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A tribute to Rev. Dr James Cone

A tribute to Rev. Dr James Cone

©Union Theological Seminary

07 May 2018

As we mourn the passing of Rev. Dr James Hal Cone, who died on 28 April, the World Council of Churches (WCC) also commemorates his great academic and church leadership contributions. Cone, known as the founder of black liberation theology, was also the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary.

We also recognize that he was a member of one of our founding churches, the African Methodist Church, a church that has carried the globally-known vision and legacy of freedom and justice, a legacy that is now just as living and important as ever.

Cone’s influence was and is iconic for people of faith globally and will be for generations to come. We have received condolences in his regard from throughout our global fellowship of churches and academic partners who recognize this.

We especially recall Cone’s work with the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR) that courageously stood with Africa and peoples of African descent globally. This was a very impactful work of the WCC and Cone’s contributions gave life and witness to this. We remember that Nelson Mandela gave thanks to WCC and especially PCR in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998 for its accompaniment of the struggle in South Africa that led to freedom for South Africa.

The former director of PCR, the Rev. Dr Barney Pityana, said: “Dr. Cone was an example of a passion for Christ, and for justice, and a lover of humanity. I always appreciated his support for our work at PCR.”

Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC central committee, said: “May Rev. Dr Cone’s commitment for justice, liberation and anti-racism continue to energize and provide impulses our work as pilgrims of justice and peace at a time when xenophobia, racism and negative ethnicity are raining their ugly heads all over the world.”

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said: "His ministry has served the whole ecumenical movement towards a deeper understanding of the harsh realities of life and the power of liberation in the Gospel."

Rev. Dr Angelique Walker-Smith, senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement, said that Dr Cone was one of her former professors and had an important influence on her pan-African theological lens for ecumenical leadership. “He was courageous for advancing his theological lens in a time that was less popular to do so and contributed to a global community of generations that have come after him.”

Rev. Dr Katalina Tahaafe-Williams, programme executive for Mission and Evangelism, commended Cone as the father of black liberation theology. “His influence on me through his writings has been profound and long lasting. As a theologian from Pacific-Oceania, James Cone’s writings contributed significantly to my understanding and life-long passion to combat racism and fight for racial justice,”said Tahaafe-Williams. “His passing is a great loss for the world and in particular for those many continuing to witness to Christ’s gospel through the struggles for political, social, and economic justice. Even as far away as the liquid continent that is the Pacific-Oceania, Cone’s influence and legacy live on. May he rest in the peace of God’s loving arms.”

Rev. Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies van Huffel, WCC president for Africa, said that, in the dark time of apartheid, the theological contributions of Cone, including “God of the Oppressed”(1975), "Black Theology and Black Power" (1969), "A Black Theology of Liberation" (1975), and “My soul looks back”(1982), helped the oppressed churches in South Africa articulate a theological position against apartheid. “Professor Cone’s prophetic theological ethics, especially how he influenced the rise of black liberation theology in South Africa and the Kairos Document, are being recognized in South Africa,”she said. “May his soul rest in peace.”

The WCC celebrates the life, ministry and academic contributions of Cone that shifted the theological narrative to one that more fully affirms and embraces the sanctity, presence and Christian contributions of people of African descent.

May Cone rest in peace and continue to influence our Christian witness throughout the world.

Read the letter of condolences sent by the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit