by Lien-yueh Wei





Invisibility in Womanist Theology



New theologies always derive from an invisibility in previous theologies. The neglect of an issue or problem in one theology provides strong motive and dynamics for a new theology. Womanist Theology originates from an invisibility in black theology. However, some significant issues and problems remain invisible in womanist theology even after twenty years of development. The invisibility in womanist theology have provided motive for this study. The neglect of issues and problems this study discusses include: 1) other American colored people, 2) the ideology of patriotism, 3) liberation from psychological oppression, 4) inclusive language, and 5) eschatology, or the ultimate hope of Hagar’s descents. Because the last two problems (inclusive language and eschatology) are controversial, implicated, and crucial, this study will focus on them in more detail.


The Invisibility in Womanist Theology

Delores S. Williams, the first person to use the specific term “Womanist Theology”, [1] indicates, “[black] women have been left out of black liberation theology.”[2] Jacquelyn Grant points out, “Black women have been invisible in theology,” including black theology and feminist theology.[3] Kelly D. B. Douglas claims, “[by] ignoring Black women’s experience Black theology forced Black women to develop their own theological perspective.”[4] The nature of Womanist theology is protesting against neglect.

Although Womanist theology originates from invisibility in other theologies, it seems to neglect invisibility in itself. Some significant issues might have been invisible in womanist theology during its twenty-year development. The following will discuss five neglected issues or problems in womanist theology in racial, political, psychological, linguistic, and biblical dimensions.


1. Racial Dimension: Other American Colored People

A womanist is defined as “a black feminist or a feminist of color” in Alice Walker’s book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose.[5] Dwight N. Hopkins states that Womanist theologians “take (their) theological guidelines from Alice Walker’s definition of womanism.[6] Stephanie Y. Mitchem emphasizes that Alice Walker’s definition sets important parameters of womanist theological discovery and implies a womanist theological methodology.[7] In her article “Womanist Theology: Black Women’s Voice,” Delores S. Williams also uses Walker’s concept of womanist as a theoretical outline to sketch a womanist theology.[8] In addition, Linda E. Thomas proclaims that womanist theology “grasps the crucial connection between African American women and the plight, survival, and struggle of women of color throughout the world.”[9] However, other colored women, except Black women or African American women, have been “invisible” in womanist theology.

In fact, although womanist theology claims adamantly that it opposes racism and fights for oppressed people, it never practically fights on behalf of other colored people who are much more oppressed than African American women. Womanist theologians have excluded other colored people and their experiences from womanist theology. For example, Douglas claims, “[in] a White racist society, that is, the United States, God and Christ were Black.”[10] Nevertheless, in a white American racist society, the oppressed people were not only Black people, but also other colored people who are more marginalized than Black people. Moreover, if God and Christ are Black, then, womanist theology is excluding other colored people from God’s people and is oppressing other colored people by the image of Black God and Christ.

We may find that womanist theology deals with other colored people just like black theology deals with black women. We can infer that if womanist theology continues ignoring other colored people, other colored theologians will be forced to develop their own theology.  This new “colored theology” may require womanists to change some of their false definitions and require womanist theology to identify itself as an exclusive theology or parochial theology. This colored theology might also begin to critique womanist theology just as womanist theology critiques black theology.


2. Political Dimension: The Ideology of Patriotism

Ideology is an invisible dynamic power that can influence deeply and change greatly people’s thoughts and daily lives. Its power is even stronger than the visible for many people. Among all kinds of ideologies, the ideology of consciousness of patriotism may be the most powerful and dangerous one. Although womanist theologians are sensitively aware of and radically critique any kind of visible oppression, many of them seem to neglect the invisible ideology of patriotism which may be more harmful for African American people than other oppressions in the post civil rights era. The awareness of ideology of patriotism has been “invisible” in womanist theology.

Jürgen Moltmann has pronounced that the most threatening thing at the present time for humans is “the vicious circle of the international arms race…The predictable course of the arms race is an open spiral upwards into nothingness. Mistrust and interests in hegemony make the armament spiral a deadly threat to the whole world.”[11] The United States may be responsible in large part for this vicious circle and deadly threat because she often desires to keep the dominant hegemony in the world, which is entirely unnecessary.

To maintain the dominant hegemony, the United States must have a mighty military force. Many politicians have already found that to use the ideology of consciousness of patriotism is the best way to induce people to serve in military. Many African American people, who have difficulties finding a job in an unjust society, cannot resist the temptation to join the military, under the enticement of patriotism and stable wages. When they are in the military, they are inculcated with a patriotic thought: to sacrifice for military is an extremely honorable action of loving country and family. Then, those politicians can launch any war for keeping their international dominant hegemony by using African American soldiers who are controlled by money and the ideology of patriotism.

