Thank you, Liz Alexander and Melanie Jones, millennial womanists, who are audacious, courageous and unapologetically faith and justice leaders. I thank you for your radical vision to launch a much needed educational forum on Millennial Womanism.
By Lisa D. Rhodes,
After hearing what I discerned as God’s call to Christian ministry, I struggled for two years. Why, because I was socialized into accepting patriarchy and a male centered approach to theology and pastoral leadership as normative. Women are not called to ministry were the words I internalized and heard my black male pastor speak on several occasions. I was silenced and I struggled.
In 1987, I resisted this notion and started to actively deconstruct what Delores Williams calls “colonization of the female mind.”1 During this season, I began to envision a life in ministry beyond gender limitations. The memory of my beloved matriarchs who left legacies of self-determination and courage, fueled my imagination. I uprooted my life, pursued God’s call and by 1993, I was beginning to acquaint myself with the nascent body of womanist scholarship that promised to transform the trajectory of my ministry.
The appropriation of Alice Walker’s definition of womanish as a critique and corrective was growing in its relevance to the lives of black women.2 Womanist theologians were challenging systems of patriarchal and androcentric theologies, liturgy and pastoral leadership as primary agents in making black women’s thought invisible and colonizing the female mind and culture. Womanist theologians were becoming unapologetically concerned with the faith, survival and freedom struggle of black women and the black community. And now, over three decades later, broadening the womanist discourse and using the experiences and witness of black women of faith born during 1980 – 2000 as cultural sources for doing theology is a natural progression of the womanist legacy and inheritance.
Millennial Womanism is an important next step in extending the links in the womanist chain and therein, strengthening and unifying the intergenerational fabric of the womanist community and its research agenda.
Millennial Womanism is an important next step in extending the links in the womanist chain and therein, strengthening and unifying the intergenerational fabric of the womanist community and its research agenda. As a theological corrective to the sexist character of church and theology, womanists’ identify and critique black male oppression of black females and white racism that oppresses all black people, both female and male. We challenge oppressive forces that limit a positive and productive quality of life. And now, we must include our daughters, black women of faith born during 1980-2000 and denounce ageism which often limits their voices and full participation and leadership in shaping black religious life and culture.
An intergenerational epistemological connection between first and second generation womanist and millennial womanists, must embrace the full expression, participation and leadership of millennial womanist as vital forces in doing womanist work. Such an embrace will allow the “young to help lead us,” and therein, help to accomplish what womanist theology is fundamentally purposed to do—help black women see, affirm and have confidence in the importance of their experience and faith for determining the character of Christian religion in the black community. As womanist theology continues to correct and transform the sexist character of church and theology, its future enterprise must also endeavor to bring the experience of black millennial women of faith into the full discourse of all womanism and Christian theology.
From May 1915 – May 1916, I conducted focus groups with women of color across the nation.3 This focus group research was very timely and unequivocally provided a sacred space in 14 cities for women of color in ministry to gather, share their stories, struggles, joys and journey of ministry while discussing ways to support, guide and receive mentorship. Many women gave voice to issues related to race and gender oppression and feelings of “structural disempowerment” in ministry and the academy. This disempowerment is experienced as women of color pursue ministry, pastoral leadership, clergy placement, ordination, and faculty and administrative positions in the academy. Nevertheless, in the midst of it all, they endeavor to be resilient, courageous and faithful women who embody enthusiasm and the Spirit of God against the odds. Yet, as Habakkuk cried out, so do they… How Long Lord?
The cries for female mentorship and the hunger for safe spaces to connect with other women of color in ministry were loud and constant, as is the voices of our black millennial daughters. Women confirmed feelings of being alone in ministry, the struggle to balance family, marriage, mothering and ministry, difficulty with getting ordained, feelings of not fitting in, church sexism and sexual harassment. These concerns for women of color, specifically black millennial womanists, need immediate attention and support from womanist mentors who have successfully navigated the murky waters of race, gender and the politics of vocation in the academy and for ministry leadership or are pressing toward the mark in the midst of major obstacles and barriers to ministry.
As I move forward in ministry leadership, I am excited about the opportunity to establish a National Mentorship Network for women of color in ministry. One of my enduring commitments to black millennial women of faith, is to develop safe interdenominational, intercultural and intergenerational spaces and mentorship networks where women of color in ministry can connect. My focus group research indicates that this is an undeniable need. This is why I am so intrigued with such a timely emergence of Millennial Womanism. It is a theologically promising concept that will draw upon experiences of black millennial women of faith as cultural sources for doing theology and ethical reflection on multi-dimensional realities of oppression, violence against women and the issues related to Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name movements.
Since 1987, I have grown in my understanding and practice of womanist theology and the sometimes lonely and daunting journey that ministry calls one to claim, particularly, as a black woman, at any and all ages. So as I think about the need to develop womanist mentorship networks for women of color in ministry, particularly for black millennial womanists, I am aware of the need to support and strengthen an authentic and transparent womanist community. I see the future of multiple generations of womanist practitioners, theologians and activists working side by side and I embrace that millennial womanism requires, no demands a radical expansiveness. We must therefore, stretch the womanist boundaries to include a contemporary postmodern womanist framework that brings to bear on Christian theology and religious culture an “ethic-millennial” lens for determining the freedom struggle and moral agency of black millennial women of faith.
When we think about millennial womanism, we will and must keep in mind how black millennial women of faith have a moral agency and ethics relative to their unique cultural context. A cultural context very different from the cultural context of the civil rights movement or the birth of womanist theology, over 30 years ago. Nevertheless, the cultural context of millennial womanist practitioners, theologians and activists can and will enrich the womanist discourse.
First, second and millennial womanists must enter into intergenerational spaces as partners affirming that millennial womanism is an emerging concept that moves beyond respectability politics, and not only values intergenerational spaces of community, but will push the boundaries to help situate their voices, at the center of community. Therefore, fostering intergenerational bonds and mentorship networks will help to enable the re-appropriation and translation of sacred wisdom for generations not yet born…For Our Daughters Sake!
1 Delores Williams, Sisters In the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (New York: Orbis Books, 1993)
2 Alice Walker, In search of My Mothers’ Garden: Womanist Prose. (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1983).
3 Lilly Endowment, Women of Color in Ministry National Mentorship Focus Group Planning Grant, May 2015- May 2016.
Reverend Lisa D. Rhodes, DMin, MDiv., MSW, LCSW. LDR is currently the Dean of Chapel at Spelman College and Director of the Sisters Center for WISDOM (Women in Spiritual Discernment of Ministry), a center for excellence she founded in 2003. She is a womanist practitioner, pastoral counselor, college educator and administrator, and community
leader. She has held positions as Associate Pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and program manager for two historical black seminaries, the Interdenominational Theological Seminary (ITC) and Payne Theological Seminary.
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