Hagar, She Who Names God (Genesis 12-17)

Monday, February 7, 2022


Full transcript thanks to the phenomenal Heather B!

Channing: [00:00:00] Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the winding path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation.

[00:00:56] We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you'd like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon or on our website at www.thefaithfulfeminists.com.

Elise: [00:01:24] Welcome back everyone. In today's episode, we're going to be focusing on Genesis chapters 12 through 17 and Abraham chapters one and two for the dates February 7th to the 30th. 

Channing: [00:01:35] We cover a lot of really big stories here. We have Abram and Sarai and there is a famine in the land, so they traveled to Egypt. While they're there, Sarai is taken into Pharaoh's house and then after some time is released back to Abram and then they move to Hebron. There’s some fighting escapades, and we find out from the texts that Abram and Lot are totally loaded. So they go splitzees on the land. And we also have some scenes where Abraham tells God that he'd like an heir for his giant fortune that he’s amassed. God promises Abraham children to outnumber the stars, but, unfortunately, Sarai is old and barren. They have no son. As a solution, Sarai offers her handmaid Hagar to become pregnant by Abram. Hagar conceives and bears Abram a son named Ishmael, and this causes tension in her relationship with Sarai. 

[00:02:31] In the last chapter, Abraham receives a covenant from God that he will bear son through Sarai and in honor of this covenant, Abram circumcises himself, Ishmael, and other men with him. With this covenant, Abram and Sarai received new names from God, Abraham and Sarah, and we will be using those names interchangeably today.

Elise: [00:02:51] Our approach for this episode is to take a back seat from sharing our own personal interpretations and exegesis and instead we want to share the voices of womanist theologians, because Hagar is a much beloved story in the womanits tradition and womanism does her and her story justice and beauty. Additionally, the story of Hagar is central, and it's an honored story in womanist theology, which means that womanist theologians have been writing, questioning, exploring, and interpreting this story long before we came along.

[00:03:23] And the way that we're feeling today is that sometimes the best interpretation we can offer of the text, especially as white women who hold lots of different types of privilege, is an interpretation that steps aside and instead honors the words of women other than ourselves. First, we'll take a look at the characters Sarah and Hagar, then we'll work through some womanist exegesis of the story and then think about the implications that this story has for both Black women and white feminists. A little bit later in the episode, we'll spend lots of time thinking about what is womanism and also what is intersectionality, but just as a jumping off point, womanism was founded by a group of Black women, and the term was coined by Alice Walker.

[00:04:03] Womanism tries to show how race and gender intersect in the oppression of women of color. Womanists point out that Black women in comparison to white women are often more likely single, have more children, are paid less, and assume more financial responsibility for their families. So womanism tries to look at the ways that class intersects with race and sex in women's lives to create inequality.

[00:04:27] From there, we have womenist theologians who focus on gender, race, and class, specifically Black women, whereas often feminism or feminist theologians focus solely on gender and often dismiss or disregard the intersections of race and class. In a YouTube video titled “Hagar, a womanist reading” by Danielle Barnard.

[00:04:47] Barnard says that womanist theology is a theology that honors Black women. And I really liked that summary here.

Channing:  [00:04:52] Perfect. Thank you for that review. I am excited to dive a little bit more deeply into that in just a little bit, but first we want to circle back and talk about the main characters that we encounter in the text this week. We have three, kind of, star players that happen in all of the chapters.

[00:05:11] We have Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham. And as we read through the text and we were reading through the Come Follow Me manual, I thought there was an interesting prompt that the Come Follow Me manual begins with this week's chapters. It says, “To give class members opportunities to share something that they learned from this week's texts, they could each choose a person mentioned in these chapters and complete a sentence like the following: Abraham taught me blank, or Sarah taught me blank.” So in that spirit, we're going to look closely at Sarah's story and Hagar’s story and how they intersect. Because one thing that we really felt strongly about as we tried to kind of dissect these stories and separate them was that we can't talk about Sarah without talking about Hagar.