History has told us that from the Korean War and the Vietnam War, to two Iraqi Wars, the sacrifices of African American people on the battlefield are never for protecting their family or country. Ironically, their sacrifices do not promote the situation of their family members who are living in an oppressive, unjust, and racist society, but do make the situation worse because a sacrifice means the advent of a widow (or a widower), children without father (or mother), or a broken home. The plight of this broken home can never be changed.  War may be the main factor to cause African American family’s tragedy in the last century.

Sadly, the consciousness of patriotism and this kind of tragedy are always hereditary. The people of the next generation in tragic families will imitate their “honorable” ancestors and join the military as their vocations. Soon or later, they will sacrifice like the last generation for protecting hegemony rather than family again.

This ideology of patriotism has not only existed in military or soldiers’ families, but also pervaded every corner of American society. The slogan of “Support Our Troops” is a clear example. Because the effect of the ideology of patriotism, many people are not aware that “Support Our Troops” means to support the massacre between people, to support a large number of unnatural deaths, to support the advent of a large number of broken families, to support the vicious circle of international arms race, and to support unnecessary dominant hegemony.

As long as this horrible ideology of patriotism still prevails in the United States, the unrecoverable tragedies of African American families will never end. Jürgen Moltmann has stressed that the task of theology is to demythologize the state and to liberate people from political alienation.[12] The prime ground for constructing national myth and the principal power to alienate African American family is the ideology of patriotism. Therefore, womanist theologians must reveal this oppressive ideology of patriotism and liberate African American families from it in order to end this kind of tragedy in the African American community.


3. Psychological Dimension: Liberation from Psychological Oppression

Womanist theology has actively liberated African American people from many different oppressions, such as the oppression of race, gender, sex, class, politics, social system, economics. However, it might have neglected psychological oppression, an invisible and interior oppression. When Delores S. Williams mentions all kinds of African American women’s opposition in her book, Sister in the Wildness, she also neglects psychological oppression.[13] Liberation from psychological oppression has been “invisible” in womanist theology.

After the slavery era (1619-1865), the post-emancipation era (1865-1877), and legal segregation (1877-1965), African American history has stepped into the Post Civil Rights era (1980s-present). The situation of African American women now is quite different from, and much better than, that of earlier African American women. They have same civil rights as African American men and white people.

However, although most political or social oppressions have been overcome, psychological oppression still exists, and may be even more serious than before. Many African American women still psychologically live in the legal segregation, post emancipation, or even slavery era. They are still hostile to African American men and white people.

We might also find this kind of hostile consciousness or complex in some womanist theologians’ books and articles. For example, Kelly Brown Douglas indicates that Black women have been described by white people as libidinous people. Such stereotyping has produced the paramount image for Black womanhood in white culture―the Jezebel image.[14] However, the image of Jezebel in the Bible (1 King 16:29-22:53) seems to be as an idolatrous woman rather than a libidinous woman. Besides, Douglas never gives us any evidence or example to show how white people regard black women as Jezebels. It seems that Douglas herself wants to create Jezebel’s image, which may exist neither in white culture nor black culture, for African American women in order to provoke African American people’s hatred of white people.

Douglas also questions,


Why is it that [African American] teenagers continue to engage in the kind of sexual activity that leads not only to pregnancy, but also life-threatening diseases such as AIDS? Why is it so easy for Black teenagers, particularly males, to maim and kill those who look like them? Why do young Black women and men seem to have so little regard for their Black selves that they easily fall prey to crime and drug abuse?[15]


Douglas indicates that it is white culture and people that cause all those problems within African American community. This kind of description might have no effect on liberating African American people from those problems, but might have great effect on provoking African American hostility toward white people.

We find such intense hostility in many African American womanists’ books, especially in the books which narrate the past (or sometimes remote) oppressive experience. Although those narratives may positively help African American women to retrieve their history, those narratives may negatively perpetuate the psychologically hostile complex from one generation to another. Even though many oppressions described in books have not existed in society for a long time, the hostility of African American women against white people and white culture still exists and even increases. All the historical animosity from the slavery era to the post civil rights era can be accumulated to the contemporary African American women so that the last generation’s psychologically hostile complex will be more serious and deeper than that of any previous generation.

Consequently, even though contemporary African American women are living in a most free era relatively and physically, they are still psychologically living in those oppressions which their ancestors had experienced because of the influence of the excessive hostile narrative in those books. Subsequently, when political segregation diminishes gradually, the psychological segregation enlarges gradually. Social liberation is almost reached while psychological liberation is more remote. The external oppressions are decreased, but psychological oppression are increased, strengthened and deepened.[16]

Since womanist is defined as “Love Folk,” and womainst theology purports to be liberation theology, womainst theologians should try to liberate African American people from external oppression and psychological oppression as well. For womanist theology in the post-civil rights era, toward liberation from psychological oppression may be the most important task of liberation for contemporary African American women.


