“Go touch three people and tell ’em ‘God can.’” the preacher says on Sunday mornings in a congregation full of God fearing, hand clapping, tongue talking, praise dancing women. Children in the pew watch as Mother So-and-So and Sister Shout compete for the “who can pray the best” title for the week. But in the same instance, the two competitors kneel together, in spiritual arms against wicked and unseen forces. The women come in God’s house faithfully every Sunday wearing those fantastically embellished hats, finely pressed skirts, carrying big, giant Bibles with their initials on them. For so many years, women have dominated the pews of church, most of the time outnumbering the men. Despite the amount of estrogen in the air that might result in a catfight in the form of praise dancing in the isles, there is a certain bond, a tremendous role women have played and continue to play in church theology.

Church seems to draw out the strength in women, give them a sense of empowerment and liberation. Women in many congregations fill just about every position from preacher’s secretary to usher to children’s teacher to congregation prayer warrior. Women are the “business” and Alice Walker said so.

The term “womanist” first appeared in her literary work, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose.” The folk writer saw that it was the woman who made everything powerful she involved herself with; she is the perfect lover and friend, and is an undeniably tireless leader.

A womanist is, “A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility… and women’s strength … committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally universalist … Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the folk. Loves herself. Regardless. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender,” Walker writes in the prelude of her book.

Walker’s concept proliferated among the masses and touched ever so gently the hearts of African American women. The writer’s work and unorthodox thinking helped inspire Black theology as well, specifically for the female experience.

James Hal Cone published “A Black Theology of Liberation” in the 1969. His idea was that God is Black, and God sympathizes and favors Black people. As controversial as the concept was, several jumped on board. Among them was Grant; however she felt the “new” theology did not fully address women in the Black community. As a result the two, along with Katie G. Cannon and Delores Williams directly and indirectly created womanist theology.

This kind of religious thinking addresses the whole woman, without exclusion, within the Black community. It is not a separatist theology, but all-inclusive for the man, woman and child.
Linda E. Thomas, a theology professor notes in an article entitled, “Womanist Theology, Epistemology, and a New Anthropological Paradigm,” that this focus on Black women embodies the true meaning of emancipation for the woman.

“Womanist theology is critical reflection upon Black women’s place in the world that God has created and takes seriously Black women’s experience as human beings who are made in the image of God,” Thomas writes. “The categories of life which Black women deal with daily (that is, race, womanhood, and political economy) are intricately woven into the religious space that African American women occupy. Therefore the harmful and empowering dimensions of the institutional church, culture, and society impact the social construction of Black womanhood.
Womanist theology affirms and critiques the positive and negative attributes of the church, the African American community, and the larger society.”

According to a Pew Forum survey, 84 percent of women say religion is important to them, while only 59 percent of men say the same. In the same survey, 53 percent of African Americans reportedly attend worship services at least once a week. While the study did not specify which gender attends church the most, another survey says that at least ten percent more women in general attend worship services regularly.

Incorporating the stats and looking down the pews of our own churches, one may gather that women are definitely there and could be in need of a certain kind of blessing. In turn, it may be reasonable to conclude that while there are usually male preachers in the pulpit and women in the pews supporting their pastors and trying to get a good word, womanist theology is a piece of Christianity that could be missing in the equation. Walker and her protégé theologians say preachers take notice because women are important too; women are part of the Black struggle, the spiritual development of the community, and the liberation of our people.