Yet with a Steady Beat: Contemporary U.S. Afrocentric Biblical Interpretation

By Randall C. Bailey | Go to book overview

THE BIBLE AND MODELS OF LIBERATION IN THE
AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

Demetrius K. Williams Tulane University

The Bible has been traditionally the most important source for the articulation of liberation in the experience of people of African descent in North America. Cain Felder suggests that the black church and others within black religious traditions give allegiance to biblical faith and witness, primarily because their own experiences seem to be depicted in the Bible (Felder 1989a: 155–57; 1989b: 5–7). For obvious reasons, then, African Americans were able to find within the Bible's theological language and the encoded experiences of its people analogous life situations and, more importantly, biblical models that echoed in many respects the intrinsic equality and humanity of all people before the God of the Bible. Scripture enabled African Americans to affirm a view of God that differed significantly from that of their oppressors. The intention of the slave master was to present to the slaves a conception of God that would make the slaves compliant, obedient, and docile. These desired qualities were supposed to make them better slaves and faithful servants of their masters. Many slaves rejected this view of God because it contradicted their African heritage and also because it contradicted the witness of the scriptures (Cone 1975: 31).

Thus it was through the scriptures that enslaved African American people found models and paradigms to construct visions of hope. Various biblical models have served as paradigms for African Americans in particular historical moods and moments. That is, African Americans' religious and political uses of the Bible correspond to distinct formations in their social history and coincide also with biblical formations of social history (T. Smith: 17). Several biblical models have informed African American experience, resulting in conceptual paradigms such as exodus, wilderness and promised land, Ethiopia and Egypt, and captivity and exile/Diaspora (ibid.).

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