4. Linguistic Dimension: Inclusive Language 

Linda E. Thomas proclaims, “[womanist theology] is a theology of complete inclusivity.” “Womanist theology is a theory and practice of inclusivity.”[17] Katie Geneva Cannon stresses the need for “genuine inclusivity in theological education.”[18] Marcia Y. Riggs supports not only a theological inclusivity, but also a moral inclusivity.[19] Furthermore, Delores S. Williams, as most other womanist theologians, advocates using inclusive language and denounces exclusive language.[20] However, we might find only exclusive language in most books and articles written by womanist theologians. Inclusive language has been “invisible” in womanist theology.

Why do womanist theologians strongly advocate using inclusive language while they still use exclusive language in their works? The origin of this paradoxical or incongruous phenomenon is not womanist theologians’ antilogy but rather the character (or limitary essence) of language in theology.

As liberation theology, womanist theology’s main task is to critique all kinds of oppressors, oppressive systems, cultures, and politics that oppress people, especially African American women. Nevertheless, any critique must be the derivative of exclusive language because critique must proceed from and in a particular norm, assumed criterion, or presumed prototype. Namely, when a womanist theologian critiques an object, there must be a preconceived (or prejudiced) norm, criterion, or prototype in her mind which makes her critique possible. Inevitably, some things or some people will be excluded from her norm, criterion, or prototype while others will be included. It is this norm, criterion, or prototype that makes inclusive language impossible. This situation is common and explicit when womanist theologians discuss ethical issues. 

For example, in her book, Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, Kelly Brown Douglas radically critiques the Black church’s sexual politics and demands that the Black church embrace homosexuals instead of repudiating them. Douglas argues,


[Homophobia] and concomitant heterosexist structures and systems are sin. In other word, it is not homosexuality but homophobia that is sinful…Furthermore, as the Black church and community espouse sexual rhetoric that castigate gay and lesbian sexuality and/or admonishes gay and lesbian persons for experiencing the fullness of their sexuality, this church and community have again participated in and abetted sin. Even more significantly, if God’s revelation in Jesus draws us to hear the voices of those who are most marginalized in our society, then the Black church is certainly drawn to hear the voice of Black gay and lesbian person as they struggle against the complexity of homophobia/ heterosexism.[21]


From this argument, we might think that Douglas purports to advocates inclusivity outwardly, but this argument is of exclusivity essentially. At the same time, the language she uses is the inclusive language.

First, in fact, the most marginalized people in our society are not gays or lesbians, but are the following four groups of people: 1) bisexual people, 2) transgender people, 3) people whose sexual orientation prefers to have sexual relation with their parents, siblings, children (incest), and 4) people whose sexual orientation prefers to have sexual relation with animals (bestiality). Hence, the fact is that homosexuals are the most marginalized people only in Douglas’s “criterion” rather than in our society. It is this criterion that makes homosexuals become the most marginalized people and make the other four groups of people be excluded from the most marginalized people in “her society”.

Second, although Douglas’ book has been regarded as the most complete book in discussing sexuality by womanist theologians, the entire book discusses only two groups of people whose sexual orientation are heterosexual and homosexual. The other four groups of people described above are never mentioned in her book. Since Douglas is so determined in her fight for life, freedom, and the fullness of all people’s sexuality, we believe that Douglas may also support other four kinds of sexual orientations: bisexual sexuality, transgender sexuality, incest, and bestiality. (If she does not support these four kinds of sexual orientations, then her womanist sexual ethic is not inclusivity, and the language she uses is exclusive.) The reason why these four groups of people are excluded from her discussion might be because of “neglect” even though we might hardly imagine a book on sexuality has entirely neglected these four groups of people.

Notwithstanding, “neglect” is not an excuse in womanist theology, which originated from neglect by other theologies and which strongly advocates inclusivity. Besides, neglect, like silence, is another form of exclusivity and sometimes is more powerful than other kind of exclusive language. Using neglect and silence to exclude some people from our own sexual norm might be the most destructively exclusive way because it is invisible and irrefutable. This is why in her book, Douglas herself also potently critiques neglect and silence on sexual discourse in the Black church and community.[22]

Finally, Douglas condemns heterosexism, heterosexist system and homophobia as sin. This condemnation reveals that Douglas has an ethical criterion or norm to judge heterosexism and homophobia as wrong. It is this criterion or norm that denies some people or some systems the right to exist in Douglas’s society or ethics. Again, she has excluded some people and systems from her society or ethics by using the exclusive language. When she radically critiques homophobia, her critique becomes heterophobia; when she critiques the exclusive norm of heterosexism, she is not aware of her own exclusive norm. In this sense, she does to heterosexism what heterosexism did to homosexuality.  She oppresses homophobia in the same way homophobia oppress homosexuality. In this way, she becomes an oppressor rather than a liberator.

