New book lays out the first theology of the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) movement

Westminster John Knox Press publishes the Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby’s ‘Getting to the Promised Land: Black America and the Unfinished Work of the Civil Rights Movement’

by Westminster John Knox Press | Special to Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Reparations are necessary for rebuilding Black America, argues the Rev. Dr. Kevin W. Cosby in his new book, “Getting to the Promised Land: Black America and the Unfinished Work of the Civil Rights Movement,” published Tuesday by Westminster John Knox Press.

Cosby, President of Simmons College of Kentucky and Senior Pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church, uses the stories of biblical leaders such as Nehemiah to outline the agenda and biblical framework for the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) cause. The first theology of its kind, the book calls for all Americans to move from nonengagement with the ADOS movement to one of active support for its efforts to find justice and healing for Black America.

“In virtually every area of racial progress, we have reverted to a much darker period in our nation’s history,” Cosby says. The book’s introduction demonstrates the economic gap between white and Black America: for white America, the mean wealth is $120,000. But for African Americans, it sits at $1,700 when accounting for depreciating family assets such as the family car. “The question we must consider is how have we arrived at such a point of deep contradiction? How is it that the gesture of the closed, raised fist that signifies Black Power is a fist that has never truly held the economic power for which it is owed?” Cosby asks.

Cosby turns his critical eye to the function of Christian doctrine in relation to Black America’s struggle for progress, wealth, and prosperity. He uses this new theology, building on seminal works such as “Black Theology and Black Power” by James Cone, to reevaluate what it means to be Black in America today when Blackness has become much more diverse than when Cone was writing in the post-civil rights era.

the Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby

Cosby uses ADOS lineage to define ADOS as a singular group. We must “get very honest about the fact that while the tapestry of Blackness in the United States has grown evermore rich in the twenty-first century, it is the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) who, as a group, remain its poorest expression,” Cosby says. He properly anchors ADOS history in its American context to understand “our condition as a population uniquely excluded” from economic and social gains.

Cosby then establishes ADOS’s specific claims to economic and reparative justice, including the necessity of government reparations. In his biblical analysis, he argues for a reevaluation of Black theology that acknowledges the current condition of ADOS in America. “A Black theology that stubbornly clings to an interpretation of Christian doctrine that is against a conception of liberation as embodied by ADOS is one that necessarily cosigns itself to irrelevance to the American Descendants of Slavery, who today are struggling to survive in the United States,” Cosby says. He looks for inspiration in biblical leaders outside of the traditional Black liberation theology sphere, which has historically used the story of Moses leading escaped Hebrew slaves in Exodus, by analyzing other leadership examples in order to center efforts on sharpening focus and rebuilding, such as:

  • Nehemiah’s example: Just as Nehemiah wept, ADOS leaders must weep and speak up for the ADOS community and mobilize to advance ADOS interests.
  • The sin of Solomon: Using Solomon’s example, Cosby encourages ADOS to instead stop making accommodations to other interests and political ambitions and to refocus the movement to a specific course of action.
  • Cyrus’s decree: “What Darius finds in Cyrus’s decree — and what ultimately allows for the restoration of the dedication of the temple — is something that is foundational to ADOS theology — namely, there is no liberation without reparation. There is no justice without reparation.”
  • Daniel in the lion’s den: In his commitment to preserving Jewish heritage, Daniel provides an example, that ADOS intentionally identify as ADOS before any other aspect of their identity and resist the false comfort that the illusion of inclusivity promises but never delivers. “We must eschew the trappings of a dominant culture that rewards conformity and silence,” Cosby said.

Provocative, controversial, and energizing, Cosby’s analysis is a groundbreaking argument for the case for reparations and is sure to generate powerful and engaging conversation around the ADOS agenda. Black and white seminarians, scholars, and secular persons engaged in this work and in the debate over reparations will find this book necessary and challenging.

About the author

Kevin W. Cosby is President of Simmons College of Kentucky, one of the nation’s 101 historically Black colleges and universities. He has served as Senior Pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church, the largest African American Church in the state of Kentucky, since 1979. One of Kentucky’s most influential leaders, Cosby holds an MDiv from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a DMin from United Theological Seminary. He is currently pursuing a doctorate at Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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