J. Deotis Roberts, Pioneer of Black Theology, Dies at 95

learn about J. Deotis Roberts, Pioneer of Black Theology, Dies at 95

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On the evening of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, the Rev. J. Deotis Roberts was attending a convention at Duke College, listening to German theologian Jürgen Moltmann current an article on the theology of hope. Dr. Roberts, a soft-spoken Baptist minister and professor of theology at Howard College in Washington, had spent years grappling with philosophical questions on God, existence and that means. He now started to surprise what Moltmann’s theology—what any theology—needed to say to “a individuals with out hope” dwelling in an age of anger and despair.

The following morning, he requested Moltmann how his method to Christianity might be utilized to black Individuals. The German scholar had no solutions.

“It was then,” Dr. Roberts later wrote in an essay, “that the seed of ‘black theology’ started to germinate in my very own thoughts.”

Dr. Roberts helped pioneer black theology, a brand new perspective on Christianity that advanced in response to the revolutionary spirit of the Black Energy motion, with a concentrate on problems with racial justice and liberation. “I advocate a theology of the black expertise that rises from the soil of our heritage and life,” he wrote in a 1976 article for the Journal of Spiritual Thought, outlining his imaginative and prescient. “For us, religion and ethics should be married. There could be no separation between the secular and the sacred. Jesus means freedom.”

A primary-generation black theologian, Dr. Roberts grew up within the segregated South, the place the county jail was nearby of his elementary college, to develop into the primary African-American to earn a Ph. Edinburgh in Scotland. . His work emphasised each liberation and reconciliation, constructing on King’s emphasis on nonviolence in addition to Malcolm X’s message of self-determination for black individuals. As he noticed it, the church had an obligation to handle social issues. and take part within the every day struggles of marginalized individuals, together with African Individuals.

“No theologian of [Christianity] can escape the moral questions raised by racism,” he wrote in his 1971 e book “Liberation and Reconciliation”, “both white oppression or black response”.

Over the a long time, Dr. Roberts’ work grew to become “a touchstone” for generations of black theologians, in keeping with his former pupil. David Emmanuel Goatley, director of the Workplace of Black Church Research at Duke Divinity College. Dr. Roberts was 95 years outdated when he died on July 22 at his dwelling in Clinton, Maryland. His daughter Charmaine Roberts Parker confirmed the dying however didn’t cite the trigger.

For years, Dr. Roberts engaged in an mental dialogue with the Rev. James H. Cone, who successfully launched black theology as a proper self-discipline together with his 1969 e book “Black Theology and Black Energy.” Whereas Cone emphasised the necessity for liberation, Dr. Roberts insisted that reconciliation was simply as necessary. “He did not wish to assist any notion of freedom, of liberation, that will by some means create separation,” he stated. The Reverend Kelly Brown Douglasdean of Episcopal Divinity College at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

“If Cone was extra pushed by Malcolm and the Black Energy motion,” he added in a telephone interview, “then Roberts was extra like a king,” emphasizing a message of nonviolence and reconciliation whereas noting “Christ’s common relationship with all.” . humanity,” not simply whites, who usually portrayed Jesus as a blonde-haired, light-skinned messiah. “For Roberts,” Douglas continued, “blacks had as a lot proper to see Christ in his likeness as anybody else.”

Dr. Roberts preferred to say that he lived “with one foot in academia and one foot in church,” preaching and educating in church buildings whereas spending a lot of his educational profession in traditionally black establishments. He taught at Howard Divinity College for 22 years earlier than leaving in 1980 to develop into president of the Interdenominational Theological Middle, a consortium of seminaries in Atlanta. He later grew to become a distinguished professor of philosophical theology at Jap Baptist Theological Seminary in suburban Philadelphia, and in 1992 he was elected the primary black president of the American Theological Society, one of many oldest skilled associations within the discipline.

He felt an obligation, he stated, to assist “overcome the most cancers of racism” that afflicts seminaries and different spiritual establishments, partially by bringing extra individuals of coloration, and extra girls, into management positions. For a few years she additionally taught alongside Latin American theologians at a seminary in Buenos Aires and collaborated with students from all over the world, focusing particularly on the African non secular heritage of black theology.

“Roberts devoted himself and his genius to constructing necessary bridges between African Individuals and European Individuals; the church and the group; older and youthful generations; conventional and up to date cultured expressions; and between prophetic and praise-based church traditions,” he stated. Adetokunbo Adelekanprofessor of theology and ethics at Palmer Theological Seminary, the successor to Jap Baptist.

“In doing so,” Adelekan continued in an electronic mail, “he helped develop our creativeness in regards to the function of seminary and church and the place the way forward for the American Church might lie.”

The youngest of three youngsters, James Roberts, was born in Spindale, North Carolina, on July 12, 1927. His father was a carpenter and his mom a homemaker. In accordance with his daughter, he took the center identify Deotis on the suggestion of the first college principal, who stated it meant “realized man” or “scholar.”

He then graduated from highschool at age 16 and studied at traditionally black schools, receiving a bachelor’s diploma from Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte in 1947 and a bachelor’s of divinity from Shaw College in Raleigh, NC, in 1950. his research, he supported himself partially by serving as a pastor.

Dr. Roberts earned a grasp’s diploma in sacred theology in 1952 from Hartford Seminary (now Hartford Worldwide College for Faith and Peace) and acquired his doctorate in philosophical theology 5 years later. Partly, Goatley stated, he accomplished his training in Scotland due to racial obstacles in American divinity faculties: “There have been only a few alternatives in the US for an African American to get a Ph.D. in divinity or philosophy.”

The yr after incomes his Ph.D., Dr. Roberts joined the college of Howard College. He took go away within the mid-Seventies to function dean of the divinity college at Virginia Union College in Richmond, and taught at Jap Baptist from 1984 to 1998, touring to the campus in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, from his dwelling in Silver Spring. , Md. He later taught for 3 years at Duke.

Dr. Roberts printed greater than a dozen books, together with the gathering of essays “In the hunt for a black theology” (1971), which he edited with James J. Gardner; “A black political theology(1974); Y “Bonhoeffer and King: Talking Reality to Energy” (2005), which explored the theological views of the German king and minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

His spouse of 66 years, Elizabeth Caldwell Roberts, an elementary college trainer, died in 2019. Along with his daughter Parker of Clinton, Maryland, two different daughters survive, Carlita Roberts Marsh of Washington and Kristina Roberts, a greatest vendor. writer who writes below the pseudonym Zane and lives in Atlanta; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. He’s preceded in dying by a son, Deotis.

After he started writing about black theology, Dr. Roberts appeared at conferences and church conferences to debate his views, together with at a 1989 convention in New York Metropolis, the place audio system identified among the points that black Individuals face, together with poverty and violence.

“In some respects, we’ve got regressed this decade, and racism itself has develop into extra insidious,” he stated. the brand new york occasions on the time. “If our persons are going to outlive,” he continued, “it will likely be largely due to how properly the black church carries out its mission.”

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