Since March, the United States has seen the exponential spread of COVID-19, a pandemic that has crippled society. This disease has not only exposed our physical vulnerability, but laid bare our moral crises: The continued violence of racism and the insidious horrors of white supremacy. Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Dominique Fells are the latest names of Brown, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BBIPOC) killed by the hands of white violence and the police. Like the Hebrew prophets who walked amidst brutality while holding steadfast to the Torah, we are refusing religious cliches because we know such platitudes contort into treacherous policies, politics, and pogroms that eradicate and erase BBIPOC lives. This is the point where we find No’Adiah.
“No’A-who?” my partner, Charles, asked. “You completely understand that no one will know who she is.” Yes, I am aware that most people are not familiar with No’Adiah. Her story is rarely told from pulpits, and scholarship about her is neglected by academics. Until very recent attention, she was presented as male in most translations of Ezra-Nehemiah, evidence of centuries where the “God with us” was very much a man.
Yet in the last part of the Hebrew Bible, she makes a brief but telling appearance during post-Babylonian exile. In a prayer that more resembles a political briefing than communion with the Divine, Nehemiah, the Persian-endorsed governor of Judea, utters a plea, “Remember also the prophet No’Adiah and how she has spoken so boldly to me.”
We ask ourselves about the nature of No’Adiah’s proclamations. What could she have said that stirred such vitriol in Nehemiah? From the sole verse, we have little evidence, but from the actions of Nehemiah, I have an idea. I believe that No’Adiah spoke out on behalf of the women and children affected by Nehemiah’s policy of separating families denying them sustenance, stability, and shelter. I believe that No’Adiah advocated for a love that knew neither the boundaries of empire nor the border walls of citizenship but reached beyond every obstacle to unite people in mutual care. I believe that No’Adiah loved the people left behind in a destroyed Jerusalem; these were the people that rebuilt their lives, reconstituted their families, and reimagined their God, and these are the people Nehemiah wanted to kill in the name of ethnic purity. I believe that No’Adiah, unlike Nehemiah, believed in a Holy Force that had no concept of chosen versus unchosen, clean versus unclean, pure versus impure, or you versus me. I believe that No’Adiah stood firmly in the prophetic tradition of Hagar, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, and the daughters from Joel. I believe her words shook Nehemiah’s political vision to its core. She was outspoken, fiery, courageous, and audacious.
It is this audacious identity that lays claim to every person of faith as we are called to be love in the world. This care and compassion for humanity are so great that it overwhelms us to act in bold and courageous ways. At this moment in the United States, we white people of faith are being asked to act in prophetic ways to stand up for Black Lives. We are understanding that this reconciliation is long past due and that every ounce of our energy should be invested in uplifting people that have been denied and persecuted by every aspect of our society. We are reminded that No’Adiah’s actions are constituted by her relentless love of people. She is inspirational for those of us who find that our faith is contrary to the principalities and powers of our time. We are called to choose advocacy over absence, protests over prayer; and crying out over creeds. This is not a time to be a consumer of the word, but doers of its message. Such defiant acts are not divisive but are intended to advance the caring, the tending, the nursing, and the nurturing of a new way of life that is good and just for our BBIPOC sisters and brothers.
“Remember also the prophet No’Adiah.” The imperative verb strikes my attention as it is paired with the adverb: Remember also. We can rephrase this in myriad ways. “Emphatically, don’t forget.” “Commit this to your mind and heart.” “Essentially, do not neglect this.” The phrase, unlike any platitude, is rich as it implores us to embrace those BBIPOC bodies dismembered by our churches, our communities, and our country. The words insist that each Black Life be included in the care and comfort of humanity while beckoning, “There is room, there is a place, and there is love.” Remember also No’Adiah, and Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Dominique Fells. Their bodies demand our attention and our work. It is an amazing prayer and a phenomenal mandate, one that is worthy of No’Adiah, whose Hebrew name translates “God is always revealing.” This often-neglected prophet reminds us all that we are boldly called to heal the world with and for the BBIPOC community. That is audacious!
Minister of Missions and Adult Education
Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina