing, and salvation; not only from the abstract reality of sin, but from the ever-present reality of their context as slaves.

In his article, “The Theology of the Cross,” Mwonbeki warns of using the suffering of Christ on the cross as a tool to convince people to accept their suffering. He points out that black suffering is “caused by the peoples and structures we know we can change.” Mwonbeki calls for a “Hands On Theology.” Likewise, Richard Perry, in his article “Theology and the Black Experience,” challenges the black community to a new understanding justification, one “defined by God’s grace and not the white man’s power.”

Today, the same Gospel promise of liberation is powerfully spoken by the black church. While slavery has been abolished, and the Civil Rights Movement has made great strides in race equality, the struggle is far from over. The very real presence of systemic racism still oppresses black and African-American communities. I see the suffering of this community in the news and within the Black Lives Matter movement. I have come to the realization that there is no “right” answer when proclaiming the Gospel. Within different communities, we need to find ways to effectively reveal God’s presence and promise.

Mwombeki, Fidon R. “The Theology of the Cross: Does It Make Sense to Africans?” In The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology. Edited by Niels Henrik Gregersen, Bo Holm, Ted Peters, and Peter Widmann, 101-116. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.

Perry, Richard. “Justification by Faith and Its Social Implications.” In Theology and the Black Experience: The Lutheran Heritage Interpreted by African & African-American Theologians. Edited by Albert Pero and Ambrose Moyo, 110-132. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988.