Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pragmatic Ideology

One might be forgiven for assuming that, while working actively with black youth to help them develop their self-esteem, confidence and aspirational horizons, Yolande Beckles would have a fairly liberal attitude to issues around racial integration and co-operation. She is, after all, the mother of two mixed-race children. So I was more than a little nonplussed to read a noticeboard comment from one of her former protegées.
Now it must be stated from the outset that this anonymous contributor is, by his own admission, only seventeen years of age, an ex-Pentecostalist and now an angrily homophobic member of the Reformed Baptist Church. So perhaps not the best qualified person to impartially judge the finer points of someone else's belief system. But he does appear to genuinely believe that he was subjected by Yolande and her now-defunct Global Graduates Black Leadership Programme team to attempted indoctrination into the theology of James Hal Cone.

"I went into a program called the Black Leadership Programme, run by a lady called Yolande Beckles. This woman was (and presumable still is...) steeped in this theology [the Black Liberation theology of James Hal Cone], of course I didn't know it then. All she could talk about was the freedom of the Black Nation, and I was sat there, thinking, "What is she on?""

For those unfamiliar with the ideas of James Hal Cone, take a look at this recent interview by Bob Scott of Trinity Institute, the on-line education arm of the United New Testament Church. You might be a little unnerved, especially if you are the parent of one of the children who took part in the Black Leadership Programme.

Even more so, perhaps, to discover that your child is one of several named in this film production document available on-line, the youngest of whom is only 13 years old.

Personally, I'm more than a little confused. Yolande Beckles has always told interviewers that she was a member of the New Testament Church, although apparently since moving to Los Angeles she has involved herself with Michael Beckwith's sect, the Agape International Spiritual Center. Now I'm no theologian, but Agape is about as far from the New Testament Church in its beliefs as Martin Luther King was from Malcolm X. I'll leave you to decide whether any of these organisations would welcome James Hal Cone as a member. And to wonder just what lies at the root of Ms. Beckles' very pragmatic shifts in ideology.

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