[00:06:03] And we can't talk about Hagar without talking about Sarah. In the same way that their experiences and oppression and privilege and power are tied up with each other, so is our shared oppression and liberation are tied up with one another. So our three main characters, we have Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. We understand that Abraham is that iconic patriarch. He's the husband. And honestly, it was really surprising to me as I went through and read the text for all that we talk about Abraham and all that he's, kind of, featured in a lot of our retellings, he actually takes a really passive role in this storyline, which I thought was really fascinating. He never really actually does a whole lot. A lot of the other characters and a lot of the other, like, periphery characters actually do more of the, like, acting in decision-making and, like, major role playing in the text than he does.

[00:07:03] So I thought that was really interesting. And unlike anything I've seen, like, at least lately, for sure. Right. So that brings us to Sarah and Sarah and the text is actually one of the more active roles in the text. She does a lot of moving and speaking and takes a lot of action in the texts for good or for bad.

[00:07:30] So we wanted to offer a quick sketch of Sarah and her story and her character. And what we know about her from the text. A lot of what we'll be sharing here in this section about Sarah and in the following section about Hagar comes from “Womanist Midrash on the Torah” written by Wil Gafney. We encourage everyone to buy a copy for themselves.

[00:07:52] In some sections, we'll be paraphrasing; in some sections, we'll be offering quotes and we will be sure to link all of it in our show notes on our website. So look for that. As we move to the text and begin to sketch this image of Sarah, the first thing that we understand is that she's younger than Abraham. Gafney illustrates that we can find evidence in the text that Sarah is about 10 years younger than Abraham.

[00:08:17] And this is significant because that age gap functions in different ways in that relationship, just like we would understand it, to function even in contemporary relationships today. Gafney also illustrates that Sarah is a prophetess. Gafney provides textual evidence that illustrates that whatever Sarah says in the text, God asks Abraham to respect and also provides evidence from midrasham to support this claim.

[00:08:48] As we move further, along in the text, we see that Sarah is kidnapped twice, once in Egypt, and then once later as well, and this is significant because we understand in sacred texts, just like in any other story that we would read, events that happen repeatedly are significant. Gafney says that these events don't necessarily happen chronologically in the text as they're presented, but rather function as parallels to each other that are important to pay attention to.

Elise: [00:09:20] When Sarah and Abraham get into Egypt, Abraham is really worried that Sarai, or Sarah, will be kidnapped. And so he convinces Sarah to say, like, “Hey, let's pretend we're not married. Let's pretend that we're brother and sister, because that will benefit us more greatly and perhaps keep us both safe.” At least that's how the story frames it. 

[00:09:41] Of this situation, Gafney writes, “What the text does say is that Sarai was beautiful and her beauty was a liability to Abraham. Abraham feared death more than he feared giving Sarai to another man. If Sarai is known as his sister, a more powerful man might take her from him but let Abraham live. But if Abraham were known as her man Abraham might be killed. So the deception is for his benefit, not hers.” In Genesis chapter 12, this very thing happens. Pharaoh takes Sarai as his own woman and Gafney says, “And the text is clear that they live together as a conjugal couple long enough for Abram to receive and enjoy sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, and female servants, female donkeys, and camels, and for some sort of plague to break out in the palace.

[00:10:30] The mid Rasham reveals that the rabbinic interpreters understood Sarai was available for the Pharaoh's sexual use, even when they did not want to admit it. Abraham did not object to Sarai’s seizure. He relinquished her to the Pharaoh and accepted a rich settlement for his loss. Her brother-husband sold her to a man he knew would use her for sex. A hip hop womanist reading of this text would say that he “pimped her out.” This behavior on the part of the great patriarch has proved quite vexing to generations of interpreters. I think there is value in honoring Sarah as a survivor of sexual violence and domestic abuse and acknowledging her partner's complicity in that abuse.”

[00:11:11] In the very next chapter, Genesis 13, Sarai and Abram have left Egypt and they leave a really, really wealthy couple because of the kidnap and rape and abuse that Sarai experienced by the Pharaoh and the complicity of Abram. 

