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Valuing women’s voices and the power of their leadership

Union Presbyterian Seminary panel talks up activism and movement making

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Tuesday’s webinar was sponsored by two centers that are part of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

LOUISVILLE — “There is a gift,” the Rev. Phanta Lansden said during an online panel discussion held Tuesday, “in having womanist theology that centralizes the Black woman’s experience as it merges into the biblical story.”

Author Alice Walker coined the term “womanist,” said Lansden, associate pastor of Youth, Young Adults and Discipleship at CN Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church and the founder of Phanta Lansden Ministries LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Part of the definition says we are committed to the survival and wholeness of an entire people … anyone suffering under the hands of the oppressor.

the Rev. Phanta Lansden

“People in churches have mental health concerns and addictions,” Lansden said, “and womanist theology speaks directly to that.”

Womanist theology “values women’s voices, the power of their leadership and how they move in the world,” Lansden said. “It translates into mission by calling us closer to our authentic selves as beloved children of God. It calls out systemic racism and the devaluing of Black women’s bodies, calling them to seek out justice.”

The Rev. Melanie C. Jones

Lansden was speaking as part of the panel in the Talk Just/Just Talk series, “Say Her Name: Womanist Theology, Activism and Movement Making” webinar put on by two organizations within Union Presbyterian Seminary: the Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership and the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation. The Rev. Melanie C. Jones, an instructor at the seminary and director of the Katie Geneva Cannon Center, was the moderator. In addition to Lansden, the other panelists were:

Asked by Jones how womanist theology relates to the vision of the Beloved Community popularized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Adkins-Jones said the concept has been “co-opted from King’s thought around racial reconciliation with folks who don’t take seriously white supremacy.”

Dr. Amey Victoria Adkins-Jones

“Too often, it is a move of assimilation and amnesia around who we are. Liturgically and theologically, to reconcile you have to repent … The Beloved Community has wonderful notions, but there is so much work to be done before we can get there.”

Watkins said attaining the Beloved Community will require “fully living into healthy, life-affirming ways of being and an appreciation of our being so we don’t have to perform in order to be beloved. I question whether we can be truly beloved outside the extent to which we are pandered.”

The panel also wrestled with Jones’ question about tracing womanist roots to the Black Lives Matter movement. “How have we been able to establish our own pathways in terms of movement making?” Jones asked.

“I have a spiritual mother who says, ‘I am not auditioning. I am,’” Lansden replied. “It is confidence that I don’t need your affirmation. I already am, in whatever space I need to be in.”

Dr. Stephanie Y. Mitchem

“This speaks to the power of Black women,” Mitchem said. “It is about our process of getting off the cross. We don’t have to serve everybody, save everybody, help everybody. The list of things that get put on us — we don’t have to do it all. We need to stay on a spiritual journey to be well.”

“It is holy and sacred work,” Adkins-Jones said. “God is bigger than our buildings. Our churches are sacred and important, and our ancestors’ hands were on so many of those bricks. But that’s not the only place where God works, where God creates a way out of no way.

“If you have a praying grandma, then you can cite womanist theology, which came about as a way of naming what had already been happening” even before people who were enslaved arrived in the Colonies, Adkins-Jones said. “Projects of freedom, abolition, liberation and joy are inherent to our survival and extend beyond whether one identifies as a Christian or not.”

The last question the panel faced was this one: As we move forward with womanist theology, what do we look for to help us continue to confront and live into our own sense of wholeness and wellness?

the Rev. Dr. Michele E. Watkins

“I celebrate and look forward to participating and being inspired by the many ways Black women are already speaking against patriarchal systems of domination,” Watkins said. “I encourage us to continue to excavate and come to terms with our economic and social power and envision other ways of holding state-sponsored systems accountable.”

“I am excited about continued energy of our intergenerational possibilities around activism, traditions, stories, movement making and imagining other worlds,” Adkins-Jones said. “Women are writing more, reflecting spiritually and getting in touch with multiple spiritual traditions.”

“This panel has encouraged me in so many ways,” Lansden said. “My mind is around healing of Black women’s lives and the resilience, power and grit we have. …  I have hope as a believer in Jesus Christ that the Black church will embrace Black women more than it has traditionally. There is still a whole lot of work to be done.”

Remember, Mitchem said, that it was the women in the 2018 superhero film “Black Panther” who “pulled people out of trouble and helped the movie go forward.”

“Know what your values are,” Mitchem urged, “and hold to them.”

Watch the webinar here.


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