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Created in the cultural upheaval of the early 1960s, black liberation theology attempts to apply Christian religious traditions and belief to directly address the long subjugation of African Americans. According to its American founder, Christian theologian James Cone, the church combines and continues the spirit of several black leaders from differing faiths, like the Rev. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. It holds that Christianity's chief mission should be to deliver grace to the poor, the subjugated and the disenfranchised.
The actual philosophy of black liberation theology owes its greatest debt to the work and words of Cone, a prominent theological academic who took to heart Malcolm X's 1950s assertion that Christianity was a "white man's religion." The Rev. Martin Luther King, whose many recorded sermons and writings attempt to apply Christian belief to black oppressive conditions, is another major influence on those subscribing to this branch of mainline Protestant theology. It was Malcolm X, whose power of activism and community-building is widely credited for spurring Cone's early writings and sermons. Cone credits a melange of Christian theologians, however, for creating the core of his Christian beliefs, including influential white theologians like Paul Tillich and Karl Barth.
By 1966, Cone and 50 other pastors from across the nation had put a full-page ad in
Though mainly focused on the African American experience, black liberation theology can easily be compared to the secular approach of A People's History of the United States, a socially responsible history book by Boston University political science professor Howard Zinn, who died in 2010. Selling 2,000,000 copies, as of 2011, the book explores America's key historical moments through the filter of various marginalized cultures, as opposed to the predominantly white, male, power-conscious view of history that normally prevails. Preachers of black liberation employ a similar mindset when sermonizing on Christian values, which through history have been presided upon by the powerful and not the weak.
In the lead up to the presidential election of 2008, media buzz centered on the longtime minister of now-President Barack Obama, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Rev. Wright was recorded as telling congregants that "God Bless America" should really be "God Damn America" for the several centuries of oppression and subjugation. Some decried the spirit of the sermon, while many others appreciated the honesty.