Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn


James Deotis Roberts: What I will do is try to lift out the highlights of my paper. Some time ago I was visiting with the ambassador from one of the Islamic African countries. They had heard on the radio that within a few days the world would come to an end. They asked me what I thought about it. I said that would be the easy way out. (laughter) I am afraid that we will be around to deal with a lot of human problems for a long time to come and we have to use the circle of influence which we have to try to deal with those problems.

In the Miami newspaper I noticed today that they are dealing with the problem of Haitian boat people and also that the Pope will be going to Brazil where a large percentage of the people are practicing voodooism. Those two articles tend to pinpoint the focus of my paper and of my whole emphasis in theology: the need to have the social-political implications of the gospel spelled out and also the need to contextualize theology into various cultures. A Black theologian is involved in both of those tasks. In terms of our roots in Africa and the continuity of our religious traditions and heritage we necessarily have to keep that in mind and also the similarity of the Black condition in the major cities across the country with the economic and social conditions of third world peoples. We have to keep the liberation thrust alive so the pattern is set for this kind of focus in theology.

In my paper I tried to lift that up and say what we are trying to do and also to be critical of some things that are happening in Latin American liberation theologies which we do not feel that we can buy into because we have our own agenda, our own perspective which comes out of our own experience of oppression, which is different from the model of oppression in Latin American theology. But I can say from my encounter with Latin American theologians that when Black theologians and Latin American theologians get together it is serious business, because we are both concerned about a wide scale of human suffering and how the gospel relates to that. When they say, for example, that they are interested in non-persons as well as in non-believers -- perhaps the emphasis is on the non-person people who have lost their humanity in a form of oppression -- and try to relate the gospel to that, we resonate because we are dealing with that. When I first began working at theology from a Black perspective more than a decade ago, one of the things which I perceived almost immediately was that my own classical theological upbringing had not equipped me to deal with the new consciousness of the suffering of the people. I began to see that the real theological issue was centered more around the providence of God than around the existence of God. The real issue was: does God really care? Some of my colleagues like Bill Jones began to deal with that in a very serious way and he wrote his book "Is God A White Racist?" and dealt very seriously with the question of theodicy in the Black heritage. Even though I am not necessarily in agreement with his solution I think he has raised the right question. The question is whether or not the more deductive approach to theology is the proper direction for our main emphasis or whether induction would be more appropriate, that is, starting with some target situation of oppression as do women and Latin American theologians and then looking at the affirmation of the Christian creed with that particular form of experience clearly in focus.

I was influenced by existentialism earlier, for example, by Macquarrie's approach of looking at the human predicament, and was theologizing from that vantage point. Now, the Latin Americans, as you know, use Marxism as a means of social analysis and with that focal point in mind, they do exegesis and theological interpretations from that point of view. My critique makes several points concerning the lack of universal perception in Divine Principle in terms of the situation in the third world and at home. Also a more realistic approach to humanization needs to be considered. More serious consideration should be given to the actual socio-economic problems and how to deal with those. The hermeneutical principle seems to be too pro-Western for my satisfaction.

Lloyd Eby: I am a white Western male. For all I know I may be a racist. I may be a sexist. I don't know. It does seem to me, however, that there is in Unificationism something that strikes me as enormously and profoundly liberationist, not just of this or that particular whatever, but for everybody. If this claim is indeed true, Divine Principle is claiming that the three great blessings, when spelled out in practice and when properly fulfilled, contain and represent the fulfillment of all by all. I mean all human desires, needs, and aspirations. It is also making the claim that only the Messiah can open up these three great blessings to all of mankind. Furthermore it is claiming that the coming and the work of the Messiah rest on the whole foundation of the historical development leading up to Jesus of Nazareth and, since then, leading up to the coming of the Lord of the Second Advent. That history is primarily expressed in terms of Western Christendom. When that gets worked out in the proper way, then indeed the liberation of everybody and the blessings for everybody will indeed be realized. If that claim is true, then that does represent the liberation of everybody. If we pay close attention, the problems of everyone are addressed at least implicitly. I agree with you that in terms of what so far has been written about political and societal issues, the problems of South America, the problems of Africa, there has been neglect. That is true. I agree that it is true that it tends to be represented primarily in terms of Western history. Yet it is indeed also true that christological events are expressed primarily in terms of the outworking of Christendom. When that is worked out properly it does expand more. Although I agree that that is not sufficient, it is certainly going in some direction towards solving that problem as liberation thought.

Jonathan Wells: It seems to me that we can do nothing but grant Deotis' point that the African-American religious experience does not come in for consideration in Divine Principle. As to your point that science is a God that failed, I think that is debatable (though science may be in imminent danger of failing). Divine Principle can offer a constructive critique of science and the misuse of technology but I am not going to dwell on that point. As to the division of the world between the free world and communist world, this is susceptible to a lot of misinterpretation. Divine Principle claims that the kingdom of God emerges as Cain and Abel are reconciled centered on God's purpose. Abel is not the kingdom of heaven, Cain is not the kingdom of hell. The kingdom of hell is this world as we have it now, both free and communist. The kingdom of heaven emerges as Cain and Abel are reconciled, so I don't see Divine Principle equating the kingdom of heaven with the free world.