We recall the Jesus’s exhortation,


Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while the log is in your own eye? …[first] take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. (Mt 7:3-5)


In short, these four groups of people who have different sexual orientations and who are much more marginalized than homosexuals or heterosexuals have been excluded from womanist theological sexual discourse. Douglas herself has still failed to hear the voice of those who are the most marginalized in our society. Her sexual ethics is not of inclusivity, and the language she uses in ethics is exclusive.

Therefore, we have perceived now that only when womanist theologians does not neglect or critique and does equally support all kinds sexual orientations’ people, their sexual ethics then can be labeled as inclusivity and the language they use can be regarded as inclusive language (because inclusive means “including all” in a dictionary and from our understanding). As Marcia Y. Riggs states, “[inclusivity] requires the removal of boundaries so as to realize interrelationship as a moral good.”[23] Indeed, any boundary, norm or criterion will prevent us from achieving the goals of inclusivity or inclusive language. For achieving these two goals, womanist theologians have to allow homophobia or heterosexist system to exist in their ethics without any critique. They have to strongly support not only homosexuals, but heterosexuals and the other four kinds of sexual orientation as well. That is to say, if they encourage people to pursue their homosexual freedom, then, at the same time they also have to encourage people to enjoy having sexual relationship with their parents, siblings, or children (this relation is called incest in our society).[24]

If, according to womanist theology’s ethical norm, womanist theologians are unable to strongly support heterosexism, homophobia, incest or bestiality for some reasons, then, it means that some sexual orientations or behaviors cannot be allowed and must be excluded in womanist sexual ethics. Namely, they believe that a boundary, norm or criterion is necessary in sexual ethics, that sexuality is limited and not totally free, and that an ethical norm must exclude some sexual behavior ultimately.

If so, when they say that people shall fight for life, freedom, and the fullness of people’s sexuality, they must implicitly indicate that is to fight for “limited” freedom and the “limited” fullness of sexuality. If so, they are admitting that both to establish an inclusive ethics and to use inclusive language discussing ethical issue is impossible.

Here, we come back the problem of language in ethics again. But we now have clearly understood that inclusive language has been invisible in womanist ethics or even in womanist theology (As we mention before, inclusivity or inclusive language must support and include every kind of people, systems, ideas, and theories without any critique of it.) Actually, inclusive language may have never existed essentially in any ethics or any theology.

Generally speaking, ethics is defined as a science which deals with and establishes moral principles. These moral principles imply rules of conduct, norms of behavior, and criteria of judging. The language we use to establish, discuss and critique any rule, norm, and criterion cannot be inclusive because some things or some people must be excluded by a rule, norm, and criterion. Ethics rejects “inclusivization (or includization)” and inclusive language.

Likewise, theology (Theo-logy: God-word) is essentially exclusive and has its own unique language. Christianity is a religion of discrimination; theology is a language of prejudice. Inclusive or Objective theological discourse is absurd and has never existed. Hans-Georg Gadamer specifies the significance and uniqueness of language in Christianity:


Rather, when the Greek idea of logic is penetrated by Christian theology, something new is born: the medium of language, in which the mediation of the incarnation event achieves its full truth. Christology prepares the way for a new philosophy of man, which mediates in a new way between the mind of man in its finitude and the divine infinity. Here what we have called the hermeneutical experience finds its own, special ground.[25]


Thus, To develop an inclusive theology, to create an inclusive language for theology, or to use inclusive language to discourse theological issues will not only be incongruous and suspicious, but also pervert the uniqueness of theology. Just as theology resists secularization, theological language repels “inclusivization (or includization).”  

Probably, womanist theologians might recognize that people’s sexuality is limited and that inclusive language is impossible in ethics or theology, but they may argue that the language they use and the ideal they pursuit in ethics or theology are more comprehensive and broader than others’. However, a more comprehensive and broader ethics, theology, or language may not be absolutely equal to a better, more appropriate, or applicable one. Sometimes, it might be a worse one because “comprehensive” and “broad” are always based on “indistinctive” and “compromising.”

For instance, a loose law may please more people (especially criminals), but it may not help more people and may not be a just law. A slack teacher may please more students, but the teacher may not be good for more students and may not be a good teacher. Polygamy or polyandry may delight more people or particular people, but it may not better than monogamy which is an exclusive marriage system.

