The Womanist Challenge of Self-Examination and Truth-Telling for Black Millennial Men
By Rashad Raymond Moore,
As a child growing up in a Black congregation in Brooklyn, church was where I learned the meaning of ethics: the science of how one ought to show up in the world. My first encounter was with my grandmother. It was a Sunday morning after Sunday School. As we were leaving the fellowship hall and heading up to the sanctuary, I decided to grab a cookie from the breakfast table. It was not a self-serve situation, because Ms. Jones was adamant about us asking for what we wanted. On this occasion, I decided to abandon protocol. Before the cookie made it to my mouth, my grandmother yelled, “You know better than that. “The cookie was not the issue; it was the ease with which I ignored Ms. Jones to take what I wanted. I apologized to Ms. Jones, and promised never to do it again.
As trivial as this encounter seems, that moment taught me the importance of truth-telling and self-examination in the work of spiritual formation and community-making. When we fail to acknowledge our role as men in the unjust systems of patriarchy, sexism, and chauvinism within our institutions and communities, we easily disregard the ministry and gifts of our colleagues who are not men on our climb to fame, platform, and recognition.
For Black millennials who consider the Black Church as our spiritual home, our earliest encounters with truth-telling came by watching church mothers set the house in order. Like a matriarch or queen mother in a West African village, church mothers hold the moral authority to address wrong in the congregation and admonish us toward “decency and order.” Their deep love for God and God’s people gives them the courage to prune branches that do not bring forth the fruit of justice, healing and wholeness for entire people.
As Black millennial clergy, seminarians, bloggers, scholars, preachers, activists, and community leaders nurtured in the garden of womanist thought and praxis, we stand at a traffic intersection where we must hold in tension the ethical demands of womanish considering the complex realities of our current society. There is enough research data, brunch conversations, and inbox messages to tell us that there is a gap between Black millennials and the historic institutions of faith and politics that have nurtured us. With the advent of white evangelical church plants in historically black neighborhoods as Harlem, where do we stand as Black Millennials who remain committed to the Black Church? In times like these, we must take serious the challenges of womanist ethics to take hold of the pruning tools of truth-telling and self-examination so we can all be free one day.
In her essay, “Ethics as an Art of Doing the Work Our Souls Must Have,” Womanist ethicist Emilie Townes reminds us that the work of justice requires truth-telling: “Justice involves the radical act of truth-telling—of reality testing and reality challenging…As a womanist ethic of justice emerges, it must be radically rooted in the truth-tradition and history of African-American life and witness.”1
How shall we come to the garden of womanism as Black millennial men?
Take Off Your Shoes, We Are All Human
Womanist ethics challenges Black men to begin our work with self-examination. By looking inward, we acknowledge that we perpetuate systems of anti-blackness, elitism, heteronormativity, homophobia, transphobia, and misogynoir. As men who are passionate about justice, we cannot ignore that we are men. In the words of Townes, “…It can be difficult to make our passion [for justice] flesh if we are unable to accept the reality of human failing, human wavering, and human ambiguity.”2 Let us begin by acknowledging that the empire we seek to dismantle is not a physical structure but an ideology that takes residence within us in ways we do not realize. Yes, we can perpetuate the evils we are seeking to destroy while simultaneously proclaiming to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”3
Womanist ethics is a call to be true about who we are, where we stand, and the ways in which we wrong others. This commitment to truth is embodied through self-examination of our inconsistencies and contradictions. Justice is an outward cry to the powers that be, and it is also a call to self-examination. Social and personal transformation must walk together. Townes challenges us to see truth-telling and justice-making as more than a public speech, a social media post, or an organizing event. A commitment to justice begins with a willingness to be honest about our human failings. Remember, we are made a little lower than the angels. It is easier to drag a corrupt politician or critique an unjust system than it is to ask, in the words Judas, “Lord, is it I?”
The Garden Is a Place of Growth and Transformation; Not Work
As a man mentored and taught by Womanists, and as a man in loving community with womanists, I have often found myself wondering, “What can I do in the garden?” How should I bear witness to the traditions of womanism in a respectful way? Our place as men in the garden is to listen to the wisdom, work, and witness of our womanist-colleagues as they till the soil. Let us open our ears and hearts to be deeply transformed by the fruit of their intellectual labor. These are not fruit to be heard, read, and watched for our pleasure, but for the healing and wholeness that we all need.
