I began reading Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (2013) with the impression that I was going to learn about how Jesus was a feminist. After all, my own feminist leanings began because of how well the feminist theory I was studying as a master’s student seemed to line up with my own feelings and understanding of Christ’s gospel. However, this book, while definitely about the connection between feminism and Christianity, is more about how Sarah Bessey defines herself as a Jesus Feminist. It is a title and a way of understanding her church, the evangelical movement, through a feminist lens.
She certainly critiques certain church and cultural practices for excluding women, but her tone is mostly that of hope and consensus-building. She uses a couple of metaphors to create this feeling. First, she pretends that her readers are sitting around a campfire with her. Second, she imagines the church as a large table, at which everyone is welcome. This reminded me of Joanna Brooks’s book, a memoir with a Mormon feminist lens, that uses the same metaphor of the table having room for everybody.
My favorite idea from Bessey’s book is that there’s a difference between critical thinking and being critical. She wrote, “I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical. And I found out that he is more than enough, always will be more than enough” (p. 50). She admits to practicing “anger and cynicism, like a pianist practices scales, over and over” (p. 5). But her journey has taken her to a different place, one where she has learned that Jesus “loves us. On our own terms. He treats us as equals to the men around him; he listens; he does not belittle; he honors us; he challenges us; he teaches us; he includes us” (p. 17).
Her book is about the journey of melding her Christianity and her feminism, and how she has evolved into focusing on love and understanding the gospel through her experiences as a woman. She notes that a Christian feminist might seem contradictory, but that “feminism’s roots are tangled up with the strong Christian women’s commitments to the temperance movement, suffragist movement, and . . . the abolitionist movements of the nineteenth century” (p. 12). (See more about these feminists here.)
She tackles the problems with hierarchy, especially when it means that some people are considered more “spiritual” or “better than” others. “It seems we’ve fixed a false hierarchy in our minds: everyone in public full-time vocational ministry is at the top of the Truly Committed Christian Food Chain, and the rest of us are support workers—some call us pew fodder” (p. 155).
However, this is contrasted with her take on true heroes. “We have been so busy celebrating the mythical evangelical heroes that we’ve forgotten that heroes come in all walks of life, callings, and success ratios. God marks a hero very differently than the world does” (p. 155). She argues that all of us can move “with God to rescue” and improve each other with our varied talents.
She echoes an important concept in my religion, that of personal revelation. Mormonism started with a question, after young Joseph Smith read James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Bessey reminds us of this important concept: “If any of us lack wisdom, we are to ask God—he is faithful to give it” (p. 178). She admits her lack of wisdom and her need of this important principle in her life.
I love how Bessey writes, and her ideas and phrasing have been mulling around in my mind since I finished her book. Here are some of the gems.
“We didn’t believe the gifts of the Spirit were sex-based” (p. 41).
“Ezer kenegdo actually means man’s perfect match” (p. 78). (This is the Hebrew word for help meet.)
“I look forward to the day when women with leadership and insight, gifts and talents, callings and prophetic leanings are called out and celebrated as a Deborah, instead of silenced as a Jezebel” (p. 92).
“Women have always worked; they will always work—for their families, for their homes, for survival, for provision, for the good of their souls” (p. 94).
“I pray that when you are bored and tired and discouraged and frustrated, when you feel futile and small and ridiculous, you will never, never, never give up” (p. 196).
Jesus Feminist is uplifting and should give women grappling with some of these issues courage, strength, and hope. She is optimistic and caring. She preaches a gospel of love and self-acceptance. “Rest in your God-breathed worth. Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice, and satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world” (p. 195). Amen, sister.
This is the end of my series highlighting feminism(s). I’ve heard whispers of other types of feminisms, such as fourth-wave, revisionist, cultural, existential, and neofeminsm. I supposed the types will always be multitudinous.
The complete series on types of feminism can be viewed on my page I’m Not a Feminist, But.
P.S. I passed my Ph.D. comprehensive exams, with distinction!