On Faith: ‘Well-behaved women seldom make history’

Dr. Ericka-Njeri Elion.

By Dr. Ericka-Njeri Elion

“To those who oppose us, we say, ‘Strike the woman, and you will strike the rock.’”  (Winnie Madikizela-Mandela)

I cannot reflect on the history of Women without remembering the countless ways they, and in particular Black women, supported and sustained movements, institutions, families (not always their own), and communities for decades, while disregarding themselves.

It would be remiss not to mention the trailblazers and foremothers such as Winnie Mandela, Harriet Tubman, Miriam Makeba, Sojourner Truth, Nzinga, Ida B. Wells, and Fannie Lou Hamer, just to name a few. All of whom broke barriers, resisted against the status quo and agitated the systems designed to oppress, repress, and suppress Black women—which summons Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s statement, “well-behaved women seldom make history.”

I am also reminded of generations of strength, tenacity, and endurance of which I come, as I think of Vashti and how she resisted the protocol of the Kingdom. And Ruth, as she disregarded elements of tradition and culture; the nameless woman who gave her last two copper coins in Luke 21:1-4; and many other women in the Bible who remain nameless that persistently sought Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.

The story of the woman who gave her last two copper coins has been commonly taught, or dare I state, mis-taught that she gave from a place of sacrifice, thus testing her faith.  However,  this viewpoint naturally assumes that sacrifice is the expected entry point for this Black women’s narrative. Too often there is a normalized view that the lives of Black women must be one of self-sacrifice in order to legitimize her success or rewards.

However, I would like to suggest that the central theme in this woman’s story told in the Gospel of Luke is that serving, honoring and caring for women, especially widows and the poor through Almsgiving, is the responsibility of the community.

Almsgiving is the duty of the privileged, fortunate, and the prosperous to provide voluntary contributions to those living in poverty. In other words, she models for younger generations the charge taken on by the collective to ensure the most vulnerable are not taken advantage of and that the celebration of Black women is neither limited nor relegated to her self-denial. Rather such celebration, in solidarity with her community, must amplify that her mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health as a Black Woman matters. 

Lastly, as we celebrate Black women, to paraphrase Katie G. Cannon, Black women deserve to be ensured of their dignity as persons made in the imago Dei (image of God) through love, justice, and community.

I would suggest that not only is the imago Dei one reflecting the image and likeness of God to and for others but also, to ourselves. Additionally, this said likeness is for a Black woman to reflect the essence of God’s spiritual intuition and foundation, as well as, a loving community that supports her.

Dr. Ericka-Njeri Elion is the founder of Miriam House and a co-leader of Bread for the World’s 2019 Pan African Women of Faith Conference.

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