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Moving Heaven and Earth: A Womanist Dogmatics of Black Dance as Basileia

Turman, Eboni Marshall

A black womanist attempt to “test the spirit” and to faithfully respond to
Christopher Morse’s provocative 21st century exhortation to rehear heaven as
news, turns first to James H. Cone’s ingenious engagement of black art in his
investigation of the Negro spirituals in order to assert the transcendent present
as the primary eschatological criterion of black and womanist theologies, and to
demonstrate how the black church has historically heard heaven. In tandem with
Morse’s constructive eschatology, this essay quickly moves to identify sexism in
the black church as demonstrative of Karl Barth’s das Nichtige, or as that evil
which opposes heaven. Sexual-gender discrimination defies the promise of God’s
reign—the promise that the last will be first (Matt. 19:30), that the lamb will lay
down with the lion (Is. 65:25), that our swords will be beaten into plowshares (Is.
2:4)—insofar as it presently coerces, bullies, and terrorizes black women, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Sexism in the black church, therefore, potentially thwarts Morse’s ecclesial appeal to rehear the good news as “now,” precisely because the very real consequences of sexual-gender discrimination contravene the assertion of the “now-ness” of heaven. Nevertheless, black womanist eschatology props itself up on the black eschatological vision that emanates from black churchwomen’s enduring assertion which affirms that although the kingdom may not come when you want it, as in the kingdom may not be proximate, the kingdom is always coming right on time, as in it is yet approximating, to affirm the viability of the transcendent present as the primary eschatological criterion for a trustworthy black womanist eschatology. In light of the incongruent reality of sexism in the black church and black women’s disproportionate presence and active participation in the church, a brief consideration of the usefulness of Jürgen Moltmann’s claims of promissory significance and Morse’s engagement of Karl Barth’s appeal to divinatory imagination and faithful disbelief as prerequisites for rehearing heaven, precede my reimagining of black womanist eschatology in light of Christopher Morse’s considerable contributions.

Echoing James Cone, the essay positions black art through the lens of dance,
black women’s un-choreographed but liturgically performed movement in the
black church, as incarnate evidence of the significance of heaven for black churchwomen. The essay finally concludes with an abbreviated exploration of Emilie M. Townes’ concept of womanist apocalyptic vision to stretch and push beyond Morse’s appeal to rehear heaven, insofar as rehearing heaven, in and of itself, is insufficient as a faithful response to black women’s lives. Taken alone, rehearing heaven does not correspond with their flesh and blood realities. Instead, a black womanist eschatology builds upon black theology’s consideration of black art by theorizing black dance, more specifically, the reach, the stand and the sway of black women in the black church, as evidence of the difference heaven makes for black women. Black churchwomen’s embodied movement reveals a radical plerosis as the primary criterion for black womanist eschatology. Black women’s plerotic act in the black church insists upon putting heaven on their bodies, in spite of the ecclesial circumstances that would oppose it. In other words, a black womanist eschatology situates black dance as evidence of black women wearing heaven, when hearing and even rehearing heaven is just not enuf.

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Union Seminary Quarterly Review

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Union Theological Seminary
Published Here
September 16, 2015
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