As an Alice Walker Womanist pastoral theologian, I draw on the lives of African American women to explain what it is like to be despised, like the “Good Samaritan,” vulnerable, like the man he assisted, and set apart as impure, like the Samaritans were. We have something to say, as master teachers, to the anointed and the pious who attempt to make people, in Badu’s words, “niggas,” by walking on by in the face of our suffering. When Dionne Warwick sang “Walk on By,” she sang tenderly that she did not want to become more vulnerable than she already was. The overarching purpose of this essay series has been to state that we, despised and vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community, resist becoming more vulnerable than we already are. One way to become less vulnerable is to engage in crafting Theologies of the “Impure.” Through this collective, interfaith, intergenerational, inter-“racial,” inter-“gender” theological crafting, master teachers can help us “stay woke” to the truth that there is divinity in the “impure.”
Theologies of the “Impure” (TI) is plural because no one theology fits all. The religious freedom to discriminate through the misappropriation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), has been an attempt to make an undifferentiated mass of negative anti-LGBTQ theology fit all, but with disastrous consequences for all. TI is also plural because many religious traditions have their particular histories of apartheid beliefs, practices, and rituals. TI does not support the notion that there is biological or ontological impurity. Use of the word “impure” is only used as a trope to convey a message to those engaged in theology. The religious traditions working for reform through the process of mutually desegregating civilization, can be master teachers to people in those traditions still entrenched in the notion of a biological basis and ontological perspective for pure vs. impure people.
A womanist-inspired Theologies of the “Impure” (TI) is simply a prolegomena beginning with the notion that the vulnerable should be respected by those who are less vulnerable. In Walker’s 1979 Coming Apart, the Black woman is more vulnerable than her Black husband, and he consumes pornography as he loses touch with his wife’s feelings. Pornography saps him of empathy for his wife and other women as a whole. He accuses her of being a lackey for white feminists, and she, knowing the racism within the white feminist movement, declares before him that she is a womanist. TI must inspire empathy for the vulnerable as well as make safe spaces for their empowerment.
TI must be critical of power structures. As it relates to patriarchy and heterosexism, TI requires thorough critiques of our scriptures to identify passages that define who is pure and who is impure, biologically and ontologically. The critique should come from the “impure,” despised, and vulnerable and should be heard by those who benefit from power structures.
A womanist TI is committed to the well-being of humanity, not just because of Walker’s 1983 4-part womanism definition, but because the “impure,” in order to optimally survive, must repair fractures for the benefit of all. TI embraces and celebrates Blackness, femaleness, queerness and many types of people who have been considered impure, despised, and vulnerable.
TI renounces violence. If one TI embraces pantheism and another TI embraces monotheism, TI in its plural form promotes harmonious cosmic co-dwelling. In other words, because the universe can hold differing views without imploding, we can look to the universe and be inspired to have a universal holding capacity for difference.
TI humbly accepts that all human beings are limited. TI appreciates mystery and refrains from filling voids in knowledge with anxiety-filled discriminatory myths and sadistic attempts to separate people through abusive legislation.
TI is not invested in solid concepts of race, sex, and gender. Walker used a dialogue to explain why womanist women are not separatist, “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow and our cousins are white, beige, and black?” Ans.: “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.” Likewise, this universalist attitude can be extended to sex and gender. “Mama, why are we a girl, a woman, and female, and our cousins are boys, men, intersex, male, lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, and transgendered?” Ans: We are related and every manifestation of our humanity is represented.”
TI is justice-oriented. Theologians who are TI inclined, will pay attention to their nation’s legal system and laws to determine whether the system creates pure vs. impure fictions based on religion. For example, in the U.S., African-descended people where considered property-beings and thus 3/5 of a person through the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble. Black people as property-beings was Biblically justified by many Christians on the belief that Ham (Noah’s “bad” son), was cursed by God by having offspring that had to serve the offspring of Noah’s “good” sons. Consequently, through resistance to dehumanization, growing empathy, shame, social science, war, the post-Civil War “Reconstruction” amendments, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, there is a history of mutually desegregating civilization. TI requires perseverance with a long-term view that is multi-generational from the start.
TI is open to scientific methods of discovery. It is a misconception that all Christians disrespect science. Jesus, through hearing what others said about the impurity of others, tested their hypotheses to find he was not contaminated by being with the “impure.” Jesus’s social science, and his conclusions, is what attracts many Christians to the Jesus story. Jesus’s teachings continue to be master teachings long after his “niggadization” on the cross. Theologies of the “Impure” provide ways of thinking and being that hold the potential to discourage the endless rounds of suffering that codified religious discrimination causes.
The codification of the religious freedom to discriminate against the “impure,” or LGBTQ people, has a sadistic, narcissistic, scapegoating, and uncivilized quality about it. It is based in anxiety about one’s own conscious and unconscious sexual ambivalences, as well as the fear of a plurality of sexuality and gender expressions, causing some of the anointed and pious in our society to flee into anachronism to bring forth abusive apartheid legislation against the despised and the vulnerable. The flight to anachronism distorts interpretive lenses, causing the misappropriation and misapplication of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Using RFRA against LGBTQ people can have the unintended and unforeseen consequences of inter- and intra- religious strife. One way to work through the scapegoating and separation impulse is to ask legislators and governors who persistently support anti-gay legislation, whether they have worked through their own sexual and/or gender identity self-loathing. Psychoanalyst W. R. D. Fairbairn’s sexual and gender ambivalence was sublimated into sexuality separatist policy proposals. His psychological defense is not unique. In order to breathe life into The Parable of Our Collective Survival (known also as the Parable of the Good Samaritan), theologians must look toward Theologies of the “Impure” to actively reform their traditions. Womanist theological scholarship that holds sex, sexuality, gender, and race concepts without rigidity, offers a widening variety of master teachers that address ways to love oneself unconditionally. Lightsey’s Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology (2015) and Manuel’s The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender (2015) are Christian-Buddhist interfaith conversation partners for our process of mutually desegregating civilization. Let us all “stay woke.”