July 11, 2012

Claremont’s Womanist Process Liberation Theologian

The Emergent Village’s recently released podcast from the “Conversation on Process Theologyfeatures one of United Methodist Claremont School of Theology’s numerous process theologians, Monica A. Coleman. As the resident “Womanist” theology professor, Coleman focuses on the “intersectionality” between race, gender, and class in process theology, specifically from the point of view of black women. Session 5 of the conference held at Claremont early this year was meant to outline “Construction for Ministry,” or ways to use process theology pastorally.

Process Theology asserts God is constantly evolving.  Womanist theology is feminist theology for black women.  Claremont seminary in California is one of United Methodism’s 13 official seminaries.

Coleman, who studies African traditional religion in addition to Womanist theology, began her “conversation” with a brief outline of how she came to Process Theology through “the activism to which [she] feel[s] called.” She claimed that Process Theology addressed theodicy – the Problem of Evil – better than orthodox theologies. “You can be a ‘down with the people’ person,” but it’s harder to hold on to “orthodox theologies that don’t work in a post-modern context.” Furthermore, she found traditional liberation and feminist theologies lacking because they did not address the unique experiences of black women. Feminist theology is about “white women with money” and liberation theology only addressed men. Thus, looking at her experience, she felt the need to build a “Womanist” theology to match it.

Because Process thought is empirical – based on stories, narratives, and experiences, rather than an outside authority – she claims, “We don’t try to convince ourselves we’re not seeing what we’re seeing.” Citing experiences she had in church growing up, Coleman said Process Theology does not say to the suffering Christian “God is teaching you.” Instead, because it is empirical, pastorally she should say, “There’s no lesson in [suffering], that just sucks.”

Continuing along this line, Coleman urged people to “change their theology” instead of changing what they thought. “It’s healthy to make God look like you,” she said. “It’s a good self-esteem move.” This Womanist theology necessarily questions many orthodox assumptions. She says that while Womanist theology is different than feminist theology, they beg some similar questions: “Should we have a male God? Can a male savior save us?” However, Womanist theology can take it a different direction. We should learn to see suffering and teaching normally attached to Christ in black women.

Another theme in Coleman’s talk was a lack of concern for the afterlife:  “We don’t really do devils, per se. You make enough bad decisions you’ll have hell right on earth. We don’t need to send you anywhere.” Later, when citing a rote phrase she found offensive, she said “it’s a lie from the pit of non-hell.” Furthermore, during the question and answer session (which, Emergent Village writes, is meant to be “a time to question, disagree, and push-back”), Coleman addressed the question regarding her “lack of interest in heaven.” She explained that she has a “this-world eschatology” and then went on to comment on the role of ancestors in Womanist Process theology. Invoking what she called “subjective mortality,” she claimed that ancestors may be dead, but it doesn’t mean “you still don’t come to your grandchildren in their dreams….Many Christians call that the Holy Ghost. I call it an ancestor. I don’t think metaphysically it’s any different.”

Her “this-world eschatology” colored many other claims she made. When considering the problem of evil, she wondered why oppression of different races, classes, and sexual orientations existed if God wants us to be free. She indicated her disregard of final justice and reward in favor of justice now, saying the explanation that “we’re all really, really sinning except rich people” is one that Womanist liberation Process Theology combats, disregarding that no orthodox theologian claims blessing in this life indicates holiness or being right before God.

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