Channing: [00:11:27] From this point, we follow Sarah and Abraham into Hebron, and we begin to understand that Sarah is infertile and this is pretty common knowledge, at least for most of us who grew up LDS, like this is a big part of her story. Something that I learned from the Gafney article is that in chapter 16, that chapter is deceptive in the fact that it covers a really, really long time. Gafney does a good job of illustrating how the amount of time that Sarah and Abraham have tried for a child is 10 years and by the time that Hagar enters the story as a handmaid of Sarah and a surrogate for her, that Sarah and Abraham are absolutely desperate for a child. And so we also understand here at this point that Sarah and Hagar are explicitly linked in the text. I really appreciated this quote that Gafney writes.

[00:12:26] She says, “Sarai and Hagar are co-wives. Both are matriarchs, both will entertain the divine and both will mother dynasties.” But we also understand from Gafney's article that this relationship between Sarah and Hagar is not a relationship based on equal treatment and respect. Gafney writes, “There is a hierarchy between Sarah and Hagar. Sarai employees that hierarchy against Hagar. First, she offers her man Hagar his body and presumed fertility. Then Sarai claims and ultimately rejects Hagar's child and blames her man for doing what she told him to do in the first place. Sarai invokes divine judgment between herself and Abraham for the violence that she claims has been done to her, then takes matters into her own hands and violently abuses Hagar herself.

[00:13:16] Sarai orchestrates Hagar’s sexual abuse by Abram and is party to and beneficiary of it.” So we understand from the text and Gafney's article that Sarah is quite violent to Hagar and it's not just in chapter 16, so it doesn't happen just one time, but it happens again later in next week's chapters that Sarah completely drives Hagar out of the community.

[00:13:41] So, we want it to be really explicit here and name what we see happening in the text. We see Sarah as an abuser and accomplice to rape. She assaulted Hagar and she used her privilege and power to ostracize Hagar and her child Ishmael and cut them off from their family, safety, and necessary resources for life.

Elise: [00:14:05] After all of this back and forth between Sarai wanting to have a child but not being able to have a child because she's unfertile what ends up happening in Genesis chapter 17, when she's 89 years old, she ends up being able to conceive a child and she's pregnant. A little bit later in Genesis chapter 23, we learn of Sarah's death in verses one and two, it says, “And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old. These were the years of the life of Sarah and Sarah died in Kiriath-arba, the same as Hebron in the land of Canaan and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Gafney writes, “When the number and complexity of Sarah's lives are measured. She is a woman and wife, mother and matriarch, female patriarch and flawed person, blessed and beloved”

Channing: [00:14:57] I appreciated this summary of Sarah from Gafney, because I feel like Gafney does a really good job of sketching her life in both compassion and asking Sarah to be accountable for her actions and the way that she hurts and afflicts other people in the text. And with this end sentence, I was really struck by the compassion that Gafney offers to Sarah in a way that I definitely would have a hard time doing, reading what we did in the text.

[00:15:26] And so from this quick sketch of Sarah and understanding her life, again, we really wanted to reiterate what Gafney illustrates in her article, is that Sarah and Hagar are linked in the text. And we can't talk about one without talking about the other. So that moves us into our next question. Who was Hagar?

Elise: [00:15:46] In the YouTube video I mentioned a little bit earlier titled “Hagar, a Womanist Reading” by Danielle Barnard, Barnard introduces us to the character of Hagar by saying, “We don't know anything about her and her name directly translated means alien or the stranger.” Barnard asks, “Was Hagar's name changed when she lost her freedom to survive? All we know is that she is an Egyptian slave woman of Sarai, and she is powerless.” Along these same lines of who was Hagar? What was she like before she was with Sarai? Gafney asks some questions. She writes, “Who and where were her parents? How did she come to be enslaved? Was she born into servitude? These questions have particular resonance in the Americas for readers and hearers of African descent whose ancestors were enslaved and whose foremothers were regularly subjected to the theft of their bodies inside and out.” Later in Hagar's story, we learned something really, really powerful and touching about her and her relationship with God, because she's the only person in the scriptures to name God for herself. In Genesis chapter 16, verse 13, we read, “And she [Hagar] called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?”