Especially in ethics or theology, peculiarity, exclusivity, inflexibility, and obstinacy may be the indispensable essences. Without them, ethics or theology becomes a “wholly other” which is nondescript. In any case, to establish a theology of complete inclusivity and to use an inclusive language in ethics or theology are impossible and unnecessary. Alice Walker has reminded us that womanist refers to courageous and willful behavior.[26] At the present time, a post-modern or pluralistic era, courageous and willful behavior may be to restore an exclusive and unique ethics, theology, language rather than inclusive one.

But, what if two groups in Christianity (sometimes, in same church) whose beliefs in ethics or theology are quite different from and oppose each other without the disposition of any compromise? How do we deal with this problem when they are courageous, willful, and radical attacking each other on ethical or theological issues, such as the controversial issue of sexuality (homosexuality versus heterosexism) we mention above? To expect one group to overcome the other or to wait for one group to correct its own belief for the other will not solve this problem in this post-modern era in which pluralistic ideology prevails. Yet, George A. Lindbeck’s notion of “community of faith” might be a feasible and practical solution.

The notion of “community of faith” is that every group of faith whose belief is different from others’ is allowed to exist together in Christianity. Every group is regarded as a community of faith and has its own individual or intra-systematic rules of faith (or doctrinal rules).[27] In the notion of community of faith, doctrines are understood as rules.

Rules in a particular community of faith are similar to rules in a particular organization. A community does not have to follow another community’s rules. A rule in a community may become false or a heresy in another community. A rule is meaningful and effective only in its own community. The rules among different communities are incommensurable. Therefore, for one group to disparage other groups’ rules is unnecessary and unavailing. Christian church history has shown that for different groups of faith to attack against each other based on doctrine or belief results in schism rather than resolving problems. Christian church history has also presented that different groups of faith can exist together without compromise or assault.

But, how can two communities whose rules of faith contradict against each other stay together in Christianity or even same church peacefully? George A. Lindbeck indicates,


[there] is no logical problem in understanding how historically opposed [doctrinal] position can in some, even if not all, cases be reconciled while remaining in themselves unchanged.[28]

[oppositions] between [doctrinal] rules can in some instances be resolved, not by altering one or both of them, but by specifying when and where they apply, or by stipulating which of the competing directives takes precedence.[29]


Similarly, rules of faith in the community of heterosexism may be completely different from that in the group which supports homosexuality, but they still can be in same church. The former need not change its exclusive language or rules of faith while the latter need not force other communities to change their language or rules.

In a word, since to establish a theology of complete inclusivity or an inclusive language is impossible and could not solve the controversial problems in ethics or theology, we might try to practice the notion of “communities of faith” in Christianity in the present time.


5. Biblical Dimension: Eschatology or The ultimate hope of Hagar’s descents

Many womanist theologians have identified African American women with Hagar, a non-Jewish slave in the Hebrew Bible. Hagar’s narratives and the wildness concepts give womanist theologians “a biblically-based Christian model.”[30] The biblical root of womanist theology has been constructed by using the figure and experience of Hagar. However, this identification with Hagar raises a thorny theological problem: the absence of the ultimate hope of faith. In other words, eschatology has been “invisible” in womanist theology.[31]

Renita Weems may be the first theologian to relate African American womens’ oppression and exploitation with that of the slave Hagar.[32] She asserts that African American women “are all Hagar’s daughter.”[33] Stephanie Y Mitchem tells us Weems’s importance in the development of womanist theology, “Weems interpretation embraced an aspect of women’s lives….[In] this way, concerns of contemporary [Black] women were connected with the stories of women in the Bible and became a rich source for theological reflection.”[34]

Later, Delores S. Williams expanded the exploration of Hagar’s role in the understanding of African American women. She connects Hagar’s experience of wilderness to African American women’s experience of oppression. She emphasizes, “In black consciousness, God’s response of survival and quality of life to Hagar is God’s response of survival and quality of life to African American women.” “Hagar’s and Ishmael’s life-situation was like that of black female slaves and their children.”[35]

Nevertheless, when womanist theologians identify African American women with Hagar or manipulate Hagar’s narratives to construct a biblical groundwork for their theology, two questions are raised. First, when womanist theologians identify past African American female slaves as Hagar and the slaves’ children (including contemporary African American people) as Ishmael, womanist theologians have labeled contemporary African American people as the children of slavery rather than children of God. In fact, when womanist theologians identify African American female women as Hagar or Hagar’s descents, womanist theologians have excluded African American people from the people of God. As the apostle Paul teaches,


[these] women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother…Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman (Gal 4: 24-31). 


