James H. Cone, The Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Seminary in New York, died April 28 in Manhattan at the age of 79. Here is his obituary in The New York Times. He was widely respected as the founder of black liberation theology. Cone wrote: "Black theology is an understanding of the Gospel which sees justice for the poor as the very heart of what the Christian Gospel is about and the very heart of what God is doing in this world."
During his decades at Union, this theologian, teacher, and author focused on black liberation theology and liberation theologies of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. His most recent book The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011) won the Grawemeyer Award in Religion. With prophetic edge, he offers an incisive critique of this form of terrorism against blacks and the appalling silence of Christian communities. All his books reveal the flinty and profound prophetic edge to Cone's theology.
Dr. Cone's funeral will be at Riverside Church in New York City at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 7, 2018. It will be livestreamed for those unable to attend.
Many of Dr. Cone's students have paid tribute to him on social media. This one is from Micah Bucey, now a minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City:
"Your legacy will live on in the continuing work, Dr. James Hal Cone. In my four years at Union Theological Seminary, I took six classes with Dr. Cone, and at every turn, he nudged me out of my own myopic comfort zones, while simultaneously urging me to find my own theological voice. He scolded me when I completely deserved it and encouraged me when I didn't completely deserve it. He educated and invited, challenged and welcomed. And it was always fierce.
"There is literally no time of preparation for a sermon when Dr. Cone's Black Liberation Theology critique and imperative doesn't pass through my mind and push me toward deeper honesty about my own participation in white supremacy.
"He changed lives, outlooks, and theology forever, and every one of his books should be required annual reading for every citizen."
And this one is from Caelyn Randall, now pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing a dissertation on policing, mental illness, and race.
"I’ve had a hard time putting into words what it meant to be one of Dr. Cone’s students. I remember meeting him for the first time during orientation. I’d read Black Theology and Black Power in the years prior to our first interaction — he was the reason I decided to attend Union. But when I saw him, I couldn’t speak. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to say (although certainly this was true), but that in his presence, I just wanted to listen — to bask in his wisdom.
"After only a few weeks of class with him I realized that his presence compelled something else, too — a radical authenticity. The academic philosophizing that I was all too comfortable with lost all of its faux-force when he was around, rendered meaningless unless its purpose was liberation.
"I continue to look to his work and my memories of his presence, for guidance. I am now, as I was then, so thankful to be one of his students."