The Legacy of Katie Geneva Cannon

When I started seminary over 20 years ago, we were required to take a course titled Introduction to Theology. While our primary textbook for that class was a wonderful introduction to systematic theology by Daniel Migliori, a scholar at Princeton Seminary at the time, the majority of books we read for this class introduced us to the growing and diverse movements in what is more generally called Liberation Theology.

Liberation Theology emphasizes God’s special care and interest for those who are oppressed in the world. It is decidedly ecumenical in nature – with liberation theologians writing and teaching out of Catholic and Protestant traditions; it also is intentionally diverse in nature, representing the African American, Central and South American, Asian, feminist and womanist perspectives, just to name a few.

What was new and interesting about Liberation Theology when it was birthed in the 1970s and came into maturity in the 1980s was that it didn’t assume a singular human experience (typically white, male and European) as its starting point when describing God’s relationship with human beings and the world. It was in that class that I was first introduced to the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon – the first African American woman to be ordained in the PC(USA), the first African American woman to earn a PhD from Union Seminary in New York, and one of the first Womanist Christian Ethicists and Theologians.

Here is how she described her work of Liberation Ethics:

Liberation ethics is debunking, unmasking and disentangling the ideologies, theologies and systems of value operative in a particular society.

How is it done? By analyzing the established power relationships that determine cultural, political, and economic presuppositions and by evaluating the legitimate myths that sanction the enforcement of such values.

Why is it worth doing? In order that we may become responsible decision-makers who envision structural and systemic alternatives that embrace the well-being of us all.

This weekend we have the opportunity to celebrate Dr. Cannon’s legacy and dedicate one of our new educational/meeting spaces in her honor. Below are details for our morning class and afternoon service of dedication. I hope you will join us for one or both of these opportunities and that Dr. Cannon’s priority for diversity and inclusion will impact the work we do as a church, the stories we hear from those who are different from us, and the vision we have for building the Beloved Community.

The Life and Legacy of the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon
Sunday, March 6
11:15 a.m.
Congregational Hall
Livestream available via Zoom: 

Our presenter this morning is Dr. Traci C. West, professor of Christian Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School. She received a bachelor's degree from Yale University, a master of divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion, and a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary.

Join us as Dr. West shares her deep appreciation for the life and legacy of Katie Geneva Cannon and helps us understand how we might be reflections of her legacy in the church and the world.

To prepare for this class, she encourages us to read a short biography of Katie Cannon as well as two selected essays by Dr. Cannon. Links to the PDFs can be found here.


4:00 p.m., Ministries Center

We will dedicate the newly-created adult education and meeting room named for the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon. The Rev. Carolyn C. Cavaness from Bethel AME Church of Ardmore and the Rev. Eustacia M. Marshall of New River Presbyterian Church in West Philadelphia will help lead this dedication. We will highlight Dr. Cannon’s life and legacy in scripture, prayer and song and dedicate this new room and our congregation’s work of justice and reconciliation.

Masks will be required for this event. You can watch a livestream of the service on the BMPC Facebook page.