In the late 1960s and early 1970s, black liberation theologian James Cone offered a provocative, even blasphemous, challenge to church leaders in the United States who failed to speak up for blacks enduring oppression at the hands of the white majority in the country.
In sum, he asked what kind of god white people worshipped.
In his 1970 book A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone wrote:
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us, if God is not against white racists, then God is a murderer, and we had better kill God.
Cone was merciless in his assessment of white theologians who failed to confront the suffering endured by blacks in the U.S. He wrote:
The failure of white theology to speak to the black liberation struggle only reveals once again the racist character of white thought.
For Cone, it was all about the revelation of the character of God and this revelation was not in some past or even present event “in which it is difficult to recognize the activity of God.” Revelation, he wrote, “was a black event — it is about what blacks are doing about their liberation.”
Cone acknowledged that there might be a “pantheistic distortion” of his analysis, but argued that such a risk must be taken, if:
… theological statements are going to have meaning in a world that is falling apart because white racists think that God has appointed them to rule over others, especially blacks.
In his more recent book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011), Cone condemns, legitimately, the failure of white Christians such as Harry Emerson Fosdick and even Reinhold Niebuhr to speak forcefully in opposition to lynching in the first half of the twentieth century:
I found no prominent liberal theologian in the North who made a vigorous stand against lynching. … [T]hey were free to express outrage, but they had none.
The notion that God is an oppressor and a murderer and needs to be killed was clearly an insult to the sensibilities of white Christians in the United States, but in the end, Cone’s arguments challenged the collective conscience of white Protestants who then embraced the task of confronting white privilege and racism in the United States.