Lastly, I am probably starting to sound like a broken record, but I don't think that Divine Principle asserts that Jesus failed his mission. If we were to say that Jesus failed his mission, we would also have to say that God failed when Adam and Eve fell. The first human ancestors fell by their free will, and Jesus was rejected, through misuse of free will, by the people who were supposed to receive him. One can't say that Jesus failed any more than one can say that God failed.

Durwood Foster: Does it say that there was a failure of his mission?

Jonathan Wells: As I said earlier today, his mission was not completed. The failure was with the people who rejected him.

Lorine Getz: Deotis, I get lost when we identify Black and liberation theologies as one version for humanization and compare this to the vision in Divine Principle. I always understood liberation theology and Black theology to have different premises, primarily related to their specific ends. As soon as you get past simple statements about humanization, there are big differences between these two ideologies. Everybody would agree to a quality of value in human beings, but Black and liberation theologies take up very different directions in terms of goals, relating to socio-economic conditions, and so on. Perhaps I am muddying the issue there. I am not sure how, given either of those highly specified historical concerns, one would directly relate these to Divine Principle.

James Deotis Roberts: Since we met as a group in Detroit that included women theologians. Black theologians, and Latin American theologians, we established some kind of common ground. Perhaps it is humanization. These theologies began with some analysis of a target: oppression. Very often these oppressions have a common infrastructure. Often the issues overlap. For example, Black women relate both to the women's movement and Black theology. The different issues have in common the fact that they begin with a concern for some form of collective sin or evil, and the theological reflection is generated from that rather than developing from some abstract formula which is imposed in a deductive way. This differs from existentialism in that it is dealing with collective forms of oppression rather than personal anxiety and meaninglessness. One area where Black theology differs with the Latin American liberationist is that we have not used Marxist analysis because we have our own tradition of dealing with oppression over periods of hundreds of years. We have a heritage that comes from Africa rather than Europe or some other place. That is the context in which the theologizing takes place. Those are the fundamental differences, bur the ground is sufficiently common for us to say that we now have a liberation movement that includes these various cross fertilizations and exchanges which have enriched the whole movement. If I can understand my oppression it helps me to understand yours. You understanding yours helps you to understand mine. For example, I spoke at one of the colleges in the Midwest. When I got through, the same kind of statement was made: I am a white straight male; what does your statement of theology have to do with my experience? It just happened that a perfect illustration came out of a recent tragedy in the suburbs of Washington where a white straight male had killed his wife, his mother-in-law, and all of his children and carried the bodies to North Carolina. Behind all of that was the fact that he felt oppressed in his own house because he was supposed to make it in the system and other people had been promoted over him. This triggered a pathological state of neurosis and so he struck out at people who had been putting pressure on him. I can think of many white males who may feel some form of oppression from their wives, from their children, from their parents, and so forth. They wanted to be themselves and follow their own career, but someone else determined or tried to determine what their life should be and that is a form of oppression.

Durwood Foster: A quick comment on the issues that Deotis raises and which I take very seriously. In some way-and I think I have said this in my paper at some point-it would appear that prima facie there is a kind of obliviousness in Unification consciousness to the plight of the third world or to Black people and so on. I think this is true. I want to say, however, that I have been impressed by some positive factors. Maybe these have already been stated clearly enough, but it doesn't hurt to repeat them. Something that has affinity with the cry for liberation in Unification theology is that it is posing a very radical indictment of the ecclesiastical, cultural, and social status quo. This is a general indictment and doesn't deal with the particular plight of Black people or third world people. Nevertheless, it is there and is contributing to the positive firmament which calls into question the concordat between the Christian tradition and the establishment, where change is needed. Further than that, it is impressive how willing Unification consciousness is to acknowledge the point that Deotis is raising. More than just verbally acknowledging this, there have been those conferences that have been held at Barrytown where liberation theologians were brought into give and take, into dialogue. This is also impressive for someone who is a part of a theological institution which has not done that, which drags its feet. These are impressive actions, but they haven't gone the whole way yet.

James Deotis Roberts: I want to respond to Jonathan's query. I have no definitive answers. My concern is that the dialogues are going on but the input from scholars in Asia and so on doesn't seem to be really making an impact. That seems to me significant. The other thing that I wanted to say is that if we looked at the epistemological richness of metaphysics in ancient China it would enrich the discussion over against relying primarily on the hermeneutics of the Germans, American theology, and the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions. This movement has its anchor and its initiating center in the third world. That gives it an unusual chance to have a breakthrough whereas most of the other traditional theologies are locked up in Western metaphysics. I don't think that Unification theology takes enough advantage of the East-West possibilities, to say nothing of the southern hemisphere. The Asian interpretations that might come out of the natural development of the movement would be a tremendous breakthrough and would open the door for a universal vision. The interpersonal emphasis in Divine Principle and the lack of a social analysis program does not really get to collective evils in a structural sense. The structural question is not simply about people in intimate relationships and families, but about what an oppressive economic system like the one in South Africa does to a whole population of people. I don't see the apparatus for the analysis of evil in that form or for the problems of sexism and racism in Divine Principle. The real issue is how will they be completed in terms of implementation, in terms of expanding the conception of what is the problem. 

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