Toward a Black Theology in Brazil

By dos Santos, Leontino Faria | Cross Currents, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Toward a Black Theology in Brazil


dos Santos, Leontino Faria, Cross Currents


Taking in consideration the insistent practice of racism in Brazilian society, it is easy to imagine the need to develop a Black Theology that calls upon us to reflect on this phenomenon, in light of biblical-theological presuppositions of a liberating and prophetic nature. We use as reference the Black Theology that developed in the United States as a theological movement that emerged among black Christians in the second half of the 1960s, focusing on the theological reflection on the struggle of black Americans under the leadership of Martin Luther King jr. In Brazil, the great reference to understand better this theological movement are the works published by Edicoes Paulinas, written by James H. Cone (God of the Opressed, 1985), one of the most important works on Black Theology; and the collection of documents on the first phase of the history of Black Theology from 1966 to 1979 by Gayraud S. Wilmore (Black Theology, 1986).

Regrettably, we find that the Liberation Theology that developed in Brazil and in Latin America (although its focus was more on a Marxist social-economic analysis than on the liberation of an oppressed race) in the 1980s and 1990s explored, as it was hoped, a relevant Black Theology that was impactful and that would arouse the attention of Christians in Brazil. Initiatives with a liberating bias were not enough to make the general populace think about the problems of blacks in Brazilian society. It is admirable to consider the fact that the leaders of North American Black Theology sought to maintain a certain dialogue with the leaders of Latin American and Asian liberation. The effects of this effort were not enough to impact Christian religious segments or Brazilian society. It is appropriate to consider, therefore, that Black Theology distinguishes itself from Latin American Liberation Theology by avoiding the use of Marxist social-economic analysis and by focusing on the liberation of an oppressed race rather than a social-economic class.

However, the effort undertaken by the Roman Catholic Church, which was more committed in the twentieth century to the problems of blackness than the Protestant Churches, deserves a positive mention. Among these Protestant Churches, there are some that never have addressed the black question satisfactorily, from a liberating and prophetic reflection.

Basic assumptions that justify a Black Theology in Brazil

Historical retrospective of racism in Brazil

Racism in Brazil results from the same causes that determined it in Spanish America. Unlike what happened in ancient times, in which discrimination was based on religious, national, or linguistic differences, this type of discrimination in Brazil was made in relation to culture and being different, including here the marked differences of physical traits and skin color. In the beginning of the sixteenth century, the colonizers who arrived in Brazil (Portuguese), brought in their cultural baggage, ideologies from the social, political, economic, theological, and pseudo-scientific explanations, considered by them logical, to justify the origin of racism. They had the same characteristics, foundations, and principles already used in Europe, which were also based on theological misconceptions based on some Old Testament biblical texts, which were themselves transformed into a biased doctrine that developed among fundamentalist theologians.

The European theological misconception of racial discrimination became a strong motive for defending black slavery in Brazil. Already in 1520, it was said that the Amerindians were not descendants of Adam and Eve. The biblical foundation for this was found in the story of Noah who was intoxicated with wine and got naked in front of his children. Ham, one of Noah's sons, in seeing his father in this situation and mocking him, was therefore cursed along with all his offspring. Racist theologians then concluded that blacks are the descendants of Ham, therefore cursed and condemned to permanent servitude and slavery. …

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