The Theological Work to be Done

WomenSpeakArt2

Language and words are important to me. I am a writer and a speaker. The articulation and presentation of thoughts is something that I take very seriously because it provides the foundation for how ideas are transmitted and relationships are formed. I often start by defining words, phrases and concepts so that a common understanding exist and that there is clarity in the exchange of information.

That being said, let me begin with a word about who I am. I am a self identified womanist theologian. This means nothing to you if you don’t know what a womanist is and how that forms a theological framework. Womanist is a term coined by the venerable Alice Walker in her work In Search of our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose. She defines womanist in the following ways:
  1. From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.
  2. A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.” Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
  3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
  4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

I am a theologian – one who studies God and concepts of God. I operate from a practical framework, one that is pastoral in nature. This means that I understand who God is through a pastoral care lens, one that takes seriously the care of, compassion for and fundamental humanity of God’s creation.

So as a womanist theologian, I draw on my experience and the larger experience of black women and their context of experiencing interlocking systems of oppression to understand who God is and how God moves in a caring relationship with God’s people. The purpose of this study is to uncover a fuller understanding of what it means to experience abundant life and ultimately liberation. This does not end with the black woman’s lived experience, it only begins there. A key aspect of womanist theology is that the liberation and wholeness of all of humanity is lifted up. Did you get that?

This was my second experience attending the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This event and what it stands for is soul stirring. I cannot enter into the space and NOT feel like I am standing on holy ground. The CSW, for me, is an exercise in uncovering the thousands of untold stories of women and girls across the globe. It is a time for women to unite their voices, lament in their struggles, bond together in their joys and continue the work that is required to understand women’s rights as human rights.

Because of my dual identity as womanist AND theologian, I also enter this space with a critical faith lens. While the event is largely secular in nature, there are side events and opportunities hosted by the faith community. I find that these events, while helpful in beginning a conversation about faith and women’s rights, are often lacking in a prophetic witness and deeper theological deconstruction that is needed to re-imagine a God who has created women in the Divine image. For me it’s not enough for faith communities to be service providers for women who have experienced trauma. Faith communities must be about the work of educating communities of faith to think critically about gendered biases and norms that are a direct reflection of bad theology, which has been life taking rather than life giving.

As a theologian, I miss deeper conversations and space to do the work of reconstructing a faith narrative that takes into account the totality of women’s’ experiences in order to create a theological framework that challenges the status quo. I believe that the services and immediate support that many communities of faith provide are essential. I believe that the clarion call to justice and the dismantling of systems that would seek to perpetuate violence against women is necessary. I also believe that there is academic work to be done. We have to do the work of the head and the heart in order to provide a prophetic witness and life-giving service.

One of my favorite quotes is by the Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, founder of the FaithTrust Institute. She says that “Women of faith must be about deconstructing patriarchal misuse of religion that is used to justify violence against women.” I would like to expand this quote to say that women AND men of faith must be about this work and that we need to think about violence against women and girls as not just physical, but as mental, emotional and spiritual as well. If we are not taking seriously our theological frameworks and if we are not constantly measuring them against issues of injustice, violence and dis-ease in our world, then we are failing as people faith.

God has endowed each of us with a mind, with a heart, with a body and with a soul. These parts of our selves have been crafted in God’s holy image and we have been given the ultimate gift – to be a co-creator alongside God in order to see the Beloved Community come to pass. We must not neglect this gift.

It is my hope to continue to be engaged in the CSW but also to do the work of expanding theologies and helping the faith community reclaim a prophetic voice and witness in the fight for women’s rights, gender justice and the eradication of all forms of violence that would threaten to thwart the Kingdom of heaven here on earth. I hope you consider joining us in this fight.

Peace + Blessings,

Rozella

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