There has been nothing more disturbing than witnessing fellow Christians dragging Dr. Walker-Barnes through the mud with online hate and vitriol for being an honest Christian. Normally, when we think about what it means to be an honest Christian, we think of honest Abe. We don’t lie, we don’t do a lot of things that other, “immoral,” “non-believers” do. Walker-Barnes wrote a prayer asking that she be given the strength to hate white people. It was modelled on the psalms, and it is clear that the people who are criticizing her have not really taken the time to worship alongside the radiant fullness of the Black church, which goes to God fully in joy but also in lament.
Watching fellow white people emerge from the white bubble to peer into radical Black consciousness would be entertaining if the consequences weren’t so deadly. Several years ago, I wrote down my favorite authors while following the prompts to Twyla Tharp’s book on creativity:
What writers do you admire most?
Dostoevsky because he is a teacher of the purest Christianity.
Deborah Eden Tull because of her simplicity and depth. Elegance. Leadership and gentle authority grounded in experience. Her writing lacks pretentiousness and arrogance.
Chanequa Walker-Barnes – depth, lack of superficiality, wisdom, truth and realness.
Eugene Peterson, because he preached every week and was a practitioner and not merely a theorist.
Dr. Walker-Barnes is a significant thinker and a radical practitioner of Christian love. She loves white people enough to be honest enough with us.
Here’s another bit about me.
My spiritual mentors are either orthodox and Evangelical (Doug Strong at SPU), fundamentalist/fundamental (Blackaby), or womanist (Wilda Gafney and Chanequa Walker Barnes), the latter of whom can also be literalist in their revolutionary (re)interpretations of Scripture. But above all John Wesley is my biggest spiritual mentor, because of the ideas of his sermon The Catholic Spirit, which I apply to Romans and read as having a broadly inclusive message. Jews and Gentiles, both/and, etc. I see Romans as intersectional when I apply Wesley’s precritical lens to it in post-modernist fashion.
At a prayer meeting in congress recently, a Black congressman said a prayer, and then concluded it, saying “amen.” And then, before people could think he was done, he added, “and a-woman.”
That man is also my teacher. Donald Trump Jr., and many others with him, asked, “Is this what you voted for? Amen doesn’t even mean ‘men.’ It means [x,y,z – insert something historico-critically academic here]”
Why do I love that he said, “a-men” and then added, “a-woman”?
It speaks to this same both-and nature of both Wesley and womanist. It meets the masses where they are – plenty of uneducated people think amen has to do with men – and also re-embodies it so that it is meta-educated. Of course the speaker knows “amen” isn’t about men. But it doesn’t change the fact that by saying “a-woman” he has set off a debate that has centered Black women, where “amen” would have just perpetuated more of the same, making him submit to patriarchal prayer norms that have dominated the political landscape of the US for all time – excepting the Radical Reformation, maybe.
Wesley would probably have been horrified, and yet he lays the groundwork for me to rejoice in this instance. Amen and a-woman. 😉 That is worship for me, my Black Baptist church is worship for me. It marginalizes no one and brings justice and equity. Theology of inclusion is expressed through worship in the UCC church in that all can become clergy and all can be married, because the foundation of the church is the love of Christ for all, with no discrimination.
I think this young generation of evangelicals needs to see scholars not only highlight a positive heritage but also lament our shortcomings.
Several factors contributed to my interest in womanist theology.
1) I have a disability, and it has been wonderful to just embrace it and talk about it regardless of people’s response as a way of coping and building community. It is exhausting trying to fit in and just act the way people want me to act, and I feel that some of the womanist writers are similar (though as women of color they might find my explanation of them and my identification with them problematic, it is at least honest what I’m writing. Furthermore, their exhaustion is from trying to play along in structures that white men and women don’t have to strain to uphold. So it’s just their way of being authentically themselves and remaining in their integrity.) On my reading list is Chanequa Walker Barnes’ Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength.
2) My family in the South was involved in slavery and also white supremacy (the KKK) until the 40’s and studying them is my way of remaining in solidarity with the Black community and lament.
3) Watching womanists get interviewed by non-womanists is exhausting because they have to explain themselves so much and have to cut through so many lenses of discrimination and incredulity just to make their main points. I like to think by entering into their perspectives that I can show respect for them. I can spare them some of the exhaustion if they interact with me, and can grow as an antiracist.
4) I have a former friend (we actually had a falling out because I wasn’t woke enough) who studied at Seattle U, and they studied that kind of thing there. She introduced me to it. I have been publicly shamed and called racist by the woke left and don’t identify that way, but I still defend their dignity and their right to exist.
I end with the words of renowned, inspiring and wonderful Wilda Gafney, who writes in her phenomenal book Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne, “The supper invitation is the guiding metaphor for this book. Schoolmates, family friends, and some folk who we never figured out just how they arrived at our tables were all welcome. And so you are welcome, whether womanism and feminism are familiar, beloved, or altogether new and strange dishes. You are most welcome. If you are trying to figure out whether a womanist and feminist book about the Bible is for you, pull up a seat; dig in. Accepting this invitation to this table doesn’t mean you can’t go home and cook (or order in) the way you used to. It just may mean that you won’t want to. This text is an invitation for readers, hearers, and interpreters of the Scriptures to read and interpret with me. This text is written for those who read the Bible as a religious text, who look to it for teaching and preaching, inspiration and illumination; to offer religious readers an exegetical and hermeneutical resource that delves deeply into the canon(s) and draws on marginal and marginalized women as scriptural exemplars.”
I am buying all of Sarah Bessey and Co.’s books – the authors of the much-hated text. They’re already on their way to my home. I won’t worship like they do, and the likes of them have publicly shamed me and called me racist, and I disagree with them. But they are my sisters in Christ. I will not watch one of my favorite authors and theologians be harassed by well-meaning white Christians who lack the humility to suspend judgment and consider how we as white people are hurting our Black brothers and sisters in the faith. She’s writing about how she wants to hate people just like me, but it’s a message I’ll never stop needing to hear. Learn with me alongside the womanist greats like Dr. Chanequa and Dr. Gafney.