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  • Writer's pictureAllison Bobzien

Identity and Liberation

Renita Weems

Renita Weems is a prolific author, ordained minister, and the first African American woman to have completed a PhD in Old Testament/Hebrew Biblical studies. Her work centers on womanist biblical interpretation, a lens that focuses on the perspectives of African American women. As a trailblazer of the movements of both womanist and liberative theologies, Weems was asked to present a paper at the International Symposium of Feminist Exegesis and the Hermeneutics of Liberation.

Weems began by thanking her fellow symposium members for sharing their insight throughout the week, commenting on how “reading and interpreting the Bible with the help of those from other cultures reminds us of the extent to which one's context both limits and illumines interpretation.” She spoke to her own split identity as both a marginalized reader (African American woman) and a “privileged class of interpreters (Western/North American feminist).”

As she waded through the implications of this identity division, she noted her growing “aware[ness] of the intellectual heritage, the political baggage, the social assumptions, and the economic worldview one brings to one's reading.” Commenting how addressing these factors of our own interpretation of scripture “forces one to face and declare explicitly on whose behalf one interprets.”

Reading the powerful words of Renita Weems emphasizes to me the importance of fostering a varied bookshelf of theological lens. When I limit myself to reading only authors who look and think like me, I am missing out on a wealth of knowledge, grace, and faith. When we embrace the richness of theological perspectives that differ from our own, we experience a fuller image of God.

Weems went on to state in her lecture “reading the Bible for liberation is grounded in the acknowledgment and respect for the otherness of those whose otherness is silenced and marginalized by those in power.” Appreciating and noting the various perspectives and wisdom of other cultures is not enough; we are also called to help elevate the voices of those marginalized.

As I soak in the wisdom of Renita Weems, I note how she seamlessly weaves into her speech the work and words of other theologians from the margins. She not only instructs on the importance of liberating through a cultural broadening of our minds, but she also lives it.

Weems concluded by saying “Rereading for liberation is risking failure and taking the plunge to divest yourself of some of your own power and privileges for the chance to enter another's world so as to understand and to make yourself understood to others.” What a beautiful challenge for us all. How are we risking failure? How are we admitting to and divesting our own privilege for the purpose of better understanding one another? And what are we reading to aid us on this journey?

I am enormously grateful for bold women like Renita Weems who inspire and encourage me to broaden and liberate my mind and faith.

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