"Making a Way Out of No Way" - Why a Theology for Black Women Matters to You (and me)

Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology

-       Monica A. Coleman

The last of my black theology readings (for the present, at least… hard to keep my wheels turning effectively while trying to keep this baby asleep) is Monica Coleman’s Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology. 

Previous theologians I’ve covered here would be identified as Womanist theologians: both Keri Day and Monya Stubbs.  But Coleman’s book is really a primer on Womanist Theology, laying groundwork for the type of thought that emerges from a Womanist perspective.  Coleman’s introduction illustrates her previous work with domestic abuse victims, and highlights the story of a young mother who was beaten and had much of her hair torn out by her boyfriend.  That same night, Coleman and several volunteers helped braid this battered woman’s hair, knowing that she “would not feel strong enough or woman enough to go to work, confront her boyfriend, or be seen anywhere in public as long as her hair looked like this.” (2)  This is the contextualization critical to understanding Womanist theology, and as I reflect, all manifestations of liberation theology. 

I’m reminded of my high school youth “mission trip” to Skid Row, Los Angeles.  As the director of a local shelter walked our group of 20 white kids through the neighborhood, I distinctly remember an older black man sitting on the sidewalk, saying, “There’s trash walking our streets today.” 

While some of the kids felt offended, I simply felt ashamed, but didn't fully understand why.

Years later, in my early twenties, I volunteered to go to the Tenderloin district of San Francisco with another church youth group.  As we walked the streets in similar fashion, a young black man said, “You all can take your bibles and go home.  You ain’t making anyone’s life better.”

A theology of the oppressed must understand the world of the oppressed.  Too often, well-intentioned theologies steeped in Western privilege have done more harm than good by condescending to the location of the oppressed without comprehending that location.

According to Coleman, “Womanist theology is a response to sexism in black theology and racism in feminist theology.” (6)  This doesn’t define Womanist theology, but it establishes the matrix in which Womanist theology is relevant and necessary.  It calls out the myopic and often-selective ways theologies, movements and advocacies are formulated and executed.  “Making a way out of no way” is the mantra repeated throughout the book – the spiritual reality of marginalized black women, who have no social collateral, and little tangible to cling to but hope that God still has the power to make the impossible possible, and aid them in overcoming oppression.  In addition to typical language of freedom for the oppressed, Womanist Theology uniquely advocates for freedom for all “creatures” as well, and adds “survival, quality of life, and wholeness to black theology’s goals of liberation and justice.” (11)  It is truly an holistic theology, so while the theology of black women may not immediately sound like it pertains to you (or me), the opposite is true: this is a way of thinking much more intimately connected to all our lives than the esoteric theologies of supernatural salvation and the afterlife (although they have their place) or worse, those systems deliberately developed to perpetuate a Western, capitalist religious economy.  It is about survival, quality of life and wholeness, liberty and justice.  It answers more than where will you go when you die?  

Womanist theology is as big as all of creation... which is pretty cool.

More to come…


Luke Lindon said...

I read this book in the last year of seminary. Then she visited and continued to rock my world. Monica's book is a wonderful introduction to womanist theology. Big fan!

Peter said...

Ah! I'm jealous!

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