Hence, we may wonder why womanist theologians have to identify African American women with the people without God’s promise? Since Womanist theologians regard themselves as Christians rather than pagans, why do they not regard African American women as God’s people with God’s promise? Do African American women who live in a post civil rights era will regard themselves as the children of slavery instead of children of God when they read the Bible?

Moreover, the identification with Hagar results in African American women’s confusion of the biblical reading and interpretation. If African American women see their (biblical) identity as Hagar or Hagar’s descents, how do they interpret and understand the other biblical narratives since the entire following story is the story of Sarah’s descents. How will the other biblical narratives be meaningful to them? This odd biblical identity will make African American women confused when they read the Bible.[36]

Furthermore, if Womanist theologians will identify African American women with those people who have the seal of God on the forehead (Rev 9:4) rather than with those people who receive the mark of the beast on the right hand or the forehead (Rev 13:16) when they interpret those scriptures in the Book of Revelation, why do they identify African American women with the descents of Hagar (children of slavery) rather than of Sarah (children of God)? Paul reminds us,


[we] are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman…[For] freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Gal 4:31; 5:1).

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:19; 3:6)


In brief, Christians should identify themselves with a biblical figure according to spiritual characters (God’s people) rather than a physical character (skin color), geographical character (Africa) or experiential character (suffering).

Second, the most serious problem is that the identification with Hagar will lead to the absence of eschatology in womanist theology. The identification with Hagar may give African American people some comfort or strength, but it does move the ultimate hope of faith away from them.

As we all know, in the Bible the narrative of Hagar and Hagar’s descendents ends in the wilderness (in Gen 21:21). They do not appear again in the Bible. They disappear in the wilderness as well as in the Bible. Undoubtedly, after Genesis 21:21, the biblical narrative is the story of Sarah’s descents rather than Hagar’s descents. Thus, how can womanist theologians construct an ultimate hope of faith for Hagar’s descents, African American people, from this predicament?  If Hagar and Hagar’s narrative is the principal womanist theological ground, then, how can womanist theologians develop their eschatology on this ground?

This predicament also compels womanist theologians to find other sources for constructing eschatology, such as African religious tradition, womanist theologians’ imagination, or women’s experience. However, even though womanist theology’s eschatology can be constructed on those sources, it loses its divine or biblical warrant for those sources do not derive from the Bible or Christian tradition. Consequently, it is essentially not a Christian eschatology.

The absence of eschatology in womanist theology also brings to a dilemma. Without knowing the future of faith, the African American women who believe in womanist theology can focus only on the present and do not have an ultimate hope of faith. Soon or later, this situation may results in their exodus from faith: they may depart from the belief in Christianity or from the belief in womanist theology. For the former situation (exodus from Christianity), they have to find the ultimate hope of faith from other religions.[37] For the latter situation, they will turn back to identify themselves with the descents of Sarah rather than of Hagar just as their ancestors did. In this sense, we may find the significance of eschatology in womanist theology.

Jürgen Moltmann has specified the indispensability of eschatology in theology. He proclaims that eschatology is not the last part of faith or the last chapter of theology but is the first in theology and faith. Since most principal meaning, hope, direction, transformation, and strength of faith can be found only in eschatology, it must be the beginning of faith and theology. He stresses,


Eschatology is generally held to be the doctrine of ‘the Last Things’, or of ‘the end of all things’. To think this is to think in good apocalyptic terms, but it is not understanding eschatology in the Christian sense…In God’s creative future, the end will become the beginning.

Christian eschatology follows this christological pattern in all its personal, historical and cosmic dimension: in the end is beginning…Christianity is wholly and entirely eschatology, not just in an appendix. It is hope, a vista, and a forward direction, and it is hence a new departure and a transformation of the present.[38]


In fact, Alice Walker’s definition of womanist does refer to the dimension of ultimate hope which is neglected by many womanist theologians. Alice Walker states, “Traditionally universalist,…Traditionally capable, as in ‘Mama, I am walking to Canada and I am taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.”[39] In this definition, the ultimate hope for womanism’s faith is not on this little womanish daughter’s courage, but on Canada. Canada or the freedom of Canada gives an ultimate hope to the present slaves. It is this ultimate hope that encourages many slaves to endure their present sufferings. The future possible freedom in the Canada provides the strength and meaning of life for those who are suffering in the United States.

The consciousness of the ultimate hope in Christian eschatology, however, may surpasses that in womanism. First, the ultimate hope in eschatology is a hope related to the past. Through Christ’s redemption, a Christian’s past sinful situation have been overcome and a Christian’s past life’s essence have been transformed. The ultimate hope of faith in Christ can extend to and intervene into the past of a believer. As Paul says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new (2 Co 5:17).”