Channing: [00:17:08] We also learn that Hagar is the mother of Ishmael. In Genesis chapter 16, verse 15, the text reads, “And Hagar bear Abraham, a son and Abraham called his son's name, which Hagar bear, Ishmael.”

[00:17:24] So we understand that Hagar did become pregnant by Abraham and her son was Ishmael and Hagar lived with Ishmael and Abraham and Sarah for who knows how long? Oh, a while, a little while. And even during this time, as Ishmael grows up, Sarah becomes pregnant. She gives birth to Isaac. And then later in next week's chapters, we'll see that once Sarah gives birth to Isaac, she, for whatever reason, becomes concerned about Ishmael being present there.

[00:17:58] And so she asks Abraham to kick Hagar and Ishmael out and the text indicates a little bit of grief on part of Abraham about this, but we learn from the text that he supplies Hagar and Ishmael with a little bit of food and a little bit of water, and then sends them out into the wilderness alone. So Hagar suffers not once, but twice at the hands of Sarah.

[00:18:28] Later in next week's chapters, we see this really beautiful encounter again, where Hagar sees God and God steps in and helps her in this story. When she and Ishmael are in the wilderness together, they have no more water, no more food, they're starving and about to die in the desert when Hagar cries out to God and God responds and opens her eyes to a well that is in the middle of the desert. And this well replenishes her and replenishes Ishmael and eventually they go on to survive in the wilderness. The text shows that Ishmael becomes a master of the bow and they live together. They prosper. Eventually they move back to Egypt. And Ishmael marries. And we understand that through Hagar comes an entire generation of people that are just as vibrant, just as beautiful and obviously from the text, just as sacred to God as the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. 

Elise: [00:19:36] One of the things to note that kind of echoes what Channing had said at the beginning of the episode about the Come Follow Me manual is whose stories are recorded and highlighted, and whose are not. One thing to note too, is that in the scriptures the deaths and burials of Sarah and Abraham are recorded, but Hagar’s is not.

[00:19:54] So instead Gafney writes a kind of scriptoral burial address for Hagar that we wanted to include. Gafney rights, “And Hagar lived 177 years. This was the length of Hagar's life. Hagar breathed her last and died in a good old age, an old woman and full of years and was gathered to her people. Hagar died in Heliopolis in the land of Egypt and Ishmael, her son, went to mourn for Hagar and to weep for her and Hagar’s daughters and sons from the man she chose for herself mourned with Ishmael and his daughter Mahalath. After this, had his mother embalmed and mummified and placed Hagar his mother in a sarcophagus, in a tomb in Heliopolis in the land of the Nile. The tomb and the land that is around it passed through the generations of the Hagrites as a burying place. There Hagar was buried with her man.”

Channing: [00:20:56]So now that we have a pretty accurate understanding of the characters of Sarah and Hagar, we wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about intersectionality and move into womanism in a little bit more detail. And we wanted to focus on intersectionality because we feel like it's really relevant and comes up especially strongly in this story of Sarah and Hagar.

[00:21:19] So our first question is “What is intersectionality and why does it matter in interpretations in the story of Sarah and Hagar?” And we can't talk about intersectionality without talking about Kimberly Crenshaw. She is the author of What Kind of Ally are You and Crenshaw talks about oppression being intersectional.

[00:21:39] This means that race class, sexual orientation, body shape and size and disability are woven together and must be addressed holistically. In the aforementioned article Crenshaw reminds us that we have so many movements like anti-racism, LGBTQ movement, human rights movement, the environmental justice movement, et cetera.

[00:22:03] And sometimes we think, well, if we just focus on our own tiny piece of the puzzle and strengthen it, then everything else will be fine. But Crenshaw reminds us to ask is this true? How do we respond when issues addressed by movements collide? In this article Crenshaw talks about how there might be different patches of road that belong to different movements.

