James Cone on the Liberation of Love

[Martin Luther King Jr’s] dependence on the analysis of love found in liberal theology and his confidence that the ‘universe is on the side of justice’ seem not to take seriously white violence in America. James Cone, _God of the Oppressed_, 203

Koinonia is limited to the victims of oppression and does not include the oppressors. ibid, 189

If violence versus nonviolence is not the issue [b/c nobody can be nonviolent in an unjust society] but, rather, the creation of a new humanity, then the critical question for Christians is not whether Jesus committed violence or whether violence is theoretically consistent with love and reconciliation. We repeat: the question is not what Jesus did…but what is he doing. ibid, 204, 201

The ethic of liberation arises out of love, for ourselves and for humanity. ibid, 199

For Cone, the hesitancy to speak of love, especially love of the oppressor, arises from the temptation to treat Christ’s love as if it were “indifferent to social and political justice” (208). Love not only has the possibility of forgiving and leaving intact the structures of oppression (and the power of the oppressors); it has in fact been the central motivating vision from which such structures of domination arose. The “civilizing” Christian mission was a work of love.

How then, for Cone, does one speak of love in a world in which peoples were conquered for love and oppressors ask to be pardoned from any responsibility and left with their riches and power for the sake of this same love?

Cone, ultimately, places liberation at the forefront of his thought, for without the “hope for the creation of a new society for all,” without “the creation of a new humanity in America” (202, 203), love remains an impossible venture; it remains the justifying word of the oppressors. The “ethics of liberation arises out of love,” that is, liberation is ordered to and for the sake of love, culminates in love, because the possibility of love will arise, new, only from liberation.

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3 Responses to James Cone on the Liberation of Love

  1. Tyler says:

    Thanks for these series of posts on Cone, Tim. My familiarity with Cone begins and ends with _A Black Theology of Liberation_ where Cone, more or less (if my memory serves correctly), doesn’t interact with King. If you could, when you have the time, would you parse out the first comment about MLK a little more — the connection between King’s belief in the justice of the universe and his failure to adequately assess white violence? Cheers.

  2. Pingback: On Violence: James Cone and Martin Luther King Jr. | veeritions

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