Michael Danner is associate executive director of church vitality and engagement for Mennonite Church USA.
I first read A Black Theology of Liberation, by James Cone, in 2013. I was in a seminary class where it was required reading. That book changed how I viewed my own theology. I suspect some of you are suspicious of my theology and training based only on that admission (or you will now go look up that book and then become suspicious). That’s okay.
I’m embarrassed to say that until I read A Black Theology of Liberation, it never occurred to me that my theology — what I believed to be true about God — was shaped by my social location (race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, etc.).
Before reading Cone, there was just theology, a plain reading of the text, what the Bible says, period. Reading Cone helped me internalize this truth: where you stand does influence what you see.
I used to think there was a default orthodox theology (mine) and all of these other perspectival theologies (queer, feminist, womanist, liberationist, black, and so on). Now I know that my theology is perspectival, too (i.e. it is influenced by the perspective of the authors who wrote it, which were mostly white, European men). Actually, the Bible itself was written from particular perspectives.
While this realization was decentering at the time, it has opened up a whole world of learning for me. I no longer judge other kinds of theology over and against my “correct” theology. Rather, I try to learn from various perspectives and, thus, have a much richer view of the length and depth and width of God’s love for us. I say that with the realization that I still have the luxury of picking and choosing what I engage. If I don’t want to, I don’t have to listen to voices that have been, and still are, marginalized. I can retreat back to what Cone would call “white theology” and be applauded by some for doing so. That may be safer, but it is not as life-giving. I’ve found that some of the richest theology comes from those who have had, and still have, to fight to be heard.
What does my experience have to do with the Women Doing Theology conference? A few thoughts…
- As a denomination, it is important for us to be intentional about creating space for all persons to engage in generative theology. We all suffer when one theological perspective gets a microphone, so we need to pass the mic.
- Historically, the church has acted to limit the voices of women in preaching, teaching and theological reflection. In some parts of the church, women are still not fully embraced as Spirit-empowered pastors and theologians. We have work to do.
- The Women Doing Theology conference is a concrete way that we, as a denomination, can create a safe space for women to contribute their unique theological perspectives to the whole.
How can you participate in Women Doing Theology?
- We would love to see women from every conference present at this event. There is a diversity of experiences and gifts across MC USA. Each participant can learn from others and contribute their unique voice to the conference.
- Men, please apply to attend the conference. If you are open to listen and learn from the contribution of women presenters, you will be a welcome participant. This conference is likely not for you if your motivation is to “see what those women are up to” or you bring a closed, critical spirit.
As a pastor at Metamora (Illinois) Mennonite Church, I was blessed to work alongside Pastor Ada Nofsinger for over a decade. As a conference minister in Illinois Mennonite Conference, I was blessed to work among many gifted and Spirit-empowered pastors — many of whom were women (too numerous to name, but you know who you are). In my work with MC USA I am, again, surrounded by gifted women who are leading the church well. The church is richly blessed through the contributions of women (and always has been). Women Doing Theology is an opportunity to be blessed by their theological insights as well.
Find out more about Women Doing Theology here.
Early registration deadline is Oct. 12.
Support the work of Women in Leadership here.