[00:22:26] Anti-racism patches of road try to protect and administer relief to those that are most affected by racism. The LGBTQ path of road is trying to protect and administer relief to those who are affected most by transphobia and homophobia. But what happens if someone is injured in the intersection? Crenshaw goes on to illustrate that often we spend so much time scrambling trying to identify whether it was racism that caused the damage or sexism that caused the damage. And that's just one example. We spent so much time trying to identify whose problem this is that we end up caring more about ingroups and outgroups, and those that have, and those that have not and caring more about the label that we miss the entire group of people that suffer in the intersections.

[00:23:17] Crenshaw writes, “So while we sometimes dither and debate whether we can take an issue or whether it fits our agenda or whether we have resources to deal with the accident, we miss the demands that we intervene. And when we do not relieve the disaster women face, we simply contribute to it. We are not prepared for the call because we don't always anticipate the kind of woman or the kind of person we will be asked to serve and protect.” So in this article, not only does Crenshaw's illustration speak to intersecting oppression, but she also speaks to the intersections of privilege and oppression.

[00:24:00] So for example, Elissa and I hold white cis-gender privilege while we also experience oppression based on our sex, (female) and our gender as women. We also understand that our experience of oppression doesn't negate our privilege, nor does our privilege negate our oppression. 

Elise: [00:24:19] Without the lens of intersectionality and womanism, we might be, I think, tempted to stop at the level of oppression based on sex and gender in the story, right?

[00:24:28] Hagar and Sarah, both experienced oppression because of their sex and gender in a patriarchal, sexist society. But here too lies one of the traps and downfalls of white feminism, which is not to say feminists who are white, but feminism that upholds white supremacy by focusing primarily on the concerns of white women and dismissing or furthering the oppression of Black women and women of color.

[00:24:52] White feminism often takes the experience of gender based oppression of white women and applies it to all women everywhere, as if to say gender-based depression is the worst oppression of them all and because we're all women- right? Notice this disregard of race, class, disability, sexuality- because we're all women, we must all experience this oppression in the exact same ways all the time. But with the introduction of an intersectional and womanist lens, we start to see how Sarah is both the oppressed and the oppressor. Thus, like, she is oppressed by her sex and gender, but she also holds privilege because she's married, wealthy, and free- she's not enslaved. Remember her oppression does not negate the privilege she experiences. So when we see Sarah's harsh treatment- which is what the text calls it- of Hagar in the story, this is not just like a petty fight between women. This is Sarah using her privilege as a free married woman, wealthy woman to further harm, abuse, and oppress Hagar.

[00:25:57] This is Sarah saying, “Let me keep my power and let me us it. Let me cling tightly to the harmful system that in this moment seems to protect me by giving me power over you.” When in reality, it's that same system that harms both her and Hagar in different intersecting ways. This is Sarah saying, “Let me strip you of whatever little power you have (which would be Hagar's fertility) so that I can keep my power all for myself.

[00:26:26] For all of us white women, I hope that we feel really implicated by the text because we should, right? We should start asking ourselves, “In what ways do I talk the talk of sisterhood, but am more committed to power, privilege and gain for my own isolated individual self? When have I spoken of committing to anti-racism work, but when the social media energy died down, did I also quietly slip back into my comfort zone and privilege? In what ways is my feminism committed only to fighting fights that benefit me or fighting fights for people who look like me? How do I expect women to stay in their place or quiet down when they challenge my privilege? What does my sisterhood look like? When am I performative in my allyship? How does my desire for liberation intersect with my fear of losing power for myself?

[00:27:18] And I hope that we can see here that intersectionality reminds us to show up for everybody radically and inclusively, so that as Crenshaw writes, “We leave no bodies lying in the intersection.” Moving on, if we continue to understand what Daniel Barnard said, that womanist theology is that theology that honors Black women, womanist theologians show up to scriptures and ask questions specifically related to Black women's experience and also intersectionality, like we talked about before. In Gafney's book Womanist Midrash Gafney outlined some of the texts that womanist theologians might ask, things like “who is speaking and who is acting. What are the power dynamics here? What are the ethical implications of the text? When read from the perspective of the dominant characters, how have Black women historically related to this text, how does modern Black women's experience shape renewed interpretations of the text?

