By Rev. M Barclay
Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon was the first African American woman to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a profound scholar of Christian ethics and theology. The accouncement of her death yesterday, just a few short months after the death of Rev. Dr. James Cone, the founder of black liberation theology, is a loss that weighs heavily for many in the church and the religious academy.
Rev. Dr. Cannon's work challenged the notion that truth or truths are always provable - scientifically, factually, or by other traditional standards created and defined by those with power. She claimed her own experiences as a black woman, and the experiences and stories of those before her, as a deep well of wisdom from which truths about God and one another could - and must - be proclaimed.
Despite the barriers of a church and academy so steeped in white supremacy and misogyny, Rev. Dr. Cannon persevered in her call to pastor and to teach, enfleshing the very invitation she made to others:
"Even when people call your truth a lie, tell it anyway...tell it anyway."
When a truth makes claims that challenge power...
When a truth reveals a quieted source of wisdom...
When a truth contradicts the stories we have been told about who we are...
When a truth has the potential to set us free...
Forces of destruction will do everything they can to bury those truths, hide them away, quiet them, make them seem foolish, or call their character into question. This occurs through great acts of violence and discrimination as well as subtle, everyday means of reinforcing shame and self-doubt. External and internal forces work together, in both shouts and whispers, trying to convince us and others, "what you say is a lie."
The saints who claimed the healing and liberating realities of their own truths and the truths of their communities and committed to proclaiming them over and over and over despite hardship, despite loss, despite significant efforts to silence them, are sacred offerings. Through their testimonies, we each have the potential to broaden and deepen our own understanding of who we are, what we can become individually and collectively, and who God is in our midst.
And so, in gratitude for those who have refused to settle for their truths being named a lie, their truths birthed from the struggles and joys of being women, or queer, or trans, or black, or brown, or immigrant, or disabled, or young, or old, or poor, or having a disability, or otherwise brushing up against all that is hell-bent on limiting the fullness of humanity, may we reflect on our own lives and histories.
What truths in your bones, in your history, in your communities have the potential to set others free? What keeps you from telling them? What do you need in order to overcome your fear?
By the Spirit who gives us courage, for the sake of your own integrity and for the sake of our shared life together in church and world, "Even when people call your truth a lie, tell it anyway...tell it anyway."
Listen to a lecture by Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon of challenging dominated forms of learning and proclaiming truths here.
Rev. M Barclay is a United Methodist deacon serving as Director of enfleshed. M formerly served as Director of Communications at Reconciling Ministries Network, advocating for queer and trans justice in The UMC. They have also enjoyed working as a hospital chaplain, youth director, justice associate and faith coordinator for reproductive justice in Texas. As a queer and trans minister, M is passionate about writing, teaching, and preaching on finding the Sacred in the people, places, and ideas we might otherwise overlook.