For centuries black women have worked diligently in the Black Church, providing a sure foundation for its efficacy, while being diminished, marginalized and neglected because of their bodily difference from men. This paradoxical relationship defies logic, given the impulse for liberation from which the Black Church was birthed, begging the question: how does the alienation and exploitation of black women, who remain so integral to its livelihood persist in a so-called justice-based institution? More importantly, what can be done about it? Eboni Marshall Turman’s Toward a Womanist Ethic of Incarnation: Black Bodies, the Black Church and the Council of Chalcedon offers insight. It argues that the reification of oppression in justice-aimed institutions, even in the black community, is rooted in a concept of blackness distorted by the gaze of white supremacy and patriarchy. Such formulations, she argues inevitably exclude and belittle black women. Applying Chalcedon’s Christological mediating paradigm of kata sarka (according to the flesh) and en sarki dei (God’s active presence in the flesh), Marshall Turman proffers a life-giving approach to black female embodiment and identity that acknowledges the “isness” of black women as more than what their bodies have endured historically.
This symposium, composed of five essays exploring the Christological hermeneutics, and womanist dimensions of Marshall Turman’s argument, presents the unique perspectives of Adam Clark, Karen Baker-Fletcher, Jennifer Harvey, Monique Moultrie and Reggie Williams on Marshall Turman’s groundbreaking work and its implications for the Black Church, black theological thought, and beyond. Grounded in existential questions regarding the ontological value of black women, it interrogates the necessity and possibilities of Marshall Turman’s methodological shift in conceptualizing the ground of black women’s being, independent of the constraints of white supremacy.
Black theologian Adam Clark brings to bear questions of womanist tradition. Clark argues that Marshall Turman’s reliance on doctrinal Christianity, while unconventional for a womanist work, offers something new by way of her innovative repurposing and re-contextualizing of said doctrines in pursuit of a more authentic concept of the foundations of black women’s “isness.” He locates Marshall Turman’s identification of black women as homoousious, or of the same substance of Christ and her appropriation of an en sarki perspective of black female identity, as the praxis of the womanist tenant of self-love, “a radical epistemological orientation” that supplants distorted notions of blackness with the truth of black integrity that is born from the divine spark within. Christian social ethicist, Jennifer Harvey’s deeply introspective essay wrestles with the methodological conundrum of formulating black identity free from the constraints of whiteness. Impressing upon readers the imperative need to disentangle their thinking from the hierarchical modes of categorization that make black women’s subjugation and exclusion unavoidable, she articulates the importance of privileging the both/and thinking present in Marshall Turman’s womanist mediating ethic. Womanist systematic theologian Karen Baker-Fletcher’s essay has similar priorities. In addition, she amplifies the good news of Marshall Turman’s mediating ethic of incarnation for black women’s self-worth and the critique of the conflict present within sexist black institutions of their incarnational theory and praxis it facilitates.
Sexual ethicist Monique Moultrie highlights the liberative possibilities of Marshall Turman’s en sarki dei assertion that God is not only compassionate and in solidarity with black women, but resides within them. Believing the argument to be supremely beneficial to black theology and discipline’s theorization of the black body and its sexual expression, Moultrie presses Marshall Turman and readers with incisive methodological critique. Finally, delving more deeply into the Chalcedonian debates, and the Du Boisian metaphor of the veil, Christian ethicist Reggie Williams delineates the ramifications of a womanist ethic of incarnation of all flesh and the call for renunciation and radical inclusivity it mandates.
Together these thinkers probe the many dimensions of Marshall Turman’s new orientation toward black women’s incarnate being and its contributions to the theological questions that inspire such a project. Moreover they challenge us to take seriously the disruption of dualistic modalities for the sake of cultivating just practices in the black community and the marriage of womanist thought and doctrinal Christianity as an effective methodology to accomplish this task.