Second, the ultimate hope in eschatology is a hope in the present. The hope is the hope of resurrection and eternal life. The hope “reaches out beyond death.”[40] The hope liberates believers from the fear of death and of losing themselves. Since this hope can lead Christians into eternity, time (or the limitation of time) is transcended or overcome by hope. Because eternity means that life remains only the present dimension, the future is absorbed into the present. Therefore, the future hope of faith now becomes the present hope. As Jürgen Moltmann mentions,


Because the noetic order is always the reverse of the ontic of things, our perception has to begin, not with the cause, but with the effect. The first effect of eschatology is personal faith. New life in this world follows. And out of that springs the hope for the redemption of the body and the expectation of the transformation of this whole world into God’s kingdom.[41]


Thus, eschatology or the ultimate hope of faith can directly influence Christians’ present life and even the world. Christians’ hope is in the present, not in heaven or Canada. The strength, power, and meaning of this hope can be received, revealed and found only in the present. It is this hope that Christians are not living in the future but living firmly in the present. The hope is a realizing hope.

Third, the ultimate hope in eschatology is a hope guaranteed by God the Almighty. The hope in womanist’s definition bases on Canada or Canada’s government. But this hope is not stable, reliable, and consequential at that time because Canada’s government may adopt slavery system like the United States someday. Even though slaves run to Canada successfully, they may work in a place where the supervisor (or boss, or employer… but not owner since not a slave?) is no better than their oppressive slaveowners in the U.S.. On the contrary, Christian hope is based on the promise of a faithful and almighty God. The hope cannot be lost, appeared, or taken away because it is in God rather then in governments or humans.

After knowing the nature of Christian hope, we can now turn back to the biblical root of the ultimate hope which is absent in womanist theology. In the Bible, most figures endure and overcome sufferings though their ultimate hope of faith. For the most part, either in the Bible or in the church history, God does not “help suffering people make a way out of no way.” Nor does God change the oppressive situations for God’s only Son or people, including Paul. Rather, God gives them only the hope which makes them see the presence of God or perceive the promise of God. It is the hope that enables them to overcome sufferings. As Hebrews 11: 35-39 and 13-16 declare,


Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented? Of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.


All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.


Accordingly, we believe that most Christians, including African American women, from the past to the present, like most figures in the Bible, endure or overcome oppression through their hope of faith rather than through God’s practical intervention to change the unjust or oppressive situation. Therefore, Christian hope not leads to a physical or practical change, but to a spiritual or meaningful transformation through the power and strength of God in hope.

In short, for avoiding the absence of the ultimate hope of faith and eschatology, womanist theologians should not identify African American women with Hagar or Hagar’s descents who are not the God’s people whit God’s promise and may not use the narratives of Hagar to construct the biblical groundwork for their theology.  To identify a particular group with a particular biblical figure is to spin a cocoon around this group. In addition, the absence of eschatology may bring to nihilism. Without the ultimate hope of faith, the future of both womanism’s believers and womanist theology are nothingness. This crisis of the absence of eschatology requires a paradigm change for a biblical interpretation in womanist theology.



The invisibility in womenist theology is not unfavorable if it can provoke some theologians to be aware of it. Sometimes, it is precious and invaluable because it may give a powerful motive and dynamics to make womenist theology more influential. However, it may also be a crucial crisis in womenist theology if some significant issues are still neglected. Besides, most oppressive situations of politics, society, economics, gender, sexuality, or race in the present are quite different from that in the civil rights era, in the legal segregation era, or in the slavery era. As Will Coleman, a black theologian, says, “The challenge of doing theology today is one of learning how to remain relevant under rapidly changing circumstances.”[42] At the beginning of a new millennium, it may be a good time for womanists to introspect the past theological problems and to reconstruct a suitable womanist theology for the new African American generation who are living in a new political and social circumstance. The five invisible issues or problems this study has discussed might be the thinkable starting points for womanist theologians to introspect and then to renew.


    [1] The first text using the term “Womanist Theology” was Delores S. Williams’s article “Womanist Theology: Black Women’s Voice,” which appeared in Christianity and Crisis 47 (March 2, 1987.) This article also can be found in Black Theology: A Documentary History, Volume II, 1980-1992, ed., James H. Cone and Gayraud S. Wilmore (NY: Orbis Books, 1993), 265-272.

    [2] Delores S. Williams, Sister in the Wildness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (NY: Orbis Books, 1993), 158.

    [3] Jacquelyn Grant, “Black Theology and the Black Women,” in James H. Cone and Gayraud S. Wilmore ed., Black Theology: A Documentary History, Volume I, 1996-1979, (NY: Orbis Books, 1993), 326.

    [4] Kelly D. B. Douglas, “Womanist Theology: What Is Its Relationship to Black Theology,” in James H. Cone and Gayraud S. Wilmore ed., Black Theology: A Documentary History, Volume II, 292.

