Encountering the Black Christ in Chicago


The anti-violence protest I participated in last week here in Chicago has me reflecting on what it means to encounter the Black Christ in today’s gospel reading. Jesus is depicted as walking over choppy waves toward the disciples’ boat and charging them to take courage.

James Cone provides a portrait of what it means to encounter the Black Christ in his classic book, God of the Oppressed. Black Christology, as framed by Cone, is distinct from white christology, which attempts to cram the meaning of Jesus into a neatly packed box of theological concepts. Black Christology is not interested in the question of Jesus’ nature in relation to the Father, nor does it tend to address other questions that keep Christology at theoretical bay. For Cone, Black Christology establishes the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith as the ground for liberation. Christ is Black because Christ is God’s liberating power revealed in the most despised among us. Christ is Black because the oppressed reveal God’s liberative action through their struggle for survival and their liberating praxis of freedom.

There is no question that Chicago’s south and west sides are despised and neglected by the rest of Chicagoland. In our city, structural racism has material, physical ramifications. Lack of healthy food, education, affordable housing, and business opportunities are choking the life out of our black and brown brothers and sisters, and continues to exacerbate violence. As the protest hoped to bring to light, our neighbors feel hunted by the Chicago Police Department which promises to protect and serve. I think it is safe to say that the Black Christ lives on the southside, the westside.

As a white Chicagoan living a relatively privileged lifestyle on the northside, I feel gripped by this challenge posed in Matthew’s gospel to encounter the Black Christ in my own city. Those of us who have the privilege to go to sleep without the sound of gunshots ringing out, or walk to a grocery store full of fresh fruit and vegetables, we need to take a lesson from Peter and ask the Black Christ to command us to come out on the water.

Can I get a witness?