[00:28:17] And finally, who is, or what is the construction of God in the text? Are they invested in the flourishing of Black women and our world?” 

Channing: [00:28:27] So moving from this womanist lens into the text, we wanted to offer some varying womanist interpretations of the character of Hagar, and also what we learned about her and what we learn about God from her story.

[00:28:44] One of the things that we learn about Hagar is that she was unable to give true consent to her impregnation by Abraham. This is immediately apparent in the text. And womanist tradition links Hagar's inability to give consent or give true consent in the text to experiences that are shared by enslaved women in the Americas.

[00:29:07] Emily Peecook has an article titled “Hagar: An African-American Lens”. And of this experience, of the abuse of Hagar by Sarah, she writes, “Sarah's plan has backfired, and that Hagar clings to the esteem that should have been transferred to her mistress. No wonder Sarah reacts spitefully in an attempt to dehumanize the Egyptian woman and strip her of her newly found self-worth. This is a common way to regain an obedient slave remove any sense of humanity or an entitlement to rights.” 

Elise: [00:29:41] Of the same type of self-esteem that we see Hagar stepping into in the text through a womanist lens, there are two key moments that Danielle Barnard from the YouTube video highlights in her lecture or lesson.

[00:29:54] The first being the line where it says that Hagar looked upon Sarai with contempt and also the harsh treatment of Sarah to Hagar. Barnard says, “Could it be that Hagar did not begin to think less of Sarai, but that she began to think more of herself? Could it be that getting pregnant showed Hagar she was more than just a slave woman? Could it be for the first time that she was more than an alien, more than a stranger? Is it not common for people in power to feel offended when the powerless and the marginalized begin to see themselves as worthy of dignity and equal power? It was not uncommon for slaves who stepped beyond their position to be knocked back down to size by the master or mistress of the plantation.

[00:30:40] Sarai was infuriated at the ability of her slave woman to do something she could not do. She was offended by how the power dynamic in her home shifted now that Hagar was not just a concubine, but her pregnancy moved her to the position of a wife. She was upset that Hagar would begin to see herself as anything more than a powerless slave.”

[00:31:02] And so we can see this tension building between, I don't think between Hagar and Sarai, but definitely from Sarah to Hagar. There's something in this experience that really, really pushes Sarah to cling to her power over other women, particularly over Hagar, because she starts to see Hagar have this moment of realization and conscientization, where she becomes conscious of the fact that she is more than what the system says she is. She can do more. She, you know, she can escape and see God and all of these things. And Sarah sees that as a threat to her own power and position. And so instead of trying to work together and come together as a sisterhood, Sarah clings so tightly to her own power and privilege to continue further oppressing Hagar.

Channing: [00:31:54] Womanist tradition also prizes the fact that Hagar knows God, and God knows Hagar. She's not an into consequential character, which furthers the narrative, which we often see women acting in that role in the text. From Emily Peecook's article, she writes, “Several scholars are quick to point out that Hagar is the only woman in the Old Testament who has a recorded theophany [and that is a visible manifestation of God to humankind] and is a recipient of possession of land and a large number of descendants. That Hagar speaks directly to Yahweh, names Him and receives the promise that she will be the mother of a large nation, makes it clear that she is a significant female character in the Genesis story.”

[00:32:39 Peecook also points out in her article that Hagar is an excellent example of what it means to shake off gender roles. She illustrates all of the different ways that Hagar steps into what we would consider to be, like, traditionally masculine roles. The fact that she sees and names God, and the fact that eventually she secures a bride for her son, Ishmael, which is the traditionally typical male role Peecook illustrates the ways that Hagar transcends gender roles.

[00:33:11] So as this character sketch of Hagar begins to fill out and become even more vibrant, we wanted to move into an examination through a womanist lens of what we learn about God from this text. 

