“A Womanist Theology of Worship: Liturgy, Justice, and Communal Righteousness”
with Lisa Allen
Wednesday, June 15, 2022, 1 pm EDT
Video recording available here.
WATER is deeply grateful to the Reverend Doctor Lisa Allen for sharing her book A WOMANIST THEOLOGY OF WORSHIP: LITURGY, JUSTICE, AND COMMUNAL RIGHTEOUSNESS (Orbis Books, 2021). She offered a through introduction to her book and left participants with the hope that future work will expand on her many important insights. These notes are meant as highlights of the talk, not a verbatim.
Dr. Allen began with a reading from her book, A Womanist Theology of Worship: Liturgy, Justice, and Communal Righteousness, motivating the importance of scrutinizing liturgical practices to resist white supremacy and advocate for justice through womanist theological principles. She focused (pp. 2016-217) on the events of January 6, 2021 as “Apocalyptic Visions of Hope and Salvation.” So, she grounds her scholarly work in Black Liturgical theory and praxis in the concrete needs of a society in struggle.
For too many people, she observes, worship is not a safe space. Womanist theology can help free the Church from being a tool of Empire. Bringing the “Foundations of Womanist Liturgical Theology” to life, and concluding her book with “A Feminist Liturgical Theology,” she paves the way toward fresh, creative modes of worship.
Please refer to the video for Dr. Allen’s PowerPoint slides for her very useful explanations of womanist principles and practice.
- One colleague, a Unitarian Universalist, asked about applying womanist theology in non-Christian spaces.
Dr. Allen responded that womanism is not limited to Christianity and may be applied across many faith traditions and spiritualities. She welcomes the use of these ideas to bring liberation to everyone.
- Another colleague found Dr. Allen’s overview of liturgy in the Black church context particularly helpful for students of liturgy across the board. What has been the response from mainline Black churches, particularly those that do not ordain women? Also, since womanism does not belong to white women, what does a healthy, respectful partnership look like between feminism and womanism? What are steps that a white woman can take so as not to misappropriate the work of womanist theologians, but still share it widely?
Dr. Allen replied that, first, to her knowledge, this is the first book on Black liturgy since Dr. William Bobby McClain wrote Come Sunday: The Liturgy of Zion. This makes it clear that this area needs to be lovingly pulled along. She has not heard much from denominations that do not ordain women. In her follow-up book, Womanist Ways of Worship, she plans to elaborate on how this womanist perspective can be woven into worship practices. Even denominations that do ordain women still need to be brought along. Second, if one is seeking to do the work of liberation, to go somewhere new, then one is an ally. One can do womanist work regardless of what one calls oneself. Also, give credit where credit is due. Whiteness wants to own everything – resist that urge to accomplish on one’s own and instead acknowledge that all ideas and work come out of collaboration.
- A third colleague asked how to use these principles to move forward in supporting Black folks and Queer folks. She is Baptist and worries about her ordination being revoked, but also finds she can’t always speak up.
Dr. Allen affirmed that it’s important to speak out of who you are, and only you know how to navigate the circumstances where you are. Many of us share this struggle, she said, and you have to learn how to pick your battles yet still keep pressing. Don’t stop. It’s also important to enlist the voices of the people you are representing. I don’t want to speak for Queer people; I want Queer people to speak for themselves, knowing that I stand with them. Part of my responsibility as a womanist and as an ally to marginalized peoples is to stand up. As an academic, I need to stand up against harmful interpretations of the Bible and name the harm.
- Another colleague asked Dr. Allen to elaborate on her rejection of the body/soul-spirit dichotomy.
Dr. Allen replied that the church was saddled with this duality by Paul – Jesus never made these distinctions. This is a Hellenistic idea, not Hebrew or African. Dividing up ourselves into different people in different contexts keeps us from liberation because we can’t even be honest about who we are. We need to recognize this duality as an addition by Paul, and reject it as not following Jesus. Jesus wanted us to have a holistically healthy relationship with God, with ourselves, and with our neighbors. We like to categorize people as either good or bad, but it’s not helpful. Everyone is some of both.
- Another participant wanted to hear a little of what will be in Dr. Allen’s book on womanist ways of worship. Some simple places to begin are to use inclusive language – many names for God as well as to change masculine language for God. Another thing is to hold the text accountable if it is patriarchal, androcentric, harmful. She always preaches against Esther and Proverbs 31 for the oppressive ways they have been read. Esther and the other girls were sex trafficked. She is currently writing a book on Proverbs 31 and how there’s nothing virtuous about a wife neglecting herself to serve her husband. God may have empowered the writers of the Bible to write, but the writers are the ones who did the writing, and in many cases they wrote in harmful ways.
Conversation continued apace as participants began to take on board the great potential for enriching liturgical life through the application of womanist ideas. Stay alert for Dr. Allen’s next volume on this topic, Womanist Ways of Worship, which we hope to feature in a similar WATERtalk.
Our thanks and best wishes to Lisa Allen for her informative session on womanist theologies for worship.