Biblical Scholar, Seminary Professor, Episcopal Priest

Hagar, Sarah and Black Lives Matter

Hagar and Ishmael by Alan Jones

Ahmaud Arbery, 23 Feb 2020
Breonna Taylor, 13 March 2020
George Floyd, 25 May 2020
Rayshard Brooks, 12 June 2020

And–and still: Trayvon and Ayanna and Sandra and Mike and Amidou and Freddie and Miriam and Rekia and, and, and…

And Juneteenth and the millions who lived and died enslaved and did not see even delinquent freedom. And the millions who died, who were murdered–raped, butchered, thrown overboard, fed to sharks–millions who were murdered in the bloody waters of the maafa

And the ninety-ninth anniversary of the white supremacist massacre of black folk and evisceration of black wealth in the Greenwood district of Tulsa Oklahoma. An anniversary whitejacked™️ by the the most openly avowed white supremacist president in recent history–by no means the first–overwhelmingly elected by white women who turned on one of their own. 

Then comes Sunday and before that, the preacher at her desk, my only pulpit these days as I am in a wilderness of my own. In the Episcopal Church and many Protestant denominations, the first lesson proclaimed will be: Black Lives Matter – for those who have the eyes to see.

Translation, Gafney

It is a Black Lives Matter text not simply because as an African Hagar is black–which blackness is not on a binary scale with some mythological whiteness spackled onto Sarah and biblical peoples writ large in furtherance of white supremacist domination. It is a Black Lives Matter text because it is a text that normalizes and sacralizes slavery by its very existence, unrebuked, in scripture, a foundation stone in the bulwark of American slavocracy. 

I explore the story in detail in Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and of the Throne


We will not come to terms with the legacy of slavery in this country nor all the horrors that descend from it which continue to shape our world without  engaging – rebuking and rejecting – the normalization and sanctification of slavery in the text and views of the authority of scripture that require uncritical acceptance. That will not be the end of white supremacy, in the church, in biblical interpretation, or in this country, but it will be an unhooding.

If we tell the truth, Hagar’s life matters to God in the framing of the story because she is the mother of a son of Abraham, her inability to consent to sex or impregnation or surrogacy, irrelevant in the text. The reason her black life matters to those who told her story is not the reason her black life and that of her son matter to the God who transcends the sexist and ethnocentric portrait in these texts. The cry “Say her name” accompanies “Black lives matter” as a reminder that violence is often gendered as is the response and outcry which often follows.

All black life matters because black life is sacred, reflecting and embodying the God who dwells in the holiest of deep darkness.

5 Responses

  1. Tahita Fulkerson

    very thoughtful! thank you. Tahita Fulkerson

    20 June 2020 at 4:18 pm

  2. Eileen Ray

    What jumped out of this story was that Hagar wept, but God didn’t respond to her cry. Instead God responded to Ishmael’s cry.
    Once again a black woman’s experience was overlooked in favor of a male’s experience. It leaves me feeling uneasy.

    21 June 2020 at 4:24 am

    • God comes to Hagar and speaks with her twice. She names Him and he belongs to her. It seems to me to be the most kind, sensitive, tough, honest, provocative, inspiring piece of text in the whole Bible. Gafney is right, and our theology should begin here.
      Contrast with God’s commanding dismissal of Job’s complaints.

      26 June 2020 at 10:31 am

  3. Pingback: Hagar, Sarah and Black Lives Matter | Compassionate Christianity

  4. HisStory

    The history of black people, is a history of degragation and affliction. I believe the psychological, emotional, physical, and even spiritual effects of this history to be so damaging. I do not believe black people as a whole will ever recover. The “promised land” of which Dr. King spoke of is not here on earth, but in heaven. Free at last will come with the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the reason for our hope.

    29 July 2020 at 8:55 pm

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