    [5] Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (NY:Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), xi-xii.

    [6] Dwight N. Hopkins, Introducing Black Theology of Liberation (NY: Orbis Books, 1999), 129.

    [7] Stephanie Y. Mitchem, Introducing Womanist Theology, (NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 63.

[8] Delores S. Williams, “Womanist Theology: Black Women’s Voice,” in James H. Cone and Gayraud S. Wilmore ed., Black Theology: A Documentary History, Volume II, 265-272.

[9] Linda E. Thomas, “Womanist Theology, Epistemology, and a New Anthropological Paradigm,” in Linda E. Thomas ed., Living Stone in the Household of God: The Legacy and Future of Black Theology (NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 39.

[10] Kelly Brown Douglas, “Womanist Theology: What Is Its Relationship to Black Theology,” in James H. Cone and Gayraud S. Wilmore, ed., Black Theology: A Documentary History, Volume II, 291. The claim of Douglas also raises other problems. For instance, why do we have to give God and Christ a particular color and thus cause or provoke another theological type of racism or colorism? Why do we have to emphasize the color of God or Christ rather than the attributes of God or Christ? Could the discourse of womanist theology go out of or move beyond the externalism?

[11] Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, trans. by John Bowden & R. A. Wilson (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1993), 330-331.

    [12] Jürgen Moltmann, 327.

    [13] Delores S. Williams, Sister in the Wildness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, xiv.

[14] Kelly Brown Douglas, Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective (NY:Orbis, 1999), 36-45.

[15] Kelly Brown Douglas, 75.

    [16] This kind of hostile complex will always be reflected in real lives and society. For instance, African American women now can study at any university, but they do not get along with white people after class. They can worship in any church, but they do not want to go to white people’s churches. Many African American women have become the upper classes, outstanding people in society, or even icons, especially in the fields of athletics, music, literature, art, etc,. However, many African American women still prefer to separate from white society even though there is only a one society in the United States. Marcia Y. Riggs points out that this kind of separation is a sign of moral failure. Marcia Y. Riggs, Awake Arise and Act: A Womanist Call for Black Liberation (Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1989), 95.

    [17] Linda E. Thomas, 38, 47.

    [18] Katie Geneva Cannon, Katie’s cannon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community (NY: Continuum, 1995), 136. 

    [19] Marcia Y. Riggs, 95-100. 

    [20] Delores S. Williams, 225-230.

    [21] Kelly Brown Douglas, 127.

    [22] Kelly Brown Douglas, 5,68-69,124.

    [23] Marcia Y. Riggs, 95.

    [24] In this article, when we talk about a mentally, physically, and psychologically mature person having sexual relation with their parents, siblings, or children, we refer to a mutual relation based on consensus, love, and willingness, rather than on constraint, lust, or unwillingness between them. We do not talk about the case that a person is forced to have sexual relations with another person who has power to control the sexual relationship.

[25] Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method, Trans. Joel Weinsheimer (NY: Continuum, 1989), 428.

    [26] Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (NY:Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), xi-xii.

[27] Of course, the individual or intra-systematic rules in a community of faith are different from the collective or extra-systematic doctrinal rules of Christianity.

[28] George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1984), 18.

[29] George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1984), 18.

    [30] Dwight N. Hopkins, 146.

    [31] Many womanist theologians, such as Stephanie Y. Mitchem and Linda E. Thomas, have provided many important and constructive themes or issues for the future of womanist theology. See Stephanie Y, Mitchem, 124-143 and Linda E. Thomas, xiii-xiv and 45-48. However, most of them have neglected the concern for the absence of Eschatology. 

    [32] Renita Weems, Just a Sister Away: A Womanist Vision of Women’s relationships in the Bible (San Diego: LuraMedia Press, 1988.)

[33] Renita Weems, 17.

    [34] Stephanie Y, Mitchem, 70.

    [35] Delores S. Williams, 6, 193.

[36] Generally speaking, when Christians read the biblical stories, most of them will read them by the identity of God’s people. The biblical stories will also lead them to identity themselves with the protagonists who are God’s people.

[37] This situation has occurred to many Asian polytheists. Asian polytheisms do not have eschatology in their belief or doctrine. Many Asian polytheists who are seeking an ultimate hope for their faith have to find it from other religions which have constructed eschatology, such as Buddhism or Christianity. 

[38] Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming God: Christian Eschatology, Trans by Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), x-xii.

[39] Alice Walker, xi-xii.

    [40] Jürgen Moltmann, 64.

   [41] Jürgen Moltmann, xvi.

[42] Will Coleman, “Black Theology in Postmodern,” in Theology Today, Vol 50, No. 1, April 1993,  77.




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