Walking Through the Valley: Womanist Explorations in the Spirit of Katie Geneva Cannon echoes Psalm 23. It assures us that God will be with us through all things which we place in conversation with an extension of the work of womanist social ethicist, Katie Geneva Cannon.
Cannon argued that dominant (normative) ethics were designed, however unintentionally, to mark those of darker hues as morally deficient, if not bankrupt, because of the understanding of what constitutes virtue, value, identity, and theological standpoint. Katie’s writings and lectures, and classes ushered in other persistent voices that disputed this methodological and moral valley. Our book draws on the foundation Katie crafted for others to build.
My spouse and I visited Katie in the hospital a couple of weeks before she died. We all knew, on some level, that this would be the last time we would see each other and treasured the time to talk about all manner of things—serious, frivolous, funny, politics, the church, family, and the death that would soon claim her, though we all hoped it would be months away. We did not want to tire her, but she kept the conversation going for three hours.
My relationship with Katie began with my idolizing her—the path she forged being the first Black woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA, the first Black woman to graduate with a Ph.D. from the famed Union Theological Seminary in New York, and the articles she, Delores Williams, and Jacquelyn Grant were beginning to publish. These were a lifeline for young Black women like me who saw in them someone whom we could aspire to be—for many of us, for the very first time. When Katie and I finally met in the fall of 1984, she chastised me for dragging my feet about going back to school to earn a Ph.D. when I knew that I had been called to teach. I took my semi-gentle tongue-lashing and enrolled the next fall. Katie would check in periodically and encourage me to keep going. Somewhere in there, my idol became a mentor. Then my mentor became a dear friend. It is hard, still, to believe she is gone from this side of the Jordan, but she left one last task for me, as well as my co-editors—Stacey Floyd-Thomas, Alison Gise Johnson, and Angela Sims—to do: collaboratively create a book that tells the truth about what she taught each of us. Community is where Katie believed we can thrive as individuals, and it can also humanize us while making us better thinkers and doers.
So, in thinking about how to carry out Katie’s wishes, the four of us began with some of the themes from Katie’s body of work. Using these as starting points, we explore the potential next steps for where her moral thought can lead contemporary womanist moral reflection and theological ethics broadly considered. Themes of justice, community, embodied ethics, and sacred texts come to the fore. In true participatory knowledge production, each editor invited two womanist scholars to join them in a conversation about the theme. Together we prod and probe the possibilities, seeking new moral insight as to how we might learn, yet again, that the world Katie invited us to build, one of inclusivity and hope, is possible even in the dark valleys of discrimination, disenfranchisement, and systematic hatred. We invite our readers to join this conversation and engage in the potentialities of taking on the task of this work together.
Adapted from Emilie M. Townes, “Lesson Plan” in Walking Through the Valley: Womanist Explorations in the Spirit of Katie Geneva Canon, eds. Emilie M. Townes, Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, Alison P. Gise Johnson, and Angela D. Sims. (Westminster John Knox Press, 2022).