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Women in Black Theology

May 25, 2013


Does Rosa Parks (who refused to get out of bus seat for white person) get remembered because she was black of because she is a woman?

What role do black women play as women?


Some black male theologians blatantly sexist – reflecting the values of the dominant society

Black preachers often appeal to the bible to justify sexist structures.  This is no different from those whites who justified slavery by a similar appeal to scripture.

(Religious black women are triply oppressed – black male preachers tend to be authoritarian, riding around in Cadillacs purchased with gifts from welfare checks or chicken dinners sold by black women of his congregation)


Some say feminism is a white women’s issue because black women already liberated or because the black struggle is more important.

Other argue that feminism is an inter-racial issue which will lead to black women siding with white women against black men and thus subvert the struggle


In the past, black men often couldn’t get jobs.

Black women got poorly paid jobs in white kitchens.

Stereotype arose that women have to be breadwinners while men are lazy.

Became self-fulfilling prophecy.

Haven’t questioned the white, capitalist assumptions behind this stereotype but have become enslaved by it.

Men have swallowed macho myth of American male – fast car, good, high-earning job,

Women’s role in this myth is the preening sex symbol.

She stays at home while male goes to work and brings back part of the world for her.

Black women often lowest wage earners.

Factories which employ black women often have worse conditions

Bedroom politics – birth control and vasectomy programmes being promoted in 3rd world and largely black areas of US – seen not as birth control, but as surgical genocide – which began in concentration camps experiments.

‘Women have always taken care of everyone’s problems and have been left behind.  Women must be free before they can begin to make decisions.’


To assign women the role of housekeeper and mother while the men fight the revolution is questionable for a revolutionary – he ought to be challenging the whole system, including that which oppresses women doubly because they are women and because they are black.

All the leading black theologians are male – as if women cannot speak for themselves

To call women ‘the backbone’ of the church might seem a compliment – but what is really meant is that they are in the background


Liberation theologies have in common:

i) biblical promises of liberation on Old and New Testaments

ii) viewing world history as process of change

iii) emphasis on salvation as a social event which begins here on earth

iv) humanisation and self-realisation as part of liberation

v) sin as structural

vi) redefinition of Church’s task – should model liberation in its being

vii) salvation not limited to the action  of the Church

viii) establishment church has taken on the values of the world’s culture and blesses them by its stand in their favour – see ‘real church’ may need to be found elsewhere

Racism and sexism are structural evils in USA

Women and slaves both deprived of voting rights

Both thought to have smaller brains

Both have internalised negative images

Both movements have ultraradicals

eg.  Cone: ‘Black theology refused to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community.  If God is not for us and against white people,  then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him.’

MD Mary Daly has moved from being a radical catholic to a post-Christian feminist who has rejected a patriarchal God.

Most black theologians see no link between black liberation and other liberation struggles, eg. Detois Roberts disavows the need of a black theologian to speak for any other minority group.

Both theologies hope for wholeness within human beings

They also deal with questions of identity and lost history.

History written by white males

Both have re-examined the biblical tradition

Black theology has removed Americanised white Christ and replaced him with a black Christ – but he is still male

Black caucuses arose in 1960s.

They have since tended not to support the formation of women’s caucuses

Possibly because black men united as result of their mistreatment whereas women come from many different cultures and races so not united – and hard for black man to see upper class white women as oppressed

Possible parallel when women leaders in C19 supported abolition of slavery and then saw white legislators ignore them as they extended suffrage to black males only

Storm brewing between black and feminist theology could become a tool in hands of white establishment to ‘divide and rule’

Women’s movement has been self-critical in a way that black movement has not.

Without ability to criticise self, self-righteousness results

‘In order to qualify as true liberation movements, black liberation from the oppressors and women’s liberation from the traditionally fixed set of feminine roles should regard themselves as steps on the road toward a human liberation of all people, becoming free in conformity with the authentic humanity of the Son of Man….The time may have come to divest ourselves of the ideological fixations of our own particular concerns and to seek concrete co-operation with other liberation  events.  It is impossible to eliminate racism without putting an end to economic exploitation by one part of the human family of their brothers and sisters.  True human rights for women is a utopia as long as we refuse to eliminate racism and a competitive society.’  (Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendell and Jurgen Moltmann)


Oppression is contrary to the gospel.

Any oppression of women in the churches is therefore the result of human sin

We cannot support the subordination of women in the ministry while saying we favour liberation for the oppressed.

Women need role models in ministry

An exclusively male ministry is derived from the oppression within the white church

We learned the gospel at our mothers’ knees so they are natural ministers

‘It is truly amazing that many black male ministers, young and old, can hear the message of liberation in the gospel when related to racism but remain deaf to a similar message in the context of sexism…’

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  1. Black theology from my view must include Womanist theology as part of the Liberation Movement which Jesus Christ ,The liberator is the main focus.

    • I entirely agree.

      My post came from material that I used to teach before womanist theology came on to my radar. The writing of my former teacher, Prof. Ursula King, helped to bring me up to date.

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