Theologizing from a woman's point of view

March 21st, 2022

Preaching, of course, is a theological endeavor. We are always in preaching—whether we recognize it or not—shaping and reshaping theology as we reinterpret scripture and tradition and contemporary life and contexts in relation to one another. Thus, preaching by women is not only about bringing women’s life experience into the pulpit; it is also about crafting theology through the lens of that experience and challenging theologies that do not lead to the liberation of all peoples—including women.

Once again, preaching women have been aided in this process by the many feminist and womanist, mujerista, and Native and Asian theologians who have gone before us and stood alongside us. My Beecher lectures initially took place in a divinity school where the shadows cast by trailblazing theologians Letty Russell and Margaret Farley and Emilie Townes loom large, and where new visions of a theology that is more liberating for women and men alike have been birthed and nurtured. The church as a household of freedom in which God is the householder/housekeeper (Russell), the ethics of a “just love” (Farley), womanist reinterpretations of evil and suffering and ethical responses (Townes)—these are among the many theological contributions by women that have shaped our preaching and influenced our thinking and led women to challenge oppressive theologies of the past even as they offer up new interpretations for the pulpit.

Certainly the cross has been a key place where women preachers and women theologians have been pressed to redefine traditional theology in ways that do not make God out to be some cosmic child abuser and Jesus some passive acceptor of the will of God. Scholars of preaching such as Sally Brown, in her book, Cross Talk, have joined forces with womanist scholars such as JoAnne Marie Terrell, in her book, Power in the Blood? The Cross in the African American Experience, to challenge traditional in- terpretations of the cross and Christ’s suffering, while also evidencing the harm that those interpretations have done to women who have been told by the church to submit and sacrifice themselves—often to abusive part- ners—because that’s what Jesus did and what God would have them do.

Christine Smith’s seminal work, Preaching as Weeping, Confession, and Resistance: Radical Responses to Radical Evil, wrestles with how preaching can be a redemptive, and not an oppressive, activity in a world of radical evil. She writes:

Part of our resistance to evil must be work that is theological in nature and content. Critiquing theologies of the cross that justify and condone human suffering of every description is an act of resistance. Suggesting that persons with disabilities know and experience God in ways able-bodied persons do not is an act of resistance. Participating in the redemptive work of breaking the silences surrounding rape, incest, and woman battering is an act of resistance. Preachers and communities participate in resisting evil as they critique and uproot theologies that undergird it and seek to build new the- ologies that bring embodied justice into the world.[1]

Women preachers and scholars of preaching have often led the way in breaking the silences, in reinterpreting the theologies that have oppressed, and in helping us see all people created in the image of God in ways that have challenged our cultural and traditional church norms. In the process they have also urged the church to weep with those who weep, to confess our own complicity in human oppression and suffering, and to resist— with all our beings—the forces of evil in our world.


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Several of the homiletical foremothers I interviewed for my book How Women Transform Preaching commented on how significant feminist and womanist theology has been for shaping who they have become as preachers and scholars of preaching. Mary Lin Hudson, the first woman professor at Memphis Theological Seminary, says, “Feminism, if anything, has taught me to look always for the subversive element in scripture and theology. That what the reality of Jesus does for us is it opens up the contradictions in our systems that seek to control reality. But God is bigger than that. And God is always in the process of subverting our certainties.”[2] 

Barbara Lundblad reflected upon the influence Letty Russell’s theology has had upon her ministry and her preaching. “We’ve been celebrating this year [2018] . . . in Minnesota the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Reimagining Conference of 1993. . . . I think of Letty Russell, being one of my teachers at Yale, and how she just opened up a way meetings ought to run, or how people ought to get together and share leadership, rather than have one person at the top, and have a round table rather than a proscenium stage.”[3] 

For Gennifer Brooks, a feminist or womanist perspective in homiletics presses us to ask questions regarding what we’re writing about. “We can’t simply write about the things that concern women. We’ve got to write about everything. . . . To be in the middle of all the important issues, that for me is where we women have to make a difference . . . to put our feet in the middle of the mess and to speak out loudly and strongly, so that they can’t avoid us. That I think is what is critical.”[4] 

If you survey the books written by women homileticians over the past thirty to forty years, you will find that women, indeed, have been writing about everything. They have written about drama and performance in preaching, voice and preaching, and creative writing for preaching. They have written about biblical hermeneutics and preaching, theology and preaching, and the history of preaching. They have written about congregational contexts for preaching, how to preach through congregational resistance to change, and the process of birthing the sermon. They have written about wisdom preaching, prophetic preaching, and roundtable preaching. And they have written about preaching that is more sensitive to people with disabilities, preaching in Korean American cultures, preaching at weddings, and preaching to churches who fall in the purple zone. 

Women have indeed “put their feet in the middle of the mess” and have theologized about how to preach for a wide variety of listeners in a wide variety of settings. And in the process, they have challenged, expanded, and transformed both how the field of homiletics thinks and what it thinks about.


[1] Christine M. Smith, Preaching as Weeping, Confession, and Resistance: Radical Responses to Radical Evil (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992), 9.

[2] Mary Lin Hudson interview.

[3] Barbara Lundblad interview.

[4] Gennifer Brooks interview.

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