The Luxury of Liberation part 2: Womanism, salvation & beyond

Continuing from last week’s theme of examining the role of black women in the shaping of African American political theology I again explore further dimension create theology that moves beyond liberation. This week we move to the second half of Delores Williams work explicating a womanist view of Christian theology. One of her major points again is to pose a critique of traditional Black Liberation Theology: that is to say while the traditional male-centered discourse of Black Liberation Theology is centered on masculine understandings of liberation, womanist discourse is focused on survival. As folk wisdom in the black community states brothers “dream dreams” but “ the sisters have the vision.” This can be restated to say that often times male-centered black liberation theology has been concerned more with the ideal world, while women have been more concerned with practical world and how to survive in the here & now. This principle has been pivotal in the role that African American women have played in political theology. If Rosa Parks did not sit first, Martin Luther King Jr’s marching would not have been as effective. If Ida Wells Barnett did not count the black bodies that were lynched throughout the United States, there would not be such a comprehensive record of this. Moving beyond this schism that separates womanist from Black liberation theology are the religious claims that Williams pursue in the second part of Sisters in the Wilderness. The second half of her book expounds upon the notion of womanist God-talk. It follows up on some of the implication of the first half by bringing the concern of African American women into theological discourse and into Christological discourse.

For Williams, a re-conceptualizing the Christian narrative begins with changing the axiom of the traditionally male-centered story of salvation. In both Matthew and Luke the stories begin by proclaiming the patrilineal heritage of Jesus and thus showing the importance of the maleness of Jesus a Savior. However, Williams wants to begin this narrative from the perspective of Jesus’ mother, Mary. Thus Mary can become the starting point for the divine revelation of Jesus Christ. She points to the first chapter of Luke as the starting point of this narrative. In verse 35 the Holy Spirit comes upon her and she is overshadowed by God’s power. Mary is a poor pregnant teenager who suffers from a variety of vulnerabilities. Yet she has one thing going for her, that she is filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary in this context is a figure that marginalized women across the globe can identify with. By virtue of first associating Jesus with his mother first he also becomes more easily identifiable with marginalized groups. This interpretation of Mary is not a recent construction however.


The nineteenth-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth used this story to counter white male-centered narratives that sought to deny women their rights. The preacher claimed that women could not have rights because Jesus was not a woman. Truth famously claims “Where did your God come from. God and Woman, man had nothing to do with it.” This statement seems simple enough yet it has deep and ranging theological implications. It sheds light on the inseparability of the divinity of God and the divinity of womanhood in creating what we know as our savior. Also the notion of the virgin birth seems to suggest God’s ability to make a way out of no way. Imagine the uncertainty the Mary must have felt and her struggle just to survive. Not only does God make a way out of no way, God uses her most desperate situation to begin the salvific work for all of humanity. Williams re-conceptualization of the salvific narrative de-center the maleness of Christology and provides hope for the many women who cannot identify with traditional understandings of the salvific narrative.

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