Monday, February 01, 2021

Rev. Dr. Mitzi J Smith: “This Little Light of Mine” The Womanist Biblical Scholar as Prophetess, Iconoclast, and Activist

Rev. Dr. Mitzi Smith,
Twitter: @MitziJSmithPhD 

Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary.
You can read more about Dr. Smith and read my summary of her introduction to her book, Womanist Sass and Talk Back, here

Essay: “'This Little Light of Mine' The Womanist Biblical Scholar as Prophetess, Iconoclast, and Activist" 

In this essay, Smith shows how womanist biblical scholars, like so many Black women who came before them, can function as prophetess, iconoclasts, and activists (126). Through these three roles Black women seek to "dismantle racism, sexism, classism, neocolonialism, and heterosexism as interconnected oppressions and systems that invade and infiltrate the lived realities of black women and marginalized communities" (126). Smith writes, "We recognize that God dwells in us as peripheral prophetesses, that God resides in the margins with the oppressed, and that from the margins we can and are called to speak truths to powers, to shatter oppressive strongholds, iconic traditions and beliefs, and to actively participate in the revolution to transform this world into the likeness of God’s incarnate justice, peace, and love" (126).

Main points:

  1. Womanist biblical scholars acknowledge their social location and the lenses with which they read the Bible, understanding that every interpreter’s “context both limits and illumines interpretation,” (Weems 52) whether or not the person is aware of it and admits it: "All readers, readings, and texts are contextual and subjective (112).

  2. A womanist biblical scholar is a Prophetess, "infused with and guided by the Spirit of God.. as [she] confronts and names oppressions in texts, contexts, readers, readings, and cultures" (112. Womanist biblical scholars, like "proto-womanists and Civil Rights activist Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer" go beyond their written work to "raise their voices, and lift their feet to write and right, to teach and to preach, and to sing “truth to power” with a goal toward transformation and the dismantling of oppressions and oppressive structures, toward revolutionary change (113).
    "Womanist biblical scholars declare that black women and other women of color experience and produce truth and light; they are repositories and creators of legitimate epistemologies. All knowledge production is subjective. Womanist biblical scholars acknowledge the existence of more than one truth, especially with regard to biblical texts, contexts, readings, and readers; truths and potential truths exist; malestream biblical scholars have no monopoly on truths." (113).
  3. Womanist biblical scholars know that "the God of the Bible is the God of the oppressed, the God of liberation and they interpret Scripture "within the overarching hermeneutic of liberty and justice for the oppressed and most marginalized" (115).

  4. A womanist biblical scholar is an Iconoclast, knowing that many times the knowledge and systems that have been "produced, petrified, and sacralized by malestream (white men and other men) and white feminist scholars" will not address the needs of black women and will be oppressive. Therefore, the work of womanist biblical scholars "is necessarily sometimes iconoclastic" needing to challenge things that have been revered as holy (119).
    "In confronting biblical texts, contexts, and interpretive traditions, including long-held theological constructions and commentaries that fail to consider the implications of race, gender, class, and empire womanist biblical scholars must sometimes break down and discard traditional, putative interpretive icons or images and paradigms that are oppressive of women of color and our communities and dismissive of our struggles and concerns. (119).
  5. The womanist biblical scholar is an Activist, concerned with the everyday lives of black people "and their access to necessary resources, the recognition of their civil rights, and the exercise of agency and the negotiation of power as it relates to the health and wholeness of every member of the community and in the world" (122). Therefore they "read, exegete, and write as agents of social change in the church, in the community, and in the world" (122).

  6. Finally, womanist biblical scholars also challenge (and seek to change) "unjust interpretations, theologies, and pedagogies of our sisters" while also allowing God "to read, indicted or convict, and transform her [own] soul so that she will speak the truths to powers wherever injustice is found. She must constantly make available to God her fallible humanity so that God might continually encourage, transform, and regenerate her for the work she is called to do for herself and her community" (123).

Works Cited

Smith, Mitzi J. “'This Little Light of Mine' The Womanist Biblical Scholar as Prophetess, Iconoclast, and Activist" in I Found God in Me: A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader. Edited by Mitzi J. Smith, Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015.

Weems, Renita, “Re-Reading for Liberation: African American Women and the Bible,” in Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader, ed. Katie Geneva Cannon, Emilie M. Townes, and Angela D. Sims. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011. 


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