During my first year of graduate studies at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, we were confronted with a completely foreign concept that both challenged and confounded our traditional constructions of God. Many Black theologians, feminists and womanists whose works had recently been included in the canon of required reading, from James Cone and William R. Jones to Octavia Spencer and Audre Lorde, had started to question long-held Western notions of Christianity which had moved white supremacy, patriarchy and the privileges their exclusive members enjoyed into the realm of the divine.
They refused to accept that Jesus, considered the human embodiment of God, could be a white male, given his confirmed geographical roots on the African continent — an area which now encompasses what is referred to as the Middle East or somewhere close to the Middle East in proximity.
Further, they asserted that since their brown-skinned Jesus, deemed to be the son of God according to Christian tradition, had been born of a woman, that his mother had to have been a woman of color. But then they unleashed the real bombshell: the idea that God might be a Black female deity, therefore recasting the Creator as a Black woman. They wanted to know why God had to be a wise old, bearded white male — an image that had been instrumental in many societies’ success in maintaining the status quo which reflected racial inequality and sexism with white males ruling supreme.
Their revolutionary characterization of Black women as God or godlike may have been uncomfortable for those of us who came from the Black Church: Methodists, Pentecostals or Baptists. But for our white counterparts, particularly those who had been raised in and shaped by more fundamental doctrines and beliefs, the very notion of God as a woman, not to mention a Black woman, bordered on blasphemy.
Soon after and early one Sunday morning, I joined five of my classmates and traveled to a nearby Baptist church where we had been invited to lead their worship service. This church, or so we’d been told, was one that embraced newer, more inclusive ways of praising God — even allowing women to assist in various pulpit functions. When prayer time approached, one of my male classmates stood, cleared his throat and began — booming out the phrase, “Mother, Father God.”
It was painful to watch the shocked expressions on the faces of the congregants — frowns and scowls numbered the majority. Indiscernible but punctuated words began to flow throughout the church which clearly let us know that “Mother God,” that is, God as a woman, had not gained acceptance within their community faith. Suddenly, the crescendo of dissatisfaction stopped, replaced by a deafening silence.
As my Daddy used to say, employing one of his favorite rural Alabama witticisms, “You could have heard a mouse piss on cotton.”
Black women, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, are more likely to be the sole bread winner in their families, face higher rates of unemployment, domestic violence, low wages and incarceration. They also rank among the lowest in terms of representation in government at all levels. Still, they carry on, they persevere, they “make a way out of no way,” because they must. Because their families and their communities need and depend on them.
Given such an arduous existence, maybe it’s not as much of a stretch as some believe, that God, that is the spirit that guides, loves, rocks us in its bosom, walks with us to wipe our tears and then carries us when we can no longer go on, is a woman — or more like a woman.
As for me, based on the women in my life and my relationships with them — my mother and “adopted” mothers, my sister, aunts, godmothers and in today’s vernacular, “friend-girls,” God may very well be a woman — a Black woman, of course!
Shalom and Aché.