Handling divine and political barriers: A womanist perspective


I remember sitting in Cannon Chapel (Emory University) and listening to Dr. Tamura Lomax[1] preach a sermon from the perspective of The Canaanite Woman found in the Gospel of Matthew 15: 21-28.

We were both matriculating through seminary as MDiv students and I was just in awe of her scholarship and the ease at which she boldly articulated an interpretation of the passage in a way that I had never witnessed.

Utilizing womanist thought, she did not preach the sermon in the usual patriarchal nor speciesist way of celebrating that eventually dogs receive handouts from Christ therefore, the lowliest human should expect the same.

Instead, she posited that we not settle for the easy way out while reading this passage.

We should not be happy with the idea that we are to settle for what is left. We read that God prepares a table for us (Psalms 23) and not that we are the delight in the crumbs from the table.

If we continue to adopt this very western theological prose in interpreting texts, we are doing no more than passing on the simple cliché of  “Get what you get and don’t have a fit.” This keeps the margins full, grateful and satisfied with the little they have as a result of systemic pressures that keep the margin in existence.

Of course, today, I take issue with the degradation of an animals’ worth as litmus test to granting access to every human being, but I digress.

The point is that Dr. Lomax preached from the intentionally overlooked voice of the Canaanite woman.

Doesn’t she represent women in theology today?

At their expense, women are still expected to endure pain, trauma, oppression, even death so society can learn what is considered right or wrong.

Dr. Lomax went further to remind us that Jesus referred to the woman as a dog.

This metaphor is akin to history’s usage of animals to describe the oppressed and the enemies.

In 1492: The Year the World Began[2], Felipe Fernandez-Armesto explores the language Christopher Colombus used to describe Natives. He described them as black brutes, beasts, and animals.

Moving further through history and we are fully aware of the usage of animals – i.e. monkeys, gorillas and any other sort of animalization – to describe African-Americans.

In her sermon, Dr. Lomax challenged us to accept the notion that Jesus’ dismissal of the Canaanite woman is akin to calling her a “bitch” – a female dog.

Of course, as a Pentecostal I was taken aback. In fact, for a moment I was more caught up in her accurate usage of the word, in the pulpit, than the context and helpful methodology used to challenge intentional patriarchy still used to keep women in line at the margins of society.

Fast-forward almost 20 years and I find myself asking the question that perhaps the Canaanite Woman can explain to me – What is it like being a woman in theology?

Surely, the Canaanite woman within this passage isn’t the only one to find her life’s experience mishandled to benefit the rest of society.

How do we challenge readers to try read the text from the life of the woman in the text? Continue reading

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