Elise: [00:33:25] I think that one of the moments of celebration in this story of Hagar is Hagar’s relationship with God, especially as God shows up to her in the wilderness and Hagar names God, and while that's absolutely worth celebrating, what about the part in the story where God commands Hagar to go back to Sarah and Abram’s house, to return back to the place of the abuse and the oppression. What? Like, what do we make of that? Because in liberation theology, both in Latin American liberation theology and Black liberation theology, that line or lens would say that God shows up for the oppressed in history and kind of liberates them in their current situation.

[00:34:10] In this story, God would show up to Hagar and say, like, “Don't worry, I'm freeing you. I'm breaking you out of Sarah and Abram's house. And we'll find a different way for you.” But that's not the God that shows up here. Instead, this is a God that says, “I see you. I hear you, but I'm commanding you to go back.”

[00:34:30] And this is a really, really frustrating and confusing depiction of God. But Delores Williams gives us some language here. She offers the distinction between Liberation Theology and Survival Theology.

Channing: [00:34:44] In the context of Survival Theology, Emily Peecook writes, “One of the more frustrating moments in the Hagar narrative occurs when the angel of the Lord bids Hagar to return into the jaws of abuse from what she has just fled. In chapter 16, Hagar is pregnant, alone, and suffering, and God tells her to return to hardship. This does not sound like the type of Yahweh any oppressed person would have faith in, yet some say that God is liberating her in the manner best suited for her situation.

[00:35:17] Black women recognize survival strategies in the messages that Hagar receives from Yahweh rather than liberation proclamations. Many African-American females are comforted by this because they look upon God as a God who sees their struggle and wants to give them the means for a better quality life.

[00:35:35] So he “helps them make a way out of no way.” Hagar provides an image of determination and stamina in the face of hopelessness and allows Black women to continue even when it seems impossible. Delores Williams argues that the rest of the story is up to Hagar. God has given her the resources and the means to make it, but he will not do it for her.

[00:35:59] Hagar's fight against oppression is her own, though God is there at her side to assist and support. The main difference between liberation and survival strategies is that one anticipates the victory of God over oppression and the other finds strength to continue to ward one's personal victory over oppression.

[00:36:19] In the second wilderness scene, Hagar is free, but without any means to survive or provide for herself where Ishmael. Yahweh opens her eyes to a well so that she can hydrate her child and, again, promises a nation for her son. Instead of liberating, God gives survival techniques to the oppressed so that they can pick themselves up and work toward their own liberation, alongside their God.”

Elise: [00:36:45] And I think to be clear, Wil Gafney in the “Womanist Midrash on the Torah” book shows up to say, “Look, God is not justifying Hagar's abuse and oppression,” and God's not doing that. Even when God commands Hagar to return back to Sarai and Abraham's house, there's a moment in the Genesis text when Sarah actually asks God to, like, intervene and offer justice, but God is silent.

[00:37:09] Gafney writes, “Sarah calls on God to do justice on her behalf. God remained silent. The silence of God offers a fecund space for midrash, which frequently addresses silence in the text. As a contemporary womanist midrash, I offer the reading that God's silence is a response to Sarai's charge that God judge between her and Abram.

[00:37:32] Abram has not wronged Sarai, Abram and Sarai both wronged Hagar, and God does not permit them to compound that wrongdoing by destroying her and her child.” 

Channing: [00:37:44] I think that this is really significant because I think it shows, something that actually, commonly really, happens with women who hold privilege, especially in feminist spaces where they kind of, where women who hold privilege and power can oftentimes contort who is actually really suffering in that moment and call on their perceived power or call on their privilege and say, “do justice on my behalf”, without actually remembering who is suffering most at that moment and who is causing who the suffering.

[00:38:21] So I appreciated this perspective that Gafney offers and it reminds me as I hold white privilege to continue to ask the question, “Where am I centering my own suffering or my own perceived suffering and how does that differ from the actual experiences of other people in my community?”

We hope that as we've shared the story of Hagar through womanist lens, and really wanted to center womanist theologian voices, that we can begin to understand the story of Hagar is really central and important in womanist theology.

[00:38:55] And we encourage all of our listeners, all of our readers, all of our followers, to include womanist perspectives in your scripture study. Purchase and read “Womanist Midrash on the Torah” by Wil Gafney. Even just a quick Google search of “womanist interpretations of Hagar and Sarah” will bring up so many valuable resources and we will link all of the ones that we've used in this episode in our show notes.

