Originally posted 12-6-06
How can we use our sources of scripture and tradition? As I read and reread Jamie Phelps article “Communion Ecclesiology and Black Liberation Theology” (found in Theological Studies, December 200, vol. 61 no. 4, pg. 672-699), this question came to mind. The focus of Phelps’ article on the broader spectrum is to include Catholicism in the Black theology movement, and more specifically, to consider a Roman Catholic understanding of Communion Ecclesiology as a way to inform and liberate blacks in America (specifically Black Catholics). Phelps offers a good survey of Black theology from the Protestant camp, and begins to offer some challenging theological ideas for Black liberation, yet nothing that is earth-shattering or profound. Yet what Phelps does do is demonstrate the importance of a turning to the sources of tradition and scripture for doing theology. For example, Phelps surveys some encyclicals offered through Catholic tradition that compels Catholics to work for a society of justice, mercy, and equality (Populorum progression, Octogesimo advenies, and Rerum novarum for example). She doesn’t emphasis scripture as much, but does reference Cone’s Thurman’s and King’s understanding of the compelling message of Christ resurrection as found in scripture. The majority of Phelp’s article is based on Catholic tradition.
It is no surprise to me that the bulk of Phelps’ article reaches to tradition – she is Catholic, after all. If we were to read a Protestant theologian’s account it would most likely be rooted in scripture. What I am wondering is if there is a way to use both? In the Baptist movement, we have no problem looking at the scriptural basis. Yet what would we find in our tradition? The ABC/USA has a number of statements of concern, resolutions, and other “official” statements which hold very little power or punch. Can we use the examples of individuals as sources of our tradition? Can we use the statements of one or two theologians? Perhaps this is an example of a moment when our diversity (especially the diversity of the ABC/USA) can be a true strength. As an anglo-Baptist, I have history to look to and swell with pride – and I have plenty to be ashamed. Yet can I be so bold as to turn to the heritage of my Black Baptist brothers and sisters, and clam that history as an informing history? It is a risky endeavor, but one that needs to be considered.Two sources for one!