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Father Wil Gafney and womanism

January 13, 2015

Rachel Held Evans invited readers of her blog to “Ask a womanist biblical scholar” questions, namely “The Reverend Wil Gafney, Ph.D. [who] is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas and is an Episcopal priest canonically resident in the Diocese of Pennsylvania and licensed in the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

The Rev. Dr. Gafney has responded to many of the more than 40 questions posed to her. My favorite of her responses is this one:

Rebecca and Erin, Teaching a girl that she matters, that her voice and ideas matter even when others say they don’t is appropriate at any age. I have been an out feminist and womanist my entire clergy and scholarly career. Girls have always been able to see and hear that in my experience. Some of my practices are using explicitly feminist God-language, not just “inclusive” because folk hear/see/imagine a male god when they hear “God.” I also chose to be known as Father Wil when I became a priest so that the male priests and I would have the same title – which in that church they also used for God. When the Sunday School teacher told the 5 year-olds, “This is Father Wil and she’s going to say our Mass today,” the little girls’ eyes lit up and they sat up. The paradigm shifted before their eyes. There was another woman priest but she used a different title and I felt was seen/placed in a different category.

I don’t know that we can talk about freedom in the gospel without talking about freedom from the enslaving paradigms with which it is also framed and which are constitutive of it. That means talking about androcentrism, patriarchy, sexism and misogyny in the scriptures and in the church from the pulpit, in the theological classroom, in congregational conversations, in public theology and the scholarly literature. We must talk about slavery in the gospels, about Jesus healing but not freeing slaves and using the language of slavery as normative.

Father Wil does here with one male familial pronoun what one of my BLT-cobloggers, Suzanne McCarthy, does with another. She notes at another blog how she counts herself among the brethren:

I grew up among the Brethren and accepted that term as applying equally to men and women. Early letters of the Brethren to groups of believers were usually worded “greetings to my brothers and sisters in the Lord”…. I have a fair tolerance for archaism and would feel included in the term ‘brethren’. I came close to putting a subtitle on my Powerscourt blog of “women among the brethren,” since the only biography of Lady Powerscourt was in a book called “Chief Women among the Brethren.”… However, I decided to research the word ‘brethren’ a little more and found that it has been considered outmoded as a word for ‘brothers’ for several hundred years.

What Father Wil does for a girl in Sunday School, this same clergy person does for me. My eyes light up and I sit up, which brings me to another of her responses to questions, another of my favorites:

Dear Dan, first I’d like you to know something about your [“white, comfortable, middle-aged Englishman”] perspective that you may already know, that it is not the only one nor even the “right” one. Womanism is black women’s interpretation but it is not only for black women. Womanist biblical interpretation enriches every person and every community’s understanding of the biblical text. There are things you will never see in the text without reading in the company of black women. In the post-colonial, post-Atlantic slave trade world, it is crucial that peoples who have historically benefited from the sale and plunder of black women’s bodies, justifying those practices with their readings of scripture learn to hear and the scriptures in our voices and through our eyes.

I am one of those every persons with a community, and, with my eyes lit up and sitting up now, I am enriched by Father Reverend Dr. Gafney’s interpretations.

We can find her blogging and preaching here:  http://www.wilgafney.com/

And here are the responses she gives to several of the questions asked:

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-a-womanist-biblical-scholar-wil-gafney-response

—-

P.S. – my own question asked is this one:

You have at times discussed yourself as a “fem/womanist” and have talked of the value of a “fem/womanist hermeneutic; that is, one that lies at the intersection of feminist and womanist hermeneutical practices.” You nuanced that to go on to call yourself, “a black feminist who works and worships in solidarity with my womanist sisters.” You make clear your “intent to participate in the redemption of a radically egalitarian ethic from the pale hands of those who infected it with racism and classism.” And you say that a “fem/womanist hermeneutic … affirms the full personhood and divine image of all humanity and combats oppressions—racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, elitism, imperialism—on multiple fronts in response to the presence and activity of God in the cosmos.” This seems as expansive, inclusive, and universal as bell hooks’s saying, “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” And yet when you acknowledge the multiple oppressions (of more than just “pale hands”) the slashmark in “fem/womanist” begins to sound like Catherine Keller’s “feminist fourfold” from “genderfold” /to “colorfold” /to “queerfold” /to what she seems to leave open and fluid as “manifold.”

At what point do self-identities free us / and must they always somehow also implicate us (in the acts of oppressings)?

(I’m thinking of your related statement here: “Those of us who self-identify as Christian can never allow ourselves to forget that the Shoah, Holocaust, wasperpetrated in Christian lands by baptized hands.”)

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2015 12:03 am

    This is everything:

    I also chose to be known as Father Wil when I became a priest so that the male priests and I would have the same title – which in that church they also used for God. When the Sunday School teacher told the 5 year-olds, “This is Father Wil and she’s going to say our Mass today,” the little girls’ eyes lit up and they sat up. The paradigm shifted before their eyes.

    That paradigm just shifted before my eyes, too. It never would have occurred to me that we could call a woman priest “Father.” But now that I’ve “seen” it, it just clicks. It’s right. It makes sense.

    After all, Christ was born ex utero Patri, say the Church Fathers.

    After all, a key argument for women’s ordination is that it’s not about the penis. It’s about the collar!

    Thank you, Kurk, and thank you, Father Wil!!

    (Full disclosure: When I saw the post title, I expected it to be about Rev. Dr. Gafney being misgendered by someone who saw “priest” with a gender-ambiguous name. I got a much more powerful story than I expected!)

  2. January 15, 2015 7:05 am

    Thank you, Vicky.

    “We must talk about slavery in the gospels, about Jesus healing but not freeing slaves and using the language of slavery as normative.”

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