[00:39:22] Womanist perspective allows us to see Hagar’s story as central and important and sacred. And we're endlessly grateful for the way that Hagar is illuminated and shown to be even more than the text itself expects her to be. 

Elise: [00:39:39] After we've worked through some of the really, really rich and powerful and emotionally compelling understandings of the story of Hagar from a womanist perspective, I think we need to be really careful, especially as white feminists or people that hold white privilege to recognize that in this story of Sarah and Hagar, we are not Hagar. We are Sarah. And think about the ways that, like we talked about earlier, in what ways do I hold to my white privilege to give me power over other women?

[00:40:10] In what ways do I sacrifice sisterhood? Because at the end of the day, I really only care about getting what I want and I need, right? These are some of the questions that Channing and I have been grappling with all week. And I think they're important ones, especially for people holding white privilege. How does white supremacy continue to allow us power? And yet also continue to allow us to perpetuate harm and oppression over women of color.

Channing: [00:40:38] Yeah. And I'm also thinking about Sarah's experience in Egypt and while I think that we can hold a lot of compassion for that, and Gafney did an amazing job modeling what that would look like, how do I understand that story and understand that experience and recognize that my own oppression and my own experiences does not negate my privilege and does not negate the harm that my use of that privilege causes other women. And even thinking historically, a lot of the womanist theologians and their work illustrate the way that white feminism historically has continued to use Black women in order to further their own agendas. So for example, the suffragists in the 19th century used Black women in order to gain the vote for themselves, but left Black women behind. And so one of the conversations that Elise and I have had in the background of this is we don't want to leave this episode just like Elise said, like, “Hagar is so amazing. And so we must be like her.” I think in a lot of ways, Hagar holds a mirror up to white women and asks us to look in it and see ourselves in the figure of Sarah. And this can be really challenging because it challenges our comfort. It challenges our privilege. It asks us to step out of the heroine role that we are usually tempted to see ourselves in and recognize, oh, I experience intersectionality too.

[00:42:15] And question, in what ways does my privilege intersect with my oppression and how does that show up in all of my relationships, in all of my advocacy, in all of my activism and really hold ourselves accountable. The story is powerful. And Elise and I really want to just drive home the point that this story is read differently by white feminists than it is by Black women and that is also part of what we would consider to be responsible readership.

One of the sources that we came across for this story that I feel like is so powerful and does such a good job calling us to question the text and see ourselves in the text is a sermon given by Wil Gafney. This is titled “Jesus and Hagar: The Form of a Slave.” Gafney writes, “Who's the God of your envisioning? Does your God see you? Does your God know you? Does your God love you? Or does your God tell you that you are not enough, that the way you were made is insufficient? Does your God cut off the possibility of your thriving and flourishing as who you were created to be?

[00:43:33] Does your God call you to deny essential components of who you are? Does your God dwell with you in your sorrow and in your pain? And when your God demands difficult things of you, like returning to a place of pain, will your God walk with you? Hagar saw God and was seen, heard, known, accepted, valued as she was with a promise for who she would be mother of nations and mother of a legion of descendants who would choose her over the woman with wealth and privilege who someone said was supposed to be the center of the story. Is your God big enough to be God?

[00:44:15] Does your God love enough to be God? Would your God exchange divinity for humanity, infinity for mortality? Would your God answer the prayer of a runaway enslaved woman personally, in the flesh?”

[00:44:34] I love this quote by Wil Gafney. I think she does an excellent job of illustrating all of the beautiful and wonderful ways that God shows up in this story, that Hagar shows up in this story, and all of the ways that we can read ourselves into the text. And walk away with a greater understanding of what the text calls us to do.

Elise: [00:44:59] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists Ppodcast. We know your time and space is sacred and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify so other seekers can find us.

Channing: [00:45:18] Financial donations support the many hours of research, work, and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast. You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor.

[00:45:39] Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as The Faithful Feminists. We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.

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