Let us come to the garden to listen, not work. As men, people want us to lead. But God calls us, and Black women call us to listen. Yet, the Good Book tells us that there is “a time to speak and a time to keep silent.”4 It is in moments in which we refrain from speaking that we are transformed by what we hear. In our social media culture of likes, retweets, shares, and comments, we have become accustomed to the ease of offering public signs of surface affirmations. Double-clicks and amens are easier responses than a deep, sincere repentance that calls us to turn from our wicked ways and toward a more excellent way of living. May we, in the words of Howard Thurman, gain a listening ear “that will not shrink from the word that corrects and admonishes; the word that holds up before [us] the image of [ourselves] that causes [us] to pause and reconsider…”5
Be Open to the Pruning Process
Pruning is a normal practice in gardening in which dead, diseased, and damaged stems are removed to preserve the life of the living plant. The beauty of the garden is a result of constant pruning. Womanism challenges us all to grow in our commitment to truth, justice, and love. This call to growth requires that we push ourselves out of comfort zones of get-along-to-go-along leadership, shrieking into silence, and avoiding confrontation. It is only through the pruning of difficult conversations, heated discussions, inconvenient protests, and calling-outs that we can grow to become the beloved community.
I have watched Womanists prune the gardens of intellectual and ecclesial communities in the name of liberation on several occasions. I’ve watched a Womanist biblical scholar stand apart from her colleagues to address a homophobic statement by a student during a panel discussion. I’ve watched womanists remind us of the issues at hand and lament that a conference session was drifting into a discussion about church growth and Empire. I’ve even been pulled aside by a Womanist mentor who challenged comments I made in a sermon about the fear of sounding like a womanist myself. The pruning process removes the dead leaves of a plant and allows the living leaves to grow and flourish. In the same spirit, truth-telling pushes us to let go of the worn-out, death-wrenching teachings, theologies, practices, and beliefs that are sucking the life out of our institutions and communities, and pushes us to stretch out and grow in ways that bring forth fruit in its season.
The Woman Who Checked Jesus
Remember the Jewish Rabbi who once told a woman whose daughter was sick that she did not deserve to be healed because of her racial background? The young Jewish Rabbi told the marginalized Syrophoenician woman that it would not be right to take the bread from children and give it to dogs like herself. Following the customs and beliefs of his tradition, he had been taught to see this woman and her daughter were not worthy of such a miracle. In that moment, the woman’s commitment to her daughter’s healing led her to look beyond Jesus’ stature and profile to address his narrow-vision of who was worthy to be healed. Like the good teacher, he listened and he heard her critique and truth-telling, and declared that her “faith was great.” If we fail to gain a listening ear, we run the risk of bearing the sins of fathers for another generation. This is our call to think higher and love more.
Let us keep on becoming…
1Emilie Townes, “Ethics as an Art of Doing the Work Our Souls Must Have,” in Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader, ed. Katie Geneva Cannon, Emilie M. Townes, and Angela D. Sims (Louisville, 2011,
2 Townes, 43.
5Howard Thurman, Walter E. Fluker, and Catherine Tumber, “Give Me the Listening Ear,” in A Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), 309–10.
Rashad Raymond Moore currently serves as Assistant Minister at The Abyssinian Baptist Church in the City of New York, under the leadership of The Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts III. Minister Moore’s responsibilities include providing creative leadership and support to the church’s ministries.
An alumnus of Morehouse College and Union Theological Seminary, Minister Moore earned a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy with a minor in Religion from Morehouse in 2012. While attending Morehouse, he served as President of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel Assistants. Demonstrating potential for ministry and scholarship, he was named the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar for 2011-2012 academic year. In addition to his religious and civic activism on campus, He served as a Senior Resident Advisor and Vanguard Leadership Instructor in the Office of Housing and Residence Life.
Moore earned a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Christian Social Ethics from Union where he was a George Andover Taylor Scholar. He wrote his thesis on “Beating Back the Demons: The Role of Narratives, Rituals, and Sites of Memory in The Spelman College Experience”
A passionate preacher, teacher, and scholar, much of his research interests center on the history and philosophy of African-American Education, as well as concepts pertaining to joy, becoming, and imagination. He is a proud member of the Academy of Young Preachers and Phi Sigma Tau Philosophical Honors Society.
Driven by a deep love for the church, academy, and community, Minister Moore’s life’s work is is a reflection of I John 3:2: “Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be…”
Presently, Minister Moore is pursuing a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
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