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Social Ethics With A Womanist Approach

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Theoretical Paper

African American Social Ethics

with a

Womanist Approach to Religion and Society

CHSO 60023

Dr. Stacey Floyd-Thomas


Jimmy C. Sansom

Joining heart, mind and soul to divine justice and social justice within the African American community transpires in a number of ways. Looking back in history we find many individuals and movements vying to reach the goal of liberation and equality for al without basis to color, class or sex. Harriet Tubman risked her life while working the Underground Railroad to help free enslaved Africans. Sojourner Truth fought for abolitionism and women's suffrage. Rosa Parks stood her ground on a bus and refused to move to the back that initiated a boycott of city transportation by African Americans. Martin Luther King, Fr. Rallied many African Americans together in peaceful demonstrations and marches in hopes of gaining freedom and equality for all people.

African American Social Ethics and Womanist Theology focuses on an important approach to Black Church Studies. They share in some of the same beliefs and practices in trying to make gains and strides of an oppressed people. Womanist Theology goes beyond just the social ethics value in that it fights for the double oppression of African American females. Both approaches want liberation for African Americans from the dominant culture but Womanist Theology wants as its ultimate goal liberation and equality for al people. One compliments the other and it is here that I focus theoretically on the approach to Black Church Studies.

Liberation, freedom and equality are the norms for African American Social Ethics and Womanist Theology. Religious authority within the American culture came from a Eurocentristic view that determined an Anglo-American perception should determine the normative values within American society (Roberts, pg. 13). These normative values were viewed differently by the African Americans. Liberation, freedom and equality are what were preached but what was practiced was different when it came to the African American.

The Bible states that slaves should obey their master. Charles C. Jones believed enslaved Africans would become more obedient and calm them down if the Christian faith was taught to them (Roberts, pg. 7). Others thought it would be the demise of slavery because under English rule no Christian could enslave another Christian (Roberts, pg. 6). Those that heard what Christianity was supposed to represent held onto the belief that they would be freed and liberated one day. It was the Eurocentric interpretation that kept Africans oppressed from a Biblical standpoint.

Today, it has not changed much for the African American ethically or theologically. "As long as the white-male experience continues to be established as the ethical norm, Black women, Black men and others will suffer unequivocal oppression" (Cannon, pg. 283). The white majority dictates what the norms are. They are the majority in power, make interpretations and preach to others. Theologians have understood the dominant theological traditions as to ignore human oppression (Douglas, pg. 26).

African American men and women believe in the implied messages of the Constitution and the Bible. All people are to be free and equal. It is not to be free and equal in just religious matters but also to be free and equal in all aspects of society. Martin Luther King, Jr. focused on this approach. The outcome was to modify the hearts of white Americans (Roberts, pg. 14). Still, oppression was observed and practiced throughout the African American community. Because of the discrimination present, the Black community created values and virtues on their own terms in order to triumph against the odds against them (Cannon, pg. 282).

Virtue theory says that the main goal for the African American people is the preservation and promotion of the community (Paris, pg. 5). Virtue theory is the determinate measure of value for all humans and their activities (Paris, pg. 5). It is not individualistic. Community comes before self. If you better the community, you will be lifted up in the process also.

Womanist theology wants what is best for all people. They are concerned about the oppression of Black women but ultimately the freedom and equality of the entire community. Black women have been oppressed by their own race. The Black community has oppressed Black women that parallels the oppression the white church has oppressed the entire Black community (Pinn, pg. 30).

Alice Walker coined the word "Womanist" in her writing of In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose. Her tenet is to define what it means to be a Womanist. A Womanist is a Black woman and her theology. The Womanist movement began with the focus on social and religious ethics to not only acknowledge the accomplishments of Black women but to free all people from oppression.

Katie Cannon wants to show how the Black woman has survived and how she relates Black reality in Black women's writings. Black women's writings bring forth the positive characteristics of the Black community (Cannon, pg. 286). She wants to show how to inform others how humanity is oppressed everywhere through Black women writers. Black women have carried on traditions, values and ethics to each generation. Literary methods can tell the interpretations of how life was and should be for the oppressed. Literary methods refer to different writing styles such as books, articles, poems or letters.

Delores Williams wants us to know that the primary concern of Womanist Theology is survival and community building and maintenance (Williams, pg. 182). Her goal is to bring forth a positive outlook on economics, spirituality and education for black women, men and children (Williams, pg. 182). She also states that there are four elements needed in Womanist theological methodology: (1) a multidialogical intent, (2) a liturgical intent, (3) a didactic intent, and (4) a commitment both to reason and to the validity of female imagery and metaphorical language in the construction of theological elements (Williams, pg. 184). Multidialogical refers to a Christian womanist theologian to dialogue with other groups about how to help the oppressed. Liturigical intent is the relevance of the worship and actions of the Black church. Didactic intent is how teaching is done in theology.




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