Do You See This Woman?: Renisha McBride and the Imago Dei

In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is invited over to a pharisee’s house for a dinner party. He has a place and space reserved at the table. His presence is welcomed. However, a woman realizes that Jesus will be at this home and decides to come by unannounced. However, the pharisee hosting the party only saw a “sinner”, rather than this woman who was made in the image of God. Her stigmatized reputation as a sinner was reason enough for many to marginalize this woman in that society. This woman recognizes Jesus’ worth and anoints him with costly oil. The pharisee, in his mind, believes he knows the essence of this woman, which is again nothing more than Sinner. Jesus and this marginalized woman, are now both bound together in judgment by the pharisee because Jesus’ allows her to anoint him. Jesus tells this pharisee, Simon, a story and then asks a simple question: “Do you see this woman?” 

Simon saw a “sinner” but Jesus saw a “woman” loved and created by God. Simon instantly judged this woman, as though he knew her essence. But Jesus flips the script and makes this woman who was marginalized in her society the embodiment of God’s in-breaking Shalom and Kingdom activity. Jesus lifts up this woman on the margins as an example and standard that this religious man had failed to live up to. She is told to go and continue on in God’s peace. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is continually portrayed as caring for, standing in solidarity with, and often discipling women in a way that would have been understood as threatening the social order of his time (and often still our time). Jesus loved to liberate women on the margins from the societal and physical bondage they found themselves in. This “sinful woman” must be understood in light of this larger theme seen throughout Jesus’ life that seeks to bear witness to God’s love for women on the margins.

On November 2, 2013, in the suburbs of Detroit, Renisha McBride, a nineteen year old black woman, got into a car accident and needed help. She came to the home and up onto the porch of Theodore Wafer. In her search for help, Renisha was shot in the face by Wafer. Two early findings. First we know that the shot was not close range. This is important, because this is a 19 year old woman, wounded from a car accident, who was not close to this man. What kind of threat could she have been to this middle aged man? Secondly, we know that Renisha, as the victim of a homicide, is already beginning to become the criminalized “sinner” because of her alcohol level. No one should drink and drive, everyone is clear on that. However, that is no justification for a grown man shooting this 19 year old in the face on his porch.

It seems that black women in our society are never given the same respect and dignity that most white women who participate in dominant society receive. The moment dominant society lays their eyes on black women, they are rarely seen as people to be protected and cared for, but most often are branded with a whole assortment of stigmatizing stereotypes. I will be honest, I wasn’t there so I do not know all the details of what happened. But what I do know is that racialized biases pervade every encounter in America. On top of that, black women always must confront not only being black, and not only being a woman, but being a black woman. Renisha McBride had to navigate this difficult space, and on November 2, 2013, it became a death-dealing space.

For anyone, who while gazing at a black woman, thinks they know her essence and nature instantaneously must now realize that Jesus still stands in deep solidarity with marginalized women. No matter how much we stigmatize black women, Jesus reminds us that they are made in the Image of God and therefore prophetically asks us all “Do you see this woman?”

Renisha McBride

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

15 thoughts on “Do You See This Woman?: Renisha McBride and the Imago Dei

  1. Thank you for this. I am reading a lot about the history of black women in bell hooks book: Ain’t I a Woman? It’s pretty infuriating to think about from a historical perspective. But the reminder of Christ keeps me focused on love and truth.

  2. Love this story! How many of our problems are simply a result of arrogantly believing “I am better, more important, more valuable than you”! Wouldn’t it be great if we could see everyone as our brothers and sisters, rather than dividing people into us and them?

    What drew me into this article was the story from Luke. It’s one of my favorites.

    A couple years ago my pastor asked me to write a story for Christmas and read it at church. What came out of that exercise started out as a nativity scene but ended up going somewhere I never expected. Who would have thought that the serving maid at the little tavern in Bethlehem would turn out to be the woman from this story in Luke? If you’d like to check it out, it’s on the web at

  3. This was without question a tragedy, but at the scene of the crash, neighbors came out of their houses, called 911 for her. She left. When she returned, 911 was again called, and an ambulance was dispatched, but she….again…left the scene. Help was not only available, it was offered, and summoned and even provided. There isn’t the slightest hint that the people at the scene profiled her or treated her any differently than they would have any other person in need.

    What happened on Mr. Wafer’s porch we don’t know. We don’t know if she was asking for help,, trying to get inside, whatever. Assuming the worst of Mr. Wafer before he event gets a trial is shameful.

    Myself, i’m praying for all of them: the family, Ms. McBride, and Mr. Wafer.

    1. I wish I could give every situation the benefit of the doubt, but an in-depth awareness of American history has taught me that racism is pervasive (yes, even in 2013). In this case, people ironically are quick to want to protect Mr. Wafer, the killer, and yet want to insist that we leave open as many possibilities as we can imagine that Renisha McBride did something that justifies being shot in the face. We protect the shooter while the victim is presumed to be guilty. Beyond racial history, and the obvious size and strength differential between the two, the fact that she was shot from a distance instead of at close range (which if it was someone of the same size and weight, and if they hadn’t just gotten injured from a car accident, then that close range might point to a chance for a struggle or at least the threat of it). But since it was from a distance, I must insist that this was senseless violence with a disregard for life. If one feels threatened, how about shoot someone in the leg or arm? He needs to prove that force was needed at all (which I admit, I don’t know), but there certainly was no need for lethal force from that distance.

      Anyway, a trial never reveals what happened. How many black people have been convicted wrongly over the past 400 years? All that will happen is that this man will get to tell his story up against the silence of Renisha who is unable to tell hers. For some strange many people insist on believing in the myth that somehow, magically, the american court room will clarify what actually happened. But since Jesus is my Lord rather than American providence and superstition, I am stuck with the reality that no such judicial rituals have the power to unveil the truth. They make a decision, and all we can do is hope and pray that more often than not it goes the right way. Unfortunately, for black people, the system rarely operates in that way. And that isn’t gut, that has been studied, researched, and proven. But, I do mourn with you, for all people involved, because this is a terrible, terrible, tragedy.

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