Linda Thomas, professor of theology and anthropology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, spoke about the womanist emphasis on faith-based courage in the struggle for justice at the annual Genevieve Staudt Intercultural Lecture on March 10.
In her scholarly work as a womanist, Thomas is persistently “anti-oppressionist” and is concerned with elevating the voices of subjugated communities. “My life’s commitment is to make the world a better place by transforming systems of power,” highlighted Thomas.
When beginning her lecture, Thomas outlined the importance of recognizing indigenous peoples who have occupied the land we now live on. She honored several indigenous tribes, including the Illinois, the Miami, and the Kickapoo. She expressed that honoring the first nations was a necessary element to her lecture, which concentrated on issues of equity for marginalized groups.
In her outlining of the historical timeline, Thomas noted the beginning of slavery in 1619 when nine people were sent to Jamestown, Va. as enslaved and indentured servants.
“Historically dominant groups need to know the ways they advance and keep the cancer of race, sexism, mental health, and more,” Thomas continued.
Womanism, a term coined by Alice Walker, views humans as living historical documents and acknowledges all life as sacred. As spiritualized beings, womanists believe in a force greater than themselves.
“Those who are supporters of Black women’s womanism cannot claim the label for themselves,” noted Thomas. “To understand the term womanist means to understand the history of racism for Black women.”
For womanists like Thomas, the analysis of the harm done to women’s bodies must include the bodies of women of color and oppressed queer bodies of color.
Jesus was a marginalized person of color, which demonstrates God’s preference for oppressed bodies instead of the dominant and crucifying empires throughout history. Thomas noted that Christ’s crucifixion on Golgotha was individualistic but attained communal implications in that Christ “is re-crucified with the crucified people of history.”
“Humanity in creation’s future is held together in a crucified, oppressed, marginalized, brown-skinned jew,” explained Thomas.
“The true radicality of the cross is downplayed and domesticated by white culture, which reduces the cross to a piece of jewelry Christians wear around their necks,” continued Thomas, quoting theologian James H. Cone.
According to Cone, God’s presence remains with all those who fight in the spirit of liberation.
“Individualistic U.S. society shies away from the communal nature of lament,” noted Thomas. “Lament goes hand-in-hand with the cross.” Communities are meant to lament and rejoice as a whole because if one suffers, all suffer.
Thomas explained that through Christ’s God-forsakenness, people are able to see God’s hidden presence in those who are forsaken and grieving. “We see that although scars remain, wounds and suffering do not have the last word,” stated Thomas. “God’s final word is liberation, restoration, and wholeness.”