Women of Righteous Discontent

What is womanist theology?

Womanist theology is a denial of overreliance on male-centered traditions and preaching in the church. It calls for black preachers and theologians to relate the scriptures to black women’s struggles and triumphs. Womanist theology uplifts and respects women of African descent in the Bible. Womanist theology upholds the plight of Hagar, an enslaved woman of Egyptian heritage, who was forced to have the child of her owners to give them an heir. Hagar ran away from the household, was later expelled from it, and lived in the wilderness where God took care of her. Womanist theologians see Hagar as a single mother who, despite her exploitation, obtained freedom.

Since the 1970s there has been considerable debate concerning black women and the rise of the feminist movement. Some say that there has been a continuing need for racial unity in a white society, and a concern that two few black women joined the feminist movement. Black women were the unrecognized backbone of the Civil Rights Movement as well as the black church, and for too long kept in the background of both the movement and the church. Women like Jacquelyn Grant and Delores Williams are among those who have organized units of advocacy and protest that they felt addressed the needs of black women, “womanist” theology. They derived the term “Womanist” from writer Alice Walker’s view that the experiences of black women and white women are vastly different. “Womanist” also is considered a more accurate reflection of the needs and language of the black community. Theologian Grant believes that such theology emerges from the suffering and experiences of black women and brings to the forefront issues of race, sex, and class. It provides a broad and comprehensive base for liberation theology.

In the Bible, Hagar is an Egyptian slave and concubine to Abraham; she bears him a child, Ishmael, and is later exiled by the jealous Sarah, Abraham’s wife; yet Hagar survives through God’s grace. In Womanist theology, Hagar is used as an example of a single mother who obtains freedom.


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