BY REV. NORMAN FRANKLIN
Katie Geneva Cannon was the first African American woman ordained in the United Presbyterian Church. In 1983, adding another ‘first’ achievement of an African American woman, she earned a doctorate in Philosophy from the United Theological Seminary in New York.
Cannon was born in Kannapolic, North Carolina during the reign of segregation in 1950. It is the nature of God to bring forth a light in the midst of darkness when things wrong are accepted as right in the god of their eyes. Cannon looked to theology for answers to the injustice she experienced in the racist systems of segregated America.
Experiences can influence our perspective, but we cannot allow them to define us.
These experiences led her to develop the principles of womanist theology. Womanist theology is a methodological approach to theology which centers the experience and perspectives of Black women. The first generation of womanist theologians began writing in the mid-1980s.
Cannon states, “most traditional theology pretends that who we are in our bodies does not affect the way in which we see God or the way in which we experience God in our lives.” Throughout her writings and preaching, Cannon asserts that black women are challenging the patterns and systems of their suppressed role in the African American church, community, family, and the larger society; they are asserting rights, authority, power, beauty, and wonder of the black woman’s voice.
Katie Cannon is an author/educator and essayist. She taught at Temple University, the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and served as the Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education which is located in Richmond, Virginia.
She is the author of Black Womanist Ethics, Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community, Righteous Content, and Black Women Speak of Church and Faith and Teaching Preaching.
Cannon’s 1998 sermon, “Prophets for a New Day” is included in the anthology of African American sermons, “Preaching with Sacred Fire.” Her Scripture text was 1 Kings 13:29-30. It’s a narrative that deals with wickedness in positions of authority, deceitful manipulation of what God has said, disobedience, and the judgement of God. It bears reading.
The call and gift of any preacher is to make the word of God relevant and applicable to present day hearers.
“So the prophet picked up the body of the man of God, laid it on a donkey, and brought it back to his own city to mourn for him and bury him. Then he laid the body in his own tomb, and mourned over him and said, oh, my brother.” (1 Kings 13:29-30, NIV)
King Jeroboam was leading the people to turn away from following the true and living God.
“Doers of justice today need to ask ourselves the question, who are the Jeroboams in our churches, and our communities who embody spiritual wickedness in high places? Who are the Jeroboams in our national public arenas burning incense at the altar who are causing the people of God to fall into apostasy, to bow down and worship idol gods?”
Self-proclaimed prophets of the Evangelical Right appear to be stumbling over themselves with prophetic visions from a god clothed in the garments of political conservatism and nationalism. Prophets, once solidly behind the ‘chosen one’, are now gravitating towards Ron DeSantis. Charlie Shamp, self-proclaimed prophet, claims to have had a prophetic vision several years ago that DeSantis’ ultimate position is to have a position in the United States as president.
Cannon, in her 1998 sermon, said, “More than ever before we need true prophets, prophetic women and prophetic men, prophetic youth and prophetic adults, who will be God’s people -and no other’s- morning by morning and day by day. We need prophets who will not be baited by the attractiveness of sameness and compromise.”
She issued this call, Needed: Prophets who will take a spiritual inventory – take a step back from the busyness of our lives and discover what God is calling us to do, prophets who will obey God’s will – accept the findings of our spiritual inventory and move in the will of God, and prophets who will display an attitude of gratitude to the ends of both praise and power of God – an attitude of gratitude will keep us in spiritual shape and strengthen us to stand against temptation.