Womanist theology has been a lifeline for me. It provides wisdom and truth for all who seek to follow Jesus. Because it grows out of the most oppressed groups, it helps us respond to forces that threaten life and well-being. Womanist theologians confront what white culture and white theology are often unable to see.
Womanist theology connects to early Anabaptist thought and practice, for Anabaptism also grew from the impoverished and exploited. While some had education and wealth, most Anabaptists in 16th-century Europe were peasants and laborers. They sought to live out a gospel that was good news for the ignored and despised.
Unfortunately, as Anabaptists faced persecution, they suppressed their voices. Many — including my ancestors, who came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s — eventually settled in the United States and Canada. We became part of the mainstream, able to use our white privilege to gain land, wealth and influence.
Over time, Anabaptist theology centered the perspectives of powerful white men. While many resisted military conscription, too often their teachings on peace did not include God’s concern for justice. Too often peace in our homes and churches became peace for those in authority rather than care for the most vulnerable.
Womanist theology recovers a gospel that is good news for everyone. I have learned so much from Delores Williams, Jacquelyn Grant, Traci West, Monica Coleman, Kelly Brown Douglas, Christena Cleveland and Chanequa Walker-Barnes, among others. Because these women stand with those on the margins, they articulate hope and salvation in ways that are life-giving for all. A theology that speaks to the needs and dreams of women of color offers life and liberation to us all.
This does not mean these answers work the same for all of us. As a white woman, I cannot simply appropriate womanist theology for my own benefit. As Cleveland says in God Is a Black Woman, it is not enough for me to glibly affirm the statement of her book’s title. I must show it in my life.
How would my life change if I saw God as a Black woman? What would it take for me to genuinely uphold the sacredness of Black life?
It is tempting for me to picture God as a nurturing “mammy” who primarily offers solace. This is a dangerous image for white people to embrace, for it can reinforce harmful racialized patterns.
It is essential to see God embodied in the lives of women like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer and Mamie Till-Mobley — women who boldly sought life, freedom and wholeness for their people. Women who spoke truth and wisdom at great cost as they resisted the forces of death. The spirit of God was alive in their strength, vision and brilliance.
What would such a God say to me? This God would challenge me to examine how my life depends on the oppression of others. She would call me to the freedom that comes from disentangling myself from these destructive forces. She would call me to courageous solidarity, repair and restitution.
Such a God might be intimidating, but also reassuring. Should I ever find myself misused and abused, as so many women have been, She would stand with me. When we affirm that God is present in the most difficult places and among the most vulnerable, we know God’s grace and salvation are available to all.
If I choose comfort and control over justice, She calls me to account. She insists I face the truth, repent and change. She acts on behalf of those being harmed. She keeps urging me to follow Jesus.
Linda Gehman Peachey serves on the Mennonite Church USA Women in Leadership committee and is a member of Blossom Hill Mennonite Church, Lancaster, Pa. Previously, she worked for Mennonite Central Committee on women’s advocacy and with her husband, Titus, as co-director of